What The CM Did Not Say2 August 2010
The Indian Express
Srinagar: At his press conference in New Delhi today and in the run-up to it, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah invoked the Indo-Pak dialogue, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, talks with separatists, a political package for the state - whatever that means - and an economic package for the unemployed, those across the LoC, and for families of those killed in the last two months. What went unsaid is the fact that none of these is directly related to the ongoing violence and anger on the street. Clearly, Omar has found in the “larger Kashmir issue” a fig-leaf big enough to hide the failure of his government to deliver on its promises and break the killing-protest-killing cycle that’s gripped the state. What hasn’t helped is his rapidly eroding credibility. Consider the following: * When the Centre asked him to talk directly to the people on Sunday evening, this was the third time he was being told to do so, the second time in this crisis. But Omar’s words didn’t help. Minutes after his TV address was over, most neighbourhoods in Srinagar held night protests; police blocked the Gupkar road where the CM lives to prevent a possible protest march. Ironically, the state Information Department distributed a CD with Omar’s appeal, exactly the same mode of communication used by hardline leader Masarat Alam from hiding. * Since the violence began on June 11, there have been several windows of relative calm but Omar has frittered them away. Instead of actively stepping in and helping bridge the government-citizen divide, he went to two meetings with party workers in the comparatively peaceful towns of Kangan and Handwara. In July, in Anantnag, he promised action within 24 hours against policemen involved in the killing of three young men in the town. That promise remains on paper, the FIR filed in the case mentions “unidentified gunmen.” n Omar hasn’t visited a single hospital or been seen with a single family mourning the loss of someone killed. Of the 37 people killed, 13 are teenagers while two are children. * As evidence of his claim of restraint, he compared these numbers with those of the dead and injured during the Amarnath land agitation in June 2008 when 60 protestors were killed in police and CRPF firing. This was seen by many here as insensitive. * One of his poll promises was to introduce “non-lethal crowd-control” and not allow the use of live ammunition while dealing with mobs. No progress has been made on that front so far. * After the situation worsened in north Kashmir, Omar quickly divided the Valley into two police zones. A special IGP was posted in north Kashmir, who was asked to act independent of the main IGP. Public resentment against the local police demoralized the force. Recently, two senior police officers, including an SSP, stayed away from their beats in volatile Baramulla fearing public wrath. Sources said thousands of men and officers have prepared civilian identity cards because otherwise they cannot visit their families. There is gathering public pressure on the policemen. * The civilian administration is virtually defunct. In fact, a report filed by the J-K Police’s CID wing says that attendance in government offices is barely 5 per cent during a strike call in the current crisis. The government has appointed magistrates from civil departments to accompany police during the protests but no one has showed up ever. Even the Srinagar Municipal Corporation does not send out its men to collect garbage without police escort. * On Friday, when senior officers of the police and CRPF complained to Omar about how and why their hands were tied, the Chief Minister asked for firmer action to curb the protests. But when told about the judicial inquiry that inevitably follows any such crackdown, Omar is said to have downplayed the impact of an inquiry. This has sent mixed signals. * His government and his party differ in public. For example, while the government arrested top separatist leaders, the National Conference publicly called for their immediate release.