Caught unaware by the scale of protests which resulted in at least 30 deaths in clashes with security forces, the Mehbooba Mufti government made its first move Monday to reach out to the people when it asked PDP ministers from the Valley to travel to different districts.
Three days into the protests, the Chief Minister herself is nowhere to be seen — she has only issued two statements, appealing for calm — and her own party MLAs are fearful of the backlash. So far, no minister or leader of the ruling PDP has even visited the injured in Srinagar’s hospitals.
Sonwar MLA Mohammad Ashraf Mir, who defeated former chief minister Omar Abdullah in the last assembly elections, told The Indian Express: “Unfortunately, the situation was mishandled. The government and the security administration did not expect that so many people would give him (Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani) such a huge farewell.”
Mir said the situation took an “unfortunate turn” because securitymen opened fire after protesters attacked bunkers, camps and police stations.
He said a meeting of PDP legislators has still not been called. “Once it happens, we will put forth our suggestions. Today, it is not possible for an MLA to step out in his constituency, especially in south Kashmir. MLAs have limited security, and no bullet-proof vehicles,” he said.
Education Minister Nayeem Akhtar, however, told The Indian Express that he was already camping in Ganderbal. “Mehboobaji has directed all ministers to reach out to the people. I have been asked to look after Ganderbal and Bandipore districts, and I am stationed at Ganderbal right now,’’ he said.
Ganderbal is key to the Amarnath Yatra. The Baltal base camp and a large section of the Yatra route fall within the district.
Asked about the scale of protests, Akhtar said, “This anger is because of perceptions, romance. Do you remember there was a name sometime back, a quarter century ago, of Ishfaq Majeed (a commander of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front)? You have a young man more popular than him.”
On the row over the use of pellet guns to disperse protesters, Akhtar said, “We disapprove of it… But we will have to persist with this necessary evil till we find a non-lethal alternative.”
A senior official in Anantnag told The Indian Express that no minister has so far travelled to any of the four revenue districts of south Kashmir. “It is not even advisable. Even if they manage to come here, they cannot move out at all. There is so much rage that there is every likelihood of them being harmed,” the official said.
According to the official, the situation is “still very bad” in Kulgam, Pulwama and Anantnag. “It isn’t like Handwara where the government intervened and removed a bunker to calm people. Here, the anger is primarily directed at the ruling party,’’ the official said.
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