Union Home Minister Amit Shah has concluded his three-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, his first one since August 5, 2019, not without making fiery statements and full of high-pitched political rhetoric, specifically targeting the three political families comprising the National Conference (NC), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress (INC).
On the third and last day, Shah paid obeisance at Mata Kheer Bhawani temple in Tulmulla area in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. He was seen donning traditional Kashmiri attire during this visit to the holy site. He also visited the residence of the slain government forces personnel.
While in Jammu, Amit Shah in his address had showered praise on the late Pandit Premnath Dogra on his birth anniversary, saying that not only Jammu but the people of India can never forget Premnath Dogra. It was he who had established the political outfit, Praja Parishad party, along with Shyama Prasad Mookerjee.
All major political formations based in Kashmir dismissed Shah’s visit as “cosmetic” and said he is the one that “refused to acknowledge the ground realities”.
On the second day of his J&K visit, Shah flew to Jammu where he stopped at the Makwal border outpost to meet the paramilitary personnel of the Border Security Force (BSF). He described the decision to abrogate Article 370 and 35-A as “historic”, while taking a dig at the three political families.
Without naming NC, PDP and INC, Shah in his aggressive style said, “The three families asked me what will you give to the people here, but what did the rule of your three families give in 70 years. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are asking for the account of what they did for the people.”
“Narendra Modi had given a package of ₹55,000 crore as soon as he became the Prime Minister, out of which ₹35,000 crore has been spent and 21 schemes have been completed, and you are asking for an account of what we have done?,” he asked, adding that “this is Narendra Modi’s rule, injustice will not be done to anyone and no one will be appeased. We want to create a situation in which not a single person’s life is lost in Jammu & Kashmir and separatism ends completely.”
Apart from the challenges with regards to deteriorating security situation in J&K, possible infiltration of the well-trained armed militants from across the Line of Control (LoC), an up-tick in militancy related incidents in capital Srinagar, a spree of killings of civilians and government forces personnel across J&K, and possible spill-over effect of the Taliban gains in Afghanistan post-US troops’ withdrawal, Amit Shah’s biggest task on this trip remained the revival of an alternative political narrative and middle-ground in the Kashmir Valley.
Immediately after landing at the Srinagar Airport on October 23, Shah chaired a high-level meeting in the summer capital, Srinagar, to take a review of the overall situation. The Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha-led administration in J&K had made fortified and unprecedented security arrangements across the restive region to ensure that no untoward incident happened during Shah’s sojourn. Several hundreds of youth were kept in preventive detention in various prisons across J&K without a formal charge.
In addition to that, the police authorities seized thousands of motorbikes, scooties and other two-wheelers across Kashmir, thus bringing normal life to a grinding halt for many students, professionals, journalists and personnel involved with courier services and delivery of food items. The Internet services in several parts of Kashmir were also suspended or its bandwidth decreased.
Many in Kashmir saw the acts of forcible seizure of motorbikes and partial digital curfew as a pre-emptive security measure and collective punishment. The police defended its actions by de-linking it from the high-profile visit of Shah. “Seizing some bikes and shutting down the Internet of some towers is purely related to the cycle of terror and violence. It has nothing to do with the visit of the Home Minister, the police said while quoting Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Range), Vijay Kumar.
Interestingly though, Jammu and Kashmir’s traffic department had issued an advisory on October 21 that said that the Boulevard Road from Srinagar’s Badyari to Nishat and sensitive Gupkar Road would remain closed for general traffic “in connection with the visit of VVIP (Amit Shah) from October 23 to 25, 2021.”
Uptick in Violence
In the first 25 days of the current month, October, about 50 persons have died in J&K. The slain include 10 members of the Indian Army, 13 non-combatants and 17 armed militants, while five government forces personnel lost their lives due to fratricidal incidents.
Informed sources told The Federal that Amit Shah while chairing a high-profile security meeting in Srinagar sought answers on deadly gunfights between militants and government forces personnel, the recent spike in killing of civilians, including some non-local migrant workers, and threats posed by the new-age militancy.
According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 215 persons have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir from January to October, 2021. Those killed include 149 armed militants, 35 members of government forces, and at least 33 civilians. According to official data, 33 civilians have been killed so far this year; 41 civilians were killed in the whole of last year.
