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Did you know India is at war? Defence Minister Arun Jaitley sure believes so

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 25 May 2017, 18:41 IST
(K Asif/India Today Group/Getty Images)

Part-time Defence Minister Arun Jaitley has made a startling announcement and it seems to have hardly been noticed.

According to him, Kashmir is a war-like zone and while operating there, the Army is free to act as it wants to. The statement was meant to support an Army officer's decision to strap a Kashmiri man on a jeep bonnet and parade him for hours through several villages.

While the conduct of Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi itself is questionable, the Army went out of its way to back him. Now the civilian leadership has followed suit. 

However, in a bid to defend the Major, Jaitley has taken things to another level by calling Kashmir a “war-like zone”. It is not clear whether the minister has fully realised the import of his statement.

The justifications

The Army's presence in Jammu and Kashmir is justified by the fact that it is border-state and on the other side is a hostile neighbour. It faces cross-border shelling as well as a massive influx of militants in a sustained manner, thereby necessitating the presence of the Indian Army.

However, the continuous inner political turmoil that it faces was never for the Army to handle and this is probably the first time that a civilian government has compared the situation to a war.

What are the weapons of this war – slogans, stones and petrol bombs?

Are we going to be so flippant about terms like “war” now? Who does Jaitley think are the warring parties are – the Indian state and the average Kashmiri? What are the weapons of this war – slogans, stones and petrol bombs? 

Does the government really believe that it is at war with its own people? Is this the narrative that the government of the day wants to portray?

An ironical statement

Jaitley, it seems, hasn't even realised the deep irony behind his statement.

If the Narendra Modi-government, on its third anniversary, has come to believe that the situation in Kashmir has turned into war, does it realise that it amounts to admitting that this has happened under its watch?

Is the BJP-led NDA, in power both in the state and at the Centre, willing to accept that it is its failure to create peace in Kashmir that is responsible for the condition that it is in now?

Jaitley's statement is an extension of this government's “muscular” policy on Kashmir that has been on display so far. It is essentially a no-engagement approach though which the government wishes to tell all shades of protestors in the state that it will not engage them and will only use force against them. It doesn't recognise any difference between various protestors and advocates dealing with all of them with an iron-fist. 

It was this policy that led to the killing of over a 100 Kashmiris in last year's unrest following the killing of alleged terrorist Burhan Wani.

The stage is set

No one knows what is in store for this summer, but the indications so far are chilling. Lok Sabha and Assembly by-polls have been held in the state and the turnout has fallen to a historic low of 2%. Cross-border shelling, terror attacks and infiltration attempts continue unabated. Civilian unrest too is at its peak and the Army has been given a free hand to do whatever it wants to.

The stage is set for the beginning of an irreversible decline. What is needed at this moment are confidence building measures that will convince protestors to shun violence.

The unprecedented use of “human-shields” and the government's branding of the situation as “war” are just not the developments that should be happening in Kashmir at the moment.

However, sadly, it appears that the government has made up its mind to fight for securing only the territory of Kashmir and not its people.

First published: 25 May 2017, 18:41 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.