Kashmir has been on the boil for 26 days now. The killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani has brought normal life to a grinding halt. In the violence that followed, 55 people have been killed and thousands injured. The government in New Delhi is unmoved and the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP coalition has failed to normalise the situation. Notwithstanding the presence of the armed forces, Kashmir has undoubtedly slipped into the ‘azaadi’ discourse and the mainstream parties have retreated.
South Kashmir, where Burhan was killed, is considered to be a PDP stronghold. On June 21, Mehbooba won a by-election with a significant margin, but the area refuses to embrace normalcy. It has spearheaded the current phase of unrest that replicates 2008 and 2010, when Kashmir erupted with the renewed call for resolving the political issue. The Amarnath land row in 2008 pushed Kashmir back to abnormality and the 2010 agitation further galvanised it. A lull of six years ended when violence engulfed the Valley yet again. Whatever narrative a section of the media, particularly the television channels, uses to let an average Indian to know that it was “all the handiwork” of Pakistan, the fact remains that the way Kashmir is reacting is the reflection of a deep-rooted political discontent that has not been addressed.
Today the government is not in control of the situation and it is akin to 1990, when a parliamentary delegation headed by Rajiv Gandhi visited Srinagar and reported back “we have lost Kashmir”. The only difference is that then Farooq Abdullah had resigned and gone away from Srinagar. Notwithstanding the fact that today the mainstream parties such as National Conference (NC), the PDP and Congress have formidable structures on the ground, they lack the audacity to wage a fight against the dominant political discourse that has been shaping and guiding the agitation centered on ‘azaadi’. Iftikhar Misgar, the NC candidate who unsuccessfully fought the bypolls against Mehbooba, publicly called off his relationship with the mainstream and chanted pro-azaadi slogans in a crowd in Anantnag. He was followed by Mujeeb-Ur-Rahman who had also fought the election against Mehbooba. Most mainstream party workers have gone into hiding to save themselves from public wrath.
The anger that is ruling the streets is the manifestation of a long-pending political dispute that New Delhi refuses to recognise. The ‘hate India’ movement has moved to the fourth generation and the boys who seem to be at the helm today have even challenged the relevance of an influential leader like Syed Ali Geelani, who issues protest calenders under a joint platform with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik. The past few days have seen these ‘boys’ defying the relaxation programme contained in these calendars and asked shopkeepers not to open their shutters. It was left to the Lashar-e-Toiba to ask the people to follow their programme. A visit to Pulwama district is itself a challenge. A few camps of a Special Operations Group of J&K Police have been razed to the ground and the Army is in the barracks. It was in Kareemabad (Pulwama) that a militant commander appeared in a public rally of thousands on July 31. For the residents it is a “liberated zone”.
There is no denying the fact that the state government failed to handle the situation, but the real problem lies in the political disconnect that has been cemented over a period of time. With the PDP joining hands with the BJP, adding to the discomfort an average Kashmiri feels with New Delhi, a string of proposals such as the beef ban, challenging the state flag, setting up of a Sainik colony and a separate township for Kashmiri Pandits have left the Kashmiris more insecure in an atmosphere that has been overlapping with the wave of intolerance across India. The hanging of Afzal Guru pushed Kashmir into a new phase of militancy, which is now dominated by the local youth whose numbers have been increasing. Wani emerged as an ‘icon’ who symbolised the increasing anger against the State. He thus found a place in a society that had bid farewell to violence in the mid-1990s. His coming to the forefront also demonstrates that Kashmir was in search of a leader as people had lost faith in others. With tens of thousands of people attending his funeral it brings forth the dark reality that suggests that people are losing faith in the democratic ways of achieving a political goal.
In such situations what gets strengthened in Kashmir is that New Delhi has neither cared about Kashmir in the past nor does it do so today. The appointment of interlocutors after the 2010 unrest and an all-party delegation visiting Srinagar was something the UPA did, but they failed the people by not even owning the report it submitted. If your own government in the state has failed to make a difference, there is no way out but to engage with the separatists who may not represent the political constituencies, but have a certain proximity to the dominant sentiment on the ground. The cry for ‘azaadi’, even if it may not be palatable is getting louder today and the youth who are at its forefront have the potential to drift away into violence. Pakistan may avail this opportunity but the larger question that needs to be addressed is who offered this to them on a platter? Certainly New Delhi has failed in recognising the political nature of the problem.