On June 19, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) announced its decision to pull out of the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, breaking its alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Currently the state is in the hands of Governor NN Vohra. This is the fourth time in the last ten years that the state is under the governor’s rule.
Image Courtesy: Al Jazeera
A unilateral ceasefire was declared by the Indian government on 14 May where the security forces were asked not to launch new operations during the month of Ramadan. While PDP was of the opinion that the ceasefire should be extended and the Centre should reach out to the separatists, BJP argued that the separatists have lost that opportunity and announced that the Ramadan ceasefire would not be extended and anti-terror operations would resume in the state.
On Sunday, after the Centre decided not to extend the Suspension of Operations (SoO) or cease operations in Jammu and Kashmir, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, in a series of tweets announced that the security forces have been directed to resume operations. “The Security Forces are being directed to take all necessary actions as earlier to prevent terrorists from launching attacks and indulging in violence and killings”, he said. In another tweet, he said, “It was expected that everyone will cooperate in ensuring the success of this initiative. While the Security Forces have displayed exemplary restraint during this period, the terrorists have continued with their attacks, on civilians and SFs, resulting in deaths and injuries.”
The government’s announcement that the security forces have been given a “free hand” to conduct operations against terrorists did not go down too well with everyone. The army itself could not escape this conflict of opinions and in what looked like a twitter war, many army officials came forward with their respective opinions on the Governor’s rule and the “free hand” that it gives them.
On June 18, Major Gaurav Arya said, “Kashmir is heading towards an irreversible slide into chaos. If we wish to arrest this slide, the Mehbooba Mufti government must go. It is costing us soldiers. Impose President’s rule immediately. It is time to take a hard line.” Soon after it was announced that BJP has pulled out of alliance with PDP, Major Arya tweeted again and said, “Good move. Next step…need a strong person as Governor of J&K…someone who has seen the valley up close…who knows it like the back of his hand…who has operated there. should have trust of army and locals both. Such a man exists. Need him in Raj Bhawan.”
Objecting to Major Arya’s views, Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury replied, “How/why is it a good move? Since when has a failure to honour people's mandate and collapse of governance at the altar of power/electoral politics become good? J&K should not be viewed as a CZ. There are real people there with real aspirations which elected governments have to fulfil.” He also said, “The State & the Central government have to fulfil their responsibilities. Armed Forces are not the answer to all the ills that we experience as a Nation State. They are a much abused arm of the State thanks to the ineptness of many of the other arms of the State.”
Supporting Major Chowdhury, Colonel Sanjay Pande also responded and said, “It’s so comfortable to hype Army painting a picture that all was miserable and ‘now’ we can give Army a free hand. With one stroke the political parties wash their hands off. Army always had free hand. Why don’t politicians try ‘free hand’ out?”
The last two years have seen an escalation in army action, and to suggest— as had been implied by the BJP— that their alliance with PDP did not allow the army a free hand is not borne out by facts. Militancy had declined from the peak of 20,000 militants in 1990s to a few hundred by 2012-2013. Over hundred militants have been killed in the past two years itself. This should have led to de-militarisation in Jammu and Kashmir, but it didn’t because the decline in the number of militants does not mean that people have given up on “azaadi”. At the same time, this also implies that the army always had a free hand. As civil rights activist and Kashmiri human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz also said, “Government has always given free-hand to the army and the same will happen again. There is not even a single FIR filed against the army. The difference is that the operations may intensify now. And if the situation aggravates, there will be a backlash also.”
The backlash is already evident with multiple operations being carried out by the Army every day since the ceasefire ended. But as Brigadier V Mahalingam said, “There are limitations to what an Army can and cannot do. The army is not in the valley to end insurgency but merely to keep violence at an acceptable level. It is for the politicians & the Administration to take forward the political process so as to end the problem.”
Given the situation of the Valley, it becomes important to ask the question that senior journalist and author Rajdeep Sardesai raised, “Every senior army/intelligence officer I have spoken to in last 24 hours tells me not once have their hands been tied when it comes to J and K since 1991; every government has given a free hand to the forces to ‘eliminate’ terrorists. So what really is Op ‘All Out’ 2.0 but optics [with one eye on the 2019 elections]?”
Daniya Rahman is a member of the editorial collective of the Indian Writers' Forum.
Courtesy: Indian Cultural Forum