Kashmir restrictions likely to stay a lot longer

Kashmir, Kashmir restrictions, Kashmir issue, Kashmir, Pakistan ban, India, Jammu and Kashmir, Article 370, Delhi, Srinagar

Government also has to be concerned about the 500,000 odd troops on a highly nerve frazzling duty roster.



By Bikram Vohra

Published: Fri 30 Aug 2019, 9:35 PM

A provocative challenge to Indian media has been made by demands that it either stand up and be counted for something or forever pay the price in credibility. Speak out loud about the silence zone imposed on Kashmir's residents and their muted ability to communicate with each other or raise a white flag of surrender where free speech is concerned.

While Indian media might find collective refuge in the fact that it cannot also enter the valley and make an on the spot assessment of what the situation is, perhaps it is hobbled by a certain surge of nationalism in that if you wish to make an omelet you have to break some eggs. In short, a concession to the Modi government that it is clutching a prickly pear.

That this is largely accepted as the current justification for amplifying the sounds of silence until the odds on violence are reduced even further is a given. Into its fourth week, the embargo on telephony and trawling social platforms has become irksome but the national media does not want to adversely comment on this aspect yet. For one, there is a fear that any such criticism immediately calls for an accusation of anti-nationalism. For another, it also indicts the armed forces obliquely and questions the role of those in uniform over this extended impasse.

In the first few days, if one recalls, there was jubilation and a fond belief that the detentions of as many as 4,000 individuals including two Chief Ministers was purely a preventive measure designed to reduce the risk of there being a fallout. So far, violence has been at a minimum. But as days pass, that initial euphoria has evaporated considerably and there is an uncertain 'what now, what next' texture manifesting itself not just in Kashmir but in the country and certainly in the corridors of power in New Delhi.

If the Modi administration has opted to sweat out the militant cadres and the more aggressive elements in Kashmir until they are exhausted fiscally and morale-wise he is unlikely to get much opposition from his people. It was far to facile to conclude that after the abrogation of Articles 35A and370 there would be confetti parades and dancing in the streets. Just as it was unrealistic to expect mainland populations to make a beeline for Kashmir and invest in it. But the general mood in India is it is done and dusted and there is no going back.

Never mind the media and its quiet the problem now is whether Modi administration can collectively get off the tiger and maintain calm and, if so, what is the opportune time. More vitally, ensure that lives are not lost in clashes between troops and civilians. Till then, Modi is probably advised to suck up the criticisms and hang in there because that vital point of exhaustion has not been reached.

The current Hong Kong protests, the suddenness of the Arab Spring resulting in instant mobilisation of young people through the Net will have been factored into the equation by New Delhi. To 'prematurely' allow the gates of communication to be opened could have a massive blowback. One might say then that the silence can be re-imposed if things get out of hand. Very difficult to put the stuffing back once it has tumbled out.

The government also has to be concerned about the 500,000 odd troops on a highly nerve frazzling duty roster. It is not easy to maintain that state of high alert and the logistics of keeping them fresh and on full readiness are equally expensive. How long, how long is the question.

While one accepts that the authorities must have factored in all these scenarios it is pretty much evident they do not think the time is ripe for opening up the valley to normality as yet. Tiny first steps perhaps in stages while assessment in real time are made about how powerful or widespread the resistance will be once communications are restored.

The Indian Supreme Court is currently in session on the annulment of the two Articles and while it is doubtful that there will be a legal reversal after Parliament has green flagged this decision one does not see New Delhi either sending the key to those under house arrest or detained until it is sure that the forces are not left vulnerable either to the threat of war or internal strife. Modi and his frontline are losing no sleep over global opinion which really has not adversely affected India's standing in the comity of nations and is now not likely to rise above chest thumping and cautions of restraint from a few quarters that are vocal about the Indian move.

It is now a question of standing down an army and bringing in normality only when there is enough evidence that beyond a few protests and some sporadic 'controllable' acts of violence there will be no major organised confrontation with the armed forces. Unless that assurance is tangibly forthcoming from leaders, political parties and also the general public one cannot see New Delhi lifting its restrictions on movement and Wifi contact.

Not for some time. Maybe a longer time than one imagines.
bikram@khaleejtimes.com


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