A day after the BJP withdrew from its alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir, leading to the fall of the Mehbooba Mufti-led state government, leaders of the People’s Democratic Party retired wounded. On Wednesday, the party merely issued a statement comparing the current episode with the removal and arrest of National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah in 1953.
“History is repeating itself in the state and the last time a similar incident was witnessed on August 9, 1953 when people’s government was toppled by New Delhi,” the People’s Democratic Party statement said. It went on to quote Khurshid Alam, member of the Legislative Council and the party’s Srinagar district president. According to Alam, the party felt proud over the reasons the BJP provided to justify withdrawing support. “The reasons are demands made by Mehbooba Mufti for talks with Pakistan and separatists, withdrawal of the cases against the stone pelters, implementation of the ceasefire on ground and measures to be taken for successful dialogue and reconciliation,” Alam said in the statement.
Outside the corridors of power in Srinagar, however, in large parts of the Valley, there is jubilation about the fall of the government. “It feels like Eid was today,” said a postdoctoral student in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district. “This is a relief for us all. We don’t want any political rule.”
The student said that in the last three years, the PDP had enforced a “goonda raj” at the grassroots level. “The MLAs and their workers had us all intimidated in the villages,” he said. “None could stand up to them. The corruption and nepotism had angered people above everything.”
It was not just the government’s collapse that was greeted with glee, but also the fact that it was the BJP that had abandoned the PDP. “The PDP betrayed Kashmir with the alliance, and the BJP betrayed them in turn,” he said. “It is tit for tat.”
Veteran journalist Mohammad Syed Malik said that the “alienation is so deep and so wide that there is nothing in common today between the people of Kashmir and the people ruling them or the people in New Delhi”. He said that the collapse of the government “was good riddance, for the people”. “The ordinary Kashmiri only sees the face of the Army or the policeman, never a politician or an administrator in the field,” he said. “People of Kashmir are very happy.”
But some sections of the public, separatists, the security establishment, and even a few members of the Opposition have a more sober view of the fall of the state government, and impending Governor’s Rule.
In South Kashmir, residents fear the lack of institutions to seek recourse in. “There was a sort of accountability till now,” said a university teacher and resident of South Kashmir. “MLAs could be approached if the security forces arrested someone or were being harsh. Now bureaucrats and security establishment will have their way. The Kashmir issue was not created by the PDP.”
A stronger security response would not mean a major improvement in the situation, he added. “The current discourse of resentment is based on a narrative of victimhood,” the teacher reasoned. “The more you show harshness to the people, the more it will embolden and strengthen them.”
Yusuf Tarigami, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) legislator from Kulgam in South Kashmir, said it was difficult for the people of the state “to digest any of PDP’s rhetoric now”. “The pain they have gone through in the last three years is something they can’t forget,” he said. “It will be difficult for the PDP to rebuild its image.”
But he also took a bleak view of the days ahead. “Now the government of India will again go back to the lopsided approach to Kashmir through the prism of law and order, and security,” he said. “This lopsided approach has never resulted in any improvement in the situation. It is difficult to arrest the drift the state is passing through.”
Abdul Gani Butt of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, the separatist faction led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, cautioned that a change in administration or political dispensation would not lead to normalcy. The solution was to first identify the problem and engage in talks, he said.
He added that governments in the state had fallen several times before but no lasting answer to the Kashmir issue had been found. There was no alternative to dialogue, Butt said. “[The Centre] needs to do good to the people of Kashmir, talk to Pakistan and take the people of Kashmir into confidence in the larger interest of peace, development, and prosperity,” he said. “Peace can never be achieved unless the dispute is resolved.”
Another Operation All Out?
One of the reasons put forward by the BJP for withdrawing from the coalition was the deteriorating security situation in Kashmir. Indeed, with Governor’s Rule being imposed in the state, fears of the security establishment being given a free hand run high in the Valley. On the day Governor’s Rule was imposed, the director general of police, Jammu and Kashmir, Shesh Paul Vaid, told NDTV that operations against militants would be intensified and that it would be “much easier to work”.
Police officials in the Valley agreed that, broadly speaking, security forces would be more at liberty to carry out anti-militancy operations. “The initial excitement about [the collapse of the government] will soon go away,” a senior police official cautioned. He added that the challenge of balancing anti-militancy operations with control over law and order should not take a hit. “Direct central rule [in the state] would be scary and things [militancy and public unrest] might die down for some time,” he said. But he warned that Kashmir should not be handled by the security establishment.
Before the ceasefire was announced this May, security forces had carried out sweeping operations across the Valley, killing a large section of the Jaish-e-Mohammad leadership in Kashmir, according to senior police officials.
“The Centre will try to go for another Operation All Out for the 2019 elections,” the officer said, referring to the much-hyped military operations against militants in the Valley that began last year.
But another police official pointed to potential drawbacks of Governor’s Rule for the Centre. “Till now, the PDP had tampered with security forces operations,” he said. “But if anything untoward happens after this, especially during the [Amarnath] Yatra [that begins on June 28], the Centre will have only itself to blame. Until now the PDP was being blamed for anything that went wrong.”