New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel
Supreme Court accepts idea of nഹാൽ ew Mullaperiyar tunnel


വായന

06 December, 2016

What the terror balance sheet says

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India has just missed consciously an opportunity to initiate steps to put its troubled relations with Pakistan on an even keel.

When Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz landed in Amritsar a day ahead of Sunday’s Heart of Asia conference on Afghanistan there was speculation that there might be informal talks to improve the relationship between the two countries which touched a new low after militants from across the line of control attacked an army base at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir and India retaliated with surgical strikes on terror launch pads on the other side. However, the Indian government said no talks were possible while acts of terrorism continued.

Terrorism figured prominently in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the delegates to the Amritsar conference, who included representatives of a score of countries including the United States, China and Russia. He said it was necessary to end terrorism to foster stability, security and development in Afghanistan and in the region as a whole.

The year witnessed an escalation of militant activity in Kashmir and a corresponding deterioration in the relations between the two neighbours. In the very first week there was a daring attack on an air force base at Pathankot.

In his Independence Day address, Modi raised the issue of Pakistani human rights violations in Baluchistan as a counter to Islamabad’s harping on Indian rights violations in Kashmir.

The killing of Burhan Wani, a young home-grown militant leader, by the security forces led to youth unrest which paralysed life in Kashmir valley for nearly four months.

Eighteen soldiers were killed in the Uri attack which took place during a rotation of units. The surgical strikes, which occurred a few days later, marked a departure from the policy of strategic restraint which the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance governments had followed. It boosted Modi’s sagging macho image but failed to make any appreciable difference to infiltration across the LoC and terror attacks. The year appears set to end as one of the bloodiest in recent years.

The worst year of the decade was 2007. As many as 311 militants crossed into India that year and 121 uniformed personnel were killed and 336 injured in terrorist attacks. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), which collates information relating to terrorism, 164 civilians and 492 militants were also killed that year.

The following years saw a decline in militancy in Kashmir and infiltration across the LoC. Casualty figures of security personnel fell continuously and stood at only 17 in 2012 before starting to climb again.

This year, there has been only a marginal increase in the number of violent incidents but casualties among men in uniform have risen dramatically. On September 30, the toll stood at 63 security personnel killed and 181 injured. The latest available tally is 77 dead, as on November 27.

Parliament was told recently that 105 terrorists from across the LoC entered Kashmir until September 30 this year, as against only 33 last year. This, again, is the highest figure since 2007.

The security forces can perhaps draw some comfort from the fact that this year they have been able to impose heavier penalties on the terrorists than in the recent past. Their toll stood at 119 at the end of September.

Casualty figures at the SATP website show that since 1988 terrorism has taken a toll of 49,315 lives across India, 44,119 of them in Jammu and Kashmir. The number of terrorists killed was 24,101, including 23,121 in J&K. A total of 9,854 security personnel were killed. 7,688 of them in Kashmir. Civilians bore the brunt of the attacks: 17,526 killed, including 14,735 in Kashmir. 

The hope raised by the surgical strike was shattered when three terrorists, wearing police uniform, broke into the Nagrota base in Kashmir last week and launched an attack in which seven military personnel, including two Army majors, were killed. They are believed to have entered India through a tunnel and reached the base travelling 85 kilometres evading army checkpoints.

Retiring Northern Army Commander Lt-Gen DS Hooda said later the Kashmir conflict was a long war requiring a long-term approach. It is just another way of saying it is a problem that requires a political solution. The terror balance-sheet also says the same thing. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 6, 2016.

22 November, 2016

Cloud over prospective judges

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The two-year-old tussle between the Executive and the Judiciary over filling the vacancies in the superior courts has entered a new phase with the Supreme Court collegium insisting on the appointment of all 43 persons whose names the Government had rejected. 

The Constitution vests the power to appoint superior court judges in the President, with the stipulation that there should be consultations with the Chief Justice of India. Since the President, as constitutional head of state, is required to act on the advice of the council of ministers, the Executive had the last word until the Supreme Court through a series of judgments arrogated primacy to the Judiciary.

