Kashmir in a dense cauldron of uncertainty

mehbooba mufti modi

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) politics has once again entered a cycle of uncertainty following BJP’s decision to pull out of the coalition with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) formed three years ago. It eventually led to the resignation of its chief minister Mehbooba Mufti whose decision to join hands with the BJP had, in fact, raised many eyebrows even at that stage. The explanation put across by the BJP for its withdrawal is strategically important for the Modi government–that the alliance with PDP had become unsustainable in the background of mounting violence!  Obviously, the BJP sought to wash its hands off even as only months are left for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It knows very well that the party, over the last two years, has lost its popular base in Jammu just as that the PDP too lost the people’s confidence and support in the Valley with the whole series of issues—from violence to mounting social crises such as high unemployment and economic stagnation.

BJP’s unexpected pull out came hardly a day after the suspension of ceasefire in the Kashmir Valley ordered by the Centre, which began with the onset of Ramzan. Mehbooba Mufti was reported to have asked for continuance of ceasefire in the Valley. The Centre declined this request apparently in the background of BJP’s rethinking on its alliance with the PDP.

It was only a few days ago that a prominent journalist and editor of Rising Kashmir, Shujaat Bukhari, was brutally murdered outside his office by gunmen—that too was on the eve of the Eid. The murder raised a very serious credibility crisis for the Mufti government because Bukhari’s brother was a member of her cabinet. Incidentally, it was on the same day that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released its Report on the Human Rights in J&K and Azad Kashmir which catalogued the human rights abuses and violations over the last two years (UN, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2018).   The Report, which called for independent inquiry into human rights violations in both in J&K and Azad Kashmir, was turned down by India—characterizing it as an intrusion into the country’s national sovereignty and security. India called it “fallacious, tendentious and motivated.” Questioning “the intent in bringing out such a report,” the foreign office said that it was a “selective compilation of largely unverified information”…. “overtly prejudiced and seeks to build a false narrative” (India, Ministry of External Affairs 2018). This was not the first time that the Union Government rejected such reports and statements of international human rights agencies. Every crisis within the J&K would have a ‘foreign hand’ and hence all successive governments played the politics of procrastination by not addressing the basic problems of the State (Seethi 1999; Seethi 2005/2009; Seethi 2016).

While Shujaat Bukhari’s murder was seen as one of the latest series of grounds for the BJP’s decision, observers say that the BJP-PDP coalition had a troubled time from the very beginning due to their diametrically opposite views on the status of J&K. While BJP has a well-known position on Article 370 of India’s Constitution and the ‘Special Status’ accompanied by it, the PDP cannot shut its eyes on the ground situation in the State, and hence sought dialogues and negotiations with militants. It was therefore natural that the coalition formed in the wake of an uncertain (hung) assembly called for a ‘painful understanding’ with the Parivar which many in the PDP and outside called it a sellout.  As violence continued to mount over months and years, the differences between the two coalition partners also got intensified. In fact, while the BJP sought to advance an aggressive strategy in dealing with the situation, Mehbooba Mufti’s ‘soft’ approach tended to aggravate differences within. Even her proposal for reconciliation with the militants was not appreciated by the BJP.

The PDP-BJP rule also witnessed one of the worsening social conditions in J&K. While the 2014 flood played havoc with the system, Modi government’s demonetization drive further deteriorated the economic conditions. One of Modi’s tall claims of demonetization was that it would undercut the base of terrorists in places like Kashmir with illegal money being flowed in. But the last three years witnessed a contrasting experience with violence getting out of proportion in the Valley. Modi’s ‘surgical strikes’ also did not yield any result. The introduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime only added to the distress. Tourism and agriculture, which constitute the backbone of the economy, are the worst-hit sectors in the State. Who cares these fundamental problems of the State of J&K?

