General Krishna Rao: The tough-talking governor's legacy in Kashmir and how it must be carried forward

By David Devadas
A huge bomb exploded during the Republic Day celebrations in Jammu in 1995. The gathered crowd and dignitaries ran helter-skelter as smoke billowed, shrapnel flew and the blast echoed. Governor KV Krishna Rao, who had been giving his speech, carried right on speaking. He stood erect and unflinching until his wife instructed his Aide-De-Camp to pull him off the rostrum.

The no-nonsense, straight-talking General Krishna Rao, who died on 30 January aged 92, was first appointed governor of Jammu and Kashmir in 1989, when armed militancy was first picking up. He tried to boost Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s morale, for the latter had lost heart. But things went to pieces after militants abducted the daughter of the new Home Minister, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed on 8 December.

Rao was forced to resign on 18 January, when he was informed that Jagmohan was being appointed in his place. That did not work out, and GC Saxena was brought in on 26 May 1990. With a steady and firm hand, Saxena gradually brought the situation under control over the next couple of years.

Krishna Rao. Twitter @MissionOROP

However, Minister of State for Internal Security Rajesh Pilot was uneasy with the catch-and-kill methods that had been adopted to deal with militants. When the BSF men deployed in Sopore burnt the town down after a rifle was snatched from a bunker at the beginning of 1993, Pilot manouevered to have Krishna Rao replace Saxena.

If Pilot or anyone else thought Rao would do their bidding, they were in for a shock. While the entire government was under him during governor’s rule, until October 1996, his aides used to whisper that the governor only speaks to two people – God and the prime minister.

Krishna Rao took over at a critical juncture. One, the forces, led by the BSF under Deputy Director General Ashok Patel, had by then crushed most of the militant groups other than the Hizb-ul Mujahideen. Hizb had three advantages: it was largely rural-based, it had a vital network of over-ground support from Jamaat-e-Islami adherents, and it had been Pakistan’s prime favourite since that country had more or less dumped the JKLF in early 1990.

The second important factor was that Pakistan had just begun to send foreign militants – mainly the Afghan-dominated Harkat-ul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba – from December 1992 on. This substantially pushed up the lethality of militant attacks over the next few years.

Rao’s response was to induct battalion upon battalion of military forces. Patel had infiltrated Kashmiri militant outfits and gathered cutting edge information. Plus, he (and later AS Dulat of IB) made deals with some JKLF and other commanders, often while they were prisoners. Rao preferred to flood the Valley with troops.

As Rashtriya Rifles and BSF camps sprang up all over the Valley from 1994, entire villages were rounded up in cordon and search operations. And, the rumps of militant outfits, which had been scattered by Patel and targeted by Hizb, worked as mercenary extensions of these forces.

The result was that the state re-established physical control over the Valley but lost the hearts and minds of the people afresh. Since Kashmir’s militancy is too often viewed as a continuous blur, the great untold story of 1993 is that many Kashmiris had become alienated from the militancy, and Pakistan.

Not only had they realized that it was futile, they missed the basic services and security which the state apparatus used to provide. For, although Srinagar had been brought under control by the winter of 1990, vast rural swathes remained under militant control.

Some of these areas suffered at the hands of Jamaat and Ahle-Hadith activists who set themselves up as kangaroo courts. Backed by Hizb guns, those Taliban-like 'judges’ sometimes had women stripped and beaten and men hung from electric poles.

No wonder, many rural Kashmiris complained of being crushed from both sides. 'The forces come by day, militants by night. Both have guns. What can we do,’ was a common refrain. That was a major factor that led to 20 to 30 per cent of rural voters defying death threats to vote in 1996.

Between '97 and '99, however, their complaints became one-sided. As the state gained more control, the forces’ cruelty alienated people more than ever before – with the Special Operations Groups of the state police at the forefront.

By the turn of the century, it had become clear that, although Rao had inducted too many troops, the forces were far more cruel under the post-1996 civilian government. A relatively free hand to corruption, in the civil administration and the forces, may have been the key difference. It caused those in authority to view common people as objects to squeeze rather than citizens to serve.

Soon, it also became clear that increasing deployment on the ground did not win the proxy war, for Pakistan kept stepping up militant tactics. Militant attacks peaked in 2001. It was only after the Indian Army was deployed along the border in December 2001 that Pakistan brought down militancy in Kashmir.

It also became clear that the attitudes of common Kashmiris made the key difference. Krishna Rao introduced the policy of crushing `anti-nationals’ and winning over good citizens with development. This neat good-bad division does not work. Nor are development and functioning services enough – though these are vital.

Hope for a stable future affects the overall mood of the people. Once the forces’ excesses were reined in from 2000, and Atal Behari Vajpayee pushed forward peace processes, Kashmiris became distinctly less hospitably disposed towards militants.

It is good that the government has not responded to the current increase in militancy by deploying more troops. Intelligence gathering is being used again for successful encounters. However, this will prove inadequate until common Kashmiris are convinced enough about the prospects of a peace process to stop supporting militants. The government must work purposefully towards this, on the ground. - First Post 


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