Aditya Sinha: Nation's hero? More like Nero

May 07, 2018, 06:58 IST | Aditya Sinha

Last week at a lunch, I met a senior minister in the J&K government

An injured Kashmiri is rushed to SMHS Hospital in Srinagar after he was hit by bullets in a clash with Indian security forces on May 6. Pic/AFP
An injured Kashmiri is rushed to SMHS Hospital in Srinagar after he was hit by bullets in a clash with Indian security forces on May 6. Pic/AFP

Aditya SinhaLast week at a lunch, I met a senior minister in the J&K government. He belonged to the People's Democratic Party, which used to represent "soft separatism" in Kashmir but, in 2015, formed a government in coalition with the pseudo-nationalist BJP. The PDP has since then lost its support base. "It does not mean the National Conference has picked up that support," the minister said, referring to the Valley's pre-eminent pro-India party: "only some of it". None of that lost support has drifted to national parties like Congress or BJP. One wonders where that support has gone.

One clue is in the ground situation in the Valley, characterised by unrelenting violence. South Kashmir's Shopian district is a warzone; just yesterday, five civilians were killed and five militants shot dead there. An assistant professor at Kashmir University who had joined militancy a mere 36 hours earlier was among those killed. Imagine what it must take to drive an academic to pick up a gun. Every week is like this, and behind the casualty figures is the suffocating atmosphere of clampdowns on entire villages, the security forces' scorched earth policy by burning houses, the unending detention of the political resistance leadership, the military's omnipresence, the curfews, the strikes, the disappearances, and the corpses. No wonder Kashmir is called an "open prison". Ramzan, next week, may bring some respite.

"The difference between now and the '90s," the minister said, referring to when the insurgency first emerged, "is that in those days, when one boy was killed, ten others stood to take his place. Now, when a boy is killed, 30,000 people immediately gather to protest his killing and mourn his martyrdom."

One may wonder where the government figures in all this. In J&K, due to its long-festering separatism and the Pakistan factor, the Centre manages security matters under a "unified command". This makes sense for border management and counter-insurgency operations. Yet it often collides with the local police, under the state government, particularly when the armed forces commit crimes. The state police often have to step back, and the consequence has been deleterious; this was evidenced recently when, after the rape-murder of a nomadic child in Kathua, supporters of the accused expressed disbelief in the local police's professional investigation.

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti seems to have all but given up. Her ministers are living it up, some making frequent foreign trips. The BJP reshuffled its part of the coalition, and surprisingly, the minister said, it's a better lot this time. This may be a moot point because nobody expects the government to last beyond 2018. "It will be over a few months before the general election," the minister says. "Mehbooba wants out but needs a reason to walk out of the coalition." The same might be true of the BJP, though one can't imagine it giving up power in J&K, hard-won after so many years.

The Centre is unconcerned by the daily reports of violence and more violence. It suits Delhi's hardline "iron fist" policy. It is sitting back and watching the war of attrition against Kashmiris. BJP general secretary Ram Madhav has publicly said: India tried various approaches in Kashmir but now it is the RSS's turn. Which, starkly put, is to hold the territory even if all residents disappear in the process.

The minister pointed out that Governor NN Vohra's term - at ten years he's the longest serving in J&K - runs out by July. Governor Vohra got his second term by default because of the talent deficit in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's team. If he weren't well into his 80s, he might have defaulted his way into remaining this time also. His time has seen the emergence of a "new insurgency", highlighted by violent summers like that of 2010, 2012 and, of course, 2016, when thousands were injured by pellets. Some say that 2016's disturbances are still continuing.

It is difficult to say that Vohra has been a successful governor, but perhaps it's better to let him stay than to replace him with an RSS man. "At this point, what more harm can an RSS man do," the minister said. "Maybe they can replace him with Yashwant Sinha," he says, referring to the former finance minister who recently left the BJP. Sinha has visited J&K since September 2016 and shown empathy. He has been a thorn in the government's side, however, publicly pointing out its economic mismanagement. Modi brooks no dissidence, and even though the best way to quieten Sinha might be such an appointment, it's unlikely to happen.

That, in a nutshell, is the current Kashmir story. Degradation and violence, while the metaphorical Nero in Delhi plays his fiddle. Except in the legend, it was Nero himself who had Rome set on fire.

Aditya Sinha's new book will be out in May. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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