Kashmir has been under siege for more than a month now. The promises of the ruling People Democratic Party to deliver both a healing touch and efficient governance have not materialised. They are just as invisible as the regional mainstream parties. As the Valley erupted the protest in the wake of the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani on July 8, their representatives made loud declarations on social networking sites. But as the crisis has stretched out, they have vanished like the traffic from the roads. It is against this backdrop that Home Minister Rajnath Singh last week told the Rajya Sabha that the Central government is ready to talk to “mainstream political parties, moderates and other organisations”, even though he didn’t specify the agenda, time, date and venue of this meeting.
That isn’t surprising. After all, it isn’t clear whether the delegation – if it does materialise – will actually find anyone to talk to. After years of failed attempts, moderates who were once willing to participate in negotiations have now become hardliners, civil society is indifferent to Delhi’s overtures and the state’s business community is not ready to take the blame from Kashmiris by talking to government or interlocutors in a dialogue process that seems to go nowhere.
To understand how Delhi finds itself in this bind, it’s necessary to consider the history of recent peace efforts in the Valley.
Moderates vs hardliners
In 1999, for instance, when the Central government called for a dialogue, some groups – which came to be called moderates – agreed to participate unconditionally. They included Yasin Malik’s Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, as well as Hurriyat (M), as the faction of the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was known. However, the faction of the Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, known as the Hurriyat (G), refused to talk and was branded hardline.
As each group started to articulate their approach towards a resolution of Kashmir, the differences between them became so strong that they began to squabble with each other. Geelani accused the moderates of selling out and playing into the hands of India and its agencies. The moderates, on the other hand, claimed that Geelani’s position was so rigid, it would not allow a solution to ever be reached. The cascade of events that followed consumed many lives, including that of the prominent moderates like Abdul Gani Lone, who was murdered in 2002.
In course of time, both the JKLF and the Hurriyat held series of meetings with not only the government of India but also with officials across the border, including Parveez Musharaf, when he was the Pakistani president, and his successors. This exercise continued for several years without yielding any visible results. As a consequence, the moderates had to face intense criticism for trusting India.
In 2008, the Valley flared up again with the government’s decision to grant the Amarnath temple trust a significant portion of land to establish facilities for Hindu pilgrims. The government was forced to resume talks with the separatists for try to find a settlement. The land lease was cancelled, but not before the separatists got a shot in the arm by organising joint rallies.
In 2010, as violence broke out again, leaving 120 people dead and thousands injured, the government deputed a parliament delegation to meet local business leaders, civil society representatives and separatists. The team even visited Geelani’s home. The parliament delegation was followed by the appointment of three interlocutors: academic Radha Kumar, journalist Dilip Padgonkar, and bureaucrat MM Ansari. However, the Hurriyat declined to meet them, having decided that dialogue was futile.
The interlocutors’ report was left to gather dust, along with the recommendations of the parliament delegation and the reports of the five working groups Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had constituted in 2006] to address political, economic, and governance challenges in Kashmir.
Underplaying the rage
This summer, with the Bharatiya Janata Party in power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has underplayed the rage in Kashmir. He has yet to express sympathy with the families of young people killed and maimed. It was Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and other Opposition politicians who broke the ice and spoke vehemently in parliament, forcing the ruling party to hold discussion on the crisis session last week. Though session was addressed by 29 parliamentarians, Modi was nowhere to be seen. Instead, in another speech in Madhya Pradesh, he ended up making same mistake like his predecessors, reducing the Kashmir issue to a matter of bijli, sadak and pani – electricity, roads and steady water supply.
Modi simply failed to recognise that young radicals such as Burhan Wani are drawn from well-to-do families. The boys from university campuses, who frequent coffee shops, challenge this notion that their anger is the result of unemployment and underdevelopment. They aren’t the sort who can be paid to throw stones.
This time, there is a significant difference in the response of the Indian state. In 2008 and 2010, it was the ruling party that took the Opposition into confidence to form core groups to visit Kashmir. Last week, it was the Opposition that was insisting on the formation of a group to assess the situation on the ground. The government’s reluctance to send group of MPs to Kashmir is probably due to the cold response received by Home Minister Rajnath Singh when he visited the Valley on July 22. Except for a few National Conference and People’s Democratic Party leaders, nobody else agreed to meet him.
Even if the current all-party delegation does actually visit they Valley, it will find it hard to meet anybody. Despite this, the Centre needs to acknowledge that Kashmir is a political problem and it needs a political solution. Military power may douse the flames for now, but the sparks will continue to linger under the surface.
Peer GN Suhail is a policy analyst in Sringar and director of the Centre for Research and Development Policy.
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