Kashmir Was More or Less Peaceful in 2012
Jammu and Kashmir had a more or less peaceful year but security of over 17,000 panches and sarpanches was a big talking point as militants threatened and targeted these village heads, who defied the gun and elected their two representatives to the legislative council.
The other issues which dominated the news spectrum of the Valley included the bogey raised by separatists that the government wanted to set up an 'Amarnath City' around the south Kashmir shrine by creating permanent facilities and the rabble-rousing by political parties over implementing the 73rd and 74th amendment of the Constitution in Jammu and Kashmir.
High flow of tourists was another highlight of the year. Several high profile personalities including President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice President Hamid Ansari and Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi visited the state.
The year began on a worrying note as militants carried out the first killing of a panchayat member on February 9 in Kulgam district of south Kashmir even as intelligence reports pointed to possibility of increased infiltration bids by militants from across the LoC to step up violence.
There were several attacks on the grass-root level representatives as militants, unnerved by the successful conduct of panchayat elections in 2011 after a gap of 30 years, asked them to quit or face the consequences.
As a knee jerk reaction, some panchayat members tendered their resignations while many more announced their resignations through paid advertisements in local newspapers.
While the authorities did not accept any resignations, the threat to the panchayat members receded as there were no major attacks till September when two of them were shot dead by militants within a span of fortnight in Baramulla.
This led to a wave of resignations, forcing the government and security agencies to devise a strategy to prevent militants from derailing the grass root level empowerment and governance. Night patrolling and area domination was carried out in the vulnerable areas of the valley to instill confidence among panchayat members.
The results of these efforts was visible when 97 per cent of the 17912 panchayat members cast their votes for the two legislative council seats, under the panchayat quota, on December 3.
The high turnout of panchayat members was in spite of the boycott call given by hardline Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and threats issued by militant organisations.
National Conference and Congress - the partners in the ruling coalition in the state – seemed to be at loggerheads over the implementation of 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution in the state.
A lot of public posturing took place as state Congress chief Saif-ud-din Soz wrote a letter to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah - and then released it to media - demanding transfer of powers to panchayats. Omar shot back at the first opportunity saying the chairman of the coalition coordination committee should have discussed the matter at the appropriate forum instead of making it public.
The issue was resolved after NC and Congress agreed to amend the state Panchayati Raj Act for incorporating the provisions of the 73rd and 74th Amendments.
The Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of media reports of high incidence of deaths among Amarnath yatris and directed the state government and other agencies concerned to take effective steps to prevent this unnecessary loss of life.
Among the directions issued by the apex court was widening of tracks and bifurcating it to allow separate passages for pilgrims on ponies and those travelling by foot.
Geelani raked up the issue claiming it was an attempt by the government to use the judiciary for settling non-Kashmiris around the shrine with an aim of changing the demographics of the state.
Nearly 20 lakh tourists, including six lakh Amarnath pilgrims, have visited Kashmir so far, and many more are expected around New Year.
The security situation during the year was mostly peaceful, barring few aberrations like the killing of panchayat members and some security force personnel. Overall, the number of militancy-related incidents and deaths in these incidents was lowest since the eruption of militancy in the state in 1990.
Shinde became the first Union home minister in 22 years to drive through Lal Chowk without any apparent elaborate security arrangements as he interacted with people and enjoyed ice-cream at a local shop.
However, this led to calls for the revocation of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from areas where army was not required to operate. Shinde was quick to dismiss any such hopes saying while Kashmir has been peaceful, the government would not want to run any risk of allowing the situation to worsen again.
Rahul's visit was the one which generated a lot of hope among the Valley youth, particularly the student community.
Last year, Rahul had promised students that he would bring top industry honchos of the country's corporate sector to interact with them. Among those who came were Ratan Tata, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Deepak Parekh and Ravi Bajaj. They promised to do their bit to help the youth of the valley and make them part of India's development and growth story.
Mysterious fire incidents in June and July threatened peace in the valley as two revered shrines including the famous Dastageer sahib shrine at Khanyar here were gutted.
Miscreants tried to set fire to several other religious places in the valley, leading to outrage and protests. Authorities had to impose curfew in the city for five days in the aftermath of the Dastageer sahib fire incident to ensure that the law and order is maintained and the valley does not go back to agitation mode of 2008 or 2010.
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