The sense of siege hit early, in the air, long before seeing the barbed-wire barricades and security forces armed to the teeth blocking the way. Fifteen minutes before the plane touched down at Srinagar, an announcement was made asking the passengers to close the windows. The staff went around making sure all windows are shut—“An order from the DGCA, sir,” one of the flight attendants said upon enquiry, referring to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. First there was mild disbelief, then there was mocking. A Kashmiri passenger next to me laughed and said, “This is nazarbandi”—house arrest. Others repeated the word as if they were adding it to their vocabulary. Some of them, curious, opened the windows halfway to peep out but closed them in a hurry. It was 7.30 am and I saw a glimpse of the verdant green Valley enveloped in grey monsoon mist. “Probably they don’t want us to see how many (security) forces they have brought into the Valley,” one person said. The passenger was coming home for Eid, which was the next day, on 12 August.
Some tried to laugh about it while others looked anxious. Soon, they had to figure out how to reach their destinations. As the flight landed on the runway, many passengers switched on their cell phones and kept staring at them, probably out of habit, and maybe some hope. The reality struck them soon enough. The Valley has been under strict lockdown since 5 August, with no communication services, when the union government effectively abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution. The green ticker at the tourist department counter next to the baggage belt kept flashing the message: “Welcome to the paradise on earth.”
I went to the office of the divisional commissioner of Kashmir, along with a couple of other Delhi-based journalists, to secure what is called a “curfew pass,” which is helpful for moving across some parts of the city. Technically, it is a “movement pass valid for 144 CRPC restrictions” only, and useless during curfews. The red Kashmiri flag with a plough and three vertical stripes was fluttering next to the Indian tricolour on the divisional commissioner’s office building. The office premises were full of angry people waiting to make calls to their family members outside the Valley. Many who could not make the calls were shouting and venting in Kashmiri and, in a camaraderie triggered by crisis, complained to random strangers who would listen.
It was the turn of serial number 32, during the forenoon, and 420 people were still waiting. The television journalists from Delhi were, however, seen giving a positive twist about the telephone facility easing people’s troubles. A young man confronted Nazir Masoodi of NDTV, accusing him of reporting that there has been normalcy when there is so much repression. Others joined him and surrounded Masoodi and argued with him till other journalists came to diffuse the tension.
The young man, a 25-year-old student named Arif, later told me he was more upset with the Indian media for peddling the narrative of normalcy than not being able to contact his brother. “If India was so adamant at abrogating Article 370, they could have at least taken into confidence the leaders such as Omar and Mehbooba,” Arif said, referring to the former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, both of whom have been arrested. “They are the ones who instilled and fought for the idea of India in the Valley … Today, it is clear that the idea of Kashmir is completely unsafe with India.”
“India seems to be saying, ‘We have power and majority and we can do anything,’ he continued. “The bottom line is that they cannot accept it and swallow that there is a Muslim-majority state in India. So, they want to change the demography of the state.” Arif said that this can revive militancy in the state like in the 1990s. “When sadr-e-riyasat was removed, Kashmir should have protested and fought against it.” The Jammu and Kashmir constitution provided for a separate prime minister and sadr-e-riyasat—or president—till 1965, when the positions were replaced with a chief minister and governor, respectively, by a constitutional amendment. “We criticise that generation for not doing that. So, there will be a fight back this time,” he said.
There was widespread resentment over the unprecedented restrictions before Eid and many believed that it was done deliberately, under a Hindutva project, to obstruct them from performing their religious duties. Along the Jammu highway and other important areas, the Bakarwals—a nomadic-shepherd community—had been allowed to move in with their flock, but the buyers found it difficult to reach them and buy the sacrificial animal for Eid due to the restrictions. Even for a journalist with a curfew pass, movement depended on the whim of the security forces and their reaction varied from barrier to barrier. Those who decided to brave it out sometimes got lucky and sometimes got beaten. The tradition of pooling in money and sharing the meat among relatives could not happen as the relatives were spread out across the city. Even those who managed to go ahead and perform the qurbani—ritual sacrifice—could not distribute the meat to family and friends living away from their own locality.
