It could not have been a worse start for Mehbooba Mufti’s chief ministership. A clash in NIT, Srinagar, over a cricket match in which India lost against the West Indies has snowballed into a national crisis with the state coalition partner, the BJP, taking a negative attitude.
While it is condemnable that non-Kashmiri students were attacked both by other students and the police, the BJP spokesman has added fuel to the fire by saying that Kashmiri students could face a backlash in other parts of the country. This could be misinterpreted by certain elements to mean a licence to attack Kashmiri students elsewhere.
This unfortunate turn of events is a reflection of incidents where Kashmiri students and indeed those from the North-East have been targeted in other places either owing to their looking different or at the behest of self-styled custodians of patriotism.
Such incidents have often not been dealt with firmly and swiftly, creating resentment among the targeted students and their communities.
In the current situation, a team from the education ministry that has been sent to Srinagar ought to put its conclusions in the public domain quickly. Demands that the institute be shifted to another location are not feasible and should not be entertained.
The ugly situation in NIT is of a piece with the unrest in other institutions of learning like JNU and Hyderabad Central University. In all these cases the HRD ministry has either not acted quickly enough or has been perceived to be partisan. And, of course, as always, as the situation has dragged on and politics has entered the picture. In the Kashmir case, after getting the inputs of the education ministry officials, the government should let the institute’s administration deal with it.
The atmosphere has already been vitiated by calling in the police and the CRPF, something which was seen in both JNU and HCU. In all these cases, it is the students who lose out when examinations are postponed and classes cancelled. In the NIT case, the PDP and BJP should be seen to be on the same page. They cannot be unaware that such a situation is a dream come true for mischief-mongers and separatists who would like nothing more than to destabilise the new government.
This is an acid test for the government and it cannot fail. The NIT unrest could spread to other institutions in the state and that must be averted at all cost. And the BJP should act as a responsible partner and not make thoughtless statements. The implications for an already volatile state are dire unless this is brought under control without delay.