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A National Alliance of People’s Movements delegation was detained at Srinagar airport on the morning of 4th October, 2019 by the District administration of Badgam and then sent back to Delhi. Individual notices in the name of three activists issued by District Magistrate of Badgam say that there was an apprehension that these activists would organise a protest in Srinagar on the issue of abrogation of Article 370 which could pose a threat to law and order and hence their entry into Jammu & Kashmir was being restricted till further order. A J&K officer was confused about why should people be sent back from Srinagar airport. If the government doesn’t want them to enter J&K why doesn’t it stop them when they are boarding their flights to Srinagar? Before the momentous decision was taken on 5th August, when tourists were being sent back, in the end when one of them remained, a 225 seater plane was sent by the Indian Air Force with one passenger! Isn’t it squandering tax-payer’s money?

The NAPM delegation was planning to visit J&K for two days and wasn’t planning to organise any protests or hold any meetings. It was merely planning to meet some common people to find out what hardships they were subjected to because of the various restrictions imposed on the people of J&K. While the Union government is claiming and the Prime Minister has declared in several languages from Houston that ‘everything is all right,’ that is clearly not the case otherwise why should the government have to maintain the clampdown even two months after the decision taken to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A as well as division of state of J&K into two parts, downgrading both of them to union territories. There would not have been a need to prevent groups like NAPM from visiting J&K.

All means of communication, except for land line phones, are inoperational. Newspapers, except for one ‘Brighter Kashmir, which was spotted at the airport, are not being printed. The government is desperately trying to open the schools in Kashmir Division but parents find it difficult to send children because of uncertainty related to transportation. It is also the case that some schools are being used as camps for para-military forces. Most markets are still closed. Some shops open but only during morning 6 am to 9 am hours. Petrol pumps also open for a few hours every day. The fruit growers are finding it difficult to sell their produce to their customary buyers. Even though the government has agreed to buy their produce but the entire trade and market has been disrupted. While the government claims that there is no curfew imposed but the fact is Section 144 of CrPC has been applied and people cannot move about freely. Even the Kashmiri officers of J&K government are subject to frisking and security checks by central security forces. Most social and political activists, who could mobilise people against the central government’s twin decisions, have been either sent to jails in different parts of the country or kept under arrest in their houses or some common locations in Srinagar converted to sub-jail. Most of these detentions are illegal, without any written orders of any authority. In response to a Right to Information query the Home Ministry has pretended ignorance about any orders to block telecommunications and internet or evacuation of tourists and detention of political leaders and social activists. When the curfew like situation ends there is also a need for enquiry into possible casualities during this clampdown. Right now all news of protests and the reaction of security forces is totally blocked.

There is talk of resuming the democratic process in the state of J&K by holding the Block Panchayat elections. However, Panchayat is a state subject under 7th Schedule of Indian Constitution. It is now going to be 14 months since the state is without an elected government. It is the duty of State government of J&K to hold the Panchayat elections. The central government should facilitate in holding the state assembly elections at the earliest and then also get the decisions taken by it approved by the state assembly, if it believes what it has done is in the interest of the people of J&K. Only state assembly’s endorsement of central government’s decision can give it some legitimacy otherwise the manner in which it has been done is outright anti-democratic. If a similar decision, as has been taken by the government with respect to J&K, was taken in the context of any other state without consulting its people would the people have supported it?

The central government has to trust the people of J&K. All communications restrictions have to be lifted. Home Minister is claiming that government’s decision will bring development to the state. The reality is even the companies which were there are now packing up to leave as they find the atmosphere not conducive to business. Which company would like to invest is a state in which normalcy doesn’t prevail? The Indian Railways has claimed that it has suffered a loss of Rs. 2 crores because of the ongoing clampdown. Normalcy is not possible with the massive presence of army and para-military, which should be removed from internal areas of J&K and entrusted with the task of defending borders and checking infiltration of men and material from across the border. Internal law and order should be handled by the state government with the help of J&K police. The future of the state has to be determined by the state government as a representative of the sentiment of people of J&K. The earlier the government of India understands this the faster the situation will return to normalcy.

It is interesting to note that while the government of India is negotiating with National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac Muivah) and with Bodos for a concept of shared sovereignty and separate statehood, respectively, it doesn’t think Kashmiris worth having a dialogue with. Just as NSCN (IM) represents popular sentiment of people of Nagaland, Hurriyat Conference is a representative of people of J&K.

Only an elected government in J&K can bring normalcy. However, central government has done a potential damage by discrediting the state level political parties and their leaders. Are corruption and dynastic rule only a phenomena in J&K? How does it plan to fill this vacuum, unless it has sinister plans to have only a one party rule in the country like in China? Otherwise it is not clear how the government intends to restore democracy in the state without taking people of J&K into confidence? How long does the central government intend to rule J&K through the Governor and the armed forces? It is impossible to change people’s opinion in government’s favour by using force, the reverse is likely to happen.

Sandeep Pandey is a Social and political activist e-mail: ashaashram@yahoo.com


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