The city had been parcelled out into small manageable blocks, cordoned off from all sides. “We have never seen anything like this,” a university professor told me. “It has been smart and sophisticated. They have remapped the Srinagar roadmap for its residents in what seemed like a psychological drill.” The strategy was devised by either an American consultancy or Israeli army contractors, according to the security-analyst community grapevine. A huge team of officials from the National Technical Research Organisation, who were stationed at Srinagar’s Gupkar road and Church Lane, had set-up a massive surveillance network, including drones.
Everyone expected that there would be large-scale violence but it has not happened so far. However, the psychological trauma of near-violence under siege is palpable everywhere. With restrictions on movement, snapping of communication networks and an information blackout, rumours had begun to fill the vacuum. I heard that there had been clashes between the Jammu and Kashmir Police, who are angry at being stripped of their arms, and the Central Reserve Police Force at the Nawa Bazar locality, after small boys were hit with pellets. But there was no way to confirm this.
Those journalists friendly with the establishment were driven and flown around in helicopters. Others had begun to move around in groups as it felt safer and easier to negotiate with the security forces. I, along with three journalists from Delhi, decided to go in a cab to the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences hospital in Soura to check if there had been any casualties during protests. This is the only area from where the media had been able to capture protests.
The BBC reported that on 9 August, thousands of people in Soura took to the streets to protest against the Indian government’s abrogation of Kashmir’s special status. While the government earlier maintained that there had been no protests and everything was peaceful, the ministry of home affairs later admitted, on 13 August, that there was “widespread unrest” in the area that day after “miscreants” resorted to “unprovoked stone pelting against law enforcement.”
Violence has become so normalised in Kashmir that the lack of large-scale violence—and the scarcity of any information on violence—allows the government to brazenly declare that everything is calm. In fact, the government and its many agencies have gone to a great extent to stay in control of the narrative. Local journalists would reach the hospitals and gather information regarding the injured but the hospitals have been put under pressure to discharge patients as soon as possible.
Rohit Kansal, the principal secretary of planning, development and monitoring in the Jammu and Kashmir government, would hold press conferences at the media centre set up in a hotel every evening, only to deflect any and all questions and instead push the narrative of a prevailing calm. On 14 August, however, he said the situation has “improved” and a senior Kashmiri journalist immediately latched onto it. The journalist asked Kansal to define the improvement, considering all these days he had been claiming that everything is normal. Kansal looked a bit embarrassed but said he did not have to resort to word play. Any questions on the whereabouts of the former chief ministers of the state were met with an anodyne response that no details about any individuals would be given away.
As we drove through the sensitive downtown areas of Srinagar, such as Khanyar and Rainawari, the streets looked empty. Sometimes, at every hundred metres or less, we had to change lanes and come back on the original road—if there were clashes happening ahead, we were not allowed to proceed and diverted away. The security-forces personnel looked quite surprised to see non-Kashmiris travelling through. They would ask where we were going and why. When we identified ourselves as Delhi media, they would let us through. One of them asked us, “Shweta Singh hai kya andar?” referring to the Aaj Tak journalist, and asked us to send her the next time. It took us more than an hour to cover 14 kilometres.
At the SKIMS, the patients entered in a slow trickle. Once in a while, an odd ambulance would appear with a patient. Inside, we tried to find out if there had been any new casualties since the imposition of the lockdown. We saw pictures of young men injured by pellet guns during protests on somebody’s cell phone. Even as we were trying to gather information, plain-clothed police officers from the Criminal Investigation Department, who were stationed at the hospital, got wind of it and came looking for us.