Successive governments went along with the court-designed scheme mainly because, in the absence of a firm majority in Parliament, the Executive was too weak to pose a challenge. On coming to power the Narendra Modi government enacted a law to set up a National Judicial Appointments Commission to select new judges.

It sought to put an end to the system of judges appointing judges by abolishing the collegium, comprising the CJI and four seniormost judges, which was created by the apex court, and create a commission to make recommendations on appointment and transfer of judges. The commission was to have six members – the CJI and two seniormost judges, the Law Minister and two eminent persons to be selected by a committee consisting of the CJI, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

The CJI blocked the formation of the commission by refusing to join the committee to select its two independent members. Later, acting on petitions challenging the new law, the Supreme Court struck it down and restored the collegium.

That led to a standoff between the Executive and the Judiciary. Vacancies in the superior courts kept rising as the Government delayed sending up to the President the names recommended by the collegium on procedural grounds. The CJI’s exasperation found expression in a speech at a function attended by the Prime Minister and in some harsh observations in the courtroom. At one stage he even warned that the court might summon the bureaucrats in charge of the Prime Minister’s office and the Law Ministry to appear in person to explain the cause of delay.

The only procedural duty cast on the government is to make a background check on the persons chosen by the collegium to ensure that there is nothing in their record that disqualifies them. This is done on the basis of inputs from intelligence agencies.

The CJI’s tongue-lashing caused the government to relent but in a final attempt to insinuate a role for the Executive in the appointment of judges, while sending to the President 34 of the 77 names recommended by the collegium, it asked that the collegium reconsider the remaining 43 names. Last week the collegium sent back all the 43 names, leaving the government with no option but to forward them to the President. 

While the Judiciary can thus have its way, the shadow this episode casts on the prospective judges is bound to linger for long. Since transparency is lacking in the entire process, the public remains in the dark about the reasons why the government was unwilling to approve their names as also about the factors which prompted the collegium to overlook its objections.

This was not the first time that the Modi government refused to go along with the collegium. Soon after assuming office, it had refused to send to the President the name of a respected jurist, Gopal Subramanium, whom the collegium had chosen for the post of Supreme Court judge.

It was clearly a vindictive act. Gopal Subramanium had assisted the apex court as amicus curie in the investigation of the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case in which Modi’s chief lieutenant Amit Shah, currently president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was arrested along with a few top police officers of Gujarat. The government could have its way then as Gopal Subramanium withdrew the consent he had given earlier to serve as judge, citing the administration’s mala fide intent. That precluded the collegium from renominating him.

Gopal Subramanium’s case illustrates the danger inherent in giving the Executive a decisive role in the appointment of judges. But leaving the appointments entirely in the hands of a few judges is, by no means, a satisfactory alternative. Experience shows that under political compulsions the Executive makes efforts from time to time to give representation to all sections of the society in the Judiciary. On the other hand, the collegium system tends to work to the disadvantage of the socially disadvantaged groups. -- Gulf Today, November 22, 2016.

15 November, 2016

Disastrous currency switch

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A week after the government abruptly invalidated the two highest-denomination currency notes, vast sections of the people of India are in a state of virtual penury, several sectors of the economy are paralysed and retail trade is disrupted.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the immediate withdrawal of currency notes of Rs1,000 and Rs500 in an unscheduled telecast last Tuesday. He also outlined the procedure laid down for surrender of the invalidated notes and collection of new notes of Rs2,000 and Rs500 by the year end.

Within days it became evident that the switch had been made without giving adequate thought to the logistical aspects and making sufficient preparations to effect the change smoothly. Critics are already dubbing the demonetisation a Tughlaqian reform --- an allusion to the failed attempt by a 14th-century Sultan, Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, to shift the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad in the middle of the subcontinent.

The demonetisation came soon after the closure of a scheme for voluntary disclosure of concealed incomes. Tax evaders disclosed a total income of Rs652 billion.

