It all started with the two-day Kashmir visit of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval last month. Soon after Dhoval returned to Delhi, the Centre decided to move 10,000 troops of the paramilitary forces to Jammu and Kashmir. It was said that the decision to send additional troops was taken to strengthen anti-terrorist operations in the Valley. Given the Narendra Modi government’s policy towards Kashmir, it was understandable, and the decision raised little eyebrows. Kashmir is already one of the world’s highly militarised zones and sending 10,000 more troops triggered a round of speculations among locals.
However, the real panic started when reports came that the Centre has moved more 28,000 troops to Kashmir and directed the Air Force and Navy to remain on high alert. The decision to suddenly send 38,000 troops sent ripple across the Valley.
People of Kashmir as well as politicians started questioning the Centre’s move and asked whether the government was planning to tinker with the special status of the Kashmir. Many believed that the massive troops build-up was part of Modi government’s promised plan to abrogate Article 35A.
However, Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik came out with a clarification and said that there was no such plan to scrape Article 35A, which provides special status to people of the Valley and bars outsiders from purchasing immovable assets in the state.
Things turned even more complicated on Friday after Indian Army, in a joint press conference with the CRPF and Jammu and Kashmir police, claimed that they have “confirmed intelligence inputs” that terrorists are planning to attack Amarnath Yatra. The Army said that they have also recovered a landmine and a sniper with Pakistan ordnance factory markings from the route of the Amarnath pilgrimage.
Hours after the Indian Army’s presser, state government issued a very rare advisory asking tourists and Amarnath Yatra pilgrims to 'immediately' curtail their Kashmir stay and return “as soon as possible”. The advisory, which the government claimed was issued in wake of the security threats, triggered panic among the locals and Opposition parties started asking questions to Centre.
Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and BJP ally Mehbooba Mufti said that there is a never seen before panic in Kashmir and the recent developments have instilled an atmosphere of fear in the Valley.
“This is some sort of a psychological war. There are reports of tinkering with special status of Jammu and Kashmir. With folded hands, I am appealing to the people of India and the PM that this should not happen. J&K had decided to go with India on these constitutional guarantees and today, it seems these guarantees are being trampled upon,” she said.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah also raised similar concerns and claimed that people were being forced to leave hotels in Gulmarg and Pahalgam. He asked that if the threat is on Amarnath Yatra, why Gulmarg was being emptied?
"I have so many questions & not a single answer. I’ve met people today who occupy important positions to do with J&K, not one of them was able to tell me anything and I’ve been CM for 6 years. Imagine the plight of your everyday Kashmiri who doesn’t know what to believe," he said.
Amid the chaos and panic after government’s advisory, Mehbooba Mufti left to meet her arch-rival and National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah along with Shah Faesal and Sajjad Lone to discuss the ongoing developments in the Valley.
With local Kashmir leaders seeking explanation about the unprecedented security measures, Governor Satya Pal Malik, in a late Friday address, sought to put the speculations to rest by, saying that the situation in Kashmir is “normal”.
“Rumours in Kashmir spread like wildfire and people shouldn’t pay any heed to it. A small incident happens in Lal Chowk, I get news at Governor’s House that a blast has occurred. Such is the rumour-mongering in Kashmir,” Malik said asking people not to believe rumours. He also said that he had “no knowledge” of any changes in the special status of the Valley.
However, the Governor’s words were not enough, and Omar Abdullah said that he would want to hear them from the Centre. “The Governor isn’t the final word on J&K. The final word on J&K is the Government of India. Therefore, I would like to publicly hear from the government that there is nothing people have to worry about,” he said.
While the government claims that all the measures have been taken in view of security threats, there are several questioned that remains unanswered. On July 24, Minister of State for Home Affairs G Krishan Reddy had told Rajya Sabha that security situation in Kashmir has improved. If the situation has improved, then why Centre has to move 38,000 additional troops to the Valley? Even if there is terror strike threat, there deployement of additional 38,000 troops doesn't make sense as such threats are not new. And if the threat is on Amarnath Yatra, then why NIT Kashmir was evacuated?