In Kashmir, public memory is unusually long and that of the administration perpetually short. Last year, the Amarnath controversy was taken to dizzying heights by a misreading of the situation, the delay in response from a Congress-led state government and a clash of interests between a state-based party and the national party sharing the administration. This year, that event might be repeated, and for the same reasons. The murder of two women in south Kashmir’s Shopian district had naturally raised temperatures last week. Would the resultant unrest have become as pervasive in the valley as it is now had the chain of events been less predictable? For one, the case was allegedly not registered by the police till forensic reports confirmed rape, and that gave enough time for the disquiet to spread. The suspects are the usual (army personnel), but public sentiments are more bitter, perhaps because the chief minister, Omar Abdullah, seems not to have delivered on his promise of a sensitized administration. Besides, major separatist leaders have been arrested, information muzzled and protesters fired on. Mr Abdullah himself has expressed a lack of faith in the judicial inquiry he has ordered into the incident.
The chief minister cannot but realize that he is undermining his own administration. But he probably understands the necessity of ensuring the continued relevance of his own party. The political space in Jammu and Kashmir is severely contested, and the separatists, spearheading the Shopian agitation (like last year’s Amarnath movement), are once again raising the stakes for both the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party. If push comes to shove, the National Conference might place itself at loggerheads with its partner in the administration, the Congress, in the same way as the PDP had done last year, forcing the government to tumble. The United Progressive Alliance, to which the National Conference belongs, should prevent this by engaging with the question of Kashmir’s future within the Indian Union. The round-table dialogue should be taken forward while the Shopian crisis is defused and a more humane and efficient administration put in place. The state and Central governments cannot afford to forget that a neighbour is waiting for any slip between the cup and the lip to push forward its agenda on Kashmir.