NEW YORK    -   India has lost the hearts and minds of people in occupied Kashmir following its brutal crackdown in the disputed state, a leading American newspaper said in a report from Srinagar on the precarious situation resulting from New Delhi’s annexation of the disputed region.

“There is nothing left for us,” Saqib Rehman, a political science student in Srinagar, told The Wall Street Journal.

The report said that Kashmiri leaders, who favoured an independent future for Kashmir, were of the view that New Delhi’s action had “pushed the region toward a deeper crisis because it has lost the hearts and minds of the local population.”

India’s government, led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, did not consult with local political leaders in Kashmir before their move to revoke Kashmir’s special status or inform them or the public beforehand, the report said, noting that authorities had arrested or confined hundreds of local political leaders, activists, businessmen, students and teachers to their homes.

But, it said, state authorities had declined to provide an updated tally of how many people still remain detained or confined to their homes, or allow the media or their supporters to meet with them.

Prominent politicians in detention include Farooq Abdullah, president of the National Conference—a political party with a long history in Kashmir—and his son Omar Abdullah. Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the Kashmir-based People’s Democratic Party, which once allied with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, also remains in custody.

Khalid Shah, associate fellow at New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, was quoted as saying: “There is little room for anyone to do politics in Jammu and Kashmir. Today, whoever will make peace with the central government’s decision will be seen as a traitor by the Kashmiris.”

Happymon Jacob, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, told the Journal, “The Indian government did not take this decision after consulting many political leaders, or creating a consensus about it because they knew there wouldn’t have been a consensus.”

Eventually, he said, “All these parties will come together and rally under one banner, with a common demand—the reinstatement of Article 370.”

Citing residents in Kashmir, the report said it would be difficult for the established mainstream political leadership to appeal to voters.

“New Delhi’s abrupt decision has doomed the future of mainstream political parties here,” Sehrish Hassan, a local businessman, was quoted as saying. “Their political agenda stands irrelevant.”

In this political vacuum, the Journal said, the clampdown on movement and communications is stirring local anger.

“Who can we trust?” Niyaz Ahmed, a Srinagar resident, asked. “The mainstream parties said it is better to stay with India, and we listened. They said we want peace, not war, and we listened. Now look — they are the ones behind bars!”

Now, with Kashmir losing its autonomous governing status, the political narrative in Kashmir will change, a leader of a faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organization of separatist groups that wants India to withdraw from Kashmir, was quoted as saying, “The mainstream should be pondering more about it. It does not affect our political ideologies. When you try to scuttle the moderate voice, the other option is extremism.”

Residents of Srinagar described chaotic scenes of arbitrary detentions in recent days, The Wall Street Journal said.

Fayyaz Ahmed Laway, a fruitseller in the city told the newspaper that three masked men in military uniform barged into his house at 2:30 am on Monday and picked up his son Taweez. “My son was sleeping in underwear. They didn’t even give him time to wear proper clothes.” He said there was no information about when his son would get released. “Where should we appeal? Who should we go to?”

Tabassum, who prefers to go by one name, said policemen stormed into her home after midnight on Tuesday and picked up her 13-year-old son. She followed them to the local police station that night and stayed put in the sweltering sun through the next afternoon. She said the police did not offer a reason for holding her son. A policeman there denied they had held anyone.

“This is the world we are living in,” she said. “We have no voice. It’s a living hell.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times also underlined the gravity of the situation in occupied Kashmir.

“We are neither safe at home, nor outside,” Rouf, who declined to give his full name, told the Times, noting that he was rubbing salt into his face to counteract the effects of tear gas.

Friday afternoon had begun peacefully, the paper said with men and women streaming into Jinab Sahib for afternoon prayers. “A cleric then raised a call for “Azadi” several times, and declared Kashmir’s allegiance to neighbouring Pakistan.” “Long live Pakistan,” the cleric said, as worshippers roared back in approval, according to the Times.

Citing unnamed government officials, the Times noted that some Indian media reports on Friday said “terrorists” were trying to enter India from Afghanistan.

The paper then referred to Prime Minister Imran Khan’s response that such claims were being made to “divert attention” away from what he called human rights violations in Kashmir.

“The Indian leadership will in all probability attempt a false flag operation to divert attention,” Prime Minister Khan said.

The Pakistani leader’s comments came a day after United Nations experts called on the Indian government to “end the crackdown on freedom of expression, access to information and peaceful protests” in Kashmir, saying it would increase regional tensions.

“The blackout is a form of collective punishment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, without even a pretext of a precipitating offence,” they said in a statement.

At least 152 people have been hurt by teargas and pellets since security forces launched their crackdown, data from the Himalayan region’s two main hospitals shows, the Times said.

“Large swathes of Srinagar remain deserted with shops shut except for some provision stores with shutters half-down. Police vans patrolled some areas announcing a curfew and asking people to stay indoors.

“On the Dal Lake, long rows of houseboats, normally packed with tourists at this time of year, floated closed and empty, as police patrolled its mirror-calm waters in boats.”