Kashmir At Inflection Point: Subversive Bureaucracy May Be Scuttling Government Efforts To Normalise
If the underlying fault-lines are not handled effectively, and the central government does not see through the false smoke-screens of the old order, Kashmir risks spiralling out of control that could be far worse than the 1990s.
The government of India has to put its ear to the ground and take proactive and pre-emptive measures before it is too late.
After the special status enshrined under Article 370 was made inapplicable to Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August 2019, there were fears of mass unrest matched by an equal degree of hope for positive change. The lack of mass unrest, stone pelting and shutdowns indicated that the population was reconciled to the changed situation.
The arrests of many mainstream political leaders gave hope and opportunity for new leadership to emerge. Unfortunately, the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic that struck soon after the change in Article 370 either slowed down things or put many things on the backburner for a good two years.
After the lifting of pandemic-related restrictions, Kashmir Valley went through a rare period of peace and bustle. It welcomed a record inflow of tourists, beating all previous records. the armed forces seemed to have taken control of the few active terrorists operating in the valley. The appointment of a civilian Lieutenant–Governor was a show of intent by Delhi that it wants to see the state return to a normal state, without excessive security concerns.
The beeline of central ministers to the valley, with a mandate to accelerate the delivery of projects and services related to their respective ministries, had raised high hopes and expectations. A significant reduction in the numbers of paramilitary forces on account of relative peace raised hopes for a demilitarised state.
In spite of the positive signs there were also unmissable signs of concern.
The mainstream political parties that flourished under Article 370 were quite unpopular among the masses, and a new young leadership started emerging. Local body elections were a reasonable success with record voter turnouts. However, when New Delhi wanted to explore a restarting of the political process, it invited the same old 'Gupkar gang', disappointing a lot of people in the valley. It conveyed lack of options for Delhi as well as fears of the indispensability of the old order.
An emerging new leadership that does not espouse the ideologies of the old order was being made ineffective by the bureaucracy and the system that is still controlled by the Gupkar gang, or its masters across the border. The emerging leadership at the grassroots level is put through several bureaucratic bottlenecks. On the pretext of security concerns, they are not allowed to meet their voters or actively allowed to campaign in their constituencies. They are forcefully confined to some secured locations, usually a hotel guarded by a posse of security men.
How can a candidate communicate his electoral promises to his constituents if he is not even allowed to meet them? However, the same bureaucracy is providing security and escorting candidates of the Gupkar parties to carry on with their normal campaigning. The system is effectively snuffing out any hopes for a new leadership to emerge.
Archaic Security Protocols
The security protocols that were put in place during the 1990s carnage and exodus of Hindus are still continuing with marginal changes. The only significant change is the involvement of family members before the start of any encounter, giving an opportunity for the family to convince their boys to drop the gun. This has resulted in quite a few successful returns of terrorists into peaceful mainstream life. Save that, most other protocols haven’t changed for decades.
Instead of proactively going after the sources of radicalisation and recruitment, and eliminating their handlers, either within or outside, the forces are still following the old approach of going after terrorists after a terrorist attack. A year of effective ceasefire with Pakistan has ensured breathing space to the terrorists and their handlers, with successful recruitments and infiltration.
The targeted killings of Satish Singh, Rahul Bhatt, Akash Mehra, the son of Krishna Dhaba owner, goldsmith Satpal Singh, sarpanch of Anantnag Ajay Pandit and several others, and the fatwa issued by terror outfit Lashkar-e-Islam asking all Kashmiri Pandits to leave the valley or face targeted killings, shows the failure of the traditional security approach of the forces. Reactive responses have to be replaced with proactive, pre-emptive and punitive actions.
The cost to the handlers across the line has to be significantly increased if the trend has to be reversed. Launch-pads have to be eliminated on an ongoing basis without waiting for them to push in their assets. The handlers have to be taken out with pinpoint targeted attacks giving out a chilling message and resulting in higher degree of deterrence. Asymmetrical war has to be fought asymmetrically.
What the political and administrative bosses in Delhi plan and propose, the local compromised bureaucracy is effectively scuttling. During the Ramzan period, the local administration resorted to load-shedding exactly at the time of evening prayers. The narrative that came out of this is that the `Hindu fascist’ central government is targeting Muslim beliefs and practices and harassing them during prayer time.
The truth is far from this, and neither the central government nor the Lt Governor of the Union Territory has any such intentions, nor have they given any such instructions. The sad part is they are not even aware of how compromised officers are creating these narratives and so there are no clarifications or corrective measures to address this dangerous narrative.
While the government did manage to remove some rotten apples in the administration, large sections of them are still working against the interests of the nation, and in support of the Gupkar gang or the separatist ideologies. Now that the Kashmir cadre is merged with the all-India services cadre, the government has to transfer them out to other states and fresh, effective and proven officers from across the country have to be inducted into Kashmir, if the current narrative has to be changed.
The Delimitation Commission which gave its report recently earmarked 43 seats for Jammu and 47 seats for Kashmir Valley, a total of 90 seats against the present 83 seats. Out of the seven new seats, six were allotted to Jammu and one to Kashmir. However, the basis of the commission’s report is the 2011 Census which is known to be manipulated. The 2011 Census inflated the Muslim population of the valley, double counted them in Jammu, undercounted the Hindu population of Jammu and didn’t count the Pakistan and Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (POK) refugees.
When the commission was working on the basis of the 2011 Census, several right-minded people objected to the same, but in their wisdom the commission and the government of India ignored those objections and went ahead. The commission has also not recommended seats to refugees from POK and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Since the 2021 Census is due now, the commission should have waited for the same before it started its delimitation exercise. Instead of giving a just and equitable electoral canvas to the state, the commission has opened a Pandora’s box, resulting in more pain and hardships to the state.
The dominance of the Sunni-Wahabi sect of the valley hasn’t been corrected post-the dilution of Article 370. The other denominations of Islam including Sufis, Shias, Bakarwalas, Gujjars, Ahmadiyyas and others are still marginalised. The government should have provided a level-playing field to all denominations of Islam to counter the Pakistan-inspired separatist forces.
The madrasas and the masjids which are still spinning separatist narratives have to be dealt with an iron-fist unlike the current casual approach. Those that aid and abet the separatist narratives have to be arrested and taken out of the state. They should be replaced with maulvis who are apolitical and against separatist ideologies.
The government of India had announced the reconstruction and revival of Hindu temples of the valley after the special status was removed. However, in the past three years, there has been no real move in this direction. Several important temples are under the Dharmarth Trust under the chairmanship of Dr Karan Singh.
There are several other trusts which are running other temples. There is a need for the government to form a single trust involving various sections of the Kashmiri Hindu society along with peetadhipathis and prominent Hindu intellectuals from the rest of the country for revival, restoration and maintenance of Kashmiri temples.
Till date, not a single temple has been renovated or restored by the government. Revival of these temples shouldn’t be mere rhetoric but should be a serious commitment by the government to revive and restore the cultural linkages of Kashmir to the rest of Bharat.
The compromised bureaucracy is working at cross-purposes with the national agenda and the nationalist government. The relative calm and unprecedented tourism cannot be taken as a return to normalcy.
If the underlying fault-lines are not handled effectively, and the central government does not see through the false smoke-screens of the old order, Kashmir risks spiralling out of control that could be far worse than the 1990s. The government of India has to put its ear to the ground and take proactive and pre-emptive measures before it is too late.
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