A heightened threat perception has begun to affect routine life in Jammu & Kashmir amid an increasing presence of the Indian armed forces.
Earlier this week, the Centre had deployed 10,000 additional troops in the conflict-ridden state. On Thursday, 25,000 more troops were pressed into service. On Friday, the annual pilgrimage of Amarnath Yatra was curtailed after a landmine and a sniper rifle were found along the route.
Ali Mohammad Bhat, a 65-year-old shawl weaver from the old city area of Srinagar, has been busy stocking up groceries, milk powder and medicine in his home. With the air of uncertainty and anxiety looming large, he wants to be prepared for any eventuality. He's not alone. Grocery stores, ration depots and fuel stations in Srinagar are witnessing an unusual rush of people since the Centre has fortified security in the state.
Multiple government orders were uploaded on social media last week, suggesting a major unrest could be in the offing. The visit of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, deployment of thousands of troops and presence of security forces at sensitive places such as radio and TV stations are being viewed as a precursor of something untoward. There have been reports that Pakistan is planning a major offensive in Kashmir ahead of India's Independence Day, August 15.
"There is something big going to happen," Bhat told 101Reporters.
On Thursday, Army chief General Bipin Rawat arrived in Srinagar to review security preparations.
Requesting anonymity, a police officer told 101Reporters the situation looks like a preparation to tackle some major incident. "We have been instructed to stay alert. That is all I can tell you. Kashmir is a place where anything can happen any time," he said.
Independence Day preparations are in full swing in all the government schools and colleges. While educational institutes remain open, parents are being cautious and are not sending their children to schools and colleges.
"I am a medical student and for me, practicals are an important part of my curriculum. But the current situation is so tense that my parents have asked me not to go to the college for a few days just to be on the safer side," said Rahila Muzaffer, a college student.
Peoples Democratic Party leader Khurshid Alam said that while Kashmir has been witnessing uncertainty for the past three decades, never has the situation been so precarious as it is now.
"There is panic among the locals. The government is duty-bound to come clean on it. You cannot play mind games with your own people," he said.
Similar concerns were expressed by former chief minister Omar Abdullah. "What 'ongoing situation' in Kashmir would require the Army and the Air Force to be put on alert? This isn't about 35A or delimitation. This sort of alert, if actually issued, would be about something very different," he tweeted.
A former independent legislator and senior leader of Peoples' United Front, Engineer Rashid, criticised the Centre's handling of the entire situation. "The government has to explain why it is creating fear psychosis in the peoples' minds," he told 101Reporters.
The Hurriyat Conference (G) issued a statement: "In response to the global concern about the gross human rights violations in the state, has hit India very hard diplomatically and out of frustration they create fear psychosis and a war-like scenario."
The Hurriyat spokesperson said that instead of war-mongering, India should take concrete steps to de-escalate the rising tension because their recent stand-off with their nuclear-armed neighbour after the Pulwama incident has been bone-chilling.
Separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said he has no clue about what is happening. "There is confusion, which creates panic. But whatever will come has nothing to do with the Kashmir issue. Nothing will have any impact on it," he said.