Keep calm, Rajnath Singh gestured to Mehbooba, what it gives away

As the Kashmir region spent its 48th day without any signs of peace, alarm bells are ringing in the central government. Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s outreach is a desperate bid by the centre to retrieve even partially the situation in the Valley. Apart from the Home Minister’s “doors open for talks”, the centre is preparing for the long haul.
Adding to the centre’s desperation on the absolute absence of a breakthrough on the ground is the visible jitters of its ally, Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP. The party conveyed almost 10 days ago to the centre its concerns over losing ground and support due to the unrest in the Valley – the region that voted so decisively for the PDP.
The same worry was articulated openly by PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig yesterday on NDTV when he said that the PDP is being discredited in the Valley and the coalition could end. So the centre faces the twin challenges of ending the violence and holding onto its alliance and the state government.
The Home Minister’s visit was not only to meet all sections of civil society and political parties, but reduce Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s sense of isolation and sense of being trapped between the unrest, a united opposition and the separatists. The image of the Home Minister patting the Chief Minister’s leg to pacify her when she lost her cool at their press conference today speaks volumes.
Last week, alarmed by the worsening situation – there are now 10,000 people injured – Prime Minister Narendra Modi held brainstorming sessions on Kashmir with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley (on August 18) and later with the Home Minister. While the popular perception is that PM Modi used his time with Mr Jaitley reviewing options for the next RBI Governor, sources say it was actually a long discussion on Kashmir that they focused on. It’s after these meetings that the PM is said to have opted for an open-for-talks line when opposition parties from Kashmir called on him earlier this week.
The other significant outcome of these meetings, according to top sources, was that the centre started considering a change in the state’s Governor. Sources in the government say that the change would be more to provide new direction to the Governor’s office which plays a crucial role in Kashmir; there is also a perception in the government that current Governor NN Vohra, who took charge in June 2008, has not demonstrated the energy to play a decisive role.
Sources say there is a strong view in the government that the next Governor for Jammu and Kashmir should not have an army or police background. A list of names is under active consideration.
By starting the search for a new Governor, the centre seems to be indicating that it’s also preparing for the worst. The perception in the government is that the unrest in Kashmir has moved way beyond the demands for greater autonomy within the constitutional framework. Top leaders say that the PDP is worried that the sentiment driving the protests is much more strident and has strong religious colouring. “Our information is that those fuelling the unrest are driven by religious ideology and are not merely pro-Pakistan,” a source said.
It is this ground reality that poses a threat to the survival of parties in Kashmir who have always played within the boundaries of the Indian constitution pushing for greater autonomy. They agree Pakistan is fueling the fire, but the reason behind the fire is changing.
The loss of political ground to more hardline groups and elements is a serious worry. The BJP fears that the PDP out of desperation may throw up its hands and walk out of the coalition and the government. “The centre doesn’t want that to happen. PDP and other parties can be called ‘the autonomists’.
The centre has the option of central rule but with all political parties fighting for relevance, strife in the Kashmir region will take an Indian government vs Kashmir shape,” said a senior BJP leader. The Prime Minister’s Office is directly monitoring the situation in the Valley.
Top sources deny reports that the centre is considering dismissing the state government if the situation doesn’t improve.
On the ground the centre is determined to signal there will be no let up in security – it wants to discourage any attempt to escalate trouble. The Border Security Force has been deployed in Lal Chowk and adjoining areas of Srinagar and more CRPF personnel are being kept in readiness.
(Rahul Shrivastava is Senior Editor, Political Affairs NDTV 24×7)

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