Millennium Post

Of Shopkeeper, renegade and AFSPA

One morning in 90’s, a pistol-borne renegade approached a shopkeeper in Srinagar. The gunman placed his weapon on the shop front to frighten him. Indeed, it would send shiver to any mortal. The shop owner politely requested him to have a cup of tea. He refused and instead demanded ransom of Rs 1 lakh. It was a huge amount in those days, especially for a small-time shopkeeper dealing with seasonal dried vegetables. But he had gauged the pulse of such gunmen before. The shopkeeper murmured an excuse that he was a poor man. Perhaps, nobody could afford to talk on the top of their voices before any such gunman. It could have consumed your life. It, in fact, did claimed lives of innocent people.

The gunman didn’t scale down the demand. He refused to take anything less than Rs 1 lakh. He fiddled with his pistol to terrify him. The shopkeeper haggled over the amount. He pleaded his poverty and family responsibility to save himself.
Something prevailed in his heart. The demand got scaled down by Rs 10,000. Again, he profusely pleaded before the gunman. The amount got cut further by Rs 10,000. He explained to him his entire family responsibility. It came in handy alibi to shuffle out of consequences. Gradually, the ransom fell by Rs 50,000.
This shrewd shopkeeper wept before him to make the gunman fall in line. It nosedived to Rs 10,000 only. The shopkeeper pleaded more. Now, it reached to Rs 5,000. It gave the shopkeeper more hope. Again, he haggled. The gunman asked for
Rs 100 only. Feeling relaxed, he opened up his empty cashbox before him and the gunman hurried away.

The grand picture
Currently, that story defines the contemporary Omar Abdullah-New Delhi relations. Abdullah for two-years sought revocation of Armed Powers Special Powers Act (AFSPA). In a soul-stirring speech in 2012, he stated that the Act would be scrapped from some areas ‘within next few days’. That day, newspapers and news channels looked soaked by the piece enacted by him. Public got enthused over this statement. He won many plaudits from different quarters as his piece rejuvenated hope among the masses. However, it is yet to be followed up with action on ground. As it turned out, chief minister’s raucous cry got drowned before powerful institution of Army, which defended the law that it considered as a lifeline for its soldiers serving in this turbulent state. The friction that ensued between the ‘democratically’ elected civilian government and the Army raised two immediate questions? Should one say the accusation of separatists that local government is more than ‘puppet’ of Delhi proved right? And that it provided window to public to look at the powerless state government.  As very matter of fact, the federal government in cahoots with Army did pay no heed to scrap the draconian Act. This got evident when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh along with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi visited the Valley. The duo did no promise or clamored for revocation of the law in their respective speeches leaving the impression that they were not going to cut a deal at all. Subsequently, the chief minister sought modification of the law itself and whined about the things not being done by Delhi. Perhaps, his peeved tone was justifiable given that the elections are near.

The question
Meanwhile, the question arises would Abdullah afford to whine about Delhi given that his parent organisation-National Conference-is a political ally of UPA? Should one say that they have failed to employ pressure tactic to haggle over the revocation demand just for the sake to retain power?

At least, it’s bark should have been worst than bite. But the reality stays in contrast to. Had Omar really been peeved at being ignored by the Centre, he would have called it a day when Afzal Guru was hanged? He might claim for his innocence, but will the world at large not think its just an eyewash to cover up his shortcomings?

That renegade-shopkeeper as a background adds up to the sense that history repeats itself. Like that shopkeeper, Delhi is fully acquainted to make government’s in Jammu and Kashmir fall in line since 1947.
The author is a journalist
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