On 8 July 2016, at evening, I was informed that Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) commander Burhan Wani was shot dead in a brief gunfight in south Kashmir’s Bamdoora village. The atmosphere in Kashmir, months before the gunfight, was already showing signs of coming chaos. It was visible that night, while I along with a few colleagues waited for our cab driver to reach to Tral—Mr. Wani’s home; the coming days will not be easy. Within hours of his killing, protests had erupted, and the next day when hundreds of thousands of mourners attended his funeral—I remember telling a colleague, ‘what we see here is going to change Kashmir forever.’
Days turned into months but Kashmir’s rage and anger didn’t mild down—against the government and the cry for ‘azadi’ was howling louder. Mr. Wani’s killing didn’t only become a footnote to the complicated history of Kashmir but it confluenced into history of histories. It has been three years since that day, yet the rising embers haven’t settled in Kashmir. These last few years have seen rise in militancy—more young boys leaving their families and homes to pick guns, only to survive for a few days, months, and sometimes years. The elected state government also collapsed a year ago, following the assasination of a veteran journalist, Shujaat Bukhari, who was advocating ceasefire even days before his killing.
Today, the leadership of Hurriyat Conference, is in jail, under a case of ‘terror funding’ being investigated by the National Investigating Agency (NIA), socio-religious party Jamat-i-Islami and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) both are banned by New Delhi, and second time Prime Minister Narendra Modi led right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in New Delhi shows zero signs of any engagement with Kashmir’s dissenting voices. The Kashmir policy, as many have already laid out, is that of wiping out militancy and giving zero space to anyone who considers Kashmir as a disputed territory.
The first five years of Mr. Modi’s government had an aggressive policy, and Kashmir’s mention only became more rhetoric during the campaign for the last general elections. But if the BJP was right about one thing it was about its Kashmir policy—it hasn’t changed anything since the weeks before the elections. Back then, they promised its voters that a tough policy will be taken against Kashmir and the newly appointed Union Home Minister Amit Shah, during his first visit, walked his talk. There is a sense of gloom in Kashmir now—a sense of fear, at the same time too. What does New Delhi plan to do with Kashmir at the end?
One can see it on the streets today—looking at the intensive security arrangements for the annual Amarnath pilgrimage, wherein civilian traffic is barred from plying on roads to let vehicles laden with pilgrims pass by. The rise in gunfights, much of it being success of the government forces’ local human intelligence, has led youth to believe, slowly, that even this new age militancy may be in its autumn. It seems Kashmir has completed another circle in its recent history. What we see today is like living in the mid 1990s, when renegade forces had only one job—wipe out militancy.
For a long time, there was a pause, but continued bloodshed, and a fresh election in 2002 turned the clock. Now the clock has come to halt—or it has either more numbers than just twelve or more hands than just three. With each passing day, as we move an inch closer to the upcoming assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the rising tide of 2016 are fallen cold and a new wave of mainstream politics has returned.
One could argue that Burhan Wani’s killing didn’t only put Kashmir into one of the major uprisings in the last three decades but the post-2016 era also led people to be fatigued. Other than those directly affected by the conflict, Kashmir is looking for a less aggressive opponent. Much of it has to do with the fact that most people didn’t believe that the BJP will continue its aggressive Kashmir policy in second term or were expecting an overhaul in how people are engaging with New Delhi, on what terms?
The current times in Kashmir are only meant to bring back control—reign the lost space, of the mainstream, and establish that the Valley’s parlance is not going to change until, at least, the BJP is in power. It is the same with the state political parties, whose power over New Delhi is not working anymore, as the BJP aims to be an important, with bigger space, part of the next state government—only three years since 8 July 2016.
This column originally appeared in the 8-14 July print issue of The Kashmir Walla.