Initially, the demonetisation decision was welcomed enthusiastically by not only Modi’s loyalists, who reflexively cheer every act of his as something only he can do, but also by many others who viewed it as a step to eliminate black money, which was one of the promises that had helped the Bharatiya Janata Party to win the 2014 elections. 

There were two demonetisations before this — one by Nehru’s government in 1948 and the other by the post-Emergency Janata government in 1978. Curbing black money was the motive on both occasions. On the second occasion, notes of Rs5,000 and Rs10,000 were withdrawn. After that there was no currency note of a denomination higher than Rs1,000.

Modi had met the three Service chiefs and the National Security Adviser before announcing demonetisation. This suggested that the move was also aimed at denying funds to domestic as well as Pakistan-based extremist groups who have been using fake Indian notes. 

The experience of 1948 and 1978 showed that demonetisation has only limited value as a step against the black money menace. A good part of the money hoarded by Indians is held abroad. Official studies have indicated that only about six per cent of the black money within the country is in cash. The rest is invested in various assets, including gold and real estate.

Demonetisation turned currency notes worth Rs14,000 billion into scraps of paper. As much as 86 per cent of all money in circulation ceased to be legal tender. From the next morning people started crowding at banks and post offices to surrender the old notes and collect new ones.

The only new notes that were immediately available were of the denomination of Rs2,000. The authorities placed restrictions on the value of currency that can be exchanged and set ceilings on amount that can be withdrawn from banks and ATMs. All this resulted in an abominable situation: millions of people were still stuck with old notes and millions of others possessed notes of Rs2,000 which they could not use for small purchases as shopkeepers did not have change to give.

Many of the country’s 200,000-odd ATMs were empty. When the machines were loaded, waiting customers emptied them quickly. At present the ATMs are able to dispense only small denomination notes. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said it would take about three weeks to recalibrate them to be able to handle new notes of Rs2,000 and Rs500 which differ in size and weight from the demonetised ones.

What was supposed to be a surgical strike on fake money hurt honest citizens as well. The worst hit were families with planned weddings or surgeries.

Life was smooth for those who are into net and mobile banking, but then their number is small. A recent official study found that while there are about 450 million mobile connections in rural India, mobile banking attempts (the figure includes failed transactions) in a month numbered only 3.7 million. It identified high costs and complexity of operations as the reasons for the low reach of mobile banking.

At least three persons collapsed and died during the week while waiting in queues to exchange notes. A sick child died as a private hospital refused treatment since the family had only old notes. In many places drivers did not take out trucks as there was no money to meet expenses on the road. The traders’ association in Kerala has called an indefinite strike from today (Tuesday).

The authorities clearly had failed to understand the magnitude of the problem and make arrangements for painless transition.

08 November, 2016

Bid to tame free media

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Modi government last week ordered a Hindi news channel to cease transmission for 24 hours this week for contravening the year-old broadcast guidelines on live coverage of terror attacks. 

The unprecedented action has the making of a surgical strike calculated to tame sections of the media which have been reluctant to go the whole hog with the government and its Hindutva supporters who constantly invoke national sentiments for partisan purposes. 

The channel which has been handed down the punishment is NDTV India, a Hindi channel belonging to the oldest and arguably the most professional of the private national networks. The cause of action, ostensibly, is a report it telecast during the terrorist attack on the Pathankot air force base in January.

According to the government, an inter-ministerial committee found that in a near-live telecast on January 4 NDTV India “revealed strategically sensitive details.” Its report had said, “Two terrorists are still alive and they are next to an ammunition depot, And the jawans who are under fire are concerned that if the militants make it to the ammunition depot it will be even harder to neutralise them.”

This information was given to the media earlier by security officials themselves, and other channels and newspapers too had reported it. However, NDTV India was singled out for punitive action.

The inter-ministerial committee rejected the channel’s contention that other media too had carried similar reports on the specious ground that it had mentioned the exact location of the terrorists with regard to the ammunition depot.

As Information Minister, the task of defending the action against the channel fell on M Venkaiah Naidu, who has an infinite capacity to confuse issues in the guise of clarifying them.

