Kashmir has spiralled into fresh crises, the dimensions of which are at once political, security-related and economic. Though one-off militant incidents were already being reported in urban areas over the last eight months, the escalation of the level that is being witnessed, especially in Srinagar, was not anticipated.
Likewise, the politics in Jammu & Kashmir is also seeing renewed activity with politicians abandoning their traditional bastions and rushing to “greener pastures”.
The rearrangement appears to be a bellwether for something much more consequential. At the same time, fresh economic indicators show joblessness in Jammu & Kashmir was worst among all states and Union Territories across the country. Even industrial units are reeling under the twin shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and political unrest, with 85 % expected to shutter.
It is in this context that Home Minister Amit Shah is likely to visit Jammu & Kashmir this week as part of the Modi government’s outreach program. As part of the same programme, 70 Union Ministers have been sojourning to the Valley since September. The Ministers include Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Junior Tourism Minister Ajay Bhatt, Junior Communications Minister Devusinh Chouhan, and many more.
The MoU with Dubai Govt
On Monday, Union Minister Piyush Goyal presided over a high-profile meeting along with representatives from the Dubai government, where a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to develop industrial parks, IT towers, multipurpose towers, logistics, medical college, super-speciality hospitals, and other real estate projects.
Monday’s agreement is being projected among the most crowning achievements of the Jammu & Kashmir administration as it battles the rising unemployment in the Union territory.
The Home Minister is expected to visit far-flung areas of the Kashmir and Jammu regions. He is also likely to inaugurate a host of developmental projects, including the Srinagar metro project. This will be Amit Shah’s first visit to Jammu & Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019.
Much water has flowed since then. On the top of his agenda will be the security meeting following a recent escalation in violence in the Valley.
Militant groups like The Resistance Front (TRF), which police say is an iteration of Lashkar-e-Toiba, have claimed responsibility for the string of attacks. The killings of members from minority communities like renowned pharmacist Makhan Lal Bindroo and Satvinder Kaur, a public school principal, has precipitated a fresh wave of scare among members of minority groups.
In fact, many members hailing from the Pandit community have been relocated to secure facilities after police received inputs that militants might target them. Others have not been venturing outside for the fear of being caught in the crossfire.
Elsewhere, heightened security measures have returned to Srinagar city where a few years ago, the situation was copacetic. On Monday, women pedestrians in Srinagar were subjected to frisking. Their bags were checked by female Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel.
This year, more than a dozen encounters have taken place in the city precincts. The maximum number of hit-and-run attacks have also taken place in Srinagar this year. These include the killings of Aakash Mehra, the son of famous Krishna Dhaba’s owner, and a number of other Special Police Officers and police personnel.
Srinagar police also appear to have launched a drive against two-wheelers. Police in many areas of the downtown were seen signalling the riders to halt and then seizing the vehicles.
There are apprehensions that two-wheelers such as scooters and bikes are part of the overall logistical matrix that enables the attacks, most of which are taking place in the dark.
There have been around 11 gunfights across the Kashmir valley since 8 October, in which 17 militants have died. Police have said the militants include those who have had some hand in the 28 killings that have taken place this year. The slain militants include Imtiyaz Ahmed Dar, Mukhtar Shah, Shams Sofi, Shahid Bashir and Umer Kanday, all of whom were involved in the targeted killings that have been taking place in 2021.
'What's the Point?' Say Regional Parties
But it is in the sphere of politics where the Home Minister’s real test lies. Barring the reshuffling tha has been underway for many months, mainstream politics has been pretty much comatose.
These days, the parties mostly issue feel-good bromides through their press releases. Most regional politicians prefer typing greetings on the eve of religious festivals.
This journalist got in touch with several members of regional mainstream parties, who said that they have not been approached to meet the Home Minister.
“As of now, there’s nothing,” said Imran Nabi Dar, spokesperson, National Conference. “Party has not decided on it. We will decide as and when we will get any communication from somewhere. Party will take a call once we get something.”
The last major development, as far as regional politics is concerned, took place in June, when Prime Minister Modi called a group of 14 politicians from across the political spectrum and met them in Delhi.
But regional politicians said there has been no headway on that. “There’s no forward movement on that. So what is the point of meeting another Minister?” said Mohit Bhan, spokesperson for the People's Democratic Party. “We met the highest government body and yet, nothing has happened.”
Bhan said that the government should come clear on what measures it has taken after the meeting took place. “Was it merely for optics? Was the meeting held in response to some international pressure? Or do they not believe in the democratic set-up or bringing J&K back on the path of normalcy. These are the questions that the Central government has to answer. What can we tell them about it?”
The Changed Meaning of 'Mainstream'
He said that the last time the Prime Minister’s meeting happened, they were initially resistant to going there. “We had apprehensions about whether they would even take this meeting seriously or not. There was pressure from people to raise genuine concerns there. So, we met him. That’s how democracy works. We were meeting the head of the government. We were giving respect to that chair and put forth the measures that will lay down the road for the realisation of peace and people’s aspirations. We talked about the release of prisoners, among other things. But then, there’s no movement on that. We suggested confidence-building measures. But none of that happened,” he said.
Sources from the People’s Conference, too, said they haven’t made up any plans yet as far as meeting the Home Minister was concerned.
Experts believe that the Central government has changed the idiom of politics in the region.
"“For them, the term 'mainstream' has changed the meaning now ... We generally take NC, PDP to be the mainstream parties. But now, it could be the People’s Conference, Apni Party, or the J&K BJP. Much depends on how the Centre wants to look at this. They are the ones who get to define politics. They are defining who is what here."" - Noor Ahmed Baba, political scientist and academic
But BJP Cadres Are Upbeat
The regional chapter of the BJP, at the same time, is upbeat over the visit and feels that a lot has changed in the Valley on account of the visits paid by 70 Union Ministers over the last month.
“All 77 ministers who visited J&K went to such far lengths that no politician has previously,” said Manzoor Bhat, in-charge, media cell, BJP.
“Every Minister visited for two days each. The Civil Aviation Minister announced two airports; our Sports Minister announced a package of 100 crores for sports activities. A new process has been started. Now the programme’s conclusion is being marked by the visit by our Hon’ble Home Minister.”
Bhat said that the recent escalation of attacks was a blip that will not be allowed to have adverse effects on the “development process” in Kashmir. “All Ministers visited our local workers. So, the Home Minister is also expected to meet all the members of our local units,” he said. “Mr Shah is not just the party’s Home Minister but of the entire country. I believe members of every other party must try to meet him.”
(Shakir Mir is a freelance journalist who has reported for the Times Of India and The Wire, among other publications. He tweets at @shakirmir.)
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