In the meantime, a young man asked us to come with him for some important information. A hospital employee warned us that he could be a police informer but we decided to follow him. He took us from the rear entry of the hospital into the by-lanes of the Soura Anchar locality, where the protests captured by the BBC took place. After walking for fifteen minutes, suddenly we were in front of the popular Jenab Saeb Mosque. It is a huge mosque with beautiful white walls, minarets and green domes. The courtyard in front is the size of a football ground. There were about three hundred to four hundred people—men, women and children—spread out in various corners engaged in intense discussions. They were sloganeering, and their voice became louder as they saw us journalists.
Each of us was circled by groups of men. There was such a cacophony of voices that I could hardly comprehend them for a few minutes. For the first half an hour, I listened to them abuse the Indian media. I had no chance to ask questions, and kept rotating to all sides, listening to each of them. New people would join the group and everyone would go on loud, passionate rants, which lasted up to ten–fifteen minutes, to talk about what they think is wrong. They all had more or less the same things to say: “Indian media is the culprit. They are the real terrorists. They are forcing us to become terrorists”; “This relationship with India was built on Article 370. Now that it is gone, we are azad. Now, it is a naked occupation”; “Forget about Pakistan and Hindutva, where is humanity? We are not being allowed to practice our religious duties”; “Kashmir will become Palestine. We will lose everything”; “Kashmir population is already high and the land is less. What will happen if the outsiders come in. What will be left for our future generations?”; “We are left with no choice but to pick up guns.”
As soon as one young man mentioned guns, all the others started shouting, “One solution, gun solution, gun solution.” After an hour, when we were ready to leave, some of them asked us to come back the next day, during the Eid morning prayers. “We will take out a juloos”—procession—“of fifty–sixty thousand people soon after namaz,” one man said. As we walked out, there was a small rally of women and children and some men shouting slogans of “azadi”—freedom.
As I started walking along the rally and towards the SKIMS, one young man came to me and identified himself as a journalist. “Now, we are not going to wait for the Hurriyat or anybody else,” he said. “We will take the initiative. It’s been decided, at some places, to form mohallacommittees and fight till death. This will be the end of Kashmir otherwise. Our goal would be referendum.” The earlier divisions have vanished in the face of this new development, according to him. “The fault lines between the rich and poor don’t exist anymore. Earlier, people from poor localities participated in protests and stone pelting against India more. But now even the old and the elite are taking out rallies. The Sunni, Shia, Wahabi, Jama’at, NC, PDP differences are irrelevant now and they are all counting themselves as one,” he said.
According to the young journalist, the lollipop of development is not going to appease Kashmiris. “They say now outsiders will come and invest and create jobs and development. There is already a provision for that. Look at so many establishments such as Tyndale Biscoe School and Taj Vivanta in Srinagar. They are all leased for really long periods, like 99 years, at throw away lease rates like Rs 100 per year or something,” he said. “They make a lot of money. What do the Kashmiris get out of it? Not much. The government certainly gives permission to those who want to come and invest in the state. Why squash Article 370 for that?” Some others have pointed out that the Indian Army and the Indian Railways also bought a lot of land permanently in the state through state government. “Our fight will be all about land,” the young journalist told me. “Kashmiris will be driven out of their own land or pushed to the margins. They will expect us to live quietly forgetting about our rights and political aspirations.”
In Kashmir, comparisons with the Israel-Palestine conflict have become part of everyday talk. Given the fondness of the BJP and RSS for Israel, these comparisons do not look out of place. The current situation of siege and the response of the people comes close to what the novelist John Berger described in a dispatch from Ramallah in 2003:
The Israeli government claims that they are obliged to take these measures to combat terrorism. The claim is a feint. The true aim of the stranglehold is to destroy the indigenous population’s sense of temporal and spatial continuity so that they either leave or become indentured servants. And it’s here that the dead help the living to resist. It’s here that men and women make their decision to become martyrs. The stranglehold inspires the terrorism it purports to be fighting.
