In the early 1990s, when authorities at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology objected to military presence within one of its premier research facilities after a bunker was constructed in a corner of the Cattle Research Station in Manasbal, the army reportedly told them that it (the bunker) would be removed as soon as the situation normalised. Today, the 1300-kanal research centre is one of the largest counter-insurgency bases of the army, with the thickest imaginable concrete wall around it as a pointed, jarring mismatch to its scenic surroundings. Manasbal Lake is just a stone’s throw away. Had successive governments been as serious about promoting tourism as they appear in round-the-clock media publicity stunts, they would have found the location ideal for, and put up, a world-class complex in the hospitality sector. But because they have had no courage to say no, it has been lost both as a premier research facility and a tourism opportunity. A bunker has grown into a military base, and could very well turn into a Corps headquarters in the future even as governments “elected by 70 per cent of the voters” ensure that no word leaks out. The military takeover of the cattle research station has never been raised as an issue because instead of resisting it, governments have been active facilitators in the process, with the result that an idyllic pastoral setting is now a permanent source of anxiety for a large population.
The criminal silence that has helped the smooth militarisation of villages, orchards, hotels, schools, colleges and universities is now paving the way for a massive communal assault on Kashmir to complement the aggressive policies that have defined New Delhi’s approach towards the region. The meeting between an official of a rabidly anti-Muslim organisation, the VHP, and the governor of the state is an indication of things to come. Even when a controversial yatra to a virgin high-altitude lake was flagged off by a BJP legislator from Jammu, the PDP, which partners the rightwing party in the ruling alliance, has preferred silence, notwithstanding its repeated assurances that the coalition was bound by agreement to keep contentious issues aside. Given the ideological roots of his party, the legislator has only taken forward the legacy of the sangh ideologue, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who had bitterly opposed Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in the Indian constitution. And history shows that while Mukherjee’s heirs have been consistent in motive and approach, Kashmiri leaders have taken refuge in silence, watching their people sink deeper into the morass. The leaders’ silences will probably continue, but people have no choice but to find ways to speak up.