The unprecedented order to curtail the Amarnath yatra abruptly is the latest in a series of government actions that has fuelled uncertainty and spread panic in the Kashmir Valley. People are queueing up at petrol pumps, outside grocery shops and ATMs, to stock up on supplies fearing the unknown. Airlines have waived cancellation charges, tourists are packing up to leave, even the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar issued a notice, citing the district administration, that class work for all courses “stands suspended till further orders”.
“We have inputs of a major militant strike on the Yatra and the tourists. There have been some recoveries too, as revealed by the Director General of Police and the Corps Commander in the press conference. That’s why this decision,” Additional DGP (Law and Order) Munir Khan told The Indian Express.
Unprecedented, thickens fog
The order to tourists and yatris is unprecedented. Even at the height of militancy, the Yatra kept its date. This adds to the uncertainty in the Valley. The seizure of Pak-origin weapons strengthens New Delhi’s case that the terror tap from across the border is still very much open.
Just about a week ago, senior government officials were upbeat about “grassroots democracy” gaining traction in the Valley with panchayats being empowered over the last nine months since elections and were celebrating the fact that yatra pilgrims had breached the numbers recorded the previous year.
But the state government suddenly issued an advisory two days ago suspending the yatra for four days citing weather conditions. Simultaneously, it withdrew the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s armed forces from the yatra duty. “For all practical purposes, the yatra is over,” said an official.
Home Secretary Shaleen Kabra said that there’s no need to interpret these measures as a “general threat” to residents in the state. “It’s for yatris and tourists who can be easy targets (of terror),” he said.
Yet, Kabra’s order is the latest in a series in the recent past that has only added to confusion and anxiety in the Valley.
On July 25, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) ordered deployment of 100 companies of Central Armed Paramilitary Forces (CAPF) to “strengthen the CI (counter-insurgency) grid as well as for maintaining law and order situation in J&K”. This was later described by the police as a “relief to over-stretched training companies of J&K Police on duty since panchayat elections last year”.
The additional troop deployment, however, had came on top of 400 companies of paramilitary forces rushed by the Centre to J&K after the Pulwama car bombing on February 14 this year.
Two days later, J&K Police sent a wireless message to police officers asking them to “communicate shortfall or riot control equipment/ gas gun…for special law and order duties”. The police in the Valley were also asked to keep a satellite phone and bulldozer at every police station hinting at possible snapping of communication networks.
A day later on July 28, a Divisional Security Commissioner of Railways in the Valley asked railway officials to store ration for four months, not to keep their family members in Kashmir and to restrict staff leave due to “emergency situations”. The letter said precautionary security measures have been directed after receiving inputs from “different security agencies” including SSP Railways Srinagar regarding “forecast of deteriorating situation in Kashmir valley and issue of law and order for a long period”.
On the same day, another order was issued by police asking its officers in Srinagar to “provide details of mosques and their management… for onward submission to higher authorities”.
The government termed these orders as “fake” and even said it would act against rumour mongers. In fact, on July 30, J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik said, “None of the orders being shown are valid, there is a lot of rumour mongering here and no need to pay attention to that. Everything is fine, everything is normal.”
The Governor’s advisor, K Vijay Kumar, said it would not be proper for him to counter every time there was a rumour. DGP Dilbagh Singh said the police would act against rumour mongers. “There is nothing to worry. People should not take these fake orders seriously. Some miscreants are hell bent to disturb peace in the Valley and they will certainly face the music.”
The orders were not necessarily fake. For instance, in the case of the order by the Divisional Security Officer in the Railways, the Railways ministry revoked it and said, “The officer was not authorised to issue such a letter and didn’t have the approval of the competent authority to do so either.”
Non-BJP political leaders in the Valley claim this flurry of orders suggests that the establishment is preparing for “defining action” in the Valley which could include diluting or abrogation of Article 35A that defines the state residents of Jammu and Kashmir and their rights.
There have also been orders aimed at placating the police force in times such as these. For instance, the State Administrative Council of the government hiked the hardship allowance for police personnel to 10% from 8%, and that for classified police personnel to 12% from 10%.
On Friday, in another order, the MHA increased the honorarium of Special Police Officer (SPOs) in the state. In the Valley, these orders are seen as an attempt to prevent any disquiet within the rank and file of J&K Police.
Two key officers said they were unaware of the reasons for the security build-up and the orders. “No one has the exact information. We are told to prepare ourselves, deploy additional security forces and be ready to tackle any eventuality,” said one of them.