Kashmir goes to elections, more radicalised than before.
As everyone concentrated on high-profile electoral contests in mainland India, did we miss the wood for the trees because it was expected that elections in Kashmir would be peaceful? A TV news anchor mentioned the six months of relative peace as she asked me where we were heading after the Shopian encounter, which left three terrorists and two soldiers dead. Even a reporter from an English daily in the Valley expressed surprise that Pulwama district, the first in J&K to go to polls, on April 24, looked as if people there were unaware of the election. This was predictable. It is just that the rest of India mostly misreads Kashmir based on skin-deep currents.
Kashmir was witnessing a high-profile political event after a long time — perhaps the first since the hanging of Afzal Guru. In the interim, it has got more radicalised than ever before. Radicalisation doesn’t only mean religious extremism — it is also the belief that only violence can resolve an issue. A majority of people have a deep-seated angst against the rest of India. It was therefore not difficult to predict that polling on April 24 would be a no-show, adroitly managed by separatist cadres.
The acquiescence of political parties to low turnouts in areas where their rivals were stronger was also predictable. The use of violence to ensure this might have caught many observers by surprise, but not those who know Kashmir’s political landscape. Interestingly, even the Kashmir media and police were surprised at the effectiveness of the calls for a boycott.
The Shopian encounter was the culmination of the violence that shook South Kashmir. The question is, will Srinagar and Baramulla be any different? The hapless sarpanchs, who have been awaiting empowerment for the last three years, are easy targets to demonstrate terrorist capability and intent. For the sake of their lives, they had to be closeted in police stations on polling day. So, the message from the violence is clear — even as Pakistan reels under terrorism, separatism will be kept alive through violent or other means. The next two polling dates (today and May 7) might be used to send this message out.
The summer has just begun and some of the northern gullies are not even open yet.There have been few infiltration attempts, which signifies that the paralysis of parts of Kashmir can be achieved by resident terrorist cadres and new recruits, without additional reinforcements from across the LoC.
This must be read in conjunction with events across the LoC, where Hizbul continued…