All's quiet on the northern front. Except that there is a marked step up in the cross border firing along the cease-fire line and a wee bit of the international boundary in Jammu as well. Yes, some civilians have been caught in the cross-fire on both sides of the dividing line and soldiers – well,they are supposed to be guarding the borders and death thus continues to be a constant companion. Yes, on both sides of the border.
And Kashmir valley, about to enter the fourth month of a no-contest, an unequal sort of battle of wits between the Security Forces and well motivated separatist Kashmiris, for whom the weapon of choice must remain the freely available pebbles, stones and the odd brick. No denying that armed militants too have been putting in an appearance now and again; for the most part, though, it has been a contest of wills ,attrition it has been called by some, between the teenaged stone-throwers and the Security Forces in full battle gear. The dreaded pellet guns are back as indeed are the regular guns and the smoky tear-gas shells.
It's an unequal battle, as I said. The country's Home Minister, Rajnath Singh has repeatedly maintained that those who do not fall in line must take the consequences. Jammu and Kashmir both Rajnath and his boss, Prime Minister Modi make it a point, each time the name of the State comes up, to mention that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India adding in the same breath that the former princely State comprises three distinct entities , each with aspirations peculiar to it. It has also become mandatory it seems to specify Jammu, predominantly Hindu, Ladakh predominantly Buddhist and, of course, the Valley predominantly Muslim. The last bit irks. The State's position as the only Muslim majority State in the Union is thus sought to be undermined. It's a thorn in the saffronite's side.
A line is drawn between the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh and the line is projected as a wall of sorts and this even when the party ruling in New Delhi is a partner, a heavy-handed one at that, with the Valley-centric PDP in Srinagar, in misgovernanace. No harm there except that the Kashmiris are expected not to give vent to their own aspirations. Or,if you will, their aspirations should in no case be in conflict with those the ruling party in New Delhi however unwholesome the choice be.
You have Rajnath Singh's word that the Modi government knows how to restore balance/law and order in one short week. That though was said many long weeks ago and the valley has continued to be on fire, the lay Valley citizenry at the receiving end of a heartless law enforcement regime.
A pity that this should be so when, for the record, the people of the State have a duly elected representative government, albeit reduced to rubber-stamping New Delhi's whims and fancies. I tend to sound repetitive even to myself but the tragedy of the State, the Valley especially, is that no one seems bothered to address whatever it is that ails the Kashmiri psyche. Hearts and minds of people are not won over by showing the flag or chants of Bharat Mata ki Jai. Nor can it be achieved through brow-beating a proud people into submission .
This we have been told is the age of reason and the sooner New Delhi realizes it the better it would be for the Union and for the unfortunate State. Reason really doesn't accept muscle flexing or showing off your iron heel. So where does Kashmir go from here ? On the face of it, nowhere in particular. And a to go by what one keeps hearing the way ahead looks even grimmer. The dark vision of Kashmir the parivar has nursed over the years doesn'nt anyway leave much scope for optimism.
That said,how does one explain the burning down in recent weeks of nearly one score and ten schools in the valley, some known for their excellence, not all located in strife-torn corners of the valley, some indeed very near Security Forces' camps. It could be argued that the militant-separatists' is the hand behind these dastardly school burnings in the hope that more teen-agers may thus be lured into swelling the ranks of stone-pelters or worse.
Equally, it can also be argued that the Security Forces, already known to have attacked/destroyed private properties and standing agricultural and horticultural produce these past four months, could easily have caused the school burnings . Not possible, you would say; others,locals, schools too close to their bone,may argue, only the Security Forces, given their immunities and proximity to institutions, could do it. It's not an either this or that situation.In the popular eye everyone is a suspect unless proven the other way.
It only reflects the existing level of distrust between the people and the Forces, a feeling which the ruling BJP in Delhi has further exacerbated with its congenital hates. Then there is the larger and of even greater importance question about the four-month-old closure of schools. A two-judge bench of the Kashmir High Court the other day asked the obvious question,even as it reprimanded the government (a) for the burning of schools and (b) underscoring the importance of education.
One has heard the State Education Minister,apparently adept at hyperbole, making archaic ,unrealistic observations, unrelated to the ground reality in the valley. His primary aim should and must remain the reopening of the long closed schools or even search for alternatives such as opening coaching centers in unused government offices if regular classrooms are not available. Mr. Nayeem Akhtar must indeed be a crafty exponent of the art of evasion, blessed with a parson's cant and a lawyer's sophistry. What he has been saying of late must make sense to some but it ill-behoves the coalition in the State, ostensibly committed to growth and development, to be seen soft-peddling an issue of crucial importance to future generations of Kashmiris.
Jammu region meanwhile continues to help itself to the goodies on offer, the latest an IIT. Y'see the funds supposedly allotted for the valley by Mr, Modi in the wake of the devastating floods of 2014, are still lying there, released in driblets, depending on which side of the bed the PMO gets up on a given day. The bulk of the funds, be assured, continue to be in the giver's safe custody. For the rest, some pellets for the day, please.