Whatever the outcome — if any — of the three-day visit of Union home minister Amit Shah to Jammu and Kashmir (October 23-25), perhaps its most noteworthy aspect is the irony. J&K was stripped of its autonomy and reduced from being a state to a Union territory in August 2019, and the official reason advanced as justification was that these steps were necessary to end the separatist “mentality” among the people in Kashmir valley, finish off terrorism, and bring about accelerated development. Two years on, the record has turned more than just a little disquieting.
Aside from the usual encounters between the security forces and young militants, which have grown in intensity — engulfing practically every district in the Valley — at the present juncture the authorities in J&K are reeling under twin threats.
Not far from the Line of Control in Poonch (Jammu), nine army personnel were killed in the past week apparently by infiltrating terrorists. These elements have not been apprehended. Preceding the trip to Kashmir of the Union home minister, the visit to the area by Army chief Gen. M.M. Naravane underlines the seriousness of what’s happened. There had been no infiltration in this area for nearly two decades.
Simultaneously, the security grid faces the problem of the killing of civilians, with the murders of Kashmiri Pandits and of migrant workers being a cause for special concern. Again, the police and the intelligence appear not to have a clue two weeks on. At his long security review meeting in Srinagar, Mr Shah raised both issues — seeking “strategically planned protection of minorities”, and “flexible patrolling of guards”.
Underlying the fragility of the security situation, the home minister’s arrival was preceded by the detention or arrest of around one thousand young people. Drones hovered in the air. The movement of two-wheelers was suspended. Several rings of security impeded the normal routine of ordinary citizens in Kashmir. Why eyes in the sky and eyes on the ground if the UT is moving toward a new era of development, and away from terrorism — as pronouncements of the government and the ruling party assure us — is a valid question.
Mr Shah is content not to answer it, however. In an online address to panchayat level youth clubs, which evidently have upward of 40,000 members though it will excite people’s curiosity to know the composition of such a group, he asserted that August 5, 2019 (the day of ending J&K’s autonomy), will be written in “golden letters”. With J&K having the highest unemployment rate in the country, this may have sounded off-key to the audience.
The home minister stoutly defended imposing thorough-going militarisation, the imposing of curfews, shutting down of the Internet, and a media clampdown in Kashmir for months, saying this was needed to save lives. In the absence of these measures, he apprehended that “thousands” may have been killed if reactions to ending of autonomy had been permitted to surface. This was the objective of a “foreign conspiracy”, he noted. Never before has the government expressed such an anxiety about mass rebellion. The “foreign conspiracy” angle too is without substantiation from official quarters.
Government claims as regards terrorism are inconsistent with reality, and are not new. The minister’s statement that statehood will be restored once Assembly elections take place after the delimitation exercise is completed is also old hat. So, why the visit, Mr Shah’s first after the ending of autonomy? The answer is in plain sight — that on his watch the security scene in J&K has plummeted. The minister is engaging in optics — of giving it everything he has got. But how much does he have is the question....