Catching up with Kashmir

Kashmir was back into another shutdown on Sunday in a new phase of disruption of life in the Valley. With the Lok Sabha election in Srinagar witnessing a largely successful boycott call from separatists, indications are that militants are gaining an upper hand in the Valley while security forces are more on the defensive.

The Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government is losing its legitimacy and is failing to bring the situation under control. The Union Government also is seen to be groping in the dark as to how to handle the situation. Unless effective measures are put in place, there’s every chance of things going further out of control.

It goes to show national security is at serious risk. While the voting percentage in the Srinagar Lok Sabha bypolls was in the range of seven per cent — a ludicrous low — National Conference leader and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has won the seat.

The result goes to show that even those who turned up for voting have overwhelmingly rejected the PDP-BJP alliance and voted in favour of the veteran NC leader — who also functioned as a Union Minister in the UPA government at the Centre.

The people’s past mood in favour of the PDP and BJP, as was reflected in the last assembly elections two years ago, has changed. They are understandably fed up with the poor law and order situation, frequent shutdowns and violence.

Farooq Abdullah’s call immediately after the result was out was to dismiss the Mehbooba-led government and impose President’s rule on the state. Admittedly, he does not have the locus standi to make such demands. A close look at the worsening situation in the Valley, however, would show that this also cannot be ruled out.

Neither the PDP nor the BJP can claim to have taken any meaningful steps to improve the situation in Kashmir in the last two years. Rather, the scenario is getting more and more out of control.

However, the line that Abdullah has taken recently, that the youths who pelt stones at security forces are “freedom fighters”, was uncalled for. Such statements from leaders of Abdullah’s seniority and stature will only aggravate the situation and give more moral courage to these youths to indulge in violence.

The security forces have also been facing flak for some of their excesses — like the way they tied up a stone-pelter on the bonnet of their vehicle, and drove through troubled localities. Their plan was probably to avoid stones being pelted at them by keeping one of the protesters as a shield. How this would make them more likeable is beyond comprehension.

Security personnel are at their wits’ end, faced as they are with daily attacks from youths in the Valley. The way army personnel have been behaving is one of the primary reasons for their present mess.

Allegations of torture abound, even within army ranks. A jawan was targeted by seniors for exposing the bad food and treatment meted out to low ranking jawans. The army has become extremely unpopular with the people of Kashmir, who see it as oppressive and ineffective.

Instead of tying up a stone-pelter to the vehicle and angering people more, the army personnel need to review where they have gone wrong in terms of a working relationship with the locals.

The state apparatus will need to maintain its dignity and decorum even in these difficult times in the Valley. And army personnel will need to change their attitude to gain the trust of the local populace.

It is a pity that killings are the order of the day in Kashmir. With the Mehbooba government failing to effectively handle the situation, it is time the Centre acts in more focused and responsible way rather than allowing the situation to drift.

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