Kashmir, Oct 09, 2019: More than 60 days into the lockdown in the Valley, many officials on the ground, both in the civilian and security establishment, have begun to say that the political imperative, from New Delhi, to sustain an “everything-is-normal” narrative is turning out to be challenging — and could even be counterproductive.
Internet and cellphones are still down, the disruption caused by these touches virtually all aspects of life — from seeking health care to connecting with friends and family; schools and colleges are shut; hundreds are in detention; and although yesterday the Governor’s office withdrew the order restricting tourists, hardly any are visiting the Valley. All parties, barring the BJP, Tuesday announced they will not contest the October 24 Block Development Council (BDC) elections which the state announced late last month.
“We used to say that security forces watch the clock while militants have all the time but now it’s the other way around. It seems the Government’s strategy is that it has all the time while residents in Jammu and Kashmir can keep a watch on the clock,” said an officer. “We aren’t sure how effective this tire-them-down approach will be but what we are sure of is that this is not normalcy and all of us need to accept that.”
“Mudda (issue) and masla (problem) are two of the most common words you hear in conversations with people here. Have you heard them since August 5,” asks a top-ranking police officer, “Just because no one mentions these words, does it mean things are normal?”
The decision to let some National Conference leaders meet Farooq Abdullah, officials said, is a step in the right direction but chances are it will remain a photo-op. Unwilling to be a prop, this is exactly the reason Mehbooba Mufti refused to meet her party colleagues. Even this outreach by the government came with an eye on the BDC elections.
In the BDC polls, panchs and sarpanchs have to cast their vote to elect the Chairman for the BDC to which their wards belong. While the state said the elections will be on “party lines,” many panchs say it lacks credibility since 61% panch wards and 45% sarpanch are vacant. Further, since both PDP and NC boycotted panchayat elections last November, election on party lines sounds farcical.
Over a week, The Indian Express spoke with more than a dozen bureaucrats and police officers in Srinagar and in the two South Kashmir districts of Shopian and Pulwama. “Delhi thinks if no major incidents have happened so far, things are normal. This hypothesis is wrong,” said a senior bureaucrat who sits in meetings where coordination issues between the civilian administration and the security establishment are resolved.
“That there have been just two civilian casualties is more due to elaborate planning, preparedness of the establishment and close coordination at the ground level between the civilian government, the Army, CRPF, Border Security Force and the J&K Police,” said another senior official, who also did not wish to be named.
“National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was in Srinagar for 11 days beginning August 5. Every evening, he held a meeting to discuss the events of the day and actions to be taken over the next 24 hours. The decision-taking horizon was not more than one day,” said a senior official.
After Doval left Srinagar on August 16, K Vijay Kumar, Advisor to Governor, chaired these meetings. At present, these meetings happen every alternate day, reviewing events over the previous two days, and deciding on actions for the next 48 hours.
Private traffic is picking up, some doctors have opened their clinics, and shops are at best half-open for a couple of hours. This gives many a semblance of normalcy. “But to say increased car traffic points to normalcy only shows a pedestrian understanding of Kashmir,” says another officer. Residents admit they are caught in a double bind. Some shop-owners open up prodded by the government, and some others want to just get on with their lives and earn to support their family. But shops still open only for a few hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening even in Srinagar.
“We had planned for three months – till November 5,” said a senior Army officer, who did not wish to be quoted. But, on the ground, officers in the security establishment say they fear this narrative of normalcy may be counter-productive. The security establishment has stretched itself — the J&K Police had not granted leave to its men since June 15, and then again cancelled leaves after August 5.