During a discussion in Rajya Sabha on the topic ‘Recent incidence of violence and turmoil in Kashmir valley resulting in huge loss of lives and property’, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad from the Congress party laid the blame for current unrest in Kashmir on the Central Government and ruling PDP-BJP coalition in J&K, the alleged ‘Rising Intolerance’ in the country over the last 2 years, and the ‘communal’ debates held on some national TV channels including Muslim critics of Islamism. We will provide a point by point rebuttal to each of his allegations in this three part series.
His complete speech in RS can be seen below –
Ghulam Nabi Azad: The current protests have not been handled in a proper way, unlike Amarnath land transfer protests (2008) and 2010 protests. No lessons have been learnt from the earlier protests. Should local civilians be treated in the same way as we treat militants? Should same bullets that are used on militants be used on innocent people of Kashmir? Why were similar measures like the use of pellet gun not used on Jat protesters in Haryana?
Analysis: In 2008, major protests had broken out in Kashmir over a proposal to allot 0.40 sq. km of forest land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) to set up temporary shelters and facilities for Hindu pilgrims. Ghulam Nabi Azad from Congress was the CM of J&K at the time. The J&K Government, under pressure from its coalition partner PDP, buckled and revoked the land transfer agreement, leading to counter protests in Jammu region. In total, the protests over this issue dragged from May to August, and at one point Kashmiri Muslims even organized a march to cross the LoC. At least 42 people were killed, 36 in Kashmir and 6 in Jammu, during these protests and hundreds injured.
In 2010, when Omar Abdullah was the CM, a series of violent protests and riots broke out in the Kashmir Valley after the Machil fake encounter, for which 7 soldiers were later sentenced for life. The protesters also vented over United States due to the Quran burning controversy, and targeted Christian churches and schools in J&K. The riot police consisting of J &K police and para-military forces fired teargas shells, rubber bullets and also live ammunition on the protesters, resulting in 110 dead and 537 injured civilians, with 2747 J&K policemen and 1274 CRPF men also injured. Intelligence reports later showed the involvement of Pakistan in inciting these protests, including weekly payments for stone pelting. The 2010 protests raged from May to September.
After the 2010 unrest, there was a call for “non-lethal, yet effective and more focussed” crowd control measures to deal with public agitations. One of the measures that was adopted going forward was the use of the pellet gun – this pellet gun is used by J&K police and para-military forces, not the Army. Despite the wide-spread criticism over use of the pellet gun to control the current protests, this is what the J&K government spokesperson and Education Minister Nayeem Akhtar has to say “We disapprove of it (the pellet gun)… but we will have to persist with this necessary evil till we find a non lethal alternative”.
In the current violent protests in Kashmir which erupted on July 8 after terrorist Burhan Wani was killed, 35 civilians have died and 1600 injured, while 2 security personnel have died and 1500 injured. The protests have seen new tactics from the terrorists such as hand grenades being lobbed from behind stone pelters, and children as young as 5-6 years old pelting stones. Below is a video which shows the ferocity with which security forces are being attacked –
— Bobby Deol (@thebobbydeoll) July 14, 2016
CONCLUSION: Azad’s claim that the current protests have been handled in a harsher manner than past protests is false. The use of the much maligned pellet gun is actually an outcome of the lessons learnt from past protests.
Comparing the Kashmir protests to the violent Jat agitation in Haryana is like comparing apples to oranges – it is false equivalence and dishonest politics of the highest order:
- Kashmir is grappling with a deadly terrorist insurgency, fueled by an enemy state of Pakistan. Hindus were cleansed from Kashmir in 1990 and the Muslim population of the Kashmir valley has been so radicalized that they view the secular state of Bharat as an enemy. Not a week goes by when our security forces do not make the supreme sacrifice in fighting terrorists. Recently, there is a trend in which stone pelting locals try to distract forces during an encounter to help terrorists escape – this strategy helped LeT’s Kashmir chief Abu Dujana to escape from an encounter site recently!
- Kashmir has a history of violent agitations every few years, as Azad himself acknowledges. When lakhs of Kashmiri Muslims take to the streets and attack police/CRPF/Army in defiance of curfew, security forces have evolved their response and used a range of tactics like teargas, rubber bullets, metal pellets to minimze deaths.
- The Jat agitation over demands that they be included in the OBC list for reservation in jobs, suddenly turned violent and took the administration by surprise. Still, curfew was clamped on the worst hit districts and ‘shoot at sight’ orders were issued to the Army. Most of the deaths in this agitation occurred due to clashes between Jats and non-Jats, with some people killed in police/Army firing as well; the Haryana Jat agitation was a riot and not a violent agitation against the state of Bharat….police or security forces were not the main target of lakhs of protesters, like they are in Kashmir. There was no history of such violent protests in Haryana, hence the police was not armed with pellet guns and instead were empowered by the state Government to use live bullets on protesters defying curfew.
Ghulam Nabi Azad is clearly playing politics here.
In the next part, we will analyze Azad’s claim that BJP’s participation in the coalition Government of J&K and the alleged ‘Rising Intolerance’ fueled by comments of Hindu leaders is responsible for the current unrest in Kashmir.