Sher-I-Kashmir International Conference Centre and Centaur Lake View Hotel is situated on the banks of Dal lake. All the important government functions and conferences used to happen there. It has been turned into a prison since August 5. The director of the centre is now effectively a jailor. We went to check the status of political prisoners there and found a family—two women and two boys—waiting outside the gates. They were reluctant to disclose any details at first. One of them was the wife of Sheikh Ishfaq Jabbar, a former member of legislative assembly of the National Conference from the Ganderbal constituency, and the other one was his sister, Shahin Jabbar. The boys were his sons. Jabbar was first put under house arrest on August 5 and then moved to the SKICC two days later.
Jabbar’s father-in-law, Syed Akhoon, also a former MLA, and the provisional president of the National Conference, was arrested and brought to the SKICC as well. The local station house officer told the family where he was and the family reached the day before Eid. “Kis buniyad pe arrest kiya pata nahi”—We don’t know on what basis they arrested him—Shahin Jabbar told us, and added, “My father was killed in the 90s by the militants because he was an Indian.” The family is worried after hearing that the stringent Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978 will be slapped on him. The law allows an individual to be taken into preventive custody for two years without any charges or a trial.
Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, the lone MLA of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from Kulgam in south Kashmir, has been put under house arrest. Waheed Ur Rehman Para, a youth leader of the Peoples Democratic Party of Jammu and Kashmir, has also reportedly been detained under the PSA. Both are known to be close to the army establishment in the Valley. Jabbar himself was a sub-inspector of police before he joined politics. His friend and neighbour said, “Earlier they used to arrest pro-Pakistan guys, now they are taking pro-India people also. There are two people in Kashmir who never lied. Geelani, who is a pure Pakistani, and Farooq Abdullah, who is pure Indian.” Syed Ali Shah Geelani is a powerful separatist leader and Farooq Abdullah is the chairperson of the National Conference. “But today, Farooq is also crying because he is under house arrest.” According to the friend, there are more than 200 political leaders and workers inside SKICC along with Jabbar. He listed four other politicians from Ganderbal who have been arrested.
After waiting for two hours at the gate, by the roadside, Jabbar’s wife and sons were allowed to go inside to meet him. She came back after forty minutes or so and said that she was allowed to look at him from a distance for two minutes in the conference hall. “Tomorrow is Eid and we came to meet him. But it was hardly a meeting. We should at least be allowed to get him Eid lunch. He is not a militant,” the wife told us. “Sazaa mil rahi hai Hindustani hone ki wajah se.”—He is being punished for being a Hindustani, she said. That there was so much security inside that it looked like a central jail, she said. She was not allowed to meet her father, who is also under house arrest there. Jabbar’s friend, a government employee, said, “Till today, only a handful of people were fighting against India. But now the whole qaum”—community—“will fight.”
The atmosphere stayed relatively calm in Srinagar—to facilitate Eid, according to many, which is celebrated for two-and-a-half days. The high-level security was another reason. There was a possibility of protests on the afternoon of Eid, after prayers and lunch. But the protests were not fierce or widespread as was expected. There were no Eid prayers in 22 locations in Srinagar, according to an official estimate, and the real number could be much bigger. The maulvis were warned in advance to not to talk about the political situation in their Eid sermons. “If you give a political sermon, then come to the police station and surrender voluntarily,” the police had warned them, according to one maulvi.
On the first day, 12 August, I went to Lal Chowk. It had been cordoned off and was deserted even by stray dogs. There were a couple of fortified security-force vehicles. A small group of journalists, including myself, decided to go to Soura on foot to see if there would be a protest rally as the people there had told us. On the way, I saw a few people dressed in their Eid clothes moving around in their own colonies. At Khanyar, where the downtown area starts, a convoy accompanying K Vijay Kumar, the advisor to the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, passed us by as he took stock of the situation on the ground. Soon after that, we were almost caught in a clash.
The security personnel had been whistling away anybody stepping on the street to go back inside. A couple of youngsters who were standing fifty metres ahead on the roadside, in new clothes, gestured with their hands and refused to go. The security personnel started loudly abusing them, used their catapult to sling stones at them and chased after them. The youngsters ran away and the soldiers returned to their position. We waited in the by-lanes till the commotion ended. After that we decided to not use the main road and take the narrow by-lanes instead.
