There was something symbolic about the national flag fiasco in Srinagar on Monday. As Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti tried to hoist and unfurl the Tricolour on Independence Day, it fell off the post and flopped to the ground. A furious Mufti had to then suffer the mortification of inspecting the guard of honour and making her speech while two security guards held the flag aloft in their hands.

The deep embarrassment is denotative of the disarray within the coalition government of the Peoples Democratic Party and Bharatiya Janata Party, particularly in the aftermath of the unrest triggered by the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces.

There is no doubt that the law and order in the state is worsening. The fact was underlined further by a five-hour encounter between militants and security forces in Srinagar’s Nowhatta downtown area, not far from the Bakshi stadium where the chief minister struggled to hoist the national flag. This is the first time in nearly a decade that Srinagar has witnessed such a major encounter, which left one Central Reserve Police Force officer dead, nine para-military forces injured and two militants killed.

Absence of administration

Much of the recent national discourse on Kashmir – including in the debate in Parliament – has been dominated by a verbal tussle between liberals (who stress on the excesses by security forces in quelling protests) and hardliners (who maintain that strict measures are required to counter those who have chosen the gun and Pakistan-sponsored militants). One BJP-sponsored Rajya Sabha member even went to the extent of implying that a kind of tough love by the security forces will prove beneficial for the Kashmiri people.

Yet, ground reports from the Valley suggest that far from a tough state imposing its will on the populace, the administration has broken down in areas.

South Kashmir is reported to be particularly grim, with the constabulary abandoning a number of police stations, taking off their uniforms and sitting at home. Some of these “policemen”, in fact, have been seen joining anti-India protests, as if to prove their loyalty with the larger movement. With not much presence of the army or para-military forces in this region, there is virtually little administration in several parts of South Kashmir.

“With the Mehbooba government virtually abdicating its responsibilities and Central forces nowhere in sight, the state seems to have gifted azadi to large parts of South Kashmir,” said a Kashmiri journalist.

In North Kashmir, which has far greater presence of the army and para-military forces, there is a semblance of central authority, but even here the local police and civil administration is conspicuous by its absence. Much of the problem stems from the chief minister’s own panicked response to the civilian deaths during the Burhan Wani agitation and the horrific pellet injuries inflicted on hundreds of people, including women and children. She is believed to have instructed the police to be “invisible” and avoid giving the slightest provocation for another controversy. “The Jammu and Kashmir police have virtually ceased to exist in the Valley,” confided a source in the state government.

Growing rift

Ministers and legislators belonging to the PDP and the BJP dare not move around freely in the Valley anymore. Most of the BJP legislators have retreated to their homes in Jammu, while the PDP legislators are ensconced in their highly-guarded official bungalows in Srinagar. Most PDP legislators, including the chief minister, are afraid to visit their constituencies. Mufti herself is reported to have limited her public appearances even in Srinagar after a bitter experience a fortnight ago – while visiting a women’s college during an exam, parents of students booed her away.

PDP ministers and legislators seem clueless on how to continue with such an unpopular government. There is virtually no consultation or communication with their BJP counterparts and the hostility between the two is palpable. The chief minister meanwhile is reportedly in a state of emotional distress, according to some government insiders.

The woes of the coalition government are compounded by the growing gap between Mufti and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on relations with Pakistan, which have always impacted the situation on the ground in Kashmir. This was evident on Independence Day. Even as the prime minister unleashed an unprecedented onslaught against Pakistan, supporting insurgencies in Baluchistan and Gilgit, the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister pleaded for India and Pakistan to work together for peace in Kashmir.

Indeed, Mufti’s conciliatory postures towards Pakistan, her allegation that the national leadership is behind the woes of the Kashmiri people and repeated public apologies for the killing of Burhan Wani and those protesting his death are out of consonance with Delhi’s position.

The 20-month-old PDP-BJP government, which was fragile from the start, has grown shakier with every passing month and nearly imploded after the death of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. It got a new lease of life through a purported deal between Mufti Sayeed’s daughter and the prime minister. However, the deal appears to have come unstuck over the past month. Besides, the regime’s dramatic loss of public support and control over the administration in the Valley has reduced the entire purpose of having an elected government to a farce.