Trouble in the valley

Masarat Alam Bhat’s release was just the beginning. PDP, BJP should be ready for more trials

Aasha Khosa | April 4, 2015


#Masarat Alam Bhat   #Masarat Alam Bhat release   #pdp   #bjp   #jammu and kashmir  

This year the spring has come with a mixed bag for Kashmir – freak weather, non-seasonal snowfall, and a nascent government that has barely survived a collapse followed by sneak attacks by terrorists in border towns.

Amid this one man who is all smiles is the 44-year-old Masarat Alam Bhat, the recently released pro-Pakistan Kashmiri ideologue. His release after four years of detention exposed the innate disunity of the PDP-BJP coalition government in the sensitive border state. The ensuing controversy put television screens on fire and a nation seething with anger at the sheer incompetence of its leaders. However, it also made the PDP and BJP look like a just-married couple who were squabbling in public. Its ripples touched parliament, forcing prime minister Narendra Modi to defend his party’s stand on terrorism in Kashmir’s context.

Bhat is no ordinary Kashmiri by any definition – he is the mastermind of the violent 2010 protests which left 112 young Kashmiri youth dead in dingdong battles with police in 100 days. The protests were well orchestrated with young ‘stone-pelters’ leading these for no specific reason. Many got killed in the process; others were jailed while the lucky ones reached the counselling centres of NGOs later.

Bhat, an alumnus of a prestigious Christian school of Srinagar, grew up seeing his well-off family’s fortunes dwindle. His father, who owned an apparel showroom in Srinagar, fell on bad times after suffering losses. Living in downtown Srinagar where anti-India protests were commonplace, he first joined a Kashmiri terror group called Hizbullah. After a couple of years, he joined the Muslim League, a party headed by staunch pro-Pakistani Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and emerged as a key strategist of the anti-India movement. No wonder he was caught after a year-long chase and carried a bounty of '10 lakh on his head.

On the political front, Bhat’s walk to freedom from a Kashmir prison showed the BJP in a very bad light. Party leaders, mostly in Delhi, openly demonised the PDP; accusing chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of hobnobbing with terrorists. The saffron party’s leaders seemed oblivious of the fact that they were part of the government in J&K.

Clearly, after the facts on Bhat’s release unfolded, the BJP had to eat a humble pie. It was clear that his release was a fait accompli given the tough stand of the judiciary against his prolonged detention. However, the revelation that Bhat’s release had been signed before the Mufti government had taken charge saw BJP leaders looking for a cover from the opposition attacks and jeering PDP leaders. Everyone was wondering why the BJP leaders had not even cared to ascertain facts before going hammer and tongs against PDP for Bhat’s release.

The fact is that Bhat was a prized catch for the anti-insurgency agencies, as his arrest had put an abrupt end to the violent street protests in Kashmir. However, like any seasoned over-ground activist, he had left no trails for the police to book him under any specific law. 

In the entire drama while Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, with his cool demeanour, emerged as a seasoned Kashmir hand, it showed that BJP leaders lacked the understanding of the complex situation in the state. Also, it became clear that the saffron party was good only at whipping up passions across India in the name of Kashmir, rather than playing a positive role in helping bring good governance in the state.

Also, it became clear that the alliance partners had no communication between them. The BJP’s problem is that it always used Kashmir’s turbulence and people’s plight as tools to consolidate its base across India. In the early 1990s, its leaders MM Joshi and LK Advani had marched to Srinagar to hoist the tricolour at Lal Chowk, leaving a trail of deaths – of militants, civilians and security forces – and bitterness among the people in the valley in the process. The party leaders seldom empathised with the sufferings of ordinary Kashmiri people, who have borne the brunt of insurgency and counter-insurgency operations.

For this reason, till recently the BJP did not even have an office or an organisation in place in Kashmir. Interestingly, BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee and to some extent Modi are popular figures of Indian political pantheon among the Kashmiri people, but they do not trust the saffron party.

Kashmir’s situation remains complicated because of a key external factor – Pakistan. While India was hoping that foreign secretary S Jaishankar’s Islamabad visit would help thaw the frozen peace talks between the two nations, terrorists raised and trained across the border made sneak attacks in Jammu’s border areas. Now this is a familiar pattern of sections of Pakistani establishment to throw a spanner in a potential peace process. Such a situation would require a stable and cohesive government in Srinagar working in sync with a sympathetic and understanding government in Delhi. Will the PDP and BJP play their roles without playing to the galleries?

Khosa is an independent journalist and writes on Kashmir, gender and social  issues. jayakhosa@gmail.com
Twitter @AashaKhosa

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