In the past three days two saner voices were raised from two unexpected quarters in Delhi and Islamabad. Indian army chief Gen Bipin Rawat took everyone by surprise when, on Monday, he said gun was not solution and neither the Army nor the militants would achieve their goals through it in Kashmir. He rather asked for taking a peaceful recourse to resolve the problem. General Rawat is not known for making statements of “peace” generally. His mantra has rather been ‘hot pursuit’ to bring peace. It is general Rawat who declared that civilian protestors near encounter sites would be treated as militants. Since then several civilians have fallen to the bullets of security forces during clashes at encounter sites in many parts of the valley. He is also known for adoring an army officer (Major Gagoi) for using as a Kashmiri boy as human shield in April last year in Budgam. His Pakistani counter-part Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, almost around the same time, pleaded for a peaceful, comprehensive and meaningful dialogue for the resolution of all outstanding disputes between the two countries including “the core issue of Kashmir.” It is an open secret that Pakistani civil and military establishment had never been on same page on relations with India, more particularly against the backdrop of Kashmir. Pakistan army is often attributed as the “sponsor” of Kashmir militancy. Now since the ‘peace talk’ has come from the highest offices of both the military establishments, it should grab the attention of political leadership, both, in Islamabad and Delhi. Besides fighting three regular wars, the armies of the two countries are in a state of perpetual (though limited) war on the border and line of control (LOC). So when the Generals call for peaceful means, one should not miss the point that this feeling among them must have come after a long but failed experience. It should work as guiding factor for governments in New Delhi and Islamabad. But in the given situation, change of course in Indo-Pakistan relations appears quite unlikely in immediate future. The mutual hostility has remained an important political ingredient of governing parties in India and Pakistan to strengthen their support constituencies internally. Pakistan is slated for general elections in August or September this year while Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity would be tested in April next year. That makes the peace an uneasy proposition, at least for now, or till the elections in the two countries conclude next year. It can be said with great convenience that peace in India and Pakistan is hostage to internal political compulsions of the rulers. They must move beyond. As the situation shapes up, New Delhi and Islamabad should understand that we are not living in a stable and peaceful region. The military presence of America and NATO is increasing and their private armies like ISIS is making inroads in almost all the important south Asian countries—India, Pakistan, Afghanistan besides Kashmir. China and Russia have also developed economic and political interest in the region. With America on one side and China and Russia on the other side, South Asia is genuinely sitting on a powder keg. The situation in Kashmir too is becoming hard to handle. Kashmiri south, who are at the forefront of the campaign, are different from their peers of 90s. They are a generation unprepared to sit back and shut-up. It is not in the interest of either Pakistan or India to be complacent. The focus should be returning to Musharaf-Vajpayee-Manmohan days. The latter had given green to talks between the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and Pakistan. Modi, for his part, has ruled out any such engagement with Islamabad. Talking peace is sensible and necessary, even if quick results are not the intention. Not talking is simply too dangerous.
Rise in air fare
It is usually the price in petroleum that determines the cost of air tickets. But in Kashmir the rise and fall of air tickets is subject to weather conditions. Airline companies are making the most of the ongoing bad weather condition in Kashmir by charging exorbitant airfare three to four times more than the actual prices from the flyers. There are no fixed airfares. Fares are driven by demand. With Jammu-Srinagar highway remaining blocked for traffic due to landslides at several places, the demon of arbitrary fares is back to haunt and fleece the stranded people in Jammu. It is highly shameful on the part of airline operators that they misuse the weather conditions in Kashmir to their advantage without caring about the degree of burden and miseries it brings to the local residents.
In normal days, the air fare between Jammu and Srinagar rolls between Rs.2600 and Rs.3200. But it goes up four to six times once the Jammu-Srinagar highway gets blocked due to bad weather. On Friday when the highway got closed due to landslides on many parts of the only road link, the air line operators increased the air ticket (from Jammu to Srinagar) to Rs.10000 to 15000. It is cheaper to travel to some foreign countries than from Jammu to Srinagar. A look out at international fares reveals that traveling from Delhi to Dubai is cheaper by almost 8000 than traveling from Srinagar to Jammu. If one wants to travel from Srinagar to Jammu on Tuesday, he would have to pay Rs.14, 285 whereas the ticket for Delhi to Dubai on the same day is just Rs.6311. The air tickets to other Asian countries is even less. Thousands of people are presently stranded in Jammu and Srinagar as the highway remains close due to landslides. They cannot dream of traveling by air as the airline operators have increased air tickets to a swooping high. The airline companies appear to be accountable no none. They are law unto themselves. Every time there is a natural disaster or other unforeseen event, airfares seem to shoot up. It can be said with great convenience that the airlines are like vultures preying on the misery of travelers left with few options given that road and rail links are often also cut in these conditions.
Nobody is questioning them for the wrongs they do with the passengers. Ironically, the government is also mum over their outrageous conduct. It is all the more necessary for making these airline operators answerable. The state government should take up the matter with civil aviation ministry and other authorities who have control over these companies to fix cap on air fare. The Competition Commission of India (CCI) should step in and put the airline operators to task for their irresponsible conduct. Steep hike in airfares has raised serious concern in Kashmir’s tourism industry as well, with stakeholders accusing the airliners of deliberately trying to make Kashmir the costliest and least preferred destination to cut out tourist inflow. This has now become a pattern with the airliners that at the inception of every tourism season in Kashmir they unilaterally and arbitrarily increase the fares on this sector making Kashmir packages unaffordable.
