Unfortunately, the democratic process, prevailing in the rest of India, has not been allowed to take its roots in Jammu and Kashmir. This country had an opportunity to retrieve the situation in 1975.
While the Sheikh returned to power after his release from imprisonment, he agreed to accept Jammu and Kashmir as
an integral part of India by getting a resolution passed by the state Assembly on condition that all the Acts and Ordinances issued by New Delhi since 1953 would be reviewed.
The Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah agreement was never placed before Parliament. Neither did the promised review materialise.
New Delhi’s mistakes were compounded when the National Conference (NC) government led by Farooq Abdullah was suddenly dismissed in 1984, to be followed by an alliance between the NC and the Congress (I). The cumulative effect of these developments and attempts to treat Kashmir as a rebellious province has been the alienation of the people, particularly those living in the Valley.
Our neighbour in the West has been taking advantage of this, although the condition of the Kashmiris living in Azad Kashmir, and in Gilgit and Baltistan, under Pakistan’s control, is no better.
The demand for independence, raised by Kashmiris from time to time, has been used more as a bargaining point in
negotiations with New Delhi and did not enjoy overwhelming popular support till the 1990s when a virtual insurgency had
erupted in Kashmir because of the central government’s policy towards the state that was determined by the exigencies of power in New Delhi.
The militancy had reached its peak in the early 1990s and continued till the middle of the decade, aided and abetted by Pakistan from where hordes of jihadis belonging to JeM, LeT and sundry other pro-Pakistan militant organisations,
infiltrated to the Indian side of the LoC to support the separatists and militants.
In response to the murders, kidnapping, extortion and violence perpetrated by the militants, the police and the security forces often resorted to extra-judicial action, and kept people under detention, without trial, for long periods, thereby alienating the populace.
The human rights situation deteriorated and according to the US State Department’s country profile on human rights,
based on published sources, 2300 people were killed in Kashmir in 1991, including 900 civilians, 1300 alleged militants and 155 members of the security forces.
Perhaps for the first time the Muslims in the Valley sided with the separatists, and the much talked about Kashmiriyat ~ a tradition of harmony and tolerance based on the Sufi culture, the hallmark of Kashmir ~ lost its significance as the Kashmiri Pundits had to leave their home in the Valley in search of safety and security.
Nearly 200000 Kashmiri Pundits are now living in Jammu, Delhi and other places. Intolerance is being fuelled by the activities of the ultra-nationalists in India, bent identifying nationalism with Hindutva, which is antithetical to the secular spirit of the Constitution.
The situation in Kashmir improved after the setting up of an elected government in 1996, under the leadership of Dr
Farooq Abdullah, and by the beginning of the present century a semblance of normality was restored, with elections being held to the Assembly in 2002 and 2008 peacefully, partly because of the improvement in India- Pakistan relations, especially during the years 2004-07.
Adoption of several measures by the government to ameliorate people’s grievances and their disenchantment
with the activities of the militant separatists also contributed to these developments.
But some of the basic problems of the state such as the imbalances in the economic development of the three regions of the state ~ Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh ~ and the issue of distribution of seats to these regions with their distinctive identities for election to the Assembly and Parliament needed attention.
But the political class failed to look beyond the immediate gains. That the fragile peace could be broken at any time was demonstrated by the crisis over the Amarnath land issue in 2008 that pushed Jammu and Kashmir almost to the edge, and again, in September-October, 2014 in the aftermath of the devastating floods.
This was the result of skewed development policies pursued by successive governments. The anger of the people ntensified over the non-fulfillment of promises relating to reconstruction. Kashmiris blamed both the state and central governments for their woes. The government’s iron-fist approach to deal with the traders’ strike, called to protest
against the government’s failure to provide relief to the people, only worsened the situation.
Thus the condition was ripe for further trouble in Kashmir and the spark was provided by the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016. After his death, a new brand of militancy was palpable in Kashmir as the youth took to the streets and pelted stones at the security forces to vent their anger.
Unable to cope with the situation the security forces retaliated by firing pellet guns at the stone-pelting youth, thereby killing some and incapicitating several others. This created a
cycle of violence which has alienated large segments of the population.
The unprecedented violence in Kashmir today, leading to the death of both civilians and security personnel was triggered by the decision of the Election Commission to hold the by-election in the Srinagar constituency, and the election to the 11 seats in the State Legislative Council,
despite warnings from the Home Ministry that the situation was not propitious for holding the election. The situation is fast moving out of control and urgent steps are imperative to contain the crisis. But the government seems to be clueless.
The explosive situation that prevailed in Kashmir in 2016 in the wake of the killing of Burhan Wani was
brought under control, thanks to the operations of the security forces who had also suffered casualties, and especially after the onset of the winter that led to a decline in infiltration from across the LoC.
But this was a temporary lull, as no serious attempt was made to reach out to the people and address their grievances. What was required was a dialogue with all the stakeholders, including the separatists, (the APHC) leaders, and even the protesting youth, as suggested by Lt. Gen. DS Hooda, with long experience of working in Kashmir in different capacities, to search for a middle ground.
The former Prime Minister Vajpayee did not hesitate to talk to the Hurriyat leaders, and his efforts did bring about at least a semblance of normality in the state as witnessed in the first decade of this century. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is now advocating a similar solution. The Army Chief should desist from making tactless statements that only fuel controversies.