Kashmir's crisis of authority

Ever since July, when a tear-gas shell ended the life of a Srinagar teenager who had committed no crime other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Jammu and Kashmir has inched closer to the abyss each day. For all practical purposes, the authority of the state has collapsed. The State police personnel have been beaten on the streets; their weapons snatched; their homes torched. Most tragic of all, ever-growing numbers of young people have been shot in the course of increasingly desperate attempts to restore order. On Monday, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah called for additional central forces to restore order, and is believed to be considering a large-scale reorganisation of his administration. Even as Mr. Abdullah reiterated his demand for dialogue between the Indian government and a cross-section of political opinion in the State, he made clear that mobs could no longer “put a police station on fire and expect the policemen there to exercise restraint.” Even the harshest measures, though, are unlikely to immediately deter the young people leading the protests: appeals for restraint from politicians like Kashmir's Islamist patriarch, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and even Hizb-ul-Mujahideen chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah, have done little to still the violent tide.

For all its scorching intensity, the violence this summer ought not to have overwhelmed the state. Secessionism has long been an entrenched part of the State's political life, fed by ideology, economic resentments and human-rights violations. There is no evidence, though, that its base has expanded dramatically in recent months. Far larger secessionist mobilisations were seen in 2008, after all, when competing ethnic-religious chauvinisms tore Kashmir and Jammu apart. The crisis is, in fact, the culmination of two years of drift. Ever since he took power in 2008, Mr. Abdullah reached out to the secessionist constituency — much as the opposition People's Democratic Party had done, with considerable success. The National Conference, Mr. Abdullah's advisers argued, had come to power only because it won eight seats in Srinagar, where there was little voter turnout, and its prospects would depend on developing a base in low-turnout urban areas where it has had little presence historically. But Mr. Abdullah's failure to develop effective administrative instruments and the resentments within his party cadre ensured that the National Conference ceded authority to secessionists. Mr. Abdullah is right: his overwhelming priority now must be the restoration of peace, with the very least bloodshed possible. But unless he begins focussing on building an administration and a political system that addresses those who voted him to power, the next crisis will not be far away.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2021 11:07:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Kashmirs-crisis-of-authority/article16117960.ece

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