Within 24 hours of the government order against the channel, the Editors Guild of India condemned the action, describing it as reminiscent of the Emergency of 1975. Naidu dubbed it a belated response and an afterthought.

He said that during 2005-2014 the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had directed various channels on 21 different occasions to suspend telecasts for periods ranging from one day to two months. The comparison was odious for they were penalised not for airing any news reports but for showing obscene or violent movies.

There could be no UPA precedent for the Modi government’s action since the rule relating to live telecast of anti-terrorist operations did not exist in its time. It was brought in by the present regime last year through an amendment to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995.

The entire opposition and the entire media barring the government’s partisan supporters raised their voice against the action against NDTV India. That, however, didn’t prevent Venkaiah Naidu from claiming that the people were broadly with the government on this issue.

India is perhaps the only country which does not have a law to regulate the working of the electronic media. After it came to light that the live telecasts of the 2008 Mumbai attack had provided the terrorists’ handlers in Pakistan with valuable inputs on real time basis, there was general agreement in the country on the need for a law to curb irresponsible competition-driven coverage. At that stage, two groups of channel owners set up separate bodies of their own to look into complaints against their coverage. This was done to forestall the creation of a regulatory mechanism by the government. 

The self-regulation experiments have been a failure. The arbitrary and ham-handed manner in which the government has acted against NDTV India reveals the dangers inherent in vesting the regulatory power in the government. 

The action against NDTV India has come more than 10 months after the indicted report. Viewed in the context of calls by ministers to journalists to put national interest above freedom of expression, it can be seen as a not-so-subtle attempt to send a message to all media.

The attempt to juxtapose national interest with freedom of expression is mischievous as there is actually no conflict between them. The government’s discomfort arises from the conflict between its own political interest and exercise of freedom by the citizens and the media.

On Saturday, in a bid to ward off criticism that NDTV India has been singled out for punishment, the government announced that a regional channel of Assam has also been asked to go off the air for 24 hours --for revealing the name of a minor who had been tortured.

On Monday, following a protest meeting by journalists in New Delhi and the filing of a petition by NDTV in the Supreme Court challenging the order, the government put it on hold pending a review of the decision.

A mechanism is needed to regulate the working of channels. It is not a task that can be left to politicians and bureaucrats. A credible statutory mechanism with due representation for media professionals is needed.  -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, November 8, 2016.

01 November, 2016

Making justice affordable

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Jurists never tire of repeating the old maxim “Justice delayed is justice denied”. The saying has special relevance for India, which has a history of judicial delays that goes back to the early days of colonial rule.

Speaking in the context of the stand-off between the Supreme Court and the Central government which has slowed down judicial appointments, Chief Justice of India TS Thakur recently said executive inaction was decimating the judiciary.

Responding to his references to the issue in the courtroom and elsewhere, the Narendra Modi government last week leaked to the media some data to dispel the impression that there had been an abnormal increase in vacancies in the higher courts. 

The standoff is the result of differences between the Executive and the Judiciary on their roles in the process of appointment of judges of the higher courts. The Supreme Court, through three judgments over the last few decades, had virtually reduced the Executive’s role to that of a postman delivering the Judiciary’s communications to the President, the appointing authority.

The Modi government enacted a law to put an end to the practice of a collegium comprising a few senior judges deciding on appointments and transfers and to entrust the task to a national judicial commission. The Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional. 

Things have not been going smoothly since then. About 80 appointments have got stuck as the Centre is taking its own time to forward to the President the names finalised by the collegium.

Court delays are already a serious problem. Shortage of judges is bound to add to the delays. 

At present more than 30 million cases are pending in various courts, mostly those at the lower levels. According to Justice Thakur, judges from the lowest to the highest courts dispose of, on an average, 2,600 cases in a year, as against only 80 handled by a Supreme Court judge in the USA. Going by this figure, close to 12,000 more judges will be needed to wipe out the arrears within a year and ensure that new backlogs do not arise.

