With a massive security build-up and unprecedented fear psychosis, civil engagement in the Valley is under threat
Before we address the cloud of apprehension over Kashmir, courtesy the unprecedented security cover, the bigger question is whether the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is being pragmatic or wise enough to push a tunnel vision project pursuant to its party agenda at this point over other issues that perhaps need more intense an intervention. While everybody understands how Prime Minister Narendra Modi feels about the Valley, having been a party in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir in the past, and is keen to de-radicalise it internally and be seen as an architect of its political destiny, the ho and hum around that effort is certainly not convincing enough. If anything else, it is ending up drawing attention in the wrong places and strengthening policy stereotypes than breakthroughs. Nobody is discounting the security threat that looms large over the Amarnath yatra or that a post-Balakot Pakistan won’t let up. But the yatra itself has never been called off in the worst years of militancy. Nor an emergency situation created whereby 11,000 tourists, including foreigners, are being evacuated from a State that depends a lot on the tourist economy. That, too, with war-like hyper drills of rationing goods. Isn’t crippling services and everyday life more provocative than reassuring? This, compounded by speculation and a massive security build-up, only leads to an atmosphere of fear and doubt, particularly when it comes so soon after Governor Satyapal Malik’s advocacy of grassroots governance through panchayats or talks with Hurriyat leaders. Unless this blow-hot-blow-cold approach is some sort of mind game. Either way, with a civil society that has long drifted away, the fog of alienation and insecurity is not good for either side and undercuts any gains made. Also, wittingly or unwittingly, it has drawn the international gaze, too, to what is clearly a created chaos or a confrontational context for justifying any intended action. Ostensibly, there has been a seizure of Pakistani-origin weapons and intelligence input of an attack. And despite the aggressive stance of Home Minister Amit Shah on Article 370 in Parliament, the fact is he is well within rights to maintain law and order and curtail threat perception in conflict-riddled areas. But will brute force or naming individual people as terrorists under the new UAPA (Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Amendment) Bill really reset the contours of Kashmir’s eco-system? The clampdowns on school teachers from across the state and others suspected of “militancy-related” activities have already diminished the scope of civil engagement.
What is left to crack down considering even the Hurriyat is now a spent force? A muscular squeeze on terror financing has ensured a weakening of Pakistani conduits, even charities. Yet worryingly, the last few years have seen local youth supporting terrorism and even participating in it. South Kashmir is still caught in the vortex of violence. And if the heavily supervised Lok Sabha election in sensitive areas and low percentages are anything to go by, then democratic participation is a long call. In this supercharged atmosphere, the fears of abrogation of Article 35 A or Article 370 are now being attributed as the sole intention, further leading to a sense of detachment and anger. In these days of information superhighways and the wayward traffic of dialogue in them, radio silence does no good. A build-up, clearly meant to induce a fear psychosis, automatically fuels the expectation of retributive approach. Kashmir is not alien to security presence and a stronger-arm approach can do little to dent its status. If anything it only entrenches rigidities. Some are wondering if this is part of a great plan consistent with the BJP’s aim of hoisting the tricolour in every panchayat this Independence Day, an attempt at galvanising its workers who ensured success at the local body polls. But that inroad has to be made through negotiation, reconciliation and a semblance of trust. Any ramrod approach now may even tear this delicate fabric. Besides, with all the intermediary filters and interlocutors out of place, it might be very difficult for the government to engage with people who may come out on the streets en masse for a bloody showdown.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer