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  Opinion   Oped  24 Oct 2019  National, anti-national and the new politics in Kashmir

National, anti-national and the new politics in Kashmir

Anand Sahay is a senior journalist based in Delhi.
Published : Oct 24, 2019, 7:07 am IST
Updated : Oct 24, 2019, 7:07 am IST

Military fixation, and throwing out the old, is the new politics for Kashmir that the Centre is busy crafting.

Security personnel patrol a deserted street in Srinagar on Friday. (Photo: PTI)
 Security personnel patrol a deserted street in Srinagar on Friday. (Photo: PTI)

Srinagar/Baramulla/Shopian: In an extraordinary display of deployment amidst nationalistic fervour, not seen since the militancy of the early 1990s, the country’s armed forces are spread across the towns and villages of the Kashmir Valley, guns at the ready. Men of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, doing duty alongside them in urban areas, no longer carry a weapon.

Apparently, since August 5 this year — the date which has gone into history for stripping J&K of its statehood and its unique status — the police is only issued the innocuous staff or small “danda”.

The Kashmir police has been “disarmed”, the locals believe.

On a drive from Baramulla in the Valley’s north to Shopian in the south, past the capital Srinagar, I made it a point to observe carefully, just to be sure. There wasn’t a single policeman with a gun anywhere on the 120-km drive.

Before 1989-90, when militancy burst out in Kashmir, the police force in the state was sloppy, and poorly equipped and trained. But in only a few years, it became a crack anti-insurgency unit, often leading the way in the fight against terrorism.

If people here are to be believed, a shadow has now been cast on the loyalty of the J&K Police when on duty in the Valley, although they have given no cause for doubt.

I ask an old friend, who was a victim of militant violence in the early 1990s, how he would compare the pervasive presence of the security forces then and now. He says spontaneously, “The forces did some terrible things back then too, but the widely shared feeling was that they were around to deal with Pakistan-encouraged militancy. Today, the sense is they are here to watch us.”

These stinging words are a testimony to the dichotomous “national”, “anti-national” perception that finds preference in policy quarters in Delhi.

Military fixation, and throwing out the old, is the new politics for Kashmir that the Centre is busy crafting. This is all too evident. Hence, the incarceration for an indefinite period of established mainstream politicians, notably Farooq and Omar Abdullah, and Mehbooba Mufti — all former chief ministers of J&K. They are not wanted anymore by Delhi, which is on the lookout for new politicians and a new politics.

Security merges seamlessly with politics in Kashmir. This is why, while the many are imprisoned, a few will be contesting elections on October 24 — for chairmen of block development councils (BDC). There is an obvious agenda — everyone thinks.

“If India can’t trust even Farooq Abdullah, who will it ever trust?” I am asked everywhere — by villagers in Baramulla; by an articulate MLA (a former MLA, really, since the Assembly was ruthlessly dissolved before time last year — to prepare for the present moment, it seems in retrospect) who is under house-arrest but is not in the glare of the state and can beat the system and receive an occasional visitor; by high and low alike in Srinagar; and everywhere in Shopian, where one treads carefully on account of potential militant trouble.

In the eyes of Kashmir, the senior Abdullah is the most “committed” votary of India imaginable, and he too has been cast aside along with the leaders of the separatist Hurriyat Conference. No crime, but the same punishment.

Whenever the Abdullahs and other “mainstream” leaders might be released, with the substance of Article 370 extinguished, Kashmir’s India-centric political actors would be without an agenda. (Will they choose new paths?) There can’t be better preparation for the BDC polls.

BDC elections are being held for the first time in Kashmir — and in sneaky circumstances. The state is under lockdown, leaders of all parties except the BJP are in jail. Yet, the Election Commission has announced these polls on “party lines”. People wonder about the fairness of the poll body. Perhaps this is the way to get one-party dominance for the BJP in the Kashmir Valley — so far a no-go area for it — and Assembly elections, people suspect, might be held on similar lines.

BDC polls are indirect elections in which the panch and sarpanch “elected” in November 2018 will now elect a chairman for their respective blocks. In 61 per cent of the panchayats, polls could not be held. In most of the remaining seats, a single candidate filed his nomination and was declared elected. For some seats, two votes were cast. In general, the “candidates” were from among former drug addicts or peddlers, it is said, or petty criminals who were duly incentivised to file their nominations. These characters will now be “electing” block chairmen. Welcome to the new politics in Kashmir.

(To be concluded)

Tags: jammu and kashmir police, kashmir valley