LAST week, a rumour surfaced that the Modi government was going to again furcate Jammu and Kashmir to pave way for a separate state for the Jammu region – a longstanding demand of the Dogra heartland concentrated around the Jammu-Sambha-Kathua belt. Speculations were also rife that New Delhi would carve an exclusive settler-enclave for the Kashmiri Pandits (as envisaged by group Panun Kashmir) and further disintegrate the Kashmir Valley by merging parts of south Kashmir districts with the Jammu division. A series of events excited these speculations, including the news of around 200 companies of paramilitary forces being deployed to Kashmir. Many people even (apprehensively) expected that Modi will announce the new Kashmir plan during his ‘Address to Nation’ on Monday 7 June. But he didn’t.
It took some days before Lieutenant Governor of J&K, Manoj Singh, dismissed the reports. In an interview with an Indian news channel, he said that “these are completely baseless rumours. I refute them with all the responsibility.”
But, why didn’t the state move quickly to quash the rumours? Why did LG take almost a week to issue a statement and let the rumour mill go on overdrive? Could it be, as some people believe, that the state was testing the waters? Gauging the reaction of the local population on such possible plans?
Whatever be the case, we must understand the context which causes the people in Kashmir to react in a certain way; their recent lesson in state’s secrecy is just three years old.
A day before August 5, 2019, when a Kashmiri journalist had tweeted about an impending curfew, the District Magistrate of Srinagar denied it. The Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir also called such reports “rumour-mongering”.
Even though the state had tried to operate with absolute secrecy, there were still crevices through which bits of information slipped and reached the people. Secrecy around happenings within Kashmir also served to contain the spread of protests. Previously, during the 2010 and 2016 civilian uprisings, street protests in Kashmir had become widespread through ripple effect. Even though after August 5, 1193 stone-throwing incidents were reported across Kashmir, these remained localized events.
Extensive concealment of governmental processes is characteristic of the authoritarian regimes, but democratically-elected governments also resort to secrecy, though efficacy of such attempts may be weakened due to certain legal frameworks (such as the right to information) and relatively free civil society institutions, including media (Barros 2016). Marlies Glasius (2018) suggests that we should focus on the regime practices when theorizing authoritarianism and illiberalism. Authoritarian practices entail enforcing secrecy, spreading disinformation and disabling voices (of critique from civil society actors) so as to sabotage accountability “to people over whom a political actor exerts control, or their representatives” (p. 517). Illiberal practices “infringe on the autonomy and dignity of the individual” in terms of their civil and political rights. Illiberal practices “may also be designed to promote an ideological project, or even to carry out the will of the majority” (p. 531). Situating these theoretical insights within the context of Kashmir, one can find sufficient evidence of how such practices have been operationalised by different governments to manage Kashmir.
Another tool in the box of utilities around secrecy has been the communication blockade. Post the abrogation of Article 370, a complete crackdown on narratives ensured that there is a shroud of silence over every kind of information. In such a schema, the very possibility of truth, facts and news remained obliterated. This furthered the possibility of rumours around secrecy.
Ironically, it is the hurdles in the way of access to truth that enable a regime of rumours which find more acceptance than any official statements. This is why in this tug of narratives, Kashmiris prefer scattered, subaltern and suspicious rumours over what is official and established.
New Delhi has since the very beginning tried to manage Kashmir. While democracy, more or less, operated in mainland India, Kashmir remained tethered to a sort of governance structure whose main element was secrecy. And, it is within this political context we must situate the origination of recent rumours and their rapid spread among the population.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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