Holding Peace to Ransom

By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

At 40, he is a veteran. He has seen many seasons. Season of peace. Season of fear. Season of rage. Season of hope. His favourite, of course, is the season of hope, which has been the longest so far and has yielded many fruits. Hope for a better and peaceful future for his children; hope that guns may be history now and hope that Kashmir may yet realise its dreams of azadi. He has opened his shop in central Srinagar after many days and his window of opportunity to do some business is only three days before the Friday rally in Idgah on August 22. “Who knows what will happen after that?” he says. “Like our lives, even the fate of this current movement is uncertain.” He is not a philosopher, but in Kashmir everyone spews homespun wisdom borne of experience. “Till a month ago, everyone was talking of normalcy, but I knew that peace was an illusion,” he continues in the same tone. “How can there be peace when the aspirations of the people remain unmet?” His words echo the FORCE’s conclusion from the June 2008 cover story, Changing Kashmir. FORCE had written that, ‘Violence may be dead for now, the sentiment lives!’ It just needed a small trigger to shatter the myth of normalcy.

The biggest tragedy in the current crisis is that not only was the trigger provided on the platter by the state government, but since then both the Central government as well as the state administration have been stumbling from one blunder to another. When the FORCE team was in Kashmir in May, signs of impending trouble were already there. Strays articles had started appearing in local newspapers raising questions about the ecological and environmental implications of the proposed transfer of 100 acres of land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). The issue then was not the threat of effecting demographical changes in the state. Once the state government issued the order to divert land on May 26, after the committee formed to study the environmental hazards submitted its report, questions started being raised about the nature of transfer, whether it was permanent or for the duration of the pilgrimage. Even as the state government tried to be ambiguous about the whole issue, principal secretary to Governor Lt Gen. S.K. Sinha (retd) and the chief executive officer of the SASB Arun Kumar called a press conference on June 17 and announced that the transfer was permanent in nature. By the time the chief secretary rebuked him the following day, the damage was done.

Seizing the opportunity, everyone from National Conference to the various Hurriyat factions piled on the government (Congress-PDP coalition) demanding that the order be revoked. Once the Hurriyat upped the ante by saying that the transfer of the land to a committee comprising non-state people would lead to demographical changes in the Valley, the PDP, which was a party to the government decision panicked. With Assembly elections looming there was no way it could let anyone else take the initiative on this issue or answer the charges on giving away Kashmiri land to outsiders. Unmindful of the larger ramifications of pursuing this dangerous line, PDP’s single point agenda then was to topple the Ghulam Nabi Azad-led Congress-PDP government. Given that elections were expected in October, in PDP’s calculations this was a clever, opportunistic move that could have given it the leverage against the National Conference. Since PDP has no base whatsoever in the Jammu region, it did not matter what happened there. Azad, who belongs to the Doda district of Jammu, could not afford this luxury. NC being out of power couldn’t do much except make ineffective noises.
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