Were it not for its contrary actions, the government would rob the very bees of their sting with its sweet and reassuring words. But the inveterate delinquent that it is, it cannot put its money where its mouth is.
Only a few days ago, an official spokesman defended the imposition of undeclared curfew in the valley on the grounds that the measure averted loss of life otherwise caused because of the quarters that give calls for marches and rallies. Without going into the nuances of observing democratic niceties on the eve of, and during, elections like providing a level playing field to opponents, the government’s forces have not been entirely above reproach in triggering off violence. Provocative needling of peaceful demonstrations, blocking of processions, and the use of brute force to break up protests have all been in operation during the past months. Moreover, the loss of life that the government would want to appear to be so concerned about has totally been the doing of its trigger-happy forces who take recourse of firing when far milder measures would have done adequately. The use of lethal force for mob control speaks of several possibilities, the chief among them being that tacit authorization comes from the very top with assured immunity from prosecution, and that the killings are calculatedly meant to be a deterrent to physical and verbal expression of dissent. To those inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt, it might be of interest to know that hospital reports of the casualties indicate that the firing has been a deliberate targeting of the vitals, intended to kill, as most of the wounds were sustained in the upper parts of the body like the head, the chest and the neck. This makes nonsense of any attempt by the government to absolve itself of responsibility and dump the blame on the separatists.
Cynical pragmatists in the government who conjure sinister ways to neutralize a mass mobilization have displayed a remarkable lack of foresight, as Kashmir is not an ordinary law and order problem where strong arm methods might keep refractory elements in check. What they seem to forgotten is that they are dealing with a sentiment deeply-rooted in public psyche perceived to have been battered and abused over six decades of political skullduggery masterminded through remote control by New Delhi. Keeping aside for the moment the breaking of internationally endorsed covenants with the Kashmiri people, the steady and surreptitious subversion of the state’s special position by constitutional sleight-of-hand has totally eroded whatever little faith the thinking Kashmiri might have had in New Delhi. Not to speak of features like an autonomous supreme court and election commission, even matters of day-to-day governance are seen to be manipulated to suit the designs of those in charge at the centre. Indeed, New Delhi is seen to be insinuating an insidious mix of distorted culture, perverted politics and debilitating economics into Kashmir through a long line of installed rulers who are too deeply compromised to resist this deliberate onslaught – and a bureaucracy overloaded with elements who have absolutely no stake in the state maintaining its distinct identity. For the common Kashmiri, corruption-ridden administrations, venal politicians, blundering planners and policy-makers are all the visible face of New Delhi’s sins of omission and commission in the state. The controversial land transfer deal with the Amarnath Shrine Board came only as the proverbial last straw that set off pent-up grouses like a primed powder keg.
There, of course, have been rare individuals in the state’s civil and police administration who have realized the futility of trying to lull an entire people into a state of stupor and indifference to their circumstance by an unending supply of toxic influences. To their credit, these rare individuals, too, have had a sense of the hurt felt in Kashmiri minds at having been wronged on every notable count over the decades. That was why certain top police officers were learnt to have recommended an entirely different approach in dealing with the uprising. Their strategy was governed more by a deeper understanding of the underlying factors in the explosion of anger and resentment in Kashmir than the superficial reading of the situation that came into play eventually. But sadly and regrettably, and entirely in keeping with the knee-jerk response from dyed-in-the-wool New Delhi mandarins, they were over-ruled and shunted out of the picture for their temerity.
The results are there for all to see. Rogue elements in the police and the paramilitary forces feel emboldened enough to continue the killing spree at the slightest provocation: the fatal shooting of two young students in Baramulla last week being a case in point.
In a more accountable system, the casualty figure of sixty dead in the span of a few weeks would have shaken the government to its foundations. But the powers-that-be have not woken up even after each additional killing poured more rage into the streets and made the situation more intractable. Damage control by the government’s pious pronouncements about concern on the killings has come too late in the day, and with little substance to match the verbal assertions. As a commentator rightly said, New Delhi puts a tight lid on a furiously boiling cauldron and forgets that it has problem on its hands. To be unmindful of the deadly reckoning when the cumulative effect of decades of maneuvering is waiting to blow up in the face is, indeed, to be in a state of bliss in ignorance.