2016 was PDP’s, BJP’s and NC’s creation, not Pakistan’s and Hurriyat’s
Who upset India’s applecart in Kashmir in 2008-16?Part 3
JAMMU: Like that of the year 2008, which saw the anti-climax in a successful Assembly election, the summer turmoil of 2010 was followed by the highest-turnout Panchayat elections next year. The signing off slogans like ‘khoon ka badla June mein lenge’ proved to be hollow as the people of Kashmir did yet again turn their back on the separatists. Developmental activity went remarkably up and the Valley witnessed the best of its trade and tourism seasons in 2011, 2013 and, until the day of floods, 2014.
Much more than the separatists, it were the mainstream opposition leaders who attempted to create another major turbulence when Afzal Guru was hanged to death in Tihar Jail in February 2013. Someone demanded Guru’s mortal remains and someone glorified his death as “sacrifice” and “martyrdom”. To beat them in the same currency, even Chief Minister Omar Abdullah warned the Centre that Guru’s death would lead to a fresh spell of insurgency. It didn’t. Nobody died in protest.
Again, the same year, the mainstream political parties, including BJP, left no stone unturned to create the stage for a communal flare-up when six demonstrators got killed during a mob attack on a paramilitary camp and when, subsequently, at least three persons got killed and hundreds of shops and vehicles were set on fire on the day of Eid in Kishtwar. Omar put his put down and did not allow any of the political leaders — notably the BJP’s top brass from Jammu and Delhi and the separatists from Srinagar—towards Kishtwar for several weeks.
In the four years following 2010, the only major threat to normalcy poured in with the flash floods of September 2014. Like in 2002-08, Kashmiris forgot about militancy and separatist politics and no major clash or incident of bloodshed occurred to disturb the tranquillity. Significantly, death of two civilians during an operation in Sumbal followed by killing of two young students in Army’s firing at Chhatergam did not shatter the ambience of peace in the Valley.
Before and after the floods, the year 2014 proved to be historic as Jammu and Kashmir witnessed the best-held Parliamentary and Assembly elections. From October to December, hundreds of hugely attended political rallies took place across the Valley. Colourful banners, buntings and posters, besides giant hoardings of different political parties— particularly those of Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi—surfaced throughout South Kashmir. None of these were guarded by Police or security forces and not one was damaged, set on fire or pulled down anywhere. Around a dozen personnel, including militants, died but the fidayeen attack on a Police establishment on Baramulla-Uri Road failed to disrupt the atmosphere for elections.
The Assembly elections of unprecedented enthusiasm and participation were conducted in October-December, 2014. For the first time after 1983, there were no allegations of rigging, other unfair means, no attempts of intimidation, intervention or coercion by security forces or partisan role of the polling staff. The results were equally accepted by all the political parties even as none of them secured majority of 44 seats to form the Government independently.
Over two months of negotiations between the PDP, that had won maximum number of seats (25) in Kashmir, and the BJP, winner of 25 seats in Jammu, culminated into the formation of a coalition Government headed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in March 2015.
Within a week of his taking over, Mufti ordered the release of Massarat Alam Bhat— driver of the 2010 turmoil. Next month, Alam was permitted to organise a major pro-Pakistan demonstration in reception of the separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani in front of the office of Director General of Police and the J&K Police headquarters on the airport road. While his followers waved hundreds of Pakistani flags, Alam led them with slogans like “Hafiz Sayeed ka kya paigam, Kashmir banega Pakistan”.
Next day, Alam organised a similar show in Tral on occasion of the 4th day ceremony of the militant Burhan Wani’s brother, Khalid, who had been killed in an encounter between the militants and Army on a hill top.
Even as Alam was re-arrested under BJP’s and the national media’s pressure, his two demonstrations proved to be a turning point. Thousands of the Kashmiri youths, particularly the College and University students, began identifying themselves with the separatist movement and looking for fresh icons.
The vacuum was filled up by the 21-year-old not-so-famous Burhan Wani who hogged headlines and dominated media—social as well as the regular—with his inflammatory statements, videos and interviews. Until his death in an encounter, Government did not block his access to Internet as he kept posting threats to Police, announced to establish Caliphate, mobilised and enrolled youths and even organised cricket tournaments in South Kashmir.
Within a year of the history’s most successful election, South Kashmir became out of bounds for all pro-India politicians including the Ministers and MLAs of the ruling party known to be having a soft corner for Burhan and his organisation. After March 2015, there was not a single cordon-and-search operation by security forces that was not disrupted by stone pelting mobs. Over a dozen of the top wanted militants are said to have escaped under the cover of these clashes. Even civilian casualties failed to restore order and fear of the forces.
By the time three militants of Bijbehara area died in an encounter in Mattan, in November 2015, PDP and NC had completely surrendered their space to the militants. While as 8,000 to 10,000 residents of Mufti’s home town of Bijbehara attended the funeral of each of the three militants, less than 4,000 participated in Mufti’s own when he was laid to rest in January 2016. Even the shops did not shut.
Even after the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was returned from Anantnag in a low-turnout by-election in June, the boiling point of the much-sustained unrest came with Burhan Wani’s death in an encounter within a fortnight. It proved to be a volcanic eruption as nearly 90 demonstrators were killed and thousands injured in the subsequent clashes and protests for 5 months in the Valley. The number of the participants in Burhan’s funeral is claimed to be between 50,000 and 200,000. This groundswell, Mehbooba recently admitted in Assembly, had not been imagined by anybody in her party of the Government. An unprecedented barrage of Pakistani flags all across the Valley did not subside until hundreds of people---some claim thousands---were detained.
Police and administrative machinery remained almost completely crippled for over four months of continued curfew and shutdown. They fished in the troubled waters but, as on date, the Government has not produced any credible evidence of Pakistan’s or Hurriyat’s hand in the ‘Ragda-2016’. On the contrary, every mainstream political party’s subscription to the turmoil is evident from North to South Kashmir.
From stone pelting to arson, that damaged hundreds of public properties, schools and over 15,000 vehicles and caused loss of Rs 16,000 crore to the State economy, it were the workers of the mainstream political parties who were openly on the forefront. Family background of the detainees, who attacked Police stations and looted weapons, makes it all the more clear. Not surprising if the elected lawmakers of PDP or NC or an independent MLA call Burhan Wani a “martyr” and his death “sacrifice to the cause of freedom”.