February 24, 2001


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The Rediff Special/ Chindu Sreedharan

Lost in the darkness now blanketing Kashmir, lost amidst the cacophony of government claims and anti-government allegations, is a vital shred of bloody history.

The killing of 35 demonstrators in police firings 13 years ago.

"Unfortunately," notes a political observer, "that incident's significance and its bearing on the failure of power supply to the valley this week is lost on the government."

Not just that. The current darkness is taking its toll on the extended cease-fire -- again, a fact that seems apparently lost on the authorities.

Before we proceed, a recap...

It was the summer of 1988. A mob, a teeming mass of violence, was protesting the hike in power tariff in downtown Srinagar.

"The people were angry, shouting slogans, ransacking houses, everything..." recollects an eyewitness. "They utilised that opportunity to voice the anti-India feelings that had been simmering within for a long time."

At Bohrikadal and Zainikadal, the police fired upon the crowd, killing and injuring many. The following days saw more demonstrations, more firings, more deaths.

That was a spark, one of the many, which ignited the Kashmir insurgency. It was also a precursor to more such incidents that ran the entire 1990s and have spilled over into this new millennium: Gawakadal, Sopore, Haigam...

The situation in the Valley, despite New Delhi's peace overtures, is not much different from what it was in 1988 -- probably worse.

Anti-India feelings run higher than then, fired by the accumulated bitterness of a decade-plus of insurgency; or "oppression by Indian forces", as the Kashmiris call it. Living conditions are worse, so is infrastructure.

To cap it all off, the Valley faces this winter week with just 50 MW of regular power every day, or about an hour of lighting for the commoners, against a demand of 650 MW.

"It increases the alienation the Kashmiris feel from the rest of India," says a keen Kashmir watcher. "That is a major obstacle in the path to peace."

A cursory look at the local newspapers is all what you need to see the truth in this comment. Every editorial, every news report blames the "New Delhi-sponsored government" for this black week.

Kashmiris, as usual, are being discriminated against, is the general theme. This belief is strengthened by the fact that the Jammu region, looked upon here "as part of India", remains unaffected by the power failure.

Even otherwise, the local media publish, since the government machinery had shifted to Jammu, the winter capital had been enjoying some 14 hours of power a day, as against the six to 12 hours in Kashmir.

Kashmir accepts no government statement at face value. On Wednesday evening, the authorities had announced that the gas turbines in Pampora, made just for such an emergency, would be started. That move was written off as a "hoax".

By Thursday, the GTs, which, thanks to years of non-use, had initially refused to function, were working "four hours a day". But this hasn't, justifiably, cut any ice with the Kashmiris. For, what it means for us here is about three additional hours of power (we have 60 whole minutes of it now, thank you) over five days.

"The GTs, which have an installed capacity of 125 MW, is currently producing only 60 MW," says a source at the power development department. "We have divided the valley into five zones, over which we will rotate what is produced."

Running the GTs, he continues, is very costly. For 80 MW, the government needs to spend between Rs 30 lakhs and Rs 35 lakhs. That is, a unit would cost "not less than Rs 7" as against the normal Rs 2.

But so what, asks the Kashmiri. Isn't this a time of crisis? However costly, shouldn't the government's first concern be to ease its people's suffering?

"In any case," he asks, "why did it take three days to start the GTs? Does that not show that they are not bothered about us?"

"India" doesn't care two hoots about the Valley -- till that feeling is negated, many observers believe, it will be difficult to resolve the Kashmir problem.

"Today no one is accountable to the Kashmiris," says one of them. "Neither the Centre, nor the state.

"For instance, there was a top government official saying on television, No, I can't give you water because I don't have money to run generators! Nowhere else would somebody in his position be able to get away with such a statement."

It is in such discontented atmosphere that the Kashmiris receive the extended cease-fire. Even otherwise, after the initial optimism, many had written it off -- the emotional Kashmiri, who yearns for a quick settlement of his troubles, was severely disappointed when the truce offer brought him no dramatic result.

"The extension will not bring us anything," is the refrain of many Kashmiris now. "It is only to show the international world, not to resolve the Kashmir problem."

"Vajpayee is a good man, but he will not be allowed to proceed," is another common view.

The power crisis in the state also owes a lot to the Kashmiri's lack of faith in New Delhi. Over the last decade, he expressed his resentment by refusing to pay his electricity dues.

The accumulated arrears currently stand, according to J&K Power Development Department Secretary Ajith Kumar, at "around Rs 300 crores" from the Valley alone.

"The typical Kashmiri mentality is: why should I pay since the money goes to India?" explains a Srinagarite. "And the people in Jammu, they think, why should we pay when the people in the Valley do not?"

The result: J&K owes the Northern Grid some Rs 1,000 crores and tries to rein in its debt by power-cuts.

"As long as people lack basic facilities," comments an observer wryly, "there will be rebellion."

After this report was filed, the blasted 220 KV line has been restored temporarily, facilitating 150 MW of power to the Valley. A decision whether to continue running the expensive gas turbine is now awaited.

Design: Uttam Ghosh

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