Former top cop AM Watali’s memoir, Kashmir Intifada, is a perfect example of how to mess things up and ruin what could have been a good book. Watali has talked at length of the eruption of militancy that he calls a firsthand account. He talks about the rigged elections of 1987 and tries to suggest that it was the handiwork of Dr. Farooq Abdullah’s loyal workers. That is, Dr. Abdullah himself had nothing to do with it.
He talks about the killing of Aijaz Ahmad Dar of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in his house, and describes it as an unusual event he had no knowledge of: it happened all of a sudden. But no one in Kashmir is ready to buy that. Still, he has a point of view, and the experience of having seen things for himself. He has a right to tell his version of the story, and the way he wants to.
So far as the Rubiya Sayeed kidnapping case is concerned, Watali reinstates Dr. Abdullah’s contention that releasing five militants in lieu of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s daughter was a catastrophic move and that Dr. Abdullah had opposed it tooth and nail. It was the release of the five militants that gave people a sense of victory and pushed an entire generation towards militancy. Dr. Abdullah says much the same thing. As does AS Dulat, the former RAW chief, in his ode to the National Conference patriarch, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years. For Dulat, Farooq Abdullah is the one and only Indian in Kashmir, who deserved to be vice president when the Vajpayee gov’t kept the carrot dangling before dumping him..
Watali starts his book with a disclaimer, and with modesty: that he is neither a professional writer nor a journalist, and neither does he have any credentials to write a book. And yet ends up writing a 544-page autobiography, so immodestly priced at Rs 1495 that, in these times of recession and depression, it is out of reach of common readers like me. But since it has been published by Gulshan Books Kashmir, the price-tag does not send shockwaves through the reading community. Books put out by Gulshan usually come as a gift from the publishers. I also got mine as a complimentary copy.
Why did the author want to write this book for the public? He says that he has played a crucial role in the contemporary history of the state. That he is an eyewitness to many events, overt and covert, and a number of controversial affairs, with a direct bearing on Jammu and Kashmir’s contemporary history. He says he has relied heavily on his personal knowledge and experience, largely authenticated by contemporary historical material. True. He has been an eyewitness to many details he has mentioned. But at the same time, he holds back after revealing a little. And it looks like he has hidden more than he has revealed. That mars the book.
Of the night of September 17, 1988, the author tells us that he woke up on hearing rapid gunfire at his Rajbagh house. Being the Deputy Inspector General of Police – he had taken over just four days earlier, on September 13 – he realizes immediately that he and his family were under attack. But when he comes out of his house, his orderly hands him a Kalashnikov covered with dust and blood, and he finds a young man lying injured inside the main gate.
Watali starts his book with a disclaimer, and with modesty: that he is neither a professional writer nor a journalist, and neither does he have any credentials to write a book. And yet ends up writing a 544-page autobiography, so immodestly priced at Rs 1495 that, in these times of recession and depression, it is out of reach of common readers like me.
“The injured attacker was a young man in his twenties whom I had never seen,” Watali claims. He pours water into the mouth of the youth. He was Aijaz Dar, son of Ghulam Ahmad Dar of Kursu, Rajbagh, who died later in hospital.
When the police searched Ghulam Ahmad Dar’s house, it found one room locked. On further inquiry, it found that it had the belongings of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed inside. Mufti was then heading the state unit of the Janata Dal. The belongings were left untouched. Dar was a close associate of Mufti’s, having first been a block president of the Congress and then of the Janata Dal.
Watali says that eleven young militants, armed with AK 47s, had attacked his house that night, as they wanted to do something big. They had not been happy to work under Bilal Siddiqui, whom the author describes as a semi-literate artisan. Siddiqui had favoured restraint till “Kashmiris (or militants) are fully prepared.” Thus, “Operation Azadi” burst into the open before its time, and all of a sudden. India was taken by surprise. More than seventy trained militants were arrested. Such details are fine. But others are not. Like when the author talks about Rajiv Gandhi’s pointman on Kashmir, but does not name him. Or when he talks about a senior Congresswoman, again without naming any names, who tells him, “watali bhai, aaj aap ka patta kat gaya.” Watali was removed soon afterwards, when some pebbles were hurled at Dr. Abdullah’s motorcade near Hazratbal.
Watali, however, bears no grudge against Farooq Abdullah. He argues that tremendous pressure was brought on him to allow the central government to apply the Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). “Farooq, however, resisted the pressure on our advice.” He goes on to say that he told Dr. Abdullah that the situation was being engineered to force him to resign. Dr. Abdullah later recommended Watali as a member of the Public Services Commission, which he joined on October 18, 1989.
His account of the killing of his brother, who was shot on the Zero Bridge, is heart-wrenching. The incident forced the family to leave for Jammu.
Watali narrates in detail an incident on July 25, 1982, when the army stationed at the Tattoo Ground went berserk from Batamaloo to Lal Chowk, beating and thrashing everyone that came its way, including the police. He recalls how he had tried to stop some armymen who were beating a child, but they attacked him also despite the Indian Police Service badge pinned to his uniform.
Life in Kashmir has not improved in any way since 1982. In fact, it has become only worse. Now we see armymen taking video clips of the torture they inflict on Kashmiris, and posting them on Facebook.
If the author revisits his book, removes historical accounts of the Kashmir dispute, adds more from his personal experience, and reveals what he has concealed, it would be a good read.