The tussle between the Executive and the Judiciary relates to filling of vacancies in the Supreme Court and the High Courts. Lower court appointments are not involved in it.

More than 3.8 million cases are pending in the 24 high courts. Close to 1,500 judges will have to work for a year to dispose of them. Currently the high courts have a sanctioned strength of 1,079 judges, including 173 posts created last June. However, the effective strength is only 620. Justice Thakur is, therefore, justified in raising an alarm over shortage of judges. 

However, the issue is not one of number of judges alone. Their quality is also a relevant factor. There is nothing to indicate that the collegium system has been able to produce better judges than the earlier one. If anything, there has been deterioration in quality. The courts’ inability to rein in unruly lawyers points to erosion of the moral authority of judges.

Since the quality of justice depends to a large extent on the quality of the judges, care must be taken to ensure that the courts get the right kind of people.

The Constitution has a provision which can help meet the current shortage of judges. It allows Chief Justices of high courts to appoint retired judicial officers as ad hoc judges. They must invoke this provision to clear the arrears

All the good work done by the Judiciary since the Constitution came into force 66 years ago cannot negate the fact that it has failed to make justice easy and affordable. The Supreme Court’s refusal to entertain the idea of regional benches has put it physically beyond the reach of vast sections of the population. The high cost of litigation in the higher courts effectively denies access to justice to the poor.

In the 1950s the Supreme Court’s eight judges had to handle only about 1,200 cases filed in a year. Now its 31 judges have to cope with more than 60,000 cases filed in a year. 

The steep rise in the number of cases is not the result of population explosion alone. The cumbersome court procedures are also to blame. There is urgent need to reform the procedures to speed up delivery of justice.

All too often the higher courts allow themselves to be dragged into issues which can be settled at lower levels or left to other bodies, like those with expertise in the areas of mediation and arbitration. -- Gulf Today, November 1, 2016.

29 October, 2016

Recollections of a Deepavali holiday, 60 years ago

Kasturi Buildings on Anna Salai, Chennai, which houses the offices of The Hindu.  

In 1956, Deepavali fell on November 1. As usual, it was a closed holiday for The Hindu. That meant there would be no paper the next day. The previous day the management circulated the customary holiday notice. Britain and France, which were annoyed with President Gamal Abdul Nasser who nationalized the Suez Canal, had begun air raids on Egypt and the Government of India had set November 1 for inauguration of the linguistic States to be formed in the light of the States Reorganization Commission’s report.  

I thought it was a pity that the paper was taking a holiday when such developments were taking place and felt it should at least make arrangements to bring out a supplement. A lowly sub-editor with just three years’ experience, in the highly hierarchical Hindu establishment I was too small a fry to broach the idea to the management. I, therefore, conveyed my view to S. Rangarajan, the youngest and most dynamic of the three News Editors who preside over the News Room.  I suggested that the management should make arrangements to bring out a supplement and alert the news agents about it so that they would collect the bundles and distribute the paper.

S. Rangarajan

SR (in the Hindu editorial department everyone was known by initials) liked the suggestion and told me he would talk to the management about it.  A little later he informed me that the management had accepted the suggestion and arrangements were being made to produce a thin edition. I was happy that my suggestion had been accepted. But my happiness was short-lived. SR told me a little later that the management had had second thoughts and there would be no special edition.

To avoid having to handle news copy of two days the day after a holiday The Hindu had devised a system which involved a small group of sub-editors processing the copy on the holiday. They were not required to come to the office for that. An office boy would bring the copy to the house and take it back after editing, to be typeset during the night. The work may take an hour at the most but they would get a full day off as compensation for having worked on a holiday! I was put on holiday duty but I told the Head Messenger not to send copy to my house as I planned to come to the office in the evening.

On arrival at the office the next evening I went through the agency files. There was a flood of news. A sunken ship had blocked the Suez Canal. Israeli forces had crossed into Egypt. For the first time the UN General Assembly had been called on 24-hour notice to discuss the situation. Egypt’s supporters had moved the General Assembly as Britain and France could block any Security Council initiative using their veto power. Jawaharlal Nehru, who inaugurated the Andhra Pradesh State at Hyderabad, in a hard-hitting speech, condemned the aggression against Egypt, calling it a throwback to the days of barbarism.

