Iss ghar ko aag lag gayi ghar ke chirag se
Who upset India’s applecart in Kashmir in 2008—2016?
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
Undoubtedly, the turbulence in 2008, which later came to be known as the Amarnath shrine land row, sprouted out of the statements of the separatist hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who in the months of April and May restricted his focus to the “huge number” of the pilgrims allowed to the shrine cave every year and their polyethylene bags. He contended that it could pose “a potential threat to the environment and ecology”. Soon some pictures of “hutments” being raised in the Sindh forest cover appeared in a local newspaper.
While the arguments and the counter-arguments were being traded between the politicians, Governor Lt Gen (retd.) S.K. Sinha’s Principal Secretary Arun Kumar shot a comment, asking why nobody was concerned over the large number of the pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia every year. It proved to be a trigger.
With every passing day, in the month of June, the coalition partner PDP increased pressure on Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to either cancel the allotment of the 40 hectares of land or face withdrawal of the support from Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s party that could obviously bring down his government. Leaders of at least two mainstream parties began buttressing the separatists’ charge that the Government had planned to set up “Amarnath Nagar” to make demographic changes in the Valley.
Any politician of Mufti’s stature and experience could have perceived well the consequences. Cancellation of the allotment could expose Azad and his party Congress to enormous hostility, not only in their core constituency in Jammu but also across the country. Azad chose to step down. On July 7, after a discussion on the PDP’s no-confidence motion in Assembly, he announced his resignation. Six people had died by that day in clashes and demonstrations and hundreds had been injured.
Unprecedented for 18 years, the civilian government’s fall created a mainstream political vacuum and Governor Sinha’s administration found itself on the receiving end of a 1990-like mass movement in entire Kashmir valley. For the first time after 1947, it created an equal and opposition reaction in Jammu, leading to an acute regional and communal polarisation. It was after 14 years that pro-Pakistan flags and slogans dominated the demonstrations, the militants and the separatist politicians reclaimed their ground overnight. In Jammu, all the traditional mainstream leaders went into oblivion and a right wing advocate emerged as the only representative of the people.
The agitation was finally crushed with firing and arrests in Kashmir and a settlement with the sponsors of a parallel strife in Jammu, followed by announcement for the Assembly elections. Suddenly all the extremist forces were marginalised in both, Kashmir and Jammu, and a heavy voter turnout in the elections made it clear that the real drivers of the turbulence were within, not outside.
With little regard to their rhetorical statements made during the turmoil, the mainstream politicians in the Valley sought vote for solving the “day to day governance issues” of roads, power, water, health and education. Immediately after winning the elections, even the top leader Omar Abdullah began raising “the larger political issues” and calling for “dialogue with separatists and Pakistan”.
In presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Omar asserted that Kashmir was a “political issue” that required a “political solution”. This, nevertheless, failed to save him from attempts of a new “ragda” that unfolded soon with the mysterious death of two young women in Shopian as the residents alleged that both had been “raped and killed by Police or security forces”.
Senior State Congress leader and former Union Minister for Water Resources, Prof Saifuddin Soz, said in a statement that he would take up the matter of the Shopian “rape and murder” with the Prime Minister. While the separatists were still struggling to find takers to their allegations of “rape and murder”, the statement from Prof Soz lent seriousness and credibility to the public outrage. Clashes and demonstrations ended only when, four months later, CBI booked about a dozen doctors and lawyers for being “part of a conspiracy to defame the security forces and destabilise the Government with false allegation of rape and murder”.
In the following months and years, almost all those in the forefront of the Shopian agitation were found indulging in crimes like burglary and rape. One of the doctors, who had played key role in sending fudged vaginal smear to the FSL to project it a case of “gang rape”, was caught on camera committing rape on a middle-aged female patient at his clinic. Another leader of the agitation was found to have committed rape on a 14-year-old maid who, according to an uncontested story in Kashmir Images, was passed through abortion at a clinic in Anantnag. Later, Police arrested the same leader with the proof that he had broken into his brother-in-law’s jewellery shop and stolen gold worth Rs 60 lakh.
Two more of the ‘leaders’ were known activists of PDP and NC—one appointed as a prosecutor by Mufti’s government and another by Omar’s government.
Again, in the year 2010, attempts were underway with the beginning of the tourist season to bring down Omar Abdullah’s government. Death of a teenage student, Tufail Matoo, in Police action against a small group of demonstrators triggered a major turbulence. Over a hundred people got killed in Police and security forces firing and hundreds injured. Those killed in the clashes included PDP’s District Youth President in Anantnag.
Incredibly even the ruling NC’s own activists were found involved in enforcing Hurriyat’s shutdown calendar. One of such persons smashed the head of a shopkeeper for defying the shutdown call in Nowhatta area and left him dead. About a dozen of them attacked and captured a Policeman and left him almost dead on the highway near Narbal. They were found to be the sons of the staunch supporters of a National Conference leader and Cabinet Minister in Srinagar.
In competition, activists of almost all the mainstream political parties outsmarted even the separatist hardliners and militants while levelling allegations, attacking Police and security forces and calling for “solution of the Kashmir dispute as per the aspirations of the people”—their euphemism for Azadi. Finally, this theatre of the absurd began fading out only when Rahul Gandhi made it clear in Kolkata that Omar Abdullah’s government in J&K would not fall.
In September, NC’s Member of Parliament Shariefuddin Shariq was the first to allege that the Police (of his own government) had shot dead “three innocent civilian youths” in cold blood, near Qamarwari in Srinagar. An investigation made clear that all the three were active militants carrying guns. They had shot dead two Policemen and taken away their rifles. One of the three slain assailants next day turned out to be the MP’s own grandson.
With the arrival of winter, this time the separatists disappeared, alongwith their shutdown calendar, for a longer pause.
[To be concluded…..]