Interview: M.Y. Tarigami

‘Talks are the only way out’

Print edition : May 26, 2017

M.Y. Tarigami. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

Interview with Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, member of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly from the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

THE ongoing conflagration in the Kashmir Valley has claimed many civilian lives, and several political parties believe that dialogue is the only way out of the volatile situation. Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, four-time legislator from Kulgam and a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has been a strong critic of the security agencies’ use of force against civilians. In his opinion, the people have not accepted the alliance of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the State at least partly because of the BJP’s ultranationalist image and its ideological affiliates. He spoke to Frontline on the current civilian unrest and related issues. Excerpts.

What produced the current flare-up and the ongoing student demonstrations? Last year, too, there were similar protests following Burhan Wani’s death, and more than 100 civilians were killed. Why do you think matters have reached such a pass?

The current flare-up and the student demonstrations are not an isolated phenomenon but a mode of resentment against the obstinate and rigid approach of the present-day Central government on the Kashmir issue. The situation has reached this critical point as the government has not provided any political space to the groups who want a political solution to the issue. Another reason is the people’s strong feeling that they were deceived by the PDP, which sought votes on the plank of keeping the BJP away but allied with it for power. Since the PDP got the largest number of seats from south Kashmir, it is this region of the Valley where people are expressing massive and widespread anger against both the Central and State governments. Besides, the present unfortunate situation has emerged owing to the reluctance regarding confidence-building measures, such as withdrawing pellet guns, revisiting the AFSPA [Armed Forces Special Powers Act] and the PSA [Public Safety Act], withdrawing cases against youngsters involved in the agitation, and constituting a credible judicial inquiry into the killings by the security forces. The overall situation in the country is marked by anti-minorities stances—the killing of innocents by cow vigilantes, the virulent campaign against the so-called “love jehad” and attacks on and harassment of Kashmiri students studying in different parts of the country. That, too, has sharpened resentments.

How different are these rounds of protests compared with those of last year or in 2008 and 2010? The protesters have complained of the use of excessive force by security forces. Is this a vicious cycle?

This time, the protesters seem to be more audacious; the participation of students, including girls, and the general masses (who gather around and disrupt anti-militancy operations) is a rather new development. People at large are disillusioned and hopelessness has gripped their minds. In 2008, the protests were mainly focussed on the Amarnath land row, and the situation eased when the decision to acquire land around Amarnath was revised. It paved the way for elections, and participation in the elections was remarkable. Again, in 2010, the main cause of protests was a fake encounter at Machil in north Kashmir, where uninvolved and innocent civilians were killed by some erring security forces personnel. This time, too, the appointment of interlocutors, though it was a half-hearted exercise, helped to normalise the situation; and the 2014 Assembly election was marked by huge voter participation. The 2016 stone-pelting protests were an expression of accumulated anger at the way people’s aspirations were ignored and at the [government’s] reluctance to initiate any meaningful effort to address the issues. The PDP’s opportunistic alliance with the BJP provided fertile ground for this unprecedented agitation.

Is the voter turnout at the recent byelection any indication of the cynicism that people feel towards the PDP-BJP government?

Yes, the negligible voter turnout at the recent byelection to the Srinagar parliamentary seat is a manifestation of people’s anger against the highly opportunistic and, in a way illegitimate PDP-BJP alliance and over sufferings caused by the insensitiveness of the authorities towards burning issues like rising unemployment and poor governance.

The coalition government has taken a position that there cannot be talks as long as there is stone pelting. The PDP used to talk to the Hurriyat earlier. What has changed?

This is like asking the patient to wait for treatment until he recovers. Since the coalition is led by the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh], which believes in ultra-Hindu nationalism and advocates blatant use of force, the PDP, which once espoused unconditional dialogue with the Hurriyat, has succumbed to pressure and has virtually surrendered to the dictates of the BJP.

Who stopped it from initiating a dialogue when stone pelting almost stopped for about four months during the winter?

The Union government said that it would not engage with the separatists.

Whatever the Union government may say, there is no alternative to dialogue, and it should include all the political parties of Jammu and Kashmir, including the separatists, and [there should also be] dialogue with Pakistan.

If there is no dialogue, there will be more frustration, increased alienation, hopelessness, and hence more violence. This will only oblige the forces of disruption.

The Hurriyat also feels that all three elements, India, Pakistan and Kashmiris, have to be involved in the dialogue. Is this an unreasonable proposition?

Dialogue has to be between India and Pakistan. Both the countries have been involved in wars and have conducted negotiations earlier as well. Instead of succumbing to the forces of disruption, both countries need to talk to each other meaningfully. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are the principal sufferers, and they have to be engaged in this process.

In the context of the attack on Kulgam, and the reports of mutilation of soldiers, is it possible to have dialogue? How should the Union government and the State government deal with local protesters under such circumstances?

In the 1990s, the situation was of course very bad, but attempts at initiating dialogue proved quite useful; in fact such attempts did help in promoting an atmosphere conducive to initiating a political process. Despite odds and desperate attempts to disrupt the process, it did influence the environment and open up opportunities for moving forward. Unfortunately, such opportunities were not adequately responded to.

In the previous regime of the NDA [National Democratic Alliance] led by [A.B.] Vajpayee, serious attempts were made for dialogue with Pakistan and with the separatists.

The process was re-initiated under Manmohan Singh and [Pervez] Musharraf. This process should have been carried forward. Unfortunately the maximalist positions of the contending forces obstructed this course.

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