I telephoned SR and gave him a gist of the developments. I told him the management had made a mistake in giving up the plan to bring out a supplement. He said he would talk to the management again and asked me to wait at the office. SR called back soon to say that the management had accepted the idea of a special edition. He asked me to stay on and said he would arrange with the Time Keeper to send a vehicle to fetch a Batch Leader (that was how Chief Sub-Editors were known in the paper at that time) and two more Sub-Editors.

Rangaswami Parthasarathy

As I was talking to SR I saw Rangaswami Parthasarathy (MP), a Batch Leader, walking in. (Since the initials RP had already been taken, when he moved to The Hindu from The Mail, he was assigned the initials MP, short for Mail Parthasarathy). SR spoke to MP who was only glad to stay on to produce the special edition.

In those days The Hindu used to carry classified advertisements on the front page. Even the biggest story of the day got only a single column headline, but it could have three decks of 24 pt, 14 pt and 18 pt, in that order.

Since there were no classified ads, we could carry news on the front page of the supplement. Having worked in The Mail, MP was familiar with multi-column headlines.

“How about a banner?” MP asked me. “Wouldn’t the Editor get a heart attack?” I asked him. “We will take that risk,” he said.  
                                           
MP also broached the idea of a box item. So I picked an item to be boxed.

Stories on the formation of new states came in from different capitals. MP asked me to produce a combined intro for the news agency copy on the subject. I wrote something like this: The map of India was redrawn today ….

The UN General Assembly’s special session was opening at 0130 hrs IST. A stenographer who had been summoned went to the room where there was a large, powerful radio set and tuned into a station which was relaying the UNGA proceedings, and we prepared a brief report of our own without waiting for news agency copy.

MP prepared a layout which provided for a big headline running across all eight columns of the front page.  The Suez war story ran in columns 1 to 3 and Nehru’s Hyderabad speech in columns 6 to 8. The states reorganization roundup was the bottom spread.

We produced a four-page edition. Late at night we realized that we have to mention the price at the top o the ront page. MP woke up SR to ask what price we should mention. He said he had to consult the management. Its decision was that the thin special edition should be sold at the same price as the regular edition.

I was entitled to take the next day off as I had done a night shift. But I decided to go to the oice in the evening as I was eager to know how the special edition had fared. When the bus reached the Egmore railway station I saw a hawker doing brisk business with the special edition.

At the office, SR told me that city distributors who were alerted by the Time Keeper during the night had come in the morning and picked up copies of the special edition . It sold like hot cakes all over the city and printing continued throughout the day as distributors kept coming back, asking for more copies. He had just advised the management to stop printing the special edition and start printing of the Dak editions of tomorrow's paper which had to be sent by night trains.   

An office messenger handed me a letter while I was there. It was from the Editor, Kasturi Srinivasan, expressing the management's appreciation of the work of the small team which had responded to an urgent call and helped produce a special edition at short notice.

On January 14, 1958 The Hindu started printing news on the front page. In a survey conducted the previous year, the newspaper had asked its readers whether they would like it to carry news on the front page.  Those favouring news on the front page had only a small majority. Considering that a large section of the readers was quite happy with classified ads on that page, it was decided to change gradually. The layout pattern drawn up provided initially for only three two-column headlines on the front page: one at top of columns 1 and 2, another at top of columns 7 and 8, and the third somewhere at the bottom of the middle columns.     

For more on S. Rangarajan please see this report.  
More on Rangaswami Parthasarathy here.

Here are images of special editions on the Suez War brought out by two Los Angeles newspapers.
   
