In mid-March this year SSP Anantnag, Sandeep Chaudhary was in a meeting with his senior in Srinagar. In the middle of the meeting, his boss got a message that large scale transfers in senior ranks in the police force, mostly concerning IPS officers had taken place. The details followed shortly.
The Lieutenant Governor (LG) Manoj Sinha had taken his time to review the performance of officers had accordingly cleared the shuffle order. But what surprised most in various ranks of security forces was the posting of Sandeep Chaudhary as SSP Srinagar. After 30 years, since 1991 around the time militancy started sprouting in the valley, an IPS officer of non-Kashmir origin was being posted as Srinagar SSP. The post has a special significance, not just because of its capital but the person at the helm commands seven SPs, coordinates with a whole lot of central security forces and intelligence agencies.
Chaudhary had an impeccable record as SP South Kashmir, SSP Anantnag and Sophian in both in tackling militancy trouble-torn areas and in motivating several youths through his Operation Dream and Josh Talk including some erstwhile stone pelters to reform and join police force in various ranks. The SSP himself has been an inspirational story, serving as clerk in the post office for five (deciding to earn at age of 18 after his father’s untimely death) years and two years as a probationary officer in SBI and NABARD and clearing UPSC in the first attempt at age of 25.
His posting was symbolic in signifying winds of change that are now blowing in the valley after two years of abrogation of Article 370 and 35A and the creation of UT of Jammu & Kashmir. Consider this, out of around 65 serving officers in J&K only about 6-7 officers are of Kashmir origin (meaning thereby that SSP Srinagar had become a reserved post only for a select few, Kashmir origin).
One can imagine the kind of angled policy decisions in past decades that were taken even in security matters. It took a changed legal constitutional set up and a clear visioned LG, a former union minister and a former MP from Ghazipur (UP) as chosen by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to make the bold shift, post officers as per merit, not as per other considerations. The move sent multiple messages in one go.
During the July 2021 four-day visit of the Presidential visit to Kashmir, Srinagar and other parts of the valley made an exception to what had become an unwritten rule. There would be a call for shutdown and hartal to protest against any high-profile visit. But this time there was no shutdown, no hartal and the business continued as usual. One can imagine that the LG led UT administration must have pulled the strings required. But it is understandable that it wouldn’t yield desired results if the administrative set of the day had not acquired two things – perceived capability and goodwill among people at large.
Few days ahead of the Presidential visit the UT government issued a historic notification enabling spouses of native women married outside the Union Territory to apply for permanent residency in the Territory. So far, the word “spouse”, as per the J&K Grant of Domicile Certificate (Procedure) Rules 2020 was only applicable to non-Kashmiri wives of native men. This hugely discriminatory policy of yesteryears was gone. So has the self-serving political bogey which was built around it.
Besides the flow of tourists from all parts of the country and their free movement at tourist spots, something else strikes a causal visitor to Srinagar and other parts in Kashmir valley — the tricolour flying high at government buildings. In Gulmarg national flag of the size of one installed in Connaught Place in New Delhi flies high, giving a sense of nationalist pride to the mesmerising natural beauty of the place. For the first time, the national flag was unfurled in Kashmir university and on this Independence Day national a very tall national flag would be hoisted at Hari Parvat, which is also known as Koh-i-Maran or Durrani fort in Srinagar. All elected panchayat and DDC will hoist the national flag in their respective zones.
One would be surprised to know that so far there was hardly any making of tricolour in Kashmir valley, it was mostly brought from Punjab and a fraction was brought from Jammu and some self-help welfare associated with Indian army made some for use of security agency. The issue was demand related. A chance meeting of some people in cloth and stitching business with a senior official in Srinagar Secretariat made them realise that there could be a potential business in manufacturing tricolour ahead of Independence Day. Cotton, polyester and paper are now being sourced from Jammu and Punjab in the valley for the purpose.
The security agencies are doing what is required to be done, with better clarity in intent and purpose. A visit to the valley and causal chat with local people of various hues would make one understand things in a better perspective of emerging ground situations.
People are happy with the current “Governor Rule”. The LG (Manoj Sinha) is a good man working for the development of the Union Territory; Narendra Modi is a strong Prime Minister and it has to be seen what else he does in the next two years. One of the best things to have happened to Kashmir was the DDC elections (sprouting new political leadership at grassroots). The elected DDC leaders are perceived to be much better than MLAs in addressing local needs and aspirations.
There is a strong sense of dismay among sections of people about the so-called mainstream parties, or Gupkar alliance parties and leaders. Some were candid in saying they were “tired of their corruption and their corrupt practices” and cite that as the reason why there was no people’s uprising when almost all of them were put on prolonged house arrest ahead and after August 5 2019. They aren’t, at least now, looking forward with any eagerness to elect those same set of leaders back to power as and when elections happen.
Many of them in urban areas take pride in saying J&K gave a vaccination model to Hindustan during the second wave of pandemic Covid. The prevailing sense is that but for the second wave of covid, the socio-economic conditions in Kashmir valley would have changed by now.