What has unfolded over the last few days in Kashmir flies in the face of the claims by the NDA government, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, of winning over Kashmir with love, dialogue and good governance. It is the government’s responsibility to reassure the people in times of crisis. But on full display since August 2 is exactly the opposite. Through a series of orders, some of them half-denied, and some implemented despite denials — the evacuation of NIT students, for example — the government has contributed to the spread of panic and uncertainty in the Valley and in the minds of other Indians, almost as if this was the intention. Most astonishing of all was the abrupt cancellation of the Amarnath Yatra, citing a terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan, and the swift evacuation of tourists and pilgrims from the Valley. Callously, the order asking them to leave immediately did not address the apprehensions of the people of Kashmir, thus conveying the crude and brute message that the government was not concerned about them, even as they rushed to petrol pumps and ATMs to stock up. Only weeks earlier, officials had been eager to project the situation in the Valley and at the LoC as much improved, with cross-border infiltration having come down drastically. The U-turn may be based on fresh information, and it is true that the Centre must have the room to take decisions for reasons not always in full public view, but calling off the pilgrimage to Amarnath is virtually an admission that the government cannot prevent terrorist attacks. This, despite the security presence in the Valley, and a new and technologically advanced security deployment specially designed for the pilgrimage.
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Over the years, the yatra has become synonymous with the Centre’s assertion and demonstration of control over Kashmir. But here is a government that sends in more troops to the Valley, but at the same time, sends out the message that even with close to 4,50,000 troops there, it cannot offer security to pilgrims. In the absence of credible information, all manner of rumours — that plans are afoot to trifurcate J&K, or do away with the state’s special constitutional status, among others — have spread. The silence of the government and the top echelons of the party has been conspicuous, especially given that its leaders communicate ceaselessly on social media on other matters.
Whatever lies behind the government’s decisions of the last few days — whether it is preparation for contentious and polarising constitutional change, or a strategic assertion of statehood in response to the cosying up of the US with Pakistan towards a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan — the fallout in the Valley cannot be good. That the government has chosen not to offer any explanations even to the leadership of the two main parties, who command a following among Kashmiris in their own right, is a mistake. Showing separatist politicians their place is one thing. But making a show of contempt for mainstream politicians is ill-judged. Any gains New Delhi has made in the past in the Valley have depended heavily on widening the stakes in peace and increasing the number of stakeholders. Now, an unfortunate impression is gaining ground that the Centre is again narrowing and centralising the decision-making process. Without the support of the Kashmiri people, Delhi’s disconnect with the Valley can only increase.