This appears to have brought immediate relief in the Valley, whatever the current status of plans for retaliatory military action against Pakistan.
After the February 14 Pulwama terrorist attack on a CRPF convoy, a national mood of resentment and anger had been building against Pakistan since it is the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed which claimed credit for the strike that took more than 40 lives.
This mood, along with attacks on Kashmiri people outside the Valley and a series of administrative measures announced for the Valley by governor Satya Pal Malik’s administration (as J&K is under President’s rule), may have caused panic within the populace of Kashmir, who apparently came to believe that the heavy hand of New Delhi was about to fall on them as India mulled military retaliation against Pakistan.
This sentiment may have been aided by the apprehension that Article 35-A of the Constitution, which confers exclusive benefits on the people of J&K, was about to be revoked through an ordinance. In addition, and the arrest of well over 100 leading cadres of the Jamat-e-Islami, besides measures taken against top separatist leaders, appeared to bring on anger which made the Kashmir bandh call of the separatists a success last Sunday.
In light of these developments, it is just as well that in a speech on Saturday, the Prime Minister not only asked his Pakistani counterpart to deliver on his commitment to peace, but also strongly delivered the message that the fight was “for Kashmir, not against Kashmir, not against Kashmiris”, and noted that the difficulties faced by the people of Kashmir (referring to attacks against students and traders from the Valley) were misguided.
This appears to have brought immediate relief in the Valley, whatever the current status of plans for retaliatory military action against Pakistan. Taking a cue from the PM’s public remarks, in J&K the governor has also made a public statement that has helped to reduce stress. The importance of this cannot be underestimated in the current scenario.
Mr Malik clarified that the question of Article 35-A was slated to be heard in the Supreme Court (the hearing has been deferred until an elected government takes office), indirectly discounting ordinance-related anxieties. He explained that the induction of more paramilitary forces was with a view to preparing for the upcoming Parliament and Assembly polls after the experience last year of local body elections (when candidates were threatened by terrorist elements). The governor also calmed fears by explaining that petrol rationing has been resorted to on account of diminishing local stocks as heavy snowfall had choked the Jammu-Srinagar highway and affected supplies.
The words of the Prime Minister and the governor indeed constitute the first positive steps taken in the past five years by the present government. Re-building political relations in the Valley with all shades of opinion, above all the mainline parties, is the logical next step.