From the security establishment to separatists, the government to police, all have been caught unaware by the scale and tenor of the protests on the streets after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in South Kashmir last Friday.
For one, this is arguably the first time that the protesters aren’t protesting against anything specific. Unlike the protests in 2008, 2009 and 2010, they aren’t raising issues of alleged human rights violations or excesses by security forces. Two, never have protests spread so fast across such a wide swathe in the Valley.
While mourners assembled for Burhan’s funeral prayers at least 50 times in his native Tral alone since Saturday morning, there were prayers organised in almost every town in the Valley.
The government has its task cut out. A senior ruling PDP leader admitted that had such a protest happened against the death of a civilian, the government would have announced compensation and a probe — it doesn’t have those options in this case.
“People have come out in support of a militant in such huge numbers, which hasn’t happened since early 1990s,’’ he said.
National Conference’s provincial president Nasir Aslam said “the government should have foreseen it (the protests) so that they could have handled it differently”.
”He (Burhan) is an icon now. He is also glorified. There are many reasons for this massive public reaction. Not only is it legitimising militancy, it also shows the disillusionment among the youth,” he said.
Said senior CPM leader M Y Tarigami who represents Kulgam, an area in South Kashmir that has seen massive protests: “This is happening only because there is a lot of accumulated anger which is deep-rooted. This boy (Burhan) has become a symbolic expression of whatever is happening here and there is no denying that he has a following among youth.”
Tarigami said that for the last two years, since the BJP came to power in alliance with PDP, there has been no political initiative from the Centre. “Unfortunately, the response to the current unrest has not been political. The first reaction of the government was to send more troops to Kashmir,’’ he said.
Top Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said “these massive protests depict the people’s endorsement for indigenous character of the struggle, which is why they are coming out in support of Burhan”.
The security establishment is divided on the import of these demonstrations in the aftermath of Burhan’s killing. Additional Director General of J&K Police S M Sahai said that he doesn’t “see it as a public endorsement to militancy”.
“It is anger. It started building since 2013. Some of it is residual as well. I will not be able to spell out the reasons for this anger in the current situation,’’ he said. “We have been witnessing it for six, eight months now. It was demonstrating itself in the increased participation in funerals of militants lately. But it isn’t endorsement for militancy because we haven’t seen any increased local recruitment in militant ranks”.
He said that once normalcy returns, they would take a deeper look at this.
A Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) in one of the most restive South Kashmir districts told The Indian Express that there is a shift. “It took us years to make the gun uncool for local youngsters after 1990. Not long ago, the entire militancy comprised of Pakistanis. That is already changing,’’ he said.
“Now the way people have reacted to a local militant’s killing, making him a hero, it will attract more youngsters towards militancy. After all, Burhan was a militant,’’ he said.