Ironically, the airfares for other destinations both within and outside the country are much cheaper as compared to Kashmir. The hikes have affected not only our tourism sector these have also hit students and patients who have to travel outside the state not for luxury but because of necessity. It is all the more necessary for making these airline operators answerable. Governor S P Malik, who enjoys great confidence in Delhi, should take up the matter with relevant people to get the menace of fare-hike under check.
January 21, the day when it all started
January 21 is the unforgettable day in today’s Kashmir. It was on this day in 1990 that around 50 unarmed civilians were savagely killed and more than 100 others wounded in indiscriminate use of firearms by the central reserve police force (CRPF) at Gawkadal in Srinagar. It was a peaceful procession by all means. Thousands of unarmed civilians from uptown localities of Raj Bagh, Jawahar Nagar, Batamaloo and other surrounding localities had taken out the procession and were marching on the streets when CRPF men encountered them at Gawkadal. The state administration, then or now had never been able to reason out as what made the CRPF men to go berserk.
A common refrain in the peoples’ circles in Kashmir is that the massacre had the state approval. It was meant to cause horror among local population to submit to the authority and power of Jagmohan, who had taken control of the state government as Governor just two days before. Jagmohan was appointed governor against the wishes of chief minister Farooq Abdullah. He took it a ruse and resigned from the government. This was second time that Jagmohan was appointed as governor of Jammu and Kashmir. People of the state had a mixed bag of sweet and bitter memories of his first stint. He acted as Indira Gandhi’s stooge to dislodge Farooq Abdullah’s elected government in 1984 to bring Ghulam Mohammad Shah as chief minister of the state. In 1986, he dismissed Shah’s government under an engineered pretext of communal clash at Wanpoh village in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district to see himself at the helm of affairs. This way he came to be known as anti people and anti democracy bulldozer. After taking control of the state administration, he however, tried to rework his image by taking some developmental initiatives. However, his communal instinct awoke when majority of Muslim candidates were ignored in admissions in professional colleges—medical and engineer in particular. This created a massive unrest in the valley which ultimately led to restoration of NC-Congress coalition government.
In 1990 he was reappointed as Governor in the backdrop of very volatile situation. Armed uprising against Indian rule had started with massive public support. Since no action was ever taken against the guilty CRPF men involved in the carnage, it is widely believed that Jagmohan had very obnoxious and lethal plans to undo the Kashmiri movement. Most people in Kashmir believe that the January 21 massacre was a part of this plan. Two days before (January 19), just a few hours after he took over as the state reigns, Kashmir Pandits started migration from the valley. Most of them were provided transportation facilities by the state government itself, and in many cases security was also provided to the fleeing Pandits giving the impression that the state administration had vested interested in assisting Pandits to leave the valley. Gawkadal Massacre was followed by other half a dozen even more heinous incidents of mass killings. The Tengpora Bypass and Zakoora Crossing killings on March 1 in which around 46 persons (26 at Tengpora and 20 at Zakoora) were done to death by the CRPF. Around 30 people were killed in yet another massacre at Karfalli Mohalla with more than 20 others at Handwara. The Hawal massacre was the culmination when around 50 persons were massacred during funeral procession of Mirwaiz Molvi Mohammad Farooq. Though Jagmohan was recalled after the Hawal carnage, the bloody footprints he left behind are still visible. Since the bloodshed continues unabatedly, it is unlikely for the valley people to forget the day when it all started.
Politics of deceit
Far away from the ideal perspective, success in politics demands one to have the ability to control truth and lies and, more importantly, the middle ground between the two. These days, the politicians of Jammu and Kashmir are clearly following this ‘success mantra’. We see them cautiously choosing their words depending upon the audience they are addressing. In the valley, they pose as the messiahs of the people, trying to warp the listeners with their politicking of deceit and double-talk. Elsewhere, they conjure tricks up their sleeve: When in Rome do as the Romans do. While ‘autonomy’ and ‘Kashmir struggle’ become a dominant part of their glossed glossary here, elsewhere, it is ‘Kashmir belongs to India’ parroting that defines their boondoggle of political careers.
Be it the leaders of National Conference or Peoples Democratic Party, their seemingly heartfelt gestures on and about Kashmiris and Kashmir these days are a perfect example of this paradox. Few would dispute with the fact that politics of deception has become a fundamental technique for survival in politics. This is practiced by almost all the politicians in the state. In the midst of all this experimentation is the commoner in Kashmir finding him/herself turned into a lab-rat, peeled and pricked, ridiculed and tricked, again and again. Politicians here are stricken with recreating the tapestry of their fake achievements embedded in the notion of selective amnesia. They pull and tear each other down in an attempt to what is being referred to as ‘regaining lost ground’. What ‘gain’ on which ‘ground’ depends where they stand and deliver their cantankerous speeches–ones that make a lot of noise but change not a bit. We are dog-tired questioning the politicians, who zealously pursue their politics of balancing truth and lies. It is the seemingly sheep of a people here (read every section of the society including the media) that makes an interesting case. Bedazzled and bamboozled we become each time the politicians juggle in front of us. Their tricks are old and repeated, bereft of any pledge, turn and prestige. But as nonchalantly as ever, we always rouse to them in tumultuous applause. We march on their chants exactly how Orwell’s ‘sheep’ did to ‘Napoleon’ in ‘Animal Farm’. The world apparently knows Kashmir as a place of confrontation and struggle, but the rules here are not that hard and fast. They are always moulded in the cauldron of lies and fake hopes. It is not surprising that politicians come back to people, impenitent and equally poised, knowing that they will ultimately get what they want from them. Suggestions aside, it is time to shatter that poise and make them aware of their wrongdoings. It is time to stand-up, ask those tough questions and not take trickery or blabber as an answer.