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Amit Shah’s visit unlocks roadmap for new Kashmir

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The Union Home Minister Amit Shah with the CRPF personnel at the Pulwama camp

When the Union Home Minister Amit Shah piloted the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Bill, seeking termination of the erstwhile State’s special status and its break up into the two Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Ladakh, in the Parliament on 5 August 2019, most of the political leaders and commentators feared a new spell of bloodshed in Kashmir.

Among the Police, security and intelligence agencies there was broadly a consensus on the figure of the possible fatal casualties—400 to 500 civilian protestors and demonstrators. Some believed that it could be several times more than the deaths caused in the street turbulence of 2010 and 2016.

To everybody’s surprise, Kashmir remained calm and cool. A thick security dragnet  was put in place to minimise the widely speculated violence and to deny any opportunity to the saboteurs of peace. Curfew was imposed and communication and internet services snapped. The international media reported the possibility of a mayhem far worse than the street turbulence of 2010 and 2016 in which nearly 200 demonstrators had been killed.

Invariably the opinion all over the world was that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government had stirred a hornet’s nest in Kashmir. From every possible quarter there was criticism of the imposition of curfew and suspension of the communication services.

The people of Kashmir proved everybody wrong. There were no clashes between the people and the security forces. Unlike in Omar Abdullah’s government in 2010 and Mehbooba Mufti’s government in 2016, no pellets or bullets were fired anywhere. As soon as the tension receded and the Kashmiris began resuming their businesses, curfew was gradually lifted and the telephone and internet services restored.

Soon the militants began spreading the fear of their gun with several killings, beginning with the broad daylight killing of a wholesaler in Srinagar. Traders and transporters were warned against operating their businesses which could show the valley as normal. School bus drivers were threatened of dire consequences if they dared to carry any students.

The winter of 2019-20 brought a thaw. By March 2020, normalcy was restored completely across the valley. All the businesses, commercial transport and educational institutions opened. A long era of stone pelting on the Police and security forces, which had started in 2009, ended automatically. So did the funeral processions and gun salutes to the militants killed in different encounters.

It was for the first time since 1990, that the authorities decided not to hand over bodies of the slain militants to their families which would be always used to raise passions and encourage youths of the neighbourhoods to pick up the gun, kill others and one day get killed in an encounter with the security forces. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic led to a worldwide lockdown in the fourth week of March 2020 which, like everywhere, paralysed life in Kashmir.

Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Shah were the owners of the biggest political gamble played in Kashmir after Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s dismissal as ‘Prime Minister’ and arrest on 9 August 1953. They kept their fingers crossed and watched the developments from Delhi without visiting Jammu and Kashmir which they did frequently from 2014 to 2019.

Shah’s first visit to J&K after August 2019, which went on for four days, was historic for a host of reasons. In the last over 30 years, no Union Home Minister had stayed in J&K for 4 days. For the first time, Shah broke his silence for the Opposition across India and a hostile media across the world. He justified imposition of curfew for two months and suspension of telecommunication services for 6-9 months with his argument that the same had foiled a possible bloodshed in Kashmir. “We didn’t want any Kashmiri to die in the firing of the Police or security forces. Today, there’s no stone pelting, no clashes, no firing”, Shah asserted in one of his speeches.

That the trouble and sabotage in Kashmir is not still completely over was evident from the apparently organised, though thinly attended, pro-Pakistan demonstrations at over a dozen places in Srinagar, including the two by the doctors of Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) and the MBBS female students of Government Medical College Srinagar over the Pakistani cricket team’s victory in the T-20 match at Dubai against India. This happened on the night of 24 October when Shah was in town along with the Union Home Secretary, Director Intelligence Bureau, Director General of NIA, Director General of CRPF, Director General BSF and other senior security and intelligence officers.

Particularly the two demonstrators, in which Pakistan’s national anthem and pro-Pakistan slogans were raised, have shattered the faith of the pro-India population in the professionalism and medical ethics of the doctors of the two major hospitals.

Significantly, responding to the NC President Farooq Abdullah’s and the PDP President Mehbooba Mufti’s refrain of engaging Pakistan with the talks over Kashmir, Shah emphasised that his government would not talk to Pakistan. He said that the BJP government at the Centre would only talk to the Kashmiri youths over restoration of peace and the resolution of the crisis in the valley. This comes as a major policy statement from the BJP government.

Shah’s frontal attacks on the “three political dynasties which have ruled J&K for 70 years” in many of his speeches indicate the BJP government would not make any partnership either with the NC or with the PDP which, in the past, have been the NDA’s power partners. It implicitly gives leverage to the Peoples Conference and the Apni Party which are widely being seen as the BJP’s friendlies ahead of the Assembly elections in J&K.

For the first time after 2029, Shah asserted in unambiguous terms that the current process of delimitation would be followed by the Assembly elections. He reiterated his Parliamentary commitment that Statehood would be restored to J&K after the Assembly elections.

Even as Shah did not say anything with regard to regularisation of the services of over 10,000 Special Police Offices (SPOs), who have been engaged for counterinsurgency operations against a paltry honorarium of Rs 5,000 a month, he paid rich tributes to all those laying sacrifice of life for the nation. As many as 511 SPOs, alongside 1072 regular Policemen and 4200 personnel of security forces have died in encounters and terror attacks in J&K since 1990.

For a night, Shah stayed at a CRPF encampment at Lethapora, Pulwama, and paid tributes to the 40 paramilitary jawans at their memorial close to the spot where they had been killed in a terror attack in February 2019. He complained that politicians like Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, in whose period 40,000 Kashmiris had been killed, were not contesting terrorism with unqualified and unequivocal condemnation. He emphasised that his government would not allow any terrorist to kill a Kashmiri.

Regarding development, Shah claimed that with special priority in the Modi government, J&K would emerge as India’s best developed State in the next two years. While inaugurating over a dozen major infrastructure projects, including a 500-bed children’s hospital and laying the foundation stone for several new projects, Shah set the deadline of 2022 and 2024 for completion of almost all the current projects. It comes as an indication that the BJP is keen to showcase J&K’s development as a major achievement ahead of the next Parliamentary elections in the country.

As a major diplomatic feat, Shah inaugurated the direct air passenger and cargo services over Pakistan’s air space between Srinagar and Sharjah, UAE. The UAE is a key member nation of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). In 2009, the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had inaugurated Srinagar-Dubai international flights but Pakistan disallowed its air space for the flights originating from Srinagar with the apprehension that it could lead to establishment of an OIC country’s consulate in Srinagar. Consequently, the service took a long detour through the South and failed because of being economically unviable.

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