Kashmir did not even bat an eyelid when chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed died in January. Barely 7,000 people attended his funeral—many of them were security personnel. Life continued uninterrupted in the valley.
Six months later, Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old commander of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed by the security forces on July 8. Srinagar and Kashmir came to a standstill. More than 50,000 people attended his funeral procession. And the state has been on the boil ever since.
The Mufti's sparsely attended funeral had not gone unnoticed. It wasn't just the political unrest that worried the Centre and security forces when he died. The security forces had felt the need to revisit curfew plans and deployment of forces, identify trouble spots and train security personnel to tackle the impending unrest. But once governor's rule was imposed in the state owing to the delay in forming a new government after the Mufti's death, the security plan was sidelined.
“Had the review process happened, the situation could have been contained better,” said a top security official in Kashmir. More than 40 people died in the clashes and hundreds have suffered injuries.
The resentment is nothing new. Nor are the grouses. What, however, seems to be on the rise is the anger. “There has been an increasing trajectory of worsening,’’ says Radha Kumar, one of the three interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir during the UPA government. “It was bad in 2001; in 2009 it was worse; 2010 was a disaster and 2016 may not have as many casualties but there is a hardening of anger.”
This time, however, it is a little more complicated than six years ago.“In the last four to five years, the valley has gone through a process of religious and social radicalisation. This, to a large extent, has shrunk the space for contemporary thought and resultantly diluted the ideals of Kashmiriyat,’’ says General Bikram Singh, former Army chief.
Kashmiris' frustration is visible in the kind of support that people like Wani get and the turnout at the funerals of militants. Couple this with the radicalisation in the state, and you have a lethal combination. “Public outreach is the key to deal with the current crisis. Such situations can't be handled by security forces alone,” says D.K. Pathak, former director general of the Border Security Force.
This is the real test for the Narendra Modi government, which was hoping to begin a new chapter in the valley—especially as the BJP is part of the state government. Ram Madhav, party general secretary, says the government will handle the issue appropriately. “It will be tough with the separatists and it will address the concerns of the Kashmiri people,” he says.
The Manmohan Singh government had tried this formula, but without making much headway. The interlocutors' report went into “the dustbin,’’ says G.K. Pillai, former home secretary. “We tried very hard to implement some points, but there was no political will,” he says. The question is, whether the BJP will be any different. “The government moves from crisis to crisis. One of the basic problems that we have, whether it is the Central government or any major party, is that the people of Kashmir are left out,’’ says Pillai.
The situation on the ground, despite Modi's promises of economic help, has not altered much. Kashmir has the highest unemployment rate in north India—six lakh youth have registered in employment exchanges.
As a seasoned diplomat puts it, it is a fact that each time the India-Pakistan relationship falters, the valley spirals out of control. “Pakistan has a declared policy of treating Kashmir as a disputed state and it openly provides moral and material support to those who ask for resolution of Kashmir imbroglio. India has not succeeded in carrying forward the dialogue process with Pakistan and to win the hearts of Kashmiris through effective governance and functional democracy,” says M.M. Ansari, former chief information commissioner and interlocutor for Jammu and Kashmir.
But the sparring has gone from bad to worse. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s declaration that “Kashmir will one day become Pakistan’’ seems to have struck a raw nerve. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, usually measured in her responses, shot back the next day: “The whole of India would like to tell the Prime Minister of Pakistan that this dream will not be realised even till the end of eternity.”
While Pakistan raising Kashmir's separation is not new, Sharif’s dream is more about the domestic politics than Kashmir. Sharif, who has just returned from London after heart surgery, is playing to his own constituency. Also, with a change of command due in the Pakistan Army in November, it is possible that he is following the Army's instructions.
Modi stood in the Sher-i-Kashmir stadium in Srinagar in November last—addressing some 12,000 people—and promised a package of 080,000 crore, a new beginning and “Delhi’s dil’’ which was always with the people of Kashmir. The problem, however, is, the young Kashmiris do not want hearts. They want to be part of something more nebulous. That is the hardest part.