When the BJP cited the worsening law and order situation in J&K, besides the state of stagnation and underdevelopment in other parts of the state as reasons of its pullout, the party conveniently drew a veil over its own share of responsibility, including the Modi government’s role. Mehbooba Mufti said in a press meet that her party had always believed in ‘reconciliation’ while its coalition partner—BJP—was so obsessed in pursuing “muscular policies” which would in no way facilitate peace process in J&K. She noted that the PDP had “worked for months to form an understanding with the BJP. We wanted the BJP to start the process of reconciliation in Kashmir and ease tensions with Pakistan” (The Times of India (web edition) 19 June 2018). The BJP general secretary Ram Madhav told the press that “Terrorism, violence and radicalisation have risen and fundamental rights of the citizens are under danger in the Valley.” He said that the decision was taken “Keeping in mind larger interest of India’s security and integrity.” Ram Madhav also announced that “In order to bring control over the situation prevailing in the state, we have decided that the reigns of power in the state be handed over to the governor” (Organiser (web edition) 19 June 2018). Obviously, the Modi government is set to appropriate the ‘security situation’ in the Valley for larger political aims as it did experiment elsewhere in the country in the past (Joshy and Seethi 2015).

The brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua—which aroused the conscience of the nation and reverberated across the world—was a turning point in the BJP-PDP coalition. The PDP openly criticized the BJP for shielding the supporters of the accused in the Kathua incident. While the BJP sought to have a CBI inquiry into Kathua murder, Mehbooba wanted nothing beyond the J&K Police, obviously due to the apprehension that the culprits would escape with the Union Government-controlled agency investigating the matter.  In the post-Kathua period, the BJP evidently lost its face, particularly in the Jammu region.

There were already issues emerging from different corners of State, over years and months. The Army’s indiscriminate use of pellet guns on the protesting people had generated widespread condemnation across the world.  The number of civilians who suffered injuries, including loss of vision, was very high. The Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) gathered information from 10 districts of the Kashmir Valley and recorded that 1,726 people were injured by metal pellets in 2016. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti told the state assembly in January 2018 that “6,221 people had been injured by pellet guns in Kashmir between 8 July 2016 and 27 February 2017; among the victims, 728 had eye injuries” (UN, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2018).

Similarly, the killing of Burhan Wani, a young militant leader of the Hizbul Mujahidin in July 2016 sparked off widespread protests throughout the Kashmir Valley and in some districts of Jammu also. Indian army’s response was again aggravating the situation which led to more and more casualties and increasing incidents of human rights violations throughout the summer of 2016 and into 2018 (Ibid).

The UN Human Rights Report says that while J&K has witnessed “waves of protests in the past—in the late 1980s to early 1990s, 2008 and 2010—this current round of protests appears to involve more people than the past, and the profile of protesters has also shifted to include more young, middle-class Kashmiris, including females who do not appear to have been participating in the past (Ibid).  The Report further noted that “Special laws in force in the state, such as the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990 (AFSPA)26 and the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, 1978 (PSA)27, have created structures that obstruct the normal course of law, impede accountability and jeopardize the right to remedy for victims of human rights violations.” AFSPA 1990 “grants broad powers to the security forces operating in Jammu and Kashmir and effectively bestows immunity from prosecution in civilian courts for their conduct by requiring the central government to sanction all prospective prosecutions against such personnel prior to being launched.” The Report pointed out that a committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2005 had commented that the law had become “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness” (Ibid). Yet, AFSPA reigns supreme.

In April 2017, the Indian army had also earned a disrepute and widespread criticism for its ‘human shield’ strategy in Kashmir.  A 26 year-old Kashmiri youth Farooq Ahmad Dar was tied to the bonnet of a military vehicle by a senior officer when the by-elections for the Srinagar parliamentary constituency were underway.  Dar was also paraded through the streets with a view to preventing stone pelters.  This inhuman action was widely condemned by several human rights activists and political parties. Yet, it was applauded by the Indian security forces as a preventative measure against stone pelters (that officer was also reported to have been bestowed a commendation by Indian Army chief!). Two months later, J&K State Human Rights Commission called this as ‘illegal’ and ordered to pay the victim a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh.

