The good thing is that last winter, the government was far more conscious of the need to reach out to young people than it was in the past. The blindness of the policymakers to the ground situation during the winter of 2016-17 was baffling. They thought their troubles were over when agitations seemed to settle down for four months, following militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016, and then received a fresh jolt when seething rage re-emerged during the by-election for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat.
The Ramzan ceasefire might be a signal to common Kashmiris that the government at the Centre is not insensitive towards Muslims, as most have come to believe over the last three years. The Centre’s responses (or non-responses) to the 2014 floods, beef vigilantism, attempts to change the state’s special status, and the horrific crime at Kathua this January have all contributed to the nation.
Contrast with 2000
The ceasefire that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had declared for Ramzan in November 2000 had a very positive impact. Kashmiris, by and large, took it as signalling positive intent.
However, this is a very different scenario. For one thing, Vajpayee had just won the elections in 1999, whereas the current government must prepare for the general elections. Second, Vajpayee was already very popular in Kashmir after he had reached out to Pakistan through the bus trip to Lahore in February 1999.
Most of the Hurriyat leaders were eager for talks in 2000, but they could only respond when Pakistan became willing in 2003. Pakistan has the whip hand again ever since a `Joint Resistance Front’ of Kashmiri leaders was formed in April 2016. In any case, this government has alienated those leaders. It tried to push the main factions (led by Geelani and Mirwaiz) to the wall with NIA investigations and arrests last year.
That high-profile move did not affect the ground situation much. For, the targeted `political leadership’ of the movement in Kashmir had already been sidelined by a seething mass of youth. A broad mass of the youth taking the forefront has been an increasing trend since 2008. It is a measure of how ill-informed policymakers in New Delhi are that they have only seemed to have realised it this year, ten years late.
A series of meetings by the Centre’s representative, Dineshwar Sharma, with a variety of common Kashmiris has given the policymakers a sense of the ground reality. It would seem that bullet-proof glass makes for an effective cocoon.
A tense summer
On the ground, the success of this ceasefire will best be measured by the extent to which it breaks the spiral of violence, and calms the seething rage of young people. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have an opportunity to further calm tempers during his visit to Kashmir this Saturday. The state government will hope for further announcements that might ease public anger.
Having consolidated her position after a few tense weeks over the political fallout of the Kathua horror, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has begun to reach out to the public as well as the political class, in the state and in New Delhi. Now, reviving the tourist season appears to be a prime concern of the state government. The Centre will prioritise safety for the Amarnath yatra, which begins on 28 June, less than a fortnight after Ramzan ends. If this ceasefire succeeds even moderately, the state government is likely to ask for it to be extended until the end of the yatra on 26 August.