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And now plastic

Editorial | New Delhi |

No, that caption does not suggest another essay of the finance ministry to promote a “minimal cash” economy, but draws attention to an experiment by another wing of North Block to find an alternative to the much-condemned pellet-guns used by the paramilitary and police to quell violent protests in Kashmir. Since the experiment with plastic bullets is in a nascent stage it would be premature to attempt any valueassessment of the supposedly “non-lethal” ammunition (the same claim was touted for the pellet guns that maimed rather than killed), yet the move does have its positive elements. Not so much “on the ground” perhaps, but as a signal that the home ministry is finally realising that wielding the big stick (figuratively speaking) has its limitations. Plastic bullets could have limitations too: technical details have not been disclosed but reports suggest that they can be fired only in “single-shot” mode, which means firing at a specific target and not unleashing a “spread” that would impact several members of a “mob”. How forceful the plastic bullets will be ~ or their “stopping power” to use fauji jargon ~ could prove the critical difference. If they hit really hard, then the fact that the target was identified and aimed at could render them as hated as the pellet-guns which attained notoriety when fired directly at the face of the rioter. As with the pellet guns, operating procedures are being laid down for using plastic bullets; whether the security personnel will adhere to prescribed procedures is something only unfolding events will establish ~ after all what “procedure” authorised army personnel to lash someone to a jeep and use him as a human shield during a rescue mission? Personal perception will also come into play in determining when to switch from plastic to pellets, there were also “rules” that the latter only be used in the “rarest of rare cases”.

What is disturbing is that when the conveniently-unnamed “source” informed the media about the experimental use of plastic bullets, he indicated that there was no immediate possibility of initiating a dialogue with those who are waging a virtual “war” with the security forces. That only means the perpetuation of the cycle of violence, more “tough talk” by the military leadership, and the government’s top law officer echoing Raisina Hill’s political line that muscle will be continued to be used to force the agitators into submission. It is easy to air such views in New Delhi, another thing to live through such a situation in the Valley. It will take sagacity and courage to “ease” the pressurecooker conditions there. Else a “bursting” is a live probability, with the common folk being driven into agitation-mode because the administration appears to have abandoned them.