Kashmir Chaos: Geopolitical Threat Lurks Behind Valley’s Crisis?
Here are the facts that are before us in Kashmir: tens of thousands of central armed police forces have been inducted; not only the Army, the Air Force too has been put on operational alert; the Amarnath Yatra has been stopped; yatris and tourists have been shipped out of the Valley; ambulances have been told to stock up fuel; students and labour from other states are being moved out.
These steps are not limited to the Valley: even the Machail (not to be confused with Machhil sector in Kupwara) Yatra from Kishtwar has been suspended.
(Catch all the lives updates on Kashmir unrest here.)
Tight-Lipped Administration, Active Rumour-Mongering
The result of all this is that people across the Valley are in a panic; the rumour mill is swinging wildly. People have jammed petrol pumps even in the far corners, carrying away jerry cans in addition to filling their fuel tanks.
Markets were buzzing till late on Friday night, as people bought provisions—ten kilos of onions, twenty of potatoes, five of tomatoes! People appeared to be preparing for a prolonged shutdown, or curfew.
Nobody could say what the preparations were for. Political leaders, including former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, former ministers Sajad Lone and Imran Ansari, and former bureaucrat Shah Faesal met Governor Satya Pal Malik, asserting that the identity of Kashmir, and of the state, was at stake.
They seemed to presume that the Union government was about to change the constitutional provisions that give the state a special status in India. Mufti said that a Muslim-majority state had acceded to India, and it was imperative to retain that identity.
Governor Denies 35A Abrogation Rumours
Malik said several times over the past few days that there was no move to revoke Article 35-A of the Constitution, which prevents persons who are not state subjects from buying property in the state.
Another rumour gathered much steam: that the state was to be trifurcated, so that Jammu became a separate state, and the Valley and Ladakh became union territories. The ruling party’s whip to MPs to be present in the Rajya Sabha until 7 August added fuel to the theory that a constitutional change was imminent.
While it is possible that the government is about to change the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, that seems like an unwarranted—not to say foolhardy—scenario.
Sure, such changes were promised in the BJP’s election manifesto. But it would be so much easier to make such changes in winter. For one thing, the ruling benches are likely to have a majority in the Rajya Sabha by then. Two, the state administration would have moved out of the Valley, and it would be so much easier to move out the very few tourists who might be in the Valley then. And, the biting winter cold would dampen protests to at least some extent.
What Forced the Govt to Cancel the Amarnath Yatra?
Most important, making such changes in winter would not require suspension of the Amarnath and Machel yatras. Both pilgrimages draw large numbers of the BJP’s core vote base—the Machel Yatra from the state, and the Amarnath Yatra from across the country.
It is the RSS and sections of the BJP which have turned the Amarnath Yatra into something of an annual assertion of Hindu tradition and pride in the Valley over the past quarter-century.
In the past, the Yatra used to be a trek, on foot quite often from Anantnag all the way to the 12,600 ft-high cave-shrine, by a trickle of sadhus and a few other devotees. The BJP, and its favourites in the administration, have gone out of their way to highlight, safeguard, and extend the Yatra. It doesn’t make sense that they would suspend it in order to put into effect schemes that could have been undertaken at other times of the year.
Security Agencies’ Joint Press Conference Hints At Larger Looming Threat Than Officially Declared
The sniper rifle and other equipment which the army claimed to have recovered from terrorists set on disrupting the Yatra don’t seem so scary that the government would suspend the Yatra over these recoveries. Rather, they would have pumped up security.
It could be that the security threat that was highlighted by Corps Commander KJS Dhillon at a press conference on Friday has larger ramifications, and is more acute than most of us imagine. There have been reports of a lot of infiltration in recent weeks.
It is worth noting that Pakistan’s armed forces too are on high alert. Leaves have been cancelled, and resources mobilised.
One should not ignore the fact that these developments have come in the wake of repeated offers by US President Trump to arbitrate or mediate between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The idea came up during talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Washington DC about ten days ago. We do not know all that was discussed at those talks, at which Pakistan Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa was present.
(The writer is the author of ‘The Story of Kashmir’ and ‘The Generation of Rage in Kashmir’. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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