A Kashmiri demonstrator throws a stone at an Indian policeman during a protest at a by-election in Srinagar on April 9, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail
A Kashmiri demonstrator throws a stone at an Indian policeman during a protest at a by-election in Srinagar on April 9, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail

The unprecedented violence during the April 9 by-election to the Parliament of India in the Srinagar constituency in Kashmir was characterized as a “violent farce” by Yashwant Sinha, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and former foreign minister in the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, prime minister from 1999 to 2004.

Farooq Abdullah, three-time former chief minister of Jammu and  Kashmir and a candidate in the said election, said on April 12: “I see India heading towards disaster.”

Omar Abdullah, another former chief minister who had contested six parliamentary elections in Kashmir, said he had never seen violence on this scale before.

Srinagar in central Kashmir and Anantnag in southern Kashmir were the two constituencies that were to hold by-elections on  April 9 and 12 respectively. But after the disturbed election in Srinagar on April 9, the Anantnag election was postponed to May 25.

The Srinagar constituency (population 1.6 million) consists of the three districts of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal. As soon as polling started on April 9, young men in large numbers from all three districts rushed on to the streets chanting pro-freedom, pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans and sought to disrupt the voting by attacking polling booths, throwing stones at the security forces and indulging in general violence.

Eight people were killed and many others injured in clashes with security forces. Two hundred cases of stone-throwing were reported across the constituency. Two hundred companies of central-government paramilitary forces had been deployed at 1,559 booths; security forces fired tear gas and used pellet guns to disperse the protesters.

Most of the violence and deaths occurred in Budgam district; 135 civilians and 100 police officers were injured. Protesters took over polling stations, damaged electronic voting machines and took staff as hostages.

The voter turnout was just 7.14%, the lowest in 28 years of political turmoil in the state. Farooq Abdullah said the stone throwers were fighting for justice and wanted a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

The violence on April 9 was a serious setback for the state’s coalition government led by the BJP and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The uneasy coalition between these two rival political parties had been formed after the 2014 elections in the state with the hope of delivering positive governance for the people of Kashmir.

An “Agenda of the Alliance” chalked out between the two basically opposed parties had promised to “catalyze reconciliation and confidence-building across the Line of Control in J&K in order to ensure peace in the state”. The Alliance was also expected to create conditions to facilitate dialogue with all stakeholders in India and Pakistan to find a solution to the Kashmir issue.

The dialogue process between India and Pakistan was initiated by former prime ministers Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif and was carried forward by Manmohan Singh (prime minister of India 2004-14) and Pervez Musharraf (Pakistani PM 2001-08). Progress was made with the formulation of a four-point formula between the latter two.

Narendra Modi, who came to power in India in May 2014, was expected to carry forward the dialogue process. Modi made a good start by establishing contact with Sharif, who was among the invitees to his swearing-in as prime minister of India.

However, on the issue of settling the border dispute between the two countries and on the Kashmir problem, Modi seemed to have a different, hardline approach, although it was never fully explicated as was done during the discussions initiated by his predecessor Vajpayee and his counterpart Sharif in Pakistan.

Gradually, it became clear that Modi would not relent; Pakistan must vacate post-1947 illegally occupied Indian territory before any talks could take place between the two countries.

Further, on the issue of Kashmir, Modi seemed to believe that all the violence and disturbance were the handiwork of Pakistan, to be responded to by a “muscular” law-and-order approach from India.

Modi completely ignored the approach adopted by his predecessors, who had chosen the path of dialogue for peaceful resolution of disputes between India and Pakistan.

Modi did not seem to believe that there were any indigenous roots to the unrest in Kashmir aggravated by poor central-government handling. Further, he has meaninglessly said that Kashmiris should choose “tourism” in place of “terrorism”, which is a poor joke.

The negligible voter turnout in the Srinagar by-election on April 9 amounted to a solid vote of no confidence against the way the government of India led by Modi has been dealing with the political crisis in Kashmir.

That crisis became all too manifest when on July 8 last year an insurgent leader, young Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani, was brutally and extrajudicially executed by the security forces. The massive popular upsurge that followed was put down with brute force, causing immense damage to the people and the preceding peaceful political process, which Modi has totally ignored.

The massive state repression let loose by the Indian security forces on the agitating Kashmiri youth led to 96 deaths, more than 12,000 people injured, a thousand people partially blinded by the use of pellet guns, and many suffering total loss of vision.

This damage was comparable only to the colossal damage inflicted on the people of Gujarat in 2002, for which the role of Narendra Modi as the then chief minister of the state became controversial.

Sinha noted on April 11 that the BJP-PDP coalition’s Agenda of Alliance had promised dialogue with all stakeholders to find solutions to the Kashmir dispute.

He said there was no other way to deal with the Kashmir problem.

However, the Agenda of Alliance has been completely ignored by the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi.

Two different tensions affect Indo-Pakistani relations today. First is the decision of a military court in Pakistan to hand down the death penalty to alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was detained by Pakistani forces at the Baluchistan-Iran border near Gwadar port. He had allegedly been on a mission to destabilize and subvert the Pakistani state.

Second is the Modi government’s decision to sponsor a visit by the Dalai Lama to the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is in dispute between India and China. Beijing has strongly objected to the visit.

Since China is a close ally of Pakistan, it is not unlikely that it will support Pakistan in its decision to execute Jadhav. China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project in the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor runs through territory in dispute between India and Pakistan. China has invested millions of dollars for the successful completion of the project. Jadhav was found to be operating in Baluchistan, a territory identified by both the prime minister of India and his national security adviser as their intended target for attack if Pakistan were to carry out a terrorist attack as it did in Mumbai in 2008.

Can India afford to take on two of its main enemies in the east and west simultaneously?

Kadayam Subramanian is former director of the Research and Policy Division of the Indian Home Ministry and former director general of police in northeastern India. He is the author, among others, of Political Violence and the Police in India and State, Policy and Conflicts in Northeast India.

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