The Narendra Modi government’s announcement of the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was preceded by a massive exercise of data-gathering in the Valley.
This exercise also appears to be influencing the government’s crackdown on various sections in the Valley, especially the large-scale preventive detentions that have taken place since 4 August.
Several fragments of this data-gathering exercise can be pieced together, based on conversations with Kashmiri civilians and security personnel.
The exercise of mapping seems to have included gathering information on different elements like mosques, political workers and leaders, personal security officers, journalists, activists, businessmen and youths involved in protests in the past.
One exercise, which took place barely a week before the government’s announcement on 5 August, was a survey of mosques.
On 28 July, an order was issued by Police Control Room, Srinagar, instructing all the zonal SPs of the district police to “provide details of mosques and their managements” in their area “for onward submission to higher authorities.”
The notice went viral on social media and created panic, with the public perceiving it as a precursor to “something big”. The police dismissed the public’s concerns and claimed that this was just a “routine exercise”. But, the fact that only one day was given for the zonal police to complete this exercise, indicated the sense of urgency behind it.
Political Leaders and Workers
The information in this regard was gathered over the months leading up to the government’s decision to effectively revoke Article 370.
As the government had last year launched a crackdown on Jamaat-e-Islami – arguably the most influential political organisation in the Valley – the focus of the latest exercise was on pro-India political parties, like the National Conference and PDP.
NC leaders and functionaries with a strong local base were identified. This is reflected in the list of leaders who have been placed under “preventive detention” since 4 August.
The detention of former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah is well known, but what isn’t examined enough is the crackdown on several leaders of NC, PDP, smaller Kashmiri parties and even some Jammu-based functionaries of the Panthers Party and the Congress.
The government may have identified these leaders and functionaries as potential sources of resistance to its decision on Article 370.
Case in point being veteran NC leader and Khanyar MLA Ali Mohammad Sagar, who is said to have been picked up and sent to a jail outside Jammu and Kashmir. Despite representing a separatist stronghold in downtown Srinagar, Sagar has a captive support base among poorer constituents in the seat and has been undefeated in the seat since elections were resumed in Jammu and Kashmir in 1996.
“Sagar can bring the area to a standstill if he wants. Even separatists don’t mess with him. He is among the few mainstream leaders who could have created trouble for the government,” a source in Jammu and Kashmir administration disclosed.
Earlier this year, Sagar hailed slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani as a “martyr”. There was a sense in the administration that the MLA could mobilise both “mainstream” as well as separatist sections against the government and, therefore, he was on top of the list of political leaders targeted during the crackdown.
Over the past few months, the government also took stock of the personal security officers (PSOs) assigned to various politicians, bureaucrats and other important individuals. The number of PSOs was drastically reduced by the government over a number of phases.
In October last year, the government removed Special Police Officers from personal security duty of protected persons. This was after Adil Bashir, an SPO, decamped with seven rifles and a pistol. He was a PSO with PDP MLA from Wachi in South Kashmir, Aijaz Ahmad Mir.
In two separate decisions, in February and April this year, close to 3000 PSOs were withdrawn by the government. The idea was to consolidate the control over armed personnel in Jammu and Kashmir and prevent possibilities of rebellion.
The government has been apprehensive that the decision to abrogate Kashmir’s special status could spark a rebellion by sections within the Jammu and Kashmir police.
Even on the day Union Minister Amit Shah presented the government’s decision in the Rajya Sabha, he was photographed with a page listing several action points, one of which was “preparing for violent disobedience by uniformed personnel”, clearly hinting at the Jammu and Kashmir police.
Since then, there have been unconfirmed reports of some police personnel being disarmed in parts of Kashmir.
“The Kashmir police, at the lower and middle rung, especially, are angry at the insult of being disarmed by the government,” says a report in The Caravan.
It further quotes a senior journalist as saying: “I have never heard an SHO refusing to pick up people. I know of two SHOs who have refused to follow orders and questioned why they should be picked up, whereas the nearby SHO picked up 50 people and PSA-ed [detained under public safety act] them”.
Journalists, Activists and Businesses
Several hundred people are said to have been questioned in the intervening period between the Pulwama Attack, on 14 February this year, and the government’s decision to effectively abrogate Article 370 on 5 August.
Besides the police, the agencies involved include the National Investigation Agency, the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax department.
In some cases, the inquiries were of a nature that hasn’t been seen in the Valley before. Several activists in Srinagar said that security personnel came into their homes or offices and noted down GPS coordinates, besides asking questions.
The tracking of journalists reporting from the Valley is also said to have been increased. Urdu publications and the largest English daily Greater Kashmir was a particular point of focus.
Fayaz Kaloo, the owner of Greater Kashmir and its sister concern Kashmir Uzma, was questioned by the NIA for six days in July – less than a month before the government’s decision.
Earlier this week, Irfan Amin a Tral-based reporter with Greater Kashmir, is said to have been detained by security forces.
Stone-Pelters and Protestors
In the last one year, the security forces are also said to have prepared an area-wise list of young men and boys who had taken part in protests and stone-pelting in the past.
In the first week of August, Lieutenant General KJS Dhillon, the commander of 15th Corp, said that according to an ‘in-house analysis’ by security forces, “83 percent of the boys who picked up the gun in the past 18 months, have a history of stone-pelting,” as per a Greater Kashmir report.
In the last 10 days, several youths – many of them minors – are said to have been picked up by the security forces. The fact-finding team of activists Jean Dreze, Kavita Krishnan, Maimoona Mollah and others have also accused the security forces of detaining children.
They have documented a video of a child who claims to have been picked up by security forces and alleges that there were 10-12 other children with him.
The Big Picture
These are only parts of what seems to have been a much more complex exercise. What is clear is that the larger aim of the government has been to map out the Kashmiri society into different units and identify points of possible resistance.
Referring specifically to Srinagar, a report in The Caravan said, “The city had been parcelled out into small manageable blocks, cordoned off from all sides. The strategy was devised by either an American consultancy or Israeli army contractors, according to the security-analyst community grapevine. A huge team of officials from the National Technical Research Organisation, who were stationed at Srinagar’s Gupkar road and Church Lane, had set up a massive surveillance network, including drones.”
The report quotes a university professor as saying: “We have never seen anything like this... It has been smart and sophisticated. They have remapped the Srinagar roadmap for its residents in what seemed like a psychological drill.”
The big picture here is that the government seems to be viewing Kashmiris as a population that needs to be mapped out into manageable units and then controlled.
This is the thinking behind the massive crackdown in the Valley – the blocking of means of communication, detention of political leaders, curbs on the media and the large scale surveillance. The area-wise phasing out of the restrictions is also likely to be informed by the data gathered by the government.