Presenting a united front
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday expressed his “deep concern and pain” over the situation in Kashmir and asked all political parties to work together and find a “permanent and lasting” solution. The Prime Minister issued this statement after his 75-minute-long meeting with a joint opposition delegation led by former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. The 20-member delegation comprising of different opposition parties had called on the Prime Minister and made an appeal for a political approach to resolve the crisis in the Valley and to ensure that the “mistakes” of the past are not repeated. After the meeting, Omar Abdullah told journalists that the Prime Minister had acknowledged that “development alone” cannot resolve the problem. Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Monday said a handful of people opposed to peace were inciting youth to violence in the Kashmir Valley. The Kashmir Valley has been on the boil since the July 8 killing of militant commander Burhan Wani. At least 68 people have been killed and thousands injured in the subsequent unrest in the Valley. It’s been more than 40 days since a curfew was first imposed in certain parts of the region. Despite the positive noise coming out of New Delhi, there is a long way to go before peace and normalcy can be restored. Political parties across the board need to get over their petty differences and present a united front, especially the ruling coalition of the PDP and BJP. The state government needs to get its act together and maintain a basic modicum of law and order.
Reports indicate that the situation in South Kashmir looks particularly bad. Many among the constabulary have abandoned their posts. Some were even seen joining “anti-India” protests. Vast swathes of South Kashmir are bereft of any local police or civil administration. South Kashmir is at the epicenter of the current unrest. In North Kashmir, even though the army and paramilitary forces are in greater numbers, the local police and civil administration are nowhere to be seen. Reports indicate that the Chief Minister’s panicked response to civilian deaths and the horrific injuries inflicted by the use of pellet guns have resulted in the current administrative vacuum. According to one leading national daily, Mufti instructed local policemen to remain “invisible” from the streets and avoid giving the slightest provocation for another potential flashpoint. The maintenance of law and order in a volatile area is a complex affair. Nonetheless, without a functioning police, who are trained to maintain law and order, the state government has ceded space to the paramilitary and armed forces. Matters have been further exacerbated by the fact that the BJP and PDP can’t seem to see eye to eye on key matters of policy. There is virtually little communication between the coalition partners. This divergence between the PDP and BJP has been witnessed on various occasions during the unrest, as argued in this column.
Unlike the political class, various factions of the separatist movement are united in their endeavour. Yasin Malik’s Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and three factions of the separatist conglomerate Hurriyat Conference appear to have set aside their ideological differences. Despite all the positive talk, the Omar Abdullah-led National Conference has adopted the soft-separatist approach earlier espoused by the PDP. This approach has been largely influenced by the Jamaat-e-Islami and its pro-Pakistan militant group Hizbul Mujahideen. In fact, it would be fair to suggest that the NC has indulged in scaremongering about change in Kashmir’s demographics after the state government announced proposals to construct Sainik colonies and Kashmiri Pandit townships. It has also slammed the PDP-BJP government over Wani’s death and the subsequent crackdown on protesters and stone pelting youth. Such an approach is clearly not constructive. Meanwhile, the Congress, which made little progress with both Pakistan and separatist groups during its tenure in the state government and Centre, has also taken aim at the ruling dispensation. The irony of Congress leaders criticising the Centre for using pellet guns against protesters has not been lost on anyone. Following the 2010 unrest, the UPA government had also directed the forces to use pellet guns. The political solution required in the Valley will only come from constructive dialogue between all stakeholders, including the political class.