I heard about many instances of Kashmiris who had been loyal to the idea of India now turning against India. “The legitimacy for violence is at its peak now,” a senior journalist told me. “The lines between civilian and military are getting blurred. Every Indian would become a legitimate target here,” There is also a mention, even in middle- and upper-middle-class homes, of how suicide bombers might find more acceptance now. A businessman based in Srinagar told me about his family member who was opposed to the idea of the very creation of Pakistan—and the two-nation theory—is now supporting it.
After crossing Kathidarwaza, a group of people started abusing the Indian media. As there was a journalist working for a foreign publication, they cooled down. One of them said, “Idhar lull hai”—There is a lull here. “Lull before the storm.” As we left, another said, “Modi ko mera namaskar bolna.”—Convey my greetings to Modi.—and everyone laughed. An old man, who is a trader in Kolkata, joined me on the walk and said, “This is Sheikh Abdullah’s fault.” Abdullah was the founder of the National Conference and a former prime minister of Jammu and Kashmir who signed an accord with Indira Gandhi in 1974 that separatists regarded as a capitulation. The trader added, “He trusted India and opened the gates for what is happening today.” A lot of people have been talking about Sheikh Abdullah as the original sinner.
At a place called Alipora, as we sat down to take rest a group of people came to talk to us. A young man in his twenties told me, “Earlier, Indians were our guests. We used to treat them with great hospitality. Now it won’t be the same. Militancy will increase from 10 percent to 60–70 percent. BJP ne gundagardi shuru kiya hai.”—The BJP has started hooliganism. He added, “They have to come with passports. Otherwise we will burn them.” An old man said, “Inhone shuru kiya hai, lekin isko hum khatam karenge.”—They started this, but we will end it. He added that two of his sons are ready to sacrifice themselves. “Tell Modi, they are ready.” Another pitched in, “Modi humein aazadi dega, inshallah.”—Modi will give us freedom, inshallah.
We took a lift in a SKIMS hospital bus used to fetch employees. There was only one old lady and her husband in the bus. The driver picked them up from a place called Manigam because she was too sick to walk. He told us that the security forces wanted him to offload her. “I got 40 injured people in this bus day before yesterday to the hospital,” he told us. “But the Indian media says everything is under control.” He said even during the 2016 protests, after the death of the militant commander Burhan Wani, restrictions were not as bad. “Sometimes, even the operation theatre staff are not allowed to come. They deliberately delay us.”
After two hours of walking and taking a lift, we reached SKIMS. When we entered the Soura Anchar locality from the SKIMS rear gate, we saw the narrow road blocked with stones and logs of wood. There was a bonfire that had burnt out. Just before the Jenab Saeb mosque, some of the people we spoke to the previous day recognised us and started showing us what happened. There were four to five teargas shells on the road. The entire street was full of broken bricks. There was a huge iron water tank in the middle of the road used to stop the forces from advancing. It gave us a glimpse of the clash that took place the previous night.
We were all sitting here after our dinner and chatting,” a young man recounted. “Suddenly, around 11 pm, we saw forces appear on this road. They started shelling immediately. We retorted. An announcement was made from the mosque to come out and resist the forces who had come to stop offering our Eid namaaz in the morning. Everybody came out and kept a vigil and clashed with the forces.” He said that they only went to sleep at around 6 am, and that many of them were still sleeping. “They tried to attack us two–three times and move in. If we had slept, they wouldn’t have allowed us to offer namaaz today morning.”
