A lot has changed in Kashmir over the last five weeks, and even more over the past week. Somebody in power — probably the National Security Advisor — seems to be finally trying to pull its act together. As our TV screens relentlessly show, it is too late to avoid a war-like situation, but at least several defensive moves are taking shape.
Changes have occurred at various levels — most visibly in the deployment of armed forces in the Kashmir Valley.
But there’s one more significant change taking place that is less visible: Judging by straws in the wind and the grapevine, the political class appears to have been persuaded to come together.
Soon after National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah returned from a long sojourn in London, he convened a meeting of various parties, including the Congress, in the state. There are signs that some of the most powerful in the land have got him and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to work together.
Conveniently, his son Omar Abdullah has gone abroad, instead. While his father was abroad and Omar held the reins, there was much talk of the agitations being an opportunity for the NC to get back on the People’s Democratic Party for the flames its cadres had fanned in 2010, when Omar was the chief minister. In several places, NC cadre are said to have been active in July, in the weeks following militant commander Burhan Wani’s death.
One of the more unhappy trends in the first couple of months, after Wani was killed on 8 July, was that activists of most political parties fanned the protests seeking local benefits. They got no local benefit, but they did damage the national cause — arguably, the local cause too — just as a war-like situation loomed.
It appears that the decision to sack government employees and policemen who were playing both sides was implemented only after the new political cohesion was achieved.
Although the National Conference has reacted, it has chosen to target a particular minister in the state government — one who the NC older generation leadership hate so much that he was shunted to inconsequential posts; in fact a disciplinary action was taken against him when Farooq Abdullah was the chief minister in the late 1990s.
The NC could have more sharply targeted the government overall and the leadership of the BJP (also the ruling party at the Centre) instead of attacking one long-hated minister.
Indeed, the targeting of particular leaders could reflect the inner dynamics of the new political churning. While the two top leaders of the Valley’s most important parties may have been persuaded to keep the larger picture in mind, there must be factions within both parties which are deeply upset. Surely, the most unhappy leaders would be those who have personally resented the other leadership the most over the years.
In this context, it is worth nothing that the only leading politician to have raised a shindig against the sacking of government employees was the volatile Rashid Ahmed, independent MLA from Langate. That has become predictable. (Rashid had taken on beef vigilantism most strongly in 2015 by hosting an illegal beef party in the Srinagar MLAs’ hostel. He was consequently slapped by BJP MLAs in the house. Ink was thrown at him at the Press Club of India. That is the sort of low-brow tamasha that set the stage for the mass youth anger across the Valley.)
Judging by what is available on Google, most of those who were photographed prominently with Farooq Abdullah at his recent press conference, have held their peace — even those who have made a career out of speeches on workers’ rights.
The political detente that portends out of this should be strongly appreciated. At a time when war clouds loom around J&K, this is the least that can be expected of any responsible politician.