Some recent developments in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, especially in the Kashmir valley, have sent many strong signals across. Most of these developments took place in August this year and were indeed noticed by the world at large. These developments will have a far-reaching impact on the socio-political scenario in the Kashmir valley despite the existence and threat of unabated cross border terrorism.
While the entire nation celebrated its 75th Independence Day with the traditional gaiety, festivities, official patronage and people's participation, the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh also celebrated the day with great enthusiasm. However, celebrations in the Kashmir valley exhibited a special flavour and gleeful atmosphere this time around.
This author is witness to the Independence Day celebrations as he was on a week-long tour of the valley on occasion. I have the privilege to be a part of the celebrations of this important day in the valley of Kashmir right from my childhood days when it used to be a great fanfare event in our schools, colleges, vicinity, Government institutions and buildings and even in places of worship. This time, however, I am reminded of those pretty days. Kashmir valley wore a different look, this time two days ahead of the actual day of celebrations.
As a first major development, there was no internet, mobile or communication restrictions throughout the Kashmir valley, after a very long time, on and around this important day. Traffic movement was also normal on all roads barring a few roads around the main event celebrations stadium near the Circuit House, where the LG of JKUT, Manoj Sinha, hoisted the tricolour. There is a dire need to complete the renovation work in the famous Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar. Such big functions are organised in the traditional stadium with the grandeur and greatness of the day. It was observed that despite invitations circulated by the UT administration to the mainstream political parties, there were fewer representations of them in the programme except those of BJP in the valley.
The government relaxed certain COVID-19 restrictions for a couple of days to allow gatherings on occasion. It also used anti-drone technology at all sensitive places to make sure that nothing untoward happens. Security, as usual, was beefed up throughout the UT. The Clock Tower in Srinagar's Lal Chowk was illuminated in the colours of the Indian flag on the eve of Independence Day. The citizens organised a special programme near the Tower on the15th August evening in which earthen lamps were kindled, supported by the Army band playing the music of 'Sarey Jahan se Acha Hindustan Hamara……!'
A big national flag, the Tiranga, on the highest mast of 100 feet, was hoisted upon the Hari Parbat Fort in Downtown Srinagar for the first time in history. The national flag was also hoisted on Shankaracharya Hill near the famous Dal Lake. SMC-Srinagar Municipal Corporation Mayor hoisted the National Flag at the Corporation office on occasion. Also, he congratulated the Jammu and Kashmir Police for getting 257 Gallantry Medals this year highest-ever tally.
On the occasion of "Shri Krishan Janam-Ashtami" this year on 30th August, there were scenes of great jubilation in the entire valley. Some processions and "jhankis" were organised by a handful of the population of the minority Hindu community living in the valley. People were seen singing devotional songs and 'bhajans' en route to the processions in temples and other places of worship. Though subdued celebrations took place during the early years, these celebrations were widespread this time and almost held in all districts of the valley.
For the first time in 32 years, Kashmiri Pandits organised a Janmashtami procession to celebrate the birthday of Lord Krishna, which amid tight security arrangements, started from the Ganpatyar temple in the Habba Kadal area of the city and passed through Kralkhud, Barbarshah before reaching the clock tower at the historic Lal Chowk. The procession also crossed over the Amirakadal bridge, passed through the Jehangir Chowk, and returned to the temple. Devotees, including men, women and children, accompanied the 'jhanki-yatra'.
Such small group celebrations were also witnessed in the Transit camp accommodations of KPs at many places besides the other processions in Baramulla, Mattan, Anantnag and Handwara areas. The celebrations gave a resemblance to thirty-five-year-old celebrations of this important day in the Kashmir valley when this auspicious day would be organised at a large scale despite certain restrictions put by the then administration. It is important to mention here from the annals of history that Lord Krishna visited the Kashmir valley in the pre-Mahabharata war period. He coronated Rani Yashomati as the ruler of Kashmir and as the first woman ruler in the world.
Recent new developments in Afghanistan were not seen greatly affecting the minds of the people in the JKUT. Kashmir was and is not an exception in this regard. Except for a few inconsequential and irrelevant statements made by a few political leaders in the valley, there was no noticeable reaction in this respect. This has a historical background, too, since the Kashmiris does not consider Afghans good rulers and administrators as a whole. Rather, there is disdain and scorn among Kashmiris regarding the past Afghan rulers in Kashmir.
When Afghans ruled in Kashmir in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they brought heaps of barbarism on the minority Hindus in the valley. They, in fact, were almost equally cruel against the local Muslims as well in many fields, especially the collection of revenue from the farmers and landlords. It used to be a common idiom of the then population of Kashmiris to wish for the end of Pathan rule in Kashmir. The intervention of Birbal Dhar to contact Maharaja Ranjeet Singh of Lahore state to take the initiative to end the misrule of Jabar Khan, the Afghan Governor in Kashmir in 1819, brought a great sigh of relief ultimately to the common Kashmiris when the Sikh forces defeated Jabar Khan in Shopian battlefield.
A few days ago, the demise of former Hurriyat leader SAS Geelani didn't create any security or law & order problems in the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory. The administration applied some sort of restrictions in the Kashmir valley, and everything passed off peacefully. His body was also laid to rest with the advised protocol. The government made sure that there was no untoward incident anywhere in the valley, barring some sloganeering incidents in a couple of places. It would be important to emphasise here that Syed Geelani, disgusted with Pakistan's role, had distanced himself formally from the Hurriyat a couple of years ago.
The statement released by Mehbooba Mufti, especially in connection with the Taliban takeover in Kabul, wasn't owned by any of the PAGD office bearers. The National Conference leaders went to the extent that they publicly distanced themselves from the statement. Their response that they weren't responsible or answerable to such statements can be termed as a politically wise reaction. Moreover, there was no major reaction from any of the noted socio-political organisation in the valley in reference to the Afghanistan developments, which surely suggest a great flux and variability.
The admission of the principal and the oldest political party of Kashmir valley, the National Conference, that their non-participation in the already held Panchayat elections was a mistake is noteworthy. It suggests reconsideration, review and rethinking for a better future. It will have a durable impact on the political front in the JKUT. It will also lead the other political combinations to think seriously about the ground realities in the Union Territory. Since the process of delimitation in Jammu and Kashmir is near its culmination, all political parties will sincerely think about their participation in the future Assembly elections. The current constituents of PAGD will also be inspired not to commit the mistakes of the past and take active measures to galvanise their cadres for a peaceful election churning in the UT, irrespective of the results.
Jammu and Kashmir is passing through a very important phase of its political and historical churning. All these important developments are going to be the curtain-raiser for a comparatively better future. There are expectations that the new Assembly would be representative of all sections of the society in the UT and particularly those who are hitherto unrepresented. In this regard, coming events cast their shadows before is an old-time saying.