Dr Farooq Abdullah, in his address to a lawyers’ conclave organized by his party’s legal cell in Srinagar, recently said, “I have personally witnessed how a long-existing lobby in New Delhi has used pliant leaders and regimes in J&K to erode Article 370 and rob the state of its constitutionally guaranteed internal autonomy — one step at a time.”
He termed the centre’s approach to Kashmir as “the chronicle of betrayals and breach of faith that started with the deposition and incarceration of Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and continues to this day”.
The theme ran through his long speech. It was unlike that any Abdullah has made in many years. But it resonated well with the people and that is what it was geared to do: play to a slew of the contemplated plans and policies which are perceived to detrimentally impact the J&K’s special status in the Indian Union. The 70 days of the PDP-BJP government have brought into the public domain a spate of such proposals which have created an endemic perception of a systematic assault on J&K’s leftover autonomy and its demographic character.
It began, as usual with the talk of the separate settlements for Kashmiri Pandits, followed by a proposal to establish a Sainik Colony for ex-servicemen and their kin in Srinagar. And while the political controversy over the colony was roiling the Valley, came the revelation that the New Industrial Policy drawn up by the Governor NN Vohra during his three months at the helm, allows non-state subjects to get on lease the land for setting up industries outside the industrial estates in the state. The policy is silent on the upper ceiling of the land to be leased. And while the public outcry forced the government to review the policy, the state government’s decision to initiate work on building the structures for ‘floating population’ in Jammu and Kupwara districts became a fresh source of concern.
However, the land related issues aren’t only ones playing on the fears of the people in Valley. The anxiety has further been deepened by the proposed new yatras which are seen as part of a deliberate design “to dilute Kashmir’s Muslim majority character” and detract from the state’s constitutional safeguardsunder Article 370. One such yatra conceived by Sangh Parivar-allied outfit Acharaya Abhinavgupta Sheshadri Samroh Samiti was proposed to be taken to the alleged cave of Abhinavgupta, a tenth century Kashmiri Shaivite philosopher, in Beerwah in Budgam on June 11.
The Samiti, an alliance of various organisations with members from all over India is headed by the founder of the Art of Living Foundation Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
However, as the issue ran into trouble with the civil society and the separatist groups, with villagers of Beerwah also choosing to oppose it, the state government denied permission for the pilgrimage. Anjuman Mazharul Haq, a religious organization from the village told the media that there was no historical evidence to support the claim that Abhinavgupta had used the cave, citing a court judgement in its favour.
On the yatra day, security forces were deployed to Beerwah town to thwart the pilgrimage to prevent a “law and order problem”. All the entry points to the town were sealed with rolls of concertina wires to stop entry of any pilgrim. Similarly, another organization Maha Kumbh Celebration Committee decided to hold Maha Kumbh after 75 years at the confluence of Jhelum and Sindh rivers in Ganderbal district on June 14. The spot of confluence has a Shiv Lingam which is kept under the Chinar tree. People reach the islet in a boat and worship there. However, the Kumbh is a bath in the sacred waters of the fused holy rivers — Jhelum also called Vitasta in Kashmir, and Sindh or Indus. “Be it Sainik Colonies or shelter for non-state subjects, the aim is to render our special identity hollow,” senior NC leader Ali Muhammad Sagar said. “Attacks are being carried out in an organized manner on whatever is left of the state’s identity”.
Kashmir Economic Alliance, a grouping of the trading organizations sees a grand design in works. “Right from the plan for the construction of township of migrant Pandits to development of Sainik Colony, and the Industrial policy to allotment of land to non-locals, there is a conspiracy to convert Kashmir into Gaza where the Muslims will finally have to live in ghettos to be ruled by RSS Bhakts,” KEA Chairman Haji Mohammad Yasin Khan said. Similarly, civil society group Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies termed these proposals “treacherous” and blamed the government for throwing these up “quietly and intriguingly” to inflict a body blow “to our psyche and demographics of the state”.
Separatist groups have played to this growing insecurity. “India is working on different plans to strengthen and prolong its control over Jammu and Kashmir,” Hurriyat G chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani said. “The BJP-PDP coalition government has accelerated the execution of these plans”.
Moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the JKLF supremo Yasin Malik have issued similar statements, threatening to start public agitation against the moves. In fact, Mirwaiz and Malik have proposed unity among separatist groups to fight the “onslaught”.
In fact, Malik individually met Geelani, Mirwaiz, Jamaat-e-Islami chief Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, Asiya Andrabi and even Kashmir Economic Alliance, a conglomeration of trading groups to forge a joint strategy against the “demography altering plans of New Delhi”. Valley has since observed a shutdown over the issue on separatist call. But the issue is far from resolved. Though the state government has denied that it will set up exclusive Pandit colonies or give land for Sainik Colonies, promising even to review New Industrial Policy, this has hardly given confidence to people.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has been hard put to explain and defend her government. In Assembly, she blamed media and the NGOs for trying “to put the state on fire”. She said the government has already denied the land for Sainik Colony but didn’t share the order. But she explained that the Pandits needed “transit accommodations” to return to Valley and assured even these enclaves will have half the population from other communities including Muslims and Sikhs. But the people have now become more anxious than ever, not ready to trust her. More so, with BJP, her coalition partner, issuing contradictory statements. The successive proposals are seen as part of an elaborate design “to change the facts on the ground”.
“There is a growing sense of siege and a perception that New Delhi harbours sinister designs on Kashmir. And in its extreme it borders on the fears of an impending demographic change,” says Naseer Ahmad, author of Kashmir Pending adding that the government cannot afford to let this perception fester. “This perception is only deepening alienation further.”