The uptick in violence in the month of October this year has punctured the ‘narrative of normalcy’ post August 5, 2019.
In an ongoing gunfight between the highly-trained militants and Indian Army in the forests of Poonch and Rajouri districts in the Pir Panchal valley, Jammu, at least 9 army soldiers, which include two Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs), have lost their lives thus far.
J&K Unionists React
Mehbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister of J&K and president of the PDP, said that the most disturbing aspect of Amit Shah’s visit was “the crackdown in Kashmir that preceded his visit.”
“A city already under a military and psychological siege witnessed further repression such as suspension of the Internet; frisking random civilians, including women and children; mass detentions and seizing basic means of transport. We have all become inmates imprisoned within the confines of our homes,” Mehbooba told The Federal. She did not seem impressed at all by Shah’s visit.
“The Home Minister inaugurating international flights from Srinagar and laying the foundation of new medical colleges is not new. Half a dozen medical colleges were sanctioned by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and are functional now. Post the abrogation of Article 370 and an engineered crisis, J&K has been thrown into a crisis,” she said.
According to her, what is needed is confidence-building. “Confidence-building measures (CBMs) such as lifting the siege that J&K has been put under since 2019, putting an end to the harassment people of Kashmir face on a daily basis, taking tangible steps to revive the economy, especially horticulture, would have provided a sense of relief.”
Communal divide has worsened
Farooq Abdullah, former CM of J&K and NC president, took a dig at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for “vitiating atmosphere ahead of elections” in Jammu and Kashmir. Addressing a party convention at Sher-i-Kashmir Bhawan in Jammu, Abdullah voiced concern over the “polarising atmosphere for political gains, especially in the run up to elections.”
“Atmosphere of communal divide and generating passions is not a conducive trend in politics,” Abdullah said while addressing the party functionaries and workers at Jammu’s SK Bhawan. “Jammu and Kashmir will remain a singular entity. Jammu is the gateway to Kashmir and Valley is a gateway to Ladakh. Attempts of sowing hate in Jammu have been made since 1947 but the perpetrators will not succeed,” he added.
Ruhulla Mehdi, former cabinet minister and three-time legislator, told The Federal that “Amit Shah as Home Minister has proved to be a bad omen for Jammu and Kashmir. Since his unconstitutional decision to abrogate Article 370 and 35-A on August 5, 2019, nothing has gone right in Kashmir since.” According to Mehdi, the security situation has “worsened, communal divide has deepened, and it appears that darker days lie ahead.”
Key Kashmir Watchers Sceptic
Seasoned political observers also refused to give any credit to Amit Shah. Professor Siddiq Wahid, noted historian, political commentator and former chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST), said that Amit Shah has come “at a point in Kashmir’s two-year history when armed militancy has gained huge operational sophistication, if the ongoing encounter in Poonch is an indication and development is but an inert word here.”
Regarding Shah’s claim to “end separatism” in J&K, Dr Wahid told The Federal, “As for ending separatism, its current status can only be gauged when freedom of expression is permitted in Kashmir.”
No Formal Invites to PAGD
Sources revealed to The Federal that an invitation has been extended to some newly-elected members of the District Development Council (DDC). However, spokespersons of major political formations from the unionist camp revealed that they have not received any formal invitation from Amit Shah as a follow-up to the meeting the leaders of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) — a newly-formed political amalgam based in Srinagar which seeks restoration of statehood and Article 370 — had with PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi in June this year.
Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, convenor and chief spokesperson of the PAGD, told The Federal from New Delhi, “No, not at all, I can confirm that the PAGD has not received any formal invitation from Mr Amit Shah. There has been no follow-up to our meeting with the prime minister in June,” he asserted.
Similarly, spokesperson of the PDP Najmu Saqib also said they had not received any invitation from the Home Minister. The National Conference’s provincial spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar also said no invitation in this regard has been sent to his party.
However, both Tarigami and Saqib did not deny the fact that some DDC members might have been invited to attend an interactive session with Amit Shah at the Srinagar-based Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) in an individual capacity.
It was unclear whether the DDC members, as part of the PAGD umbrella, will attend the proposed interaction with Shah.