KishtWAR !!

Are Kishtwar clashes a bigger conspiracy to throttle the pro-Kashmir sentiment in Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley?


As Kishtwar burned, the J&K government was napping. While the political parties in India and their extensions in Jammu and Kashmir had already begun fanning the flames, the state government suffered paraplegia: it watched the flames go up and consume two lives and property worth crores of rupees in a span of just eight hours; its men, machinery, army and cops—who otherwise happen to be ‘only a call away’ to quell protests and protesters in Kashmir—suddenly turned mute spectators to the destruction, arson and loot around as if it wasn’t the real trouble but a Bollywood thriller playing on the screen. It took the arrival of the BJP leader Arun Jaitley at Jammu airport and the opposition leader Mehbooba Mufti’s ‘political stunt’ of heading to Kishtwar to wake up the government. While Jaitley was detained at the airport, Mehbooba was barred from going to Kishtwar and the Chief Minister—who should normally have been in the troubled area to shoulder his responsibilities—addressed a hurriedly-convened press conference in Srinagar to convey to Mehbooba and Co. that “no leader will be allowed to visit Kishtwar”. So while Omar kept this ‘company of shrewd politicians’ at bay, his government’s inaction on ground was exposed by none other than a politician from his alliance partner, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who expressed his “gratitude to the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi for acceding to my request of making available the central forces when things started drifting out of the hands and tension gripped other parts of the state.”

 “On request of Azad, Prime Minister ordered deployment of central forces in the entire Jammu region and the mobilization of troops was done at the shortest possible time with curfew imposed in all major towns and late in the night” [GK August 12, 2013]. 

In an editorial titled ‘Gaping fissures’, The Indian Express not only revealed the State’s unpreparedness on ground, but also pointed that “intelligence reports had warned of imminent clashes as there was sporadic violence through the month of Ramadan. Yet the state government was caught unprepared—it had not even provided for adequate security cover. The Omar Abdullah government’s failure to read the warning signs; or to politically and administratively counter the forces of polarisation in the region has a longer history” [August 13, 2013]. 

"An input (about possible communal violence) was provided to the government about 10 days ago," said a senior officer in the J&K Police CID. "A day before the incident, another input was sent," he added. The intelligence inputs suggested that some political parties wanted a communal flare-up for electoral gains. [Indian Express story, August 11]

While the State miserably failed to act in time, it attempted a slew of ‘damage control’ measures later to defuse the dust-up. The minister of state for Home Sajjad Kitchloo was forcibly sacked and a judicial inquiry into the clashes ordered—albeit only after Kishtwar made it to the Parliament where the Bhartiya Janata Party leaders, known for scripting and raking up communal tensions ahead of elections, sought Omar’s dismissal. If it was not in their interest, the Parliament, the BJP or even the Congress would never bother to discuss the matter. Why should they! When have they collectively discussed the human rights violations in Kashmir, like the recent civilian killings in Gool area of Ramban, and created ruckus in the Parliament over the same!

Anyways, while this story of administrative failure and politics is vivid and clear, the Kishtwar tragedy cannot be looked at in isolation as a stray law and order incident that can be addressed with the misused pill of curfews, arrests and suspension of internet services. The fundamental question is: Is there more to it than meets the eye, especially in the backdrop of some of the old and fresh happenings in the Muslim-majority areas of Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal regions including Ramban, Kishtwar, Doda, Rajouri and Poonch? When Kashmir was up in arms against the Baltal land transfer to the Amarnath Shrine Board in 2008, the Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal areas held protests alongside the people of Kashmir. They took to streets, defying all the military might around. And when Gool erupted against the killing of four unarmed civilians by the Border Security Force in July this year, Kashmir and Ramban shut in protest simultaneously. The happenings, like many such happenings in the past, throw up some of the pressing questions vis-à-vis Kishtwar. Are such clashes craftily scripted to throttle this growing sentiment where the voice against injustice and repression grows louder in unison? Is it an attempt to keep this ‘rising majority sentiment’ under control at the hands of infamous Village Defence Committees, who are ideally supposed to ‘tackle militancy’? For the judicial panel, it would be a crucial question to look at whether Kishtwar is a deliberate and a systematic attempt by communal elements to reap political benefits by triggering an imbalance in the State’s communal balance ahead of elections. 

All said and done. For its own good, the government requires to nip this evil in the bud, beginning with clipping the wings of those who are executing this ‘communal divide project’ at the barrel of gun: the Village Defence Committees. Given how VDC members unleashed terror in Paddar the next day and killed a person brutally only reflects the extent to which they can go in destroying the peaceful atmosphere in the State. While the J&K government is beating the drum of “putting an immediate end to the impunity enjoyed by the armed forces”, the charity must begin at home with disbanding and disarming this civil militia to prevent Kishtwar to reoccur elsewhere. That would also break the vicious cycle of connivance between the armed men and pro-communalism politics and political parties. 

Back home, the saner voices, including those in the pro-freedom camp and the civil society groups, require maintaining a constant vigil over the looming crisis and frame a response thereof to stop this communal flare-up for the greater common good of peace across Jammu and Kashmir.