There were posters of Burhan Wani and other militants stuck on the wooden doors of closed shops. “Modi angootha chhap hai. Usko kya pata kyun PhD wale gun uthate hain”—Modi is uneducated. How would he know why people with PhDs pick up guns—an old man said. “Since morning, six to seven helicopters have been doing rounds above us.” Another man, holding a wicker basket, told me, “They are not allowing us to even share the qurbani meat.” Since they closed off all the exits and entry points, people from other localities could not come in for the planned protest rally. As we were walking back to the SKIMS, one man offered us tea. When we politely refused, he smiled and said, “Yeh Modi ki chai nahi hai, apni hai chai”—This is not Modi’s tea, it is our own.
On the way back, we were diverted at a couple of places because of stone pelting. By evening, the restrictions were slightly eased. A Srinagar resident who frequently visits Pattan of North Kashmir for Eid said that it was gloomy there. “Last Eid, the maulvi had in his sermon asked the youth not to burst crackers on Eid,” he recounted. “But as soon as the prayers were over, they started bursting crackers and didn’t stop till night. This time, he didn’t even mention but it was so quiet, as if the air was also still. Everybody is in a shock.” There had been no news of violence and there was a collective sigh of relief. But everybody knew that they probably did not have all the information to be certain.
Around 6 pm the next day, there was a tip-off about 35 victims of pellet eye injuries at Ward number 11, in Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh hospital. Two senior Kashmiri journalists and I reached the hospital to find out. But there were none. The hospital was almost empty. While looking for them, we found a small five-year-old girl, Muneefa Nazir, with her right eye bandaged. She was lying on the bed and sleeping, with Eid mehendi on her hands, as more than ten family members sat around her looking shattered. She had been brought the previous day at 6.30 pm from Safakadal after a CRPF jawan hit her with a stone from his catapult. She was sitting on her uncle’s bike.
“We were going to distribute the qurbani meat,” Farooq Ahmad Wani, the uncle, told me what had happened. “She sat in front, on the fuel tank. Two people sat behind me. As I tried to cross the road, one CRPF jawan asked me to take another way. As he was talking to me, another CRPF guy across the road hit us with the stone. Muneefa was injured and started bleeding a lot. When I tried to confront him and ask why he did it, he cocked his gun and said I will shoot you if you don’t leave. All the others who gathered to support me also ran away after that.” He added that everything was peaceful and their shift was also coming to an end, at 6 pm, when the incident happened.
One doctor was available when they brought her to the hospital. The doctor, Tariq Qureshi, told the family that the right eyeball has been dislocated and he will examine the damage after ten days and perform a surgery. Muneefa is studying in lower kindergarten. She is the youngest child of Nazeer Ahmad Wani, a cameraman with Asia News Network. “The hospital employees told me that the police is putting pressure on them to discharge my daughter because they don’t want this to be reported by the media. Today, if the doctor had come, they would have discharged, but he didn’t,” he told me. Though he is a journalist, he has not been able to inform anybody because there is no way to communicate. “She has not eaten any food till 2 pm today. The only thing she said was, ‘Take me home, take me home.’”
After four days of talking to people, the only reconciliatory voice I have heard on the scrapping of Article 370 was of Jan Mohammad, a 33-year-old school teacher from Budgam, who had come to attend the Independence Day parade in Srinagar’s Sher-I-Kashmir Stadium on 15 August. “There is a lot of insecurity everywhere, even among the educated youth who wanted to get into government services as they have to now compete at the national level,” he told me. “An amendment should be brought in giving some security of land and security of jobs.” And then he added, “But whatever the central government does from now on, it will be near impossible for them to win the confidence of the people of the Valley now.”
The last flashpoint in Kashmir was in 2016 when Burhan Wani was killed and the Valley erupted in anger. There were large-scale protests that were met with brutal violence, especially in south Kashmir. As if it is expecting a similar reaction, the Indian state has deployed probably the highest number of forces since the first outbreak of militancy. But the effective scrapping of Article 370 has thrown Kashmir into a deeper existential crisis as its people consider it a matter of survival—of their land, religion and culture.
