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The Thugs of Naya Kashmir

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MEHBOOBA MUFTI

I wasn’t the least bit surprised when news broke out about a Gujarati conman masquerading as a PMO official in Kashmir.

Videos emerged of Kiran Jagdishbhai Patel smugly basking in the balmy winter sun on Boulevard Road surrounded by an entourage of gun-toting Z+ security guards. One of his four trips also included a quick visit to the command post in Uri – an area that is out of bounds for common citizens due to security reasons.

His tweets well encapsulated these trips and captured him relishing this special access. One can only wonder how this could have slipped under the radar of the over-zealous intelligence agencies who have created an Orwellian and utterly dystopian environment in Kashmir, where not even a leaf moves without their knowledge.

Patel, who appeared out of thin air, apparently also had easy access to top administrative and police officials. But what the national media conveniently glossed over were his close links to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s top brass.

While Patel’s conman act has been exposed, the bigger con – of presenting the situation in J&K as normal and thriving by creating a parallel and make-believe Kashmir – stands in stark contrast to the actual situation.

Patel is but the latest member of the notorious and ever-expanding gang of Naya Kashmir. A motley group of self-anointed leaders and social activists manufactured and incubated in the powerful corridors of the Centre’s political laboratory. Since August 2019, post the illegal scuttling of Article 370, it is not only an artificial and sullen sense of normalcy that’s been created to distort ground realities. The Union government’s larger plan of action has involved creating a new obsequious political class to legitimize and whitewash the wave of repression it has unleashed in J&K.

But the plan to install a new pliable brigade of politicians is incomplete unless the traditional mainstream parties are thoroughly discredited and delegitimized. This explains why the Union government has exploited the official machinery – the CBI, ED, NIA and other agencies – and the largely pliable media at its disposal to target local political parties that have been vociferously critical about the revocation of J&K’s special status and constitution.

I know because I have experienced this first hand. During my incarceration, my party, the PDP, was splintered into pieces to create new formations and wipe out the sentiment behind our ideology. The BJP’s strategy to orchestrate splits as a means of launching an alternative political system is yet another assault on the democratic fabric that has been ripped apart in this country.

Since its inception in 1999, the PDP’s vision has represented local aspirations and sentiments. Therefore, shattering the PDP into fragments has not snuffed out the desire of Kashmiris for a peaceful dignified resolution of the Kashmir issue.

Four years down the line, it’s abundantly clear that the BJP’s attempts to erase the memories of betrayal that singed the hearts of people here have failed. Despite an uneasy silence, their sentiments are painfully obvious, even if unexpressed.

This abnormal normalcy continues to extract a heavy price from the inhabitants of Jammu and Kashmir. The Union government’s policies and decisions vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir reflect an underlying belief that every Kashmiri is a threat unless proven otherwise. Kashmiris are viewed with deep suspicion and live under constant, intrusive surveillance while thugs and conmen like Patel and his local counterparts continue enjoying state patronage and hospitality.

Investigative agencies have been given the task of hounding every section of J&K society – be it journalists, businessmen, public employees, contractors, politicians or activists. The Centre’s latest diktat gives intelligence agencies a carte blanche to blacklist contractors under the pretext of verification and security. The targeting of livelihood is yet another brutal tactic to punish people. Already, hundreds of contractors have been banned by invoking ‘alleged ties to militants’ who have died years ago.

Unfortunately, the GOI’s attempts to dehumanise the residents of J&K will gather momentum as we approach next year’s general elections. But the use that was made of the Balakot strikes in the 2019 election and the illegal scrapping of Article 370 beg the question of how J&K will now figure in the BJPs scheme of things as the 2024 elections approach.

Jammu and Kashmir’s blood-soaked history is replete with examples of mistakes committed by New Delhi in pursuit of short-term gains. Reckless experiments by fiddling with democracy and undermining its values cost both J&K and the country dearly. Today, the BJP is committing worse blunders and taking the state down a path engulfed in uncertainty and darkness solely to remain in power.

‘[This article has first appeared in ‘The Wire’]

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