Of rumours and uncertainty in Kashmir

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The shopfront at Srinagar’s Hawal belonging to Nazir Ahmad has always been abuzz with activities. Politics, religion, sports, culture have been a favorite chat topic here.

However, 64-year-old Ahmad who has been running the grocery store for three decades in Downtown Srinagar has not been an amused man for a month now. The reason being the rumours doing rounds in Kashmir.

Ahmad says that he is fed up and tired now. “Everyday people come here and talk about the rumours that have taken our sleep away. Honestly speaking, I tell my customers to shut up whenever they talk about rumours,” he said.

Shopfronts in the valley are known for being very vibrant, as people from every locality prefer these places to talk about the changing political landscape and uneven situation of the region that has been on tenterhooks for over three decades now.

Ahmad’s peand is no different. “See I enjoy listening to the stories and lies of people, but then there is a limit to everything,” he said. “I think the past few weeks and especially the rumours have killed my mood. I hate listening to these people if they come up with foolish conspiracy theories.”

The customers of Ahmad are not the only ones weaving conspiracy theories or talking about rumours. In Kashmir, almost everyone is worried and concerned about what is about to come.

The rumours started doing rounds since the last week of May, and continue till this day. Among many rumours, one that led to debates among the seven million populace is the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir and granting of separate Union Territory to Pandits.

Other rumours that have made their way into the Kashmiri mind have been the reports of connecting two south Kashmir districts with Jammu region and an imminent attack on Pakistan-administered Kashmir by the under-pressure Narendra Modi government, which faces criticism over handling of the pandemic.

Rumours in Kashmir are not taken lightly, particularly after what happened in 2019, when the government came with rebuttal after rebuttal to all the fishy orders that were issued at that time.

Back then, a number of advisories from the Centre and state had triggered apprehensions that the central government was preparing for the abrogation of special status — Article 370 and 35A — granted to Jammu and Kashmir.

The then Governor of the erstwhile state, amid heightened tensions, had said on 3 August that only rumor-mongering was going on and there was no reason to panic.

However, on 5 August the central government did the unthinkable. Not only did it remove article-370 but also bifurcated the state into two Union Territories, with Ladakh being granted the old demand.

“It’s normal. Only rumour mongering is going on. It’s a very routine thing here. If you sneeze at Lal Chowk, it becomes an explosion when it comes here. Unnecessary panic is being created by vested interests, especially some political parties,” the then Governor Malik famously had said.

So earlier this month, when two developments took place, Kashmiris were again worried and left with no choice but to feel concerned about their future.

One among the two developments was the issuing of a train suspension order by Inspector General of Police, Vijay Kumar. “It was the first time an IGP had announced the suspension of train services in Kashmir,” Ahmad recalled being told by an avid politically aware customer of his. “He pointed out that there was something fishy as the order was issued by a police chief and not a bureaucrat.”

While common Kashmiris have been waiting for future developments, the politicians of the valley, who spent nearly a year under detention following article-370 abrogation, have also sought answers and action from those running the Union Territory.

In reaction, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) after holding a hasty meeting said that they would continue to fight for the rights of people and there has been no change in the amalgam’s stance on the declaration made on 4 August 2019.

Talking to the media after the meeting, the PAGD chairperson Farooq Abdullah said that the amalgam would continue to fight for the rights of people and its doors are open for all to join them.

When asked to comment on social media rumours of yet another bifurcation of the erstwhile State, Abdullah said that the PAGD leaders were as much in the dark as were the people.

While the rumours continued, the Lieutenant governor, Manoj Sinha in a bid to dismiss them chose a right-wing news channel to address them.

Sinha put speculations and rumours at rest describing them as “completely baseless’’ and being spread by certain people as a part of conspiracy. “I refute these rumours with all responsibility,” he told the channel. “Many people who don’t have anything meaningful to do are taking support of rumours and emotions to mislead the public for their own vested interests. These are baseless and mischievous conspiracy theories circulated by a small section of people. Such rumours are also being fanned by certain elements based outside India.’’

Whether or not the LG’s refutation of the rumours will have any impact on the Kashmiri psyche remains to be seen. However, in the valley, it is said that rumours are never false here. It was further strengthened by the report that the centre is willing to talk to the mainstream parties of the region and that few confidence building measures are set to be put in motion to regain the trust of both politicians and locals. One has to only wait to see which rumour is false and true.

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