The situation on the ground is already fluid and disquieting, notwithstanding those at the helm seeking to present a rosy picture.
Separatists say they have been vindicated by New Delhi’s stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status and splitting the state into two Union territories. Mainstream politicians other than those belonging to the BJP and like-minded groups feel betrayed for they have lost the argument that the interests of J&K and its people are safe only in democratic, vibrant India. One of the causes of the new age turbulence in the Vale of Kashmir has been attributed to the betrayal of the democratic expectations. The "most horrible onslaught", as the August 5 move is seen by many here, can turn things uglier. The situation on the ground is already fluid and disquieting, notwithstanding those at the helm seeking to present a rosy picture.
Even after the lapse of 100 days, the stalemate over the repeal of Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcation of the state persists. The Valley’s educational institutions remain shut or only limited class work does take place at a few of those partially open. Board exams are being held in a gloomy atmosphere. The Internet is suspended and telecommunications access has not been restored fully. More important, dozens of mainstream and separatist politicians and hundreds of activists continue to be incarcerated. The government is also yet to allow residents to return to uninhibited movement as the imposition of curfews and restrictions has become a recurring feature of governance.
Traders continue to show their disapproval by observing strikes. Public transport remains off the roads too. This is a relatively spontaneous display of anger by them with, of course, occasional unsolicited interventions by mainly obscure groups and anonymous individuals who through handwritten flyers and posters ask people to remain steadfast in their “struggle” against “Indian occupation”. They have also sought to “guide” people on the current impasse. But the rage and dismay among the populace is real. The mood in the Valley is a blend of displeasure, hurt and defiance.
There is growing fears among J&K’s Muslims that the main motive behind the Centre’s stripping its special status could be to pave the way for the “outsiders” to get their hands on the land and other immovable properties in the run-up to change the demography of Muslim majority erstwhile state. The elders foresee a bleak future for the coming generations after the special rights and privileges people enjoyed as permanent state subjects under Article 35A of the Constitution were withdrawn. They are also apprehensive of their religious freedom being impinged under new political dispensation. On November 1, the authorities disallowed Khoji Diggar (special late afternoon prayers), the main ritual of the annual urs at a Sufi shrine in Srinagar dedicated to Baha-ud-Din Naqshband Bukhari (1318-1389), the Bukhara (Uzbekistan)-born founder of what would become one of the largest and most influential Sufi Muslim orders, the Naqshband. When devotees tried to assemble at the place of worship, the police used bamboo sticks and fired teargas canisters to disperse them.
A few days later, the celebrations on the birth anniversary of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad at Hazratbal were made restricted to local residents only, and those from other parts of Srinagar and rest of the Valley were barred from going to the revered shine by laying concertina razor wires and placing a "bunker vehicle" in the middle of roads leading to it. This didn’t happen even during the heyday of militancy or even worse law and order situations seen in the Valley in the past. The locals see in it “coming events cast their shadow before”. Those behind such diktats simply failed to realise that a vast majority of local Muslims still feel solace in Kashmir’s spiritual past and that, notwithstanding how difficult it has been to live in the Valley of death over the past three decades, Sufism remains an attraction. According to them, Sufism is an effort to reaffirm the vision of reality, which the Revelation of the Prophet has defined. It is meant not to unravel the mysteries of the world and life, or attain a new enlightenment and illumination, but to seek a clear insight and strong conviction into the truths of Revelation, without attempting to change or modify them.
Any step that seeks to prevent them from professing and implementing this brand of Islam into their lives is fraught with serious political implications. The separatists have in the past openly accused New Delhi of being intolerant towards the Muslim identity of Kashmir’s people and of doing all it can to destroy it. The government is also being criticised by people for certain administrative lapses. Satya Pal Malik, the last governor of Jammu and Kashmir state, is known to the average Kashmiri as someone who till the last moment lied through his teeth on the Centre’s plan on Articles 370 and 35A and related issues, and during his tenure lost no opportunity to denigrate the people of the Valley and, consequently, brought disrepute to Raj Bhavan. But for others, he was merely a “lori dastar” — in local jargon a person holding a high office but without having any powers — and, therefore, may not have been taken into confidence by the real decision-makers in the Narendra Modi government.
The new person in charge at Raj Bhavan and the first lieutenant-governor of the Union territory of J&K Girish Chandra Murmu has failed in his first litmus test to reach out to the Valley’s residents. Last week, heavy snowfall played havoc with the lives of people but the new UT’s administration under him failed to take immediate steps to mitigate their suffering. This only added to the residents’ belief that they are being neglected and even affronted by those in power. Mr Murmu deferred his planned visit to Srinagar reportedly after told about the harsh weather conditions in the Valley.
Ladakh is now a separate geographical entity. While the Centre’s making it a UT has brought smiles on the face of its Buddhist population, in Kargil district of Ladakh where Shia Muslims are in a majority various political parties and leaders have voiced concern over the move and want certain assurances on their political, cultural and economic interests. They are also apprehensive of the probable “hegemony” of Leh and its Buddhist population. Various political and religious organisations of Leh have demanded certain legal and constitutional guarantees, including under Article 371, to secure their land, jobs and socio-economic interests and culture. They have also asked for Ladakh being declared a tribal area under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
In Jammu too, several political parties and sections of the population are equally worried over the turn of events. They have demanded that the Centre should put in place a provision of “domicile” requirement for various purposes like the purchase of land to protect the interests of citizens of the region. This, they say, could be a provision under which a person who wants to buy land or seek a job in a government department or agency must have lived in the state for a certain period of time as is the arrangement in Himachal Pradesh and northeastern states. The BJP also backs this demand. Many Dogras of Jammu also lament that a vibrant, composite and inclusive state created by Maharaja Gulab Singh has been disintegrated and disempowered.