For the umpteenth time the governments in the state and at the centre are miserably misreading the ground situation in the troubled Kashmir Valley ostensibly to ‘normalise’ it. A classic example of endemic bungling is the manner in which the situation that erupted on the day of Eid-ul-Fitr, in Srinagar particularly, was handled by the local authorities. The trouble started at Hazratbal when police needlessly intercepted groups of people from reaching there to offer Eid prayers at the shrine. Ensuing clashes resulted in arson, firing and teargassing which later had repercussion in Lal Chowk area of civil lines and eventually right upto the Exhibition crossing where a government building was set ablaze. Those who know the nuances of Kashmir politics can more easily discern the competing political interests around the Hazratbal platform. Ever since Syed Ali Shah Geelani had announced his intention to offer Eid prayers at Hazratbal, no doubt not a usual desire on his part, ruling National Conference began to perceive a threat to their hegemony. The NC has traditionally been monopolising the Hazratbal pulpit, leaving the Jamia Masjid to the Mirwaiz dynasty. The ongoing resistance movement has so weakened and unnerved the NC that it feared as if Geelani was seeking to dethrone the ruling party from its traditional platform. It was more in panic than on any objective assessment that the NC’s fears had to be taken care of by the police. Nothing would have happened if Geelani supporters had been allowed to join the Hazratbal congregation. Any attempts by them to politicise the Eid prayers would undoubtedly have provoked instant adverse reaction from the congregation itself. It has happened so many times in the past that the devotees have frustrated attempts at politicising congregations. But it appears that the ruling NC’s nerves have got so weakened under the pressure of gross mishandling the ground situation in the Valley over past three months that it could not rely on its own strength or that of its following to checkmate Geelani’s supporters. So the police was made to intervene. There are credible reports that chief minister Omar Abdullah had originally planned to offer Eid prayers at Hazratbal. So the police had to ‘sanitise’ the area. Naturally, Geelani’s supporters had to be forcibly prevented from joining the congregation. Omar was reportedly advised to offer prayers at Sonwar shrine near his Gupkar Road residence.
Clashes at Hazratbal had instant ripple effect. Lal Chowk demonstrations had till then been largely peaceful barring minor incidents. But as the news of police action at Hazratbal swept across the capital city it produced instant reaction. Angry protesters attacked government buildings in the area. Even so, there are conflicting reports about how the Exhibition crossing building housing the offices of power development corporation and police crime branch was set on fire.
However, one thing is clear beyond doubt that arson took place long after the rally held by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik at Lal Chowk had moved away. Their huge procession from Eidgah to Lal Chowk had been peaceful. There was no trouble till they finished their speeches in which there was nothing to infer that anyone of them was inciting violence. The gathering moved away peacefully. But soon after flames were seen leaping from the government building.
Registering multiple cases against the Mirwaiz for his alleged ‘incitement’ does not seem to be based on firm grounds. It looks more to be a part of terror tactics to stem the tide of mass upheaval which has paralysed the state and its apparatus. This impression is strengthened by the fact the indefinite curfew clamped across the Valley on the second day of Eid is being enforced brutally and cruelly. Sick and other needy persons are being inhumanly dealt with by security forces. Curfew passes are not being honoured. Media persons are being forced to shut shop. News blackout is obviously a part of the terror tactics.
The government’s panic reaction only adds to its own troubles, apart of course from inflicting miseries on the population. Instead of cooling tempers, this atrocity is bound to aggravate anger. These are desperate measures to save a crumbling order which today exists only in name. The state has been denuded of its authority except for its capacity to perpetrate extreme hardships upon the very people whom it claims to represent. It looks as if history is repeating itself. Theft of Holy relic from Hazratbal shrine in 1963 had produced a popular slogan ‘asli mujrim ko pesh karo’, in reaction to the government’s misleading version about mysterious theft and equally mysterious recovery of the Holy relic.