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Three summers of protest

This summer was supposed to be different. Tourism, Kashmir’s largest industry, was looking up. Till the end of May, the state had received some 4 lakh tourists this year — the highest in two strife-torn decades.

india Updated: Jul 04, 2010 01:08 IST

This summer was supposed to be different. Tourism, Kashmir’s largest industry, was looking up. Till the end of May, the state had received some 4 lakh tourists this year — the highest in two strife-torn decades.

But everything changed in a month. Now tour operators are getting calls from frantic travellers for cancellations. “Just those who paid in advance are coming; the rest are calling off their trips,” says Umar Nazir Tibetbaqal of Labaika Travels, a leading travel company in the Valley. The change in mood is reflected by the plunging air fares. “A few weeks back a Delhi-Srinagar economy class ticket cost Rs 12,000; it’s going for Rs 4,500 now,” says Tibetbaqal.

For the residents, there’s a sense of déjà vu. It’s the third summer in a row that the Valley is tense.

In 2008, the streets were filled with tens of thousands of people protesting the transfer of 100 acres to the Amarnath shrine. In the police action that followed at least 60 were killed.

Last summer, protests broke out again over the alleged rape and murder of two young women by men in uniform. Later, the Central Bureau of Investigation said they weren’t raped and died from drowning.

“The unrest has become a cycle; there’s a pattern. It starts when the tourism season booms and again, maybe, at the time of exams,” says Farooq Ahmad, inspector-general of police in Kashmir.

As the causes remain unresolved, so does the debate on who’s instigating them. “There are four five men who come on bikes every Friday to the Jama Masjid and start pelting stones even before the prayers are over,” says a shopkeeper in the area, which is a stronghold of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, on the condition of anonymity.

On Friday, ‘moderate separatist’ Abbas Ansari blamed Mehbooba Mufti’s party PDP for fomenting protests to gain political ground. Earlier this year the Omar Abdullah-led coalition had pointed at a pesticides businessman, a PDP associate, as the main funder.

“Most of the protesting youth are innocent children who are misled by those with vested interests,” says Showkat Shah, superintendent of police in North Srinagar, where most of the protests happen. Just that nobody wants to name the ‘vested interests’.

Omar’s challenges

New Delhi: To maintain law and order and not cross any line to control the situation that affects his image in New Delhi, where he is seen as a dynamic young leader.

Protesters: To contain swelling protests and arrest instigators and their supporters without annoying masses in general and in the process losing his own ground NC’s constituency: To be harsh with the protesters but not to antagonise people in National Conference leaders’ constituencies and shrink their influence

Separatists: To come down heavily on separatists fomenting trouble but at the same time keep a window open for a dialogue and reconciliation because the separatists have proved powerful and resilient

NC’s old guard: To take tough decisions within the party but keep the flock intact and make the dissident old guard feel at ease Security forces: To ensure that morale of the soldiers is high but keep a check on excessive use of force

Militants: To keep militants at bay, stop them from targeting high-profile installations and also work on the ground to assimilate those who are pro-militants into the mainstream.

The stakeholders

“The aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be assuaged only by development, good governance and economic packages but needs a political solution.”

Omar Abdullah Chief Minister, Jammu & Kashmir

“To avoid mass unrest, there is one solution: resolution of the Kashmir issue as per aspirations of people here. There is need to restart dialogue between India, Pakistan and people of Kashmir. Indian rulers try to shift blame on Pakistan to mislead the international community. There is unabated violation of human rights and killing of innocents...

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq Chairman, faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference

“Kashmir has a legacy of dispute. Some chief ministers are able to manage it, others are not... New Delhi needs to give up military prism on Kashmir and come up with a civilian prism...Continued use of force and belief in operational methods of curbing dissent will only result in more loss of precious young lives. Time has come to accept the fallibility of managing peace through bunkers.”

Sajjad Lone Chairman, People’s Conference

“Instead of trying to widen the space for civil society institutions and democratising the polity fully, the coalition government had adopted the dangerous route of regimentation, which is against the very basis of a democratic system.

Mehbooba Mufti Chairperson, People’s Democratic Party

First Published: Jul 04, 2010 01:05 IST