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The straw that broke the camel's back

Rifleman Aurangzeb’s martyrdom and his family’s angry response made the Centre sit up and notice, writes Sushil Kutty.

The straw that broke the camels back

BJP walked out of the alliance. But PDP walked away with the talking points: Influenced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make his snap trip to Lahore, win for PDP's 'reconciliation' thrust as opposed to Centre's "muscular response"; secured release of over 10,000 stone-throwers; enforced Ramzan Ceasefire and protected "Articles 370 and 35 A". That left BJP scrambling for cover with "law & order had deteriorated" and "national security and India's integrity was at stake."

Were those what compelled BJP to pull the plug on the alliance? BJP/RSS facilitator of the alliance Ram Madhav said the pact was "no longer tenable." He cited the daylight killing of Shujaat Bukhari as a reason. That may be along with other factors untenable but the catalyst was the abduction and killing of Rifleman Aurangzeb, a valued member of 44 Rashtriya Rifles, the army unit with the most number of terrorist-kills this year, including the scalps of Hizbul commanders Sameer Tiger and Saddam Paddar.

At this point of time, nothing mattered more to the army than the killing of Rifleman Aurangzeb. It was a targeted killing, a message to the army, RR-44 in particular, that terror will get its pound of flesh. Soldier Aurangzeb was 'buddy' to Major Rohit Shukla who was challenged by terrorist Sameer Tiger to a duel of death. The Hizbul commander was killed for his impudence and Rifleman Aurangzeb was right by Major Shukla's side when Sameer Tiger got his comeuppance.

That being said, the response of Aurangzeb's family was what stunned BJP and the Modi Government. The family took Prime Minister Narendra Modi head on and mocked the Centre's "muscular Kashmir policy". Aurangzeb's father Mohammad Haneef took Modi's name several times and warned that if Modi failed to deliver his son's killers, his family would do the honours – "72 hours is all I give," ex-soldier Haneef told the media, sitting distraught under a tree in his village, waiting to receive his soldier son's body.

That rattled the Centre. Aurangzeb's family, which boasts of more soldiers – former and present – than any Indian family was deadly serious. His brother is a serving army man and another is waiting to take-up the family duty. One of his uncles had met a similar fate like Aurangzeb's, abducted and killed by Pakistani-trained terrorists. The sense of déjà vu was too much for the family to sit quiet this time.

Rifleman Aurangzeb's martyrdom and his family's angry response made the Centre sit up and take notice. This was the first time a Kashmiri Muslim family was threatening to take the fight home to the terrorists. And the family would find support, too. It would be folly to take the warning and the challenge lightly. For, suddenly it dawned on many that Kashmir has a very sizeable chunk of "soldiers" wedded to the "idea of India"; people who will stand up for the tricolour; who will stare terror in the face – like Aurangzeb did – and give up their lives for "Mother India."

Left alone, the unrest among this lot of Kashmiris could have gone into lanes and bylanes the Modi government wouldn't have liked. A big enough bunch of Kashmiri ex-soldiers taking up arms would have spelt "civil strife" of a different order. A vigilante type of justice would have got innocents in the crossfire and another talking point delivered on a platter to anti-India forces including Pakistan and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights with the Government of India blamed for spawning a rogue force not different from LeT and the Hizbul. Islamists like Zakir Musa would have waded into the swamp with wide Jihadi smiles.

Without doubt, the response to Rifleman Aurangzeb's killing took the Modi Government by surprise. Earlier, too, Kashmiri Muslim soldiers in the Indian Army have been killed by terrorists while on leave, Lt. Ummer Fayazz's murder is a case in point. But this time the response was chilling. Behind the tears and grief, there was grim determination, stiff resolve. Aurangzeb's father Mohammed Haneef put it in coldly chilling perspective – "if only we were armed!"

Alarm and the urgency reflected in the government response. Army Chief Bipin Rawat visited Aurangzeb's family in his Poonch village along with a couple of top army commanders. He assured Mohammed Haneef of avenging Aurangzeb's supreme sacrifice with the full might of the Indian Army. Two days later, BJP walked out of the governing alliance in J&K. Then on June 20, 2018, Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman made a call and sat down with the family, the women in particular – Aurangzeb's young burqa-clad wife sitting by her side, a photo-op as well as another indication of the urgency.

Of course, there's also the opportunity in the tragedy, for BJP and the Modi Government. What better chance than this to refurbish the nationalistic credentials of the so-called nationalistic BJP, the party with a difference, protector of India's unity and integrity? Towards the end of the Ramzan Ceasefire, BJP's image as a nationalist party was in tatters and the feeling that Modi was full of oats and nationalist courage was on thin ice.

Shujaat Bukhari's assassination and the deteriorating law and order situation, the marauding stone-pelters, all of those counted but the catalyst was the abduction and killing of Rifleman Muhammad Choudhary Aurangzeb and his family's response to the murder of their soldier son.

For the first time, the sobriquet of the "army brat" got its real meaning. It's not Sushmita Sen and Gulmeher Kaur who deserve that handle. It's the sons of soldiers fighting the enemy in Jammu & Kashmir who are the real claimants to the denomination. Soldiers like Rifleman Aurangzeb!

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

Sushil Kutty

Sushil Kutty

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