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The Valley of fear

india Updated: Aug 03, 2010 00:37 IST
Toufiq Rashid
Toufiq Rashid
Hindustan Times
Kashmir unrest

The situation in Kashmir seems to be spiralling out of control and no one seems in charge.

There is palpable tension in the air and crowd anger — largely fuelled by a sense of hopelessness and government apathy — seems to be getting out of hand.

Two processes seem to be working simultaneously.

One, no one seems to be leading the movement, which seems to have acquired a life of its own. Most frontline separatist leaders in the two factions of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) are either behind bars or under house arrest. Even hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and moderate Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have been marginalised and the protests seem to have gone out of their control.

Every now and then, they repeat what they’ve said ad nauseum in the past: “Protests are a fundamental right of the people and (this path) cannot be denied to them … People will continue to lodge peaceful protests, and if the government uses force against them, it will be responsible for the consequences” (Farooq at a press conference last month).

And secondly, the governments at the Centre and in the state, appear not to have a grip on the situation.

Analysts say the fresh wave of agitation, which started on June 11 after Tufail Ahmed Matoo (17) died at the hands of the security forces in Srinagar, is refusing to die down of the “non-seriousness” approach of the government and the lack of political initiatives during the lull phase of 10 days, which ended when protests broke out again last Friday. “This was an opportunity lost,” says a senior political leader.

The government did not even try to apply balm on the people’s wounded psyche. It promised investigations into civilian casualties and also said it would use only limited force to deal with street agitations, but these were observed mainly in their breach.

“In spite of the public stand advising (the security forces) restraint, people are getting killed,” says Shahid-ul-Islam, separatist leader of the Mirwaiz faction.

“The problem is the gap between promise and performance. New Delhi has made mistakes in the past and it is repeating them,” he adds.

While the buzz in the Valley is that Abdullah may be replaced as chief minister, highly-placed sources in the Congress-National Conference coalition say New Delhi is contemplating imposing governor’s rule.

The Centre has put Abdullah’s government on notice and wants him to have a two-pronged strategy — reach out to the people and also ensure normalcy and law and order.

J&K Congress President Saifuddin Soz feels Chief Minister Omar Abdullah could have done more.

Sources say Abdullah has got clearance from his coalition partner and party for a cabinet reshuffle – so that that tainted ministers could be dropped – but, again, nothing has happened. There are rumours that all is not well within the government. The factions owing allegiance to Soz and Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad (former J&K CM) in the Congress are ranged against each other.

And, the National Conference old guard is reportedly not lending full support to Abdullah. Party General Secretary Shiekh Nazir slammed the chief minister, his nephew, allegedly for not doing enough to stem the rot.

“I feel sad and don’t understand why he (Abdullah) maintained the status quo when he could have taken many steps in the right direction. There were many pro-people decisions that could have been taken,” Soz says.

But he tempers his dissent by adding: “Omar Abdullah cannot be entirely blamed as there are many actors and factors responsible.”

Gul Wani, head of the department, political science, Kashmir University, says the central leadership, too, has been found wanting. “People feel New Delhi is trivalising and localising the issue. The Parliament session is on, but Kashmir has never been discussed.”

So, what is the way out?

“Only New Delhi can do something now. They (central leaders) have to intervene and win back the confidence of the people,” says Gul Wani.