         









Note the use of “Allied” in the headline. Britain, France and Israel had issued an identical
communiqué simultaneously from their capitals, announcing the launch of the attack on Egypt. It referred to their forces as Allied forces. This communiqué was the only source of information for the Indian press as the national news agency depended on Reuters of Britain and AFP of France for foreign news. World War II, in which British India had figured among the Allies, was only 11 years behind at that time, and the use of the term Allies in the reports which the Indian newspapers carried attracted criticism. The US was not involved in the attack on Egypt.  Yet the LA newspapers too used the term Allies to refer to the aggressors. 

25 October, 2016

Clueless in Kashmir

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Fifteen weeks after restive youth threw life in Kashmir out of gear in a wave of unprecedented protest parts of the valley are still under curfew. Where the curfew has been lifted, orders prohibiting assembly of people are in force. Schools and colleges are closed and shops shut. Some government offices are not functioning. 

In some places, policemen abandoned their posts. A few instances of snatching of weapons by protesters were reported, and 10 policemen were sacked for giving up their weapons without offering resistance.

The wave of unrest was touched off by Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s death in an encounter with the police on July 8. Young people, many of them in their teens, poured into the streets and stoned security personnel who replied with pellets. 

The supposedly non-lethal pellets have taken about 90 lives and injured more than 14,000 people. Pellets have blinded at least 100 youths. Two policemen have also been killed.

About 7,000 people are said to be in custody. They include several hundred detained under the Public Safety Act which allows the authorities to hold persons considered security risks without trial for up to two years.

Even as Central and state police were coping with the disturbance, cross-border terrorism flared up. In response to the attack on the Uri base, which resulted in the death of 19 soldiers, the army struck at terrorist launch pads across the LOC, killing two Pakistani soldiers and an unspecified number of terrorists.

Hardly a day has passed since then without firings across the LOC. Most of the exchange of fire caused only low casualties but last week retaliatory Indian fire killed seven Pakistani security personnel. 

The deterioration in India-Pakistan relations led to shelving of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Islamabad and mutual recrimination at the UN. Also, both the countries launched diplomatic campaigns to garner international support.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s bid to internationalise the Kashmir issue once again failed. So did Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to isolate Pakistan. The US backed India’s call to dismantle terror camps in Pakistan but was not willing to brand it a terrorist state. China was even more protective of Pakistan. It would not even let the UN dub Pakistan-based Masood Azhar, whom India has identified as the mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks, as a terrorist.

In the recent past, prompted by India’s growing economic clout, the West was getting out of the habit of equating it with Pakistan. By juxtaposing Kashmir with Baluchistan and human rights violations on this side of the border with those on the other side, Modi has unwittingly put the two on the same level. 

As the unrest in the valley drags on and its shadow on India-Pakistan relations persists, a question arises: what next? The protagonists have no answer. 

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti cuts a forlorn figure as she urges protesters to go back, advises the police to hand-hold the misguided youth and pleads with Modi to walk the talk as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s first Prime Minister, AB Vajpayee, did. 

She heads a coalition comprising her People’s Democratic Party and Modi’s BJP. Under the agenda of governance drawn up by the two parties they are committed to “start a dialogue process with all shades of political opinion, including the separatists.” 

While Modi is vociferous on cross-border terrorism, he maintains studious silence on the youth unrest which has virtually eclipsed the Hurriyat Conference, the umbrella organisation of pro-Pakistan and pro-independence groups, which held the ground for several years. 

The youth movement is home-grown and leaderless. Alluding to the dangers inherent in the emergence of such a force, a Kashmiri commentator wrote last week: “Resist we will, resist we must, but if that resistance means turning men against men, denying people their livelihood, pushing society into an irrevocable chaos where anyone can attack anyone else, then our doom is sealed.” 

Not just the Kashmiris, but all concerned with the issue, which has been festering since the birth of India and Pakistan as free nations, are trapped in a no-win situation. The three wars the two countries fought did not yield a solution and it is foolish to imagine a fourth one will. The situation calls for out-of-the box thinking but there is no sign of it.
India has demonstrated its willingness and ability to hold territory. It needs to show it also has the ability to win the affection of the people who, by constitutional definition, are full and equal citizens of the secular, democratic republic of India. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 25, 2016