Srinagar’s Lal Chowk — the city’s political vantage point — has turned into a watery battlefield for separatists who fear the army’s mammoth rescue mission in the capital could make them cede ground and goodwill.
Lal Chowk has witnessed testy moments since Thursday. Groups, said to be backed by the Hurriyat — the organisation advocating Kashmir’s separation from India — have disrupted army-led operations and even stopped stranded residents from taking their help.
Eventually, they prevented a cautious army from servicing some areas.
The concern of the Hurriyat, which can’t see eye to eye with the armed forces, is that the well-organised rescue and relief operations launched by the armed forces might win hearts and minds of the people.
And although many people are angry — they went without food and water before being rescued — many others are impressed with the army’s job. But whether this will create a lasting bond is anybody’s guess.
“The army team arrived late, but they did come. They saved us,” said Meera Hasnain, a 34-year-old housewife in Rajbagh.
On Friday, men said to be acting at the behest of the Hurriyat opened a community kitchen at Dal Gate. They served rice and lentil soup to nearby residents.
“We will be open as long as you want,” said a volunteer. Incidents of rock-throwing at army rescuers and angry outbursts from those who had to wait a long time to be evacuated have become good opportunities for the separatists to intervene.
But the Hurriyat’s relief efforts have been, at best, symbolic and can hardly match the army’s efforts, aided by non-stop helicopters sorties, boats, food and medical care.
At Lal Chowk on Thursday, army rescuers, sensing a law-and-order situation, made frantic calls to their bosses at 15 Crops, asking what they should do.
They eventually arrested three of the protesters — presumably on orders — which made the rest fall in line.
Such situations have become common in the area around Dal Gate and adjacent Lal Chowk, which reveal the Valley’s deeper fault lines.