The Kashmir Valley, the part of J&K which is indisputably wholly Indian and as Indian as Jammu or Ladakh since the accession of the state to India by Hari Singh, the erstwhile Maharaja of Kashmir, in October 1947, but has been dubiously claimed by Pakistan since the beginning and has been the site of intermittent turmoil over the decades, is once again in the throes of deepening crisis.
The causes of the extreme disequilibrium in the political, social and security sphere are wholly unclear. The Centre has chosen to keep things wholly opaque. Until just a week ago, the government and the BJP were touting Kashmir to the world as a development success story, though it is not clear on what basis. Indian as well as foreign journalists were taken to the Valley on junkets with the object of doing positive coverage. It was claimed the security situation had seen a dramatic improvement in the past year. And suddenly the narrative has inexplicably changed.
Last week about 40,000 paramilitary forces were suddenly flown into Kashmir. The Army and Indian Air Force were placed on alert. The annual Amarnath pilgrimage, for which Hindus visit Kashmir in July-August, has been abruptly cancelled. The pilgrims and tourists have been ordered out. This has never happened before, although in the past the state has seen prolonged insurgency. Leave has been cancelled for even minor state government officials.
So what’s really going on? Frankly, no one seems to know. In the absence of credible information, the place is filled with rumours. The people have come to their own conclusions. The commonest thing heard is that the Narendra Modi government is preparing to ram down people’s throats the RSS’ pet projects — the scrapping of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution, which ensure the special status of J&K. By word of mouth it is also being suggested that the government plans to trifurcate J&K, making Ladakh and Kashmir UTs.
Since widespread unrest is anticipated, the local calculation goes, the forces are being brought in to let loose repression. The basis of such thinking is the deepest trust deficit ever between the people of the Kashmir Valley and the Centre that has gripped the Valley under the Modi government.
Some other elements believe instead that war with Pakistan is about to break out. At the very least, skirmishes are expected on a sustained basis.
Given the nerve-wracking uncertainty, people are stocking up on food, petrol, medicine and other items of everyday use. Tension is reaching breaking point. Leading countries have advised their nationals to avoid travelling to J&K.
In a tinderbox situation, anything can happen and trouble-makers will have a free pass. Only Pakistan benefits from such a scenario in Kashmir. The government must take the country into confidence at the earliest.