Yet again, the Kashmir Valley is slowly falling into the grip of a vicious circle in which normal life keeps oscillating between eerie silence of graveyard and oppressively calibrated breathing space. Thanks to the ill-advised, ill-timed and arrogant decision of the central government to hang Afzal Guru, against accepted norms of decency and fairplay, its inevitable fallout is just beginning to play out in Guru’s homeland. Barring a few hours of tenuous break, normal life in Kashmir has practically remained shut since February 9. Occasional brief moments of ‘relaxation’ are accompanied by terrifying presence of so-called security apparatus. Such breaks are just sufficient to procure essentials of life from the market. Atmosphere of fear hanging overhead deters the people from doing anything else like resuming their normal social or commercial activity. There is no certainty about whether and when this vicious circle is going to end.
There are two aspects of Guru’s hanging which are directly linked with destabilisation of situation in Kashmir. Firstly, the expression of deep anger and anguish over the arrogant, selective manner in which the hanging was carried out and, secondly, the non-responsiveness of the government to the unanimous demand in the Valley that Guru’s body be returned to his family for burial in his homeland. It is highly unlikely that the Parliament, to which the central government intends to pass on the buck, has a direct answer to this question. Partisan political interests behind the act and manner of hanging were never in doubt. It is, however, anybody’s guess as to how long its fallout on the ground is going to play itself out. There are quite a few variables in the situation that add to its uncertainty.
Ugly trappings of the scenario are beginning to unfold one by one: Pre-hanging discourse on demilitarisation has been replaced by ‘inevitable’ reinforcement of paramilitary forces to control the ground situation; prospects of resumption of dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad, between New Delhi and Srinagar and also between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad have received a serious setback. Unstable ground situation leaves hardly any scope, if at all, for any such proposition. May be, there is method in the madness.
It is being widely talked across the country that the timing and manner of Guru’s hanging had been motivated by the Congress party’s electoral calculus. If so, the setback to the feeble dialogue process also fits into that scheme of things. At the moment all such niceties seem to have been categorised as being ‘dispensable’. That seems to be the only plausible explanation for why the UPA government should have, otherwise, allowed itself to be seen virtually undoing what it used to hold up as its ‘achievement’. New Delhi is now into a different mode.
As has been happening in such situations all through the history, the ground situation in Kashmir is slowly drifting back towards instability and abnormality. Normal life is resoundingly off one day and tenuously on for a few moments the following day. Spectre of terror overhangs the atmosphere. Every sphere of life is affected in the process. Crippling uncertainties of life are, once again, a hard reality.
However, unlike in the past, there is a significant difference in the prevailing scenario: Anguish and anger over the attitude of the central government cuts across political and ideological lines. There are no exceptions in this case. Also, the ‘time factor’ might not be on New Delhi’s side as before. The fact that nearly two weeks after Guru’s hanging in Tihar jail Kashmir continues to be held under such tight leash points to the gravity of the resentment below the surface.
With such an uncertain, fearful atmosphere prevailing just as educational institutions were preparing to reopen after long winter vacation and the Valley itself was bracing up for a new spring life has been thrown into turmoil. Fear psychosis is also back with its familiar dreadful features. Vindictive action against younger population has been intensified while government employees are being suspended for not attending duties on the days when public transport is off road. Gag order has been lifted but the sword continues to dangle over the heads of media persons and internet users.
The conduct and behaviour of the authorities leaves hardly anything to doubt about highhandedness on the ground being blessed at the highest levels of the Establishment. This attitude also fits into perceived post-hanging mindset in New Delhi where the contours of ‘Kashmir policy’ have changed beyond recognition.