The abrupt, overnight transfer of SP Vaid, the (former) Director General of Police of Jammu and Kashmir, has raised more concerns about who exactly is at the steering wheel in a critical conflict zone, and what they are playing at. This is not about the merits of individual men or women or intended to show any disrespect to his successor. Vaid himself was assigned the post in 2016, when another brilliant police officer, Shiv Sahai, a man with a razor sharp instinct and a deep understanding of the complex insurgency, was tipped for the job and then suddenly and unceremoniously shunted to Delhi. Then, too, politics had determined the outcome. Sahai held a press conference after security forces eliminated local militant, Burhan Wani, and in response to a direct question, said that Mehbooba Mufti (then chief minister of the BJP-PDP alliance) was aware of the operation. Faced with ferocious separatist backlash on the streets, Mufti – like all other Valley politicians – did not want to be seen to be supporting Wani’s killing. She declined to take ownership of the action by the forces, arguing that even the police were not aware of Wani’s presence at the encounter site; else he would have been given a chance to surrender and live. She disowned Sahai’s words and the compulsions of her politics clearly cost Sahai his promotion. In the past, Sahai, known to speak his mind and hold his own, has had run-ins with the Abdullah regime of the National Conference as well.
Now there are whispers that the appointment of Dilbagh Singh, presently the Director General of Prisons, as the state’s new DGP, may be a mere holding operation. There is anticipation that in an ironic turn of events, Shiv Sahai could eventually be given the post, once all procedural clearances are done.
Sahai would be a great choice if that is what is going to happen. But, let’s not forget that what could be ordinary and routine in other states – and the sad truth is that politicians do control and manipulate police transfers everywhere else too – can hardly withstand the same normalcy test in a place like Kashmir.
The Valley is in virtual free-fall. There is a sharp spike in local militancy as educated young men embrace the gun. Kashmiri policemen are being targeted like never before and there is a growing delegitimisation of all political forces, mainstream and separatist groups alike. Effectively, no one is in control of the street today. Forty-two police officers died in the line of duty last year; an estimated 31 have been killed by militants this year. I have met policemen who travel from their village to the city in civilian clothes and a big scarf wrapped around their face to avoid being identified. They worry especially about their families being targeted.
It is believed that one of the controversies that cost Vaid his job was the swap deal the police were compelled to make: releasing relatives of terrorists in exchange for the release of kidnapped family members of local policemen. Others suggest a dispute between the state’s new governor and Vaid over operational autonomy. Critics of the BJP point to Vaid’s tough and independent handling of the rape of an 8-year-old child in Kathua, in which local BJP leaders from Jammu, including state ministers, defended the accused.
Whatever be the provocation – and at the moment it looks like Vaid is being made the fall guy for an awful downward spiral in the Valley – the administration has acted in a hurry. It has approached the Supreme Court for exemption against a judicial order that prohibits the appointment of acting DGPs. It has cited the precarious law and order situation in the state as a reason for why the post cannot remain empty till the final appointment goes through the UPSC panel. Fair enough. But then why oust Vaid till the new, permanent appointee was in place? This heavy handed response – in the absence of any publicly shared information or context – not just undermines Vaid; it will undermine the very post itself, whether Shiv Sahai or Dilbagh Singh or someone else is the new incumbent.
Read together with the appointment of Satypal Malik as Governor and the other changes in the top bureaucracy, it is clear that the Modi government wants its own team in place before the October civil polls. Remember the state’s assembly is not yet dissolved and there is every chance of a new political formation being formed with the BJP in alliance with a new political grouping.
But experimenting with the security apparatus in the worst phase of the 27-yearold turmoil is not something Kashmir can afford. Policemen especially cannot be moved around like specimens in a laboratory experiment.