Restoring governance and normalcy in J&K
Despite many confidence-building efforts by the government led by Lieutenant-Governor, Manoj Sinha, it will take some time to win the trust of the masses in the Kashmir Valley
In Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), on August 5, the second anniversary of the effective abrogation of Article 370, nothing of the kind that separatists were expecting happened. To be sure, there were some protests. But rallies with the Tricolour were also held at various locations across the Valley. This was unimaginable in the past, for these were the same spots where Pakistan’s flag used to be visible and its national anthem could be heard.
Though shops did not open in the old markets on August 5, was it a symbol of mukhalifat (resistance), fear or doubt?
On a recent visit to the Valley, two weeks before the August 5 anniversary, I met a man who was trembling on his numb legs and moving with the help of a stick. He said that he was returning home after shopping in the evening, and it was getting dark. “Suddenly two people stopped me and asked, ‘Is your name…?” I said yes. As soon as they heard me, one of them hit me on the back of my neck. When I fell down, one of them asked me, ‘Did you vote?’ I said yes. He drew a pistol. I begged for mercy, but he could not be dithered. I was shot in the legs and they disappeared.” I asked him if the attackers were caught. He said that since they had covered their faces, he couldn’t recognise them.
The victim said that he had visited several leaders for help, but no one had listened. He then went to the authorities, and got an assistance of ₹75,000 and a promise of job for his brother in the police.
While he preferred to remain anonymous, the man’s story can answer questions about today’s Kashmir. The terrorists wanted to make him a moving pamphlet against Indian democracy but they failed miserably. After casting his vote, without being distracted by threats, he is now fighting for his rights under the Indian Constitution. His story tells us that how Kashmir is changing now, after going through all the ups and downs.
The painful stories of common people don’t go unheard anymore. The victim told me, in detail, how bureaucratic decisions and attitudes under previous governments, run by two political dynasties, were contingent on whether they would be of personal gain and loss to the chief minister.
Later, explaining this lack of grievance redressal in the past, J&K’s Lieutenant-Governor, Manoj Sinha, said that there used to be two types of Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) — one of the people, and the other of the collector. The district administration used to do what collector’s MLA wanted. It was this political-bureaucratic nexus that led the Valley to misery.
During the visit, I also met a top intelligence official who said terrorists nurtured by Pakistan could be divided into three categories. “The first are those who carry guns and regularly announce on social media that they are mujahideen. Second, those who are partly involved in terrorism due to unemployment or as a pastime. These are the people who carry out grenades or other small attacks. There is another category, those who use social media to provoke the masses” He added that it was those from the second and third categories who were more dangerous. “They live a normal life but pursue the attitude of a terrorist. No one knows their deeds, that is why the neighbours support them when they are raided…It is difficult to overcome their duplicity, but we are on the right track.”
Pakistan wants at least 200 armed terrorists to be active in the Valley and the police are still looking for around 180 of these. But this does not mean that terrorism is still as widely prevalent. The empowerment of the J&K Police has increased its ability to communicate with the villagers. And security forces are able to nab most youths even before they become trouble.
According to Inspector-General of Police Vijay Kumar, 1,394 incidents of stone-pelting were recorded between August 2017 and July 2019, which dropped to 382 in the next year. In those two years, 27 civilians and four security personnel were killed. In the last year, this figure has reached zero. Similarly, there has been a significant decline in terrorist incidents.
Is that enough? No, there are more problems in the Valley. The separatist sentiments have been fed by the syllabus of primary schools and madrasas in Kashmir. A new syllabus is being implemented from August to reverse this. At the same time, a list of teachers, state workers, and officials with a separatist attitude or those who are nurturing terrorists has also been compiled. So far, action has been taken against more than 100 people.
Despite all these efforts, it will take some time to win the trust of the masses in the Valley. There are many wounds on the hearts and minds of this land and its descendants, which need to be healed with the efforts of the government.
Shashi Shekhar is the editor in chief of HindustanThe views expressed are personal