K Rajendra Kumar served as the Director General of Police of Jammu and Kashmir for two and a half years between 2014 and 2016. A keen watcher of developments in the border state, Rajendra Kumar believes things will take a turn for the better, after the revocation of Article 370, bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir to create a separate Union Territory of Ladakh and the conversion from state to Union Territory.
T S Sudhir of Filter Kaapi spoke to Rajendra Kumar on the way forward and the role he sees for the security forces in the immediate future.
Sudhir : Is Jammu and Kashmir, especially the valley in for a prolonged period of curfew?
Rajendra Kumar : We have seen long periods of curfew especially in the 1990s when I was SP of Srinagar. We went without electricity and water supply for weeks. Inconvenience is preferable till tempers cool down. Things like snapping of the internet is the standard operating procedure in troubled spots all over the world.
Sudhir : So are you saying that this in your face presence of the man in uniform is necessary for a significant amount of time to come? The Government of India has reportedly sent close to 35000 men into the state in the run-up to this momentous decision.
Rajendra Kumar : It is required till tempers cool down. You see we have a hostile neighbour who has fomented trouble in the past and will continue to do so. More importantly, vital assets have to be guarded. Every brick, every post office, every installation has to be kept safe. For that you need the force.
Sudhir : There is also apprehension about how the Jammu and Kashmir police force will react now. All said and done, not everyone in Kashmir is happy with the situation and that chatter on the streets and within families will play on the minds of officers and constabulary. Is the concern about violence or possible rebellious action by any man in uniform a possibility?
Rajendra Kumar : When faced with a situation, you need to keep in mind every possibility. It has happened in Punjab before. There have been instances of army deserters turning rogue. But I have commanded the Jammu and Kashmir police force, they are a fine force. Their loyalty cannot be questioned. But one needs to be prepared. The possibility is remote. But the Pakistanis subvert minds through social media so the apprehension that something could go wrong has to be factored.
Sudhir : There are reports from the Valley about how the Jammu and Kashmir police is being asked not to carry weapons and instead use lathis. Is this arising out of this apprehension?
Rajendra Kumar : The Jammu and Kashmir police is a highly militarised force unlike the force you see in other urban centres. We have to militarise them to compete with the Army and the paramilitary so that we can fill in, if and when needed. Over a period of time, we have acquired military and paramilitary character from these two forces.
I raised five new battalions during my tenure. I can tell you that if there were nine sections, eight of them would get only lathis and teargas weapons and only one section would get guns to protect the entire battalion. That’s true even in the CRPF. This is because if there is provocation from a mob and the policeman fires, things can go out of control. One death can lead to a bigger problem, can act as oxygen to foment more trouble.
So at this point in time, there will be no orders for disarming policemen but what happens is that not all men in uniform are armed.
Sudhir : With what has happened in Parliament, there is talk of having pressed the reset button, making a fresh start. But the political leadership in Jammu and Kashmir was not involved in the process at all, with two former chief ministers being arrested. How can you reach out to the people without involving the elected representatives?
Rajendra Kumar : There is a thin dividing line between mainstream politicians and separatists in the state. Even some of the mainstream leaders speak the language of the separatists. For instance, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti who hails from South Kashmir, speaks that language. It is not as if that only they matter. There are varying shades of public opinion from all over the state. Moreover, you have spoken to them for 72 years. How long should we continue speaking to them?
Sudhir : How do you see the way forward in Jammu and Kashmir after these developments?
Rajendra Kumar : For 32 years, I never understood the Kashmir policy. Now there is a clear roadmap.
Sudhir : And you think with the change from a state to a Union territory, in the new political theatre, a new political leadership will emerge. Especially with Home minister Amit Shah continuously alleging that only three political families prospered all these years.
Rajendra Kumar : You said it. Absolutely. That will happen. New leadership, new ideas, new constituencies, there will be a change in the political landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. The police force too will wear a new look as it now will report to the MHA and not to the local politicians.
Sudhir : But what about the feeling of hurt among the Kashmiris? They feel they have been betrayed, the promise made to them at the time of partition broken, that their identity will get lost with everyone coming into Jammu and Kashmir, buying land, taking away their jobs.
Rajendra Kumar : Why only Kashmiris? Why not the people of Jammu, the Pandits, the Gujjars, even the refugees from Pakistan who have been here since 1947 but don’t even have voting rights. We should talk about everyone.
We need to look at our priorities now. Be more pluralistic, not just Kashmir. Work for girls who don’t get property rights if they marry outside. We have good kids but they have seen corruption, nepotism. We need to ensure the Panchayati raj system is functional, we need to ensure there is development.