May 29, 2018 @ 2:00 am

29 MAY 2018

Talk it over

The Central government must build politically on the cease-ops initiative in J&K

Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement offering talks to the Hurriyat and Pakistan puts a seal on a series of moves by the Centre that signal a softer Jammu and Kashmir policy after two particularly violent years. His offer came a week into the Centre’s suspension of operations, with the condition that terror must end. Just a day earlier, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat had suggested the ‘cease-ops’ plan could be extended. This in itself was significant, as he had earlier taken a very tough line. Last year, launching what he called “Operation All-Out”, General Rawat had said the Army would look “helter-skelter” everywhere for terrorists and anyone sympathising with them. Statistically, the hardline policy saw successes, as more than 200 militants were killed in the period after the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, which had set off a wave of violence in the Valley. However, according to police estimates,230 more young men picked up the gun during that time, many of them at funerals of militants. In fact, this became a cycle: as the level of disaffection among the population continued to grow, locals would gather in thousands at funerals, which became recruitment sites. In the past few months, however, the Modi government appears to have taken stock of its J&K policy and changed course rather dramatically. To begin with, the government authorised an interlocutor to speak with “all sections of society”, and he appears to have opened several conversations in the Valley, and nudged the government to declare an amnesty for first-time stone-pelters. Next, the Centre has taken care to back Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on a wide range of political issues, including replacing the Deputy Chief Minister, a post held by a BJP legislator. The cease-operations order, that came days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech in Srinagar, has also helped recast the narrative, and given a pause to the seemingly unending cycle of violence, funeral, encounters and recruitment.

More needs to be done, and soon. To start with, the Centre must review actions by security forces that unfairly stifle ordinary life, such as cordon-and-search operations, restrictions on access to orchards during the fruit harvesting season, and suspension of Internet services. Second, it must act to rebuild the ceasefire on the border with Pakistan, and discuss the issue at a bilateral level. At the same time, it must be alert to all attempts at subverting the cease-ops initiative, which could come from Pakistan or from vested interests within J&K. Finally, the government should get its message out on its vision for a longer-term resolution to reverse alienation amid a polarised debate in sections of the media on the value of the ceasefire, which adds to the sense of anxiety in Kashmir. A window of opportunity has been created. The need now is to move quickly and seize it.

The roaring thirties

CSK may have been IPL’s oldest squad, but it was also its most formidable

At the end of the Indian Premier League, the victory of Chennai Super Kings has an air of familiar inevitability about it. The most consistent franchise since the IPL’s inception in 2008, CSK has played seven finals, including Sunday’s at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. In those pivotal clashes, M.S. Dhoni’s men triumphed in three. Despite being suspended for two seasons — 2016, 2017 — following a betting scandal involving a team official, the new team wore a familiar look. All credit to skipper Dhoni who sported his signature unflappable cool as his team coasted to an easy victory, after some nail-biting finishes in earlier rounds. Right through the season the cameras trained on the CSK dugout showed a Dhoni who was undemonstrative even as he let his players display a gamut of emotions. The captain’s icy demeanour was an antidote to the frenzied twists of Twenty20 cricket. CSK was disadvantaged inasmuch as it had to play all its matches — except the one against Kolkata Knight Riders in Chennai on April 10 — as away games. Its home games were shifted to Pune after protests against holding the IPL in Chennai. Having missed the last two seasons and then being forced to discard the home advantage, Dhoni and company did well to last the distance and get past Sunrisers Hyderabad, the team with the best bowling unit.

Many factors have combined to make CSK an IPL colossus: the retention of core players; the faith invested in old legs at a time when it is believed Twenty20 is all about youth; and the adulation of die-hard fans. Shane Watson’s pulse-pounding unbeaten 57-ball 117 in the final fitted into the template of finding a man for the moment. Dhoni, Faf du Plessis, Lungi Ngidi, Ambati Rayudu, Dwayne Bravo and Suresh Raina had theirs during the tournament. If CSK’s path seemed preordained, it wasn’t easy for SRH as its preparatory phase was in turmoil following its previous skipper David Warner’s role in the ball-tampering crisis that tainted the Tests between Australia and South Africa. The Australian opener was stood down, but the good thing for SRH was that his replacement in the hot seat, Kane Williamson, led well besides striking in tandem with Shikhar Dhawan. The bowlers were on the mark and Rashid Khan was in the thick of action with 21 wickets, handy runs and his display of agility on the field. Afghanistan’s 19-year-old leg-spinner is one of the brightest talents in cricket today and the limelight he drew thanks to the IPL proved that the league is a springboard for emerging cricketers. But as the stardust settles, the sudden retirement of South African A.B. de Villiers from international cricket is a cautionary pointer to the grim reality of leading players spreading themselves thin while turning out for countries, provinces, franchises and clubs.

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