"A simmering agitation last summer died an unnatural death. The pitfalls were bound to come back and haunt us," Omar Abdullah, former CM of Jammu & Kashmir, told me recently, as the state descends in a state of violence that can only be described as 1990s' redux.
Whether it was the indiscriminate use of pellet guns, which blinded over a 100, or the utter lack of leadership displayed by CM Mehbooba Mufti locked in a alliance with the BJP, which is universally loathed, and the alliance viewed as a betrayal in the Valley, the state resembles a "giant jail", says Abdullah.
The Kashmiris sent out a warning via the ballot, as a historic low of 7 per cent voting was registered for the Srinagar by-poll and each percentage point cost a life.
Abdullah says that "earlier our focus used to be to ensure that bombs were not let off, incidents did not take place. But what do you do now when groups of people, practically everyone, goes around pelting stones. People have lost all hope".
The high voting percentage of previous elections has always been touted as the return of normalcy and democracy flourishing in Jammu & Kashmir. Abdullah asks: "What will we or the Centre say now?"
He is particularly agitated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent comparison of "tourism versus terrorism".
|The most worrying aspect, according to a range of security experts, is the level of rage in the Valley and the withering away of the so-called mainstream politics. Photo: India Today|
"This is such a false binary. Please check the figures of 87/88 - the highest number of tourists including foreigners came to the Valley and then militancy peaked. Terrorism in the Valley is not happening because people can't indulge in the tourism trade. Why make targets out of tourists? It's almost like painting a bull's eye on its back. They (tourists) will be attacked to prove that it is not business as usual to the Centre. In a way, the PM's statement incentivised attacks on tourists by militants. I was always careful never to correlate normalcy with the number of tourists."
The most worrying aspect, according to a range of security experts I spoke to, is the level of rage in the Valley and the withering away of the so-called mainstream politics.
Abdullah admits as much, saying frankly: "I say regretfully that we don't represent the mainstream anymore. We have our backs to the wall. Where do we go from here?"
The catalyst for the rage felt today is two-fold - one is the BJP-PDP alliance, which has culminated in this alienation and the stubborn refusal to engage with the democratic process. The second one was the brutal clampdown after protests erupted when militant Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter last year.
Security experts say the pellet blindings were exploited widely on social media and has ensured that anger simmered in every home. Political leaders of the so-called mainstream parties cannot even step out without huge security detail for fear of ambush.
Abdullah also lays stress on the fact that to dismiss the entire turmoil in the Valley as an economic problem - as the Modi government has repeatedly done - is wrong. It's a complex historic problem which cannot be dismissed as "tourism versus terrorism".
|Those in denial about the situation in the Valley should take a trip down memory lane, when every village in the 1990s was encircled by an Army camp.|
Ram Madhav, the BJP's point-man with the PDP, told The Telegraph two days ago "that he expected a calm summer on the back of determination to counter militancy with the utmost harshness".
The rejection of voting was the Kashmiri answer to him.
Abdullah says with despondency: "I honestly don't have any answers anymore. Nobody from the Union government has got in touch with me. I attended an all-party meet last summer because I did not want to make political capital of the outbreak and wanted to give Mehbooba a chance but the situation is awful beyond words."
The bigger question is, how long can the Mehbooba government survive? It now lacks any kind of mandate and Mufti as CM is viewed as a resounding failure enveloped in a security cocoon.
If Madhav's views are an indication, another clampdown is round the corner, leaving Mehbooba with very little room to manoeuvre.
Those in denial about the situation in the Valley should take a trip down memory lane, when every village in the 1990s was encircled by an Army camp.
If urgent steps are not taken, we will be back to square one.