Their response would be measured and strategic. It seems like they think it’s not wise to face the might of the state right away. A resident of Srinagar who had recently visited Shopian in south Kashmir told me that a group of militants had come to Pinjura village and Zainpura on bikes last week. They told people to remain calm and not clash with the security forces as it is going to be a protracted battle. “This time around, it will take some time to figure out what will be the meaningful resistance,” a senior journalist told me. “But there will be resistance.”
The biggest talking point is the complete marginalisation and annihilation of the pro-India politicians of the Valley such as Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti. The pro-Pakistan and pro-azadi lobby could not succeed all these years because of these leaders and parties. “What couldn’t be achieved in more than 70 years by the separatists, the BJP government achieved in one stroke,” a journalist told me. “These pro-India political leaders have been the firewall against the azadi and Pakistan sentiment.”
One common refrain in the Valley is that the scrapping of Article 370 does not concern those who are fighting for azadi—as they had never believed in the Indian Constitution in the first place, it was the responsibility of those pro-India leaders who benefitted from it. “Some Kashmiris are joking that Ajit Doval is an ISI agent for having finished the Indian leadership here and doing a favour to Pakistan,” the journalist said. Doval, who is the national security advisor, was in the Valley closely monitoring the situation. The middle ground has finished. “The end of status quo is a good sign for Kashmir. Now there will be a solution, one way of the other,” he said.
However, Kashmiris suspect that the BJP government will create a new crop of leaders. “People such as Mir Junaid and other nobodies have their phones working now,” a senior journalist told me. “This is being done at the highest level. There is already a small crop of politicians who will rally for India when there will be next elections. I have a good sense that a new leadership has been prepared. Modi’s speech on Article 370 was a confirmation of that. He said parivarvaad khatam ho gaya hai aur naye log aa rahe hai”—Dynastic politics is over and new people are coming.
The former Indian Administrative Services officer and politician Shah Faesal’s name has been mentioned by various people as a possible candidate to replace the erstwhile pro-India leadership. “He will be the next Farooq Abdullah,” a young man in Soura said. Another senior journalist concurred. “Article 370 and 35A are gone. None of the existing characters can bring them back. Now all they can hope and fight for is statehood. A door for that has been left open in the 38-page document of the bill. If you examine what Shah Faesal has been talking, it seems like has been preparing to play a role in this kind of situation and context,” he told me. Though Shah Faesal has reportedly been detained under the Public Safety Act, many believe it’s a pre-planned bid by the Indian establishment to build him up as a hero in this political vacuum. But there are others who think the BJP government will bring a Hindu chief minister after delimitation by increasing seats in Jammu.
Another perspective is that the resistance will intensify one way or the other but much of it will depend on what Pakistan will do. People have been watching Pakistani TV channels for clues. “Kashmir issue has been internationalised in various ways,” a security analyst told me. “The US and Pakistan probably had intelligence that this was going to happen. When Imran Khan made the statement about how he has to take care of 40 thousand militants back home, it looked silly at that time. But now in hindsight it seems like he knew about this and was giving a veiled threat to the Indian establishment.” An audio clip of the Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naik released two days before the scrapping of Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 had a message that talked about desperate measures by India. He appealed to the Kashmir police to support him as they would be used and thrown away like the pro-India politicians.
The Kashmir police, at the lower and middle rung, especially, are angry at the insult of being disarmed by the government. “There is a certain mutinous undercurrent,” the senior journalist told me. “I have never heard an SHO refusing to pick up people. I know of two SHOs who have refused to follow orders and questioned why they should be picked up, whereas the nearby SHO picked up 50 people and PSA-ed them. Kashmiri bureaucracy are also angry but petrified. You can’t even quit now as that will be considered as rebellion. The sentiment among them is that if you don’t behave, nobody will save you from Amit Shah and Modi.” This has created a new set of pressure points that might explode at a certain point in the future. But nobody knows when. Most people, however, believe the Kashmiris are digging their heels for a long haul. “The quality and timber of this anger is very different,” the senior journalist told me.
PRAVEEN DONTHI is a staff writer at The Caravan.