POLITICS
22/06/2018 10:28 AM IST | Updated 22/06/2018 10:30 AM IST

J&K: A Viral Whatsapp Video Carries Delhi’s Brutal Message To Kashmir’s New-Age Rebels

Why is footage of security forces blowing up a home suddenly doing the rounds in Srinagar?

Screentshot from the viral video

SRINAGAR — Hours after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled out of their alliance with the People's Democratic Party (PDP), and brought Jammu and Kashmir under the direct control of their government in New Delhi, a video shot by an Indian soldier made the rounds on Whatsapp.

The 54-second clip carried a message no one in Kashmir missed: A lone two-storey house stands amidst green fields and tall poplar trees, a typical rural Kashmir landscape. Within seconds a missile hits its base blowing the house to smithereens, sending clouds of dust, debris and smoke into the bright blue summer sky, like a scene from an active war zone.

The soldier turns the camera to his face and smiles selfie-style. Frantic commands over wireless crackle in the background — "keep tight cordon, keep tight cordon" — lest any of the trapped militants survive and try to escape from under the debris.

The release of the video, a police officer admitted, was a strategic decision. The footage was shot in 2016 when Indian soldiers killed a hugely popular and charismatic militant leader, Burhan Wani in July that year. The ensuing anti-India protests overwhelmed government forces for months.

"Brace up for a lot of this in the coming days", a senior security official told this reporter, referring to the video. The resurgent rebellious mood in the valley will have to be turned again.

New Age Rebellion

Kashmir valley, the epicenter of anti-Indian protest in the disputed state has been in the throes of a "new age" armed rebellion since Wani's death. Young men have taken to arms, particularly in southern Kashmir, almost as fast as they are killed in encounters with soldiers. A hardened counterinsurgency approach led by the army has met with a steady backlash in the form of sustained popular support for the armed militants.

The dynamic is very difficult for any Kashmiri leader to overcome because it requires antagonizing Delhi; more so for Mehbooba Mufti as chief minister because of her party's alliance with the BJP.

The support for rebels, who fight mostly with weapons snatched from policemen on the streets, often manifests itself in the thronging crowds that gather, as residents from entire clusters of villages swarm sites of gun battles between militants and government forces. They put their lives on the line, throwing stones at the soldiers to save the trapped rebels from frequent military cordons.

But, apart from pushing Mufti's PDP into a corner for the impossibility of reconciling with her ally's objectives in the state, Delhi's muscular military approach also eroded space for pro-India politics. The establishment was not able to hold a vote for Anantnag, the parliamentary constituency she vacated after ascending to the chair.

Jackboots and Elections

This is what BJP and the government in Delhi hope to change. Boots on the ground and regular elections to bolster its claims of democracy at work in Kashmir have long-been the twin pillars of New Delhi's campaign against the movement for self-determination.

Governor NN Vohra, who now rules the state, has the twin task of rebuilding the much shrunken pro-India constituency in Kashmir and putting down the prevailing rebellious spirit of the people. The public defiance received a boost recently with the first UN human rights report on Kashmir that sharply criticizes New Delhi for abuses in the region, particularly under the BJP's watch.

The advisors appointed for Vohra are also telling. BVR Subrahmanyam, an IAS officer is being brought in from Chhattisgarh, a state where the government has been at war with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

The other advisor is K Vijay Kumar, a Tamil Nadu cadre IPS officer best known for catching the sandalwood smuggler Veerappan, but has likely been appointed as a result of his stint as inspector general of the Border Security Force in Kashmir between 1998 and 2001, when the counterinsurgency methods of his paramilitary force sent shivers down the spine of many in Kashmir.

"Even if they (ruling BJP) manage an amendment in (Article) 35A to enable children of those who have married non-state subjects to own land in Kashmir it will have huge electoral dividends for them in 2019"

In the 1990s, the BSF broke the back of urban militancy in Kashmir by brutal means like "Operation catch and kill" and the capacity to cultivate or coerce civilian informants, including women.

A top BSF officer who served in Kashmir at the time, KC Padhi, was recently awarded ten years in prison when a court convicted him of sexually exploiting young Kashmiri women.

Subramanyam and Vijay Kumar's appointments also point to a renewed, much-intensified counterinsurgency campaign in Kashmir in the months to come.

A PDP youth leader, Waheed Parra, who has been at the forefront of garnering youth support for the party didn't waste any time in warning Kashmiri people about what to expect after New Delhi took direct control.

"Those who have been criticising us these years will finally realise our essence with the time," Parra posted on twitter, referring to an oft repeated off- the- record assertion by his party's top leaders that the PDP cushioned Delhi's onslaught.

The assertion appears fallacious in the light of the UN rights abuses report. Just last week another anonymously shot video showed soldiers holding a group of young Kashmiri boys as human shields against stone throwing protestors in Pampore area outside Srinagar.

A top security official revealed that a new presence of Indian's special forces has been building up in Kashmir over the last many months.

Many fear that the BJP government in New Delhi may now start playing with Articles 370 and 35A — the legal provisions that underpin Kashmir's special status in the Indian union.

"Even if they (ruling BJP) manage an amendment in (Article) 35A to enable children of those who have married non-state subjects to own land in Kashmir it will have huge electoral dividends for them in 2019," said a political scientist who did not wish to be named.

The BJP's inability to fulfill these election promises has antagonized its voters in Jammu region who brought it to power in the state for the first time ever. But now, with the focus on the 2019 general elections, the BJP has put its ear to the ground in the Hindu dominated areas of the state.

The toppling of the coalition government may appear sudden but there were enough indications that the plan was in the making for long, only Mehbooba Mufti and her top party colleagues perhaps couldn't see it.

A top security official revealed that a new presence of Indian's special forces has been building up in Kashmir over the last many months.

"It certainly looks like a final push against this new militancy," he said. "It will remove the noise about politics of resolving Kashmir."