Over the last few years, the people of J&K experienced frequent communications disruptions with the State government suspending mobile and internet services that continued for several months. There were other incidents of violation of freedom of expression even targeting media and journalists. In 2016, the police raided the offices of three major newspapers in the Kashmir Valley—Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Times and Rising Kashmir.  Security agencies seized copies of these newspapers and some staff members were reported to have been detained. There was also a ban on newspapers publishing anything which continued for three days. Even the Chief Minister could not properly explain the circumstances that led to the infringement of press freedom.

Meanwhile, the militants in the Valley continued their operations. There were a large number of attacks on schools also during this period. The Union Government told the Parliament that as many as 32 schools were damaged in such attacks by militants. India accused Pakistan of actively supporting such armed groups based in territories controlled by Pakistan.  It was reported that from the late 1980s, a number of militant groups have been actively operating in J&K, and they were responsible for unleashing human rights abuses, including kidnappings, killings of civilians and sexual violence.

The UN Report noted that the site of intervention by groups operating in J&K has shifted over the years. “In the 1990s, around a dozen significant armed groups were operating in the region; currently, less than half that number remain active. The main groups today include Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and Harakat Ul-Mujahidin; they are believed to be based in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. Hizbul Mujahideen is also part of the United Jihad Council, which began as a coalition of 14 armed groups in 1994, claiming to be fighting Indian rule…”(Ibid:38-39).  Though Pakistan denied of any support to these groups, the UN Report recorded experts’ opinion that “Pakistan’s military continues to support their operations across the Line of Control.” Three of them—Lashkar-e-Tayyiba,Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harakat Ul-Mujahidin—are listed on the Security Council “ISIL (Da’esh) & Al-Qaida Sanctions List”303 for their activities in J&K (Ibid).

Now that the state of J&K has been placed under the Governor’s rule—the eighth episode in its political history—the Modi government has immense freedom to maneuver the State politics by appropriating the security situation in the Valley. With the centre having a direct hand in J&K, the BJP is apparently conjuring a ‘magical picture’ for the electorate. This is crucial for the Modi regime even as the combined opposition is brazing themselves against the NDA dispensation in the forthcoming General Elections in 2019. Whether the people of J&K are going to be, again, the victims of this political hocus-pocus remains to be seen.

The political forces in the State—from the Indian National Congress, National Conference to BJP and PDP—all have their share of responsibility in vitiating the political atmosphere in J&K.  They never addressed the problems of the State from a people’s perspective and hence triggered a new set of contradictions with a platform of only ‘protests and struggles.’ A billion dollar question is if we should again go behind the politics of procrastination or bring forth a democratic alternative/solution to the current impasse and the agonizing estrangement of the Kashmiri people.


India, Ministry of External Affairs (2018): “Official Spokesperson’s response to a question on the Report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on “The human rights situation in Kashmir,” 14 June, http://www.mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/29978/Official_Spokespersons_response_to_a_question_on_the_Report_by_the_Office_of_the_High_Commissioner_for_Human_Rights_on_The_human_rights_situation_in_K

Joshy, P.M. and K.M. Seethi (2015): State and Civil Society under Siege: Hindutva, Security and Militarism in India, New Delhi: Sage India.

Seethi, K.M. (2016): “Still Across the Line of Control and the ‘Unfinished Innings in Kashmir,” Countercurrents.org, 21 July.

Seethi, K.M. (2005/2009):  “Kashmir: Rethinking Security beyond the Line of Control,” in Rajen Harshe and K.M. Seethi (eds.), Engaging with the World: Critical Reflections on India’s Foreign Policy, New Delhi: Orient Longman/Orient Blackswan.

Seethi, K.M. (1999):  “A Tragedy of Betrayals: Questions Beyond the LoC in Kashmir,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.34, No.37, September 11.

UN, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2018):  Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir: Developments in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from June 2016 to April 2018, and General Human Rights Concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit – Baltista, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/PK/DevelopmentsInKashmirJune2016ToApril2018.pdf

The author is Professor, School of International Relations and Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. He can be reached at [email protected]



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