Jammu & Kashmir

Might is right

Print edition : October 27, 2017

At a temporary checkpoint during restrictions in the old city of Srinagar on September 25 when traders called a strike against their leader Yasin Khan being summoned by the National Investigation Agency to New Delhi as a witness in a terror funding case. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

Former Union Minister and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha with the chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, at a meeting at the latter’s residence in Srinagar on October 25, 2016. Photo: PTI

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh at a press conference in Srinagar on September 11. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

By denying space for dialogue, the Narendra Modi government has reinforced its policy of a military approach to Kashmir which will only give more opportunities for extremism and violence.

ON September 11, Home Minister Rajnath Singh spelt out the contours of a plan of engagement in Jammu and Kashmir. He said that a permanent solution to the Kashmir problem was based on five Cs, which he would define as “compassion, communication, coexistence, confidence building and consistency”. Buoyed by an apparent change in the situation on the ground, he hoped that a solution would be found soon. On the face of it, he seems to be serious in doing something on the political front as had been indicated at the height of the 2016 summer uprising when he tried to reach out to the separatist camp. However, the hard-line approach of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre seems to have stalled any such move, and Rajnath Singh found himself isolated in view of the strong lobby that advocated and pursued a security-oriented approach.

Although he has failed to explain the nature of the solution, the combination of expressions looks exciting if it is followed in letter and spirit. But, there seems to be no forward movement, forcing one to ask “why, where, when, who and whom?” as the experience of three years of the Narendra Modi government suggests that nothing has been done to follow up on any of the Cs his Home Minister talked about. The effort has only been to delegitimise the political context and content of the agitation in Kashmir, which is centred around a resolution of the problem. If we look at 2016, compassion has been missing and, by its own admission, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) fired 1.3 million pellets on people in a matter of a few months. The pellets have left scores of boys and girls without eyesight. There was hardly any move to compensate the losses that people suffered. Compassion would have been to own the people and strike a chord with them. Instead, the use of brute force was justified by one and all.

Communication has been missing. The line of communication has been kept open only with those who do not challenge India’s rule in Kashmir. By gathering the pro-India political parties again and again to understand the Kashmir problem, the government has been defeating the idea of communication with the people of Kashmir. Shutting the door on those who have been spearheading the resistance against the state has not been helpful in past and the same would be the case with the present and the future. By not engaging in a political dialogue with forces such as the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, the Government of India is also giving them an excuse to not do anything. Having a line of communication and putting their ability to test would have helped people think about the capacities of the leadership, but that perhaps cannot come without communication that has no precondition.

There is no coexistence on the ground. Particularly in the past few years, the effort has been to isolate the community. New Delhi has defeated the idea of Jammu and Kashmir being an “integral part of India” on the ground by not showing any respect for coexistence. Use of military power, that too, indiscriminately against the civilian population, putting them under curfew for 54 days at a stretch, and protecting those who commit human rights violations are some of the hard facts that talk about a different existence. People at large have challenged the state in every nook and corner, youths have demonstrated their hatred, and the craving for a political solution is visible. That state of affairs clearly shows in black and white that ideas do not coexist on the ground.

Confidence-building measures have been another casualty. Confidence has been shaken for a long time now. Deploying more and more forces does not help to build confidence; it dents the very essence of it. Confidence comes from measures that are aimed at addressing the concerns that are directly linked to people’s existence, their daily life, and their rights. The government’s loss of confidence in the people has dealt a severe blow to any process of reconciliation. When institutions fail to deliver justice, there can be no hope of confidence building. By treating the people as the “other”, confidence-building measures can become far-fetched and that is how it has played on the ground. The finest example of confidence building vis-a-vis Kashmir was when former Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee took a giant step by extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan from Srinagar on April 18, 2003. This gesture was followed by opening the roads between the divided Jammu and Kashmir, starting trade exchanges across the Line of Control (LoC) and allowing people on the borders to live peacefully. This was accentuated during the tenure of the United Progressive Alliance government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But these confidence-building measures have not been strengthened, making the idea of confidence building a mere slogan.

Consistency is the only requirement in dealing with an issue like Kashmir. No matter what happens, foreign policy has to be consistent. But in the case of this issue, the flip-flop is evident. Yes, there is consistency but that is in respect of a hard-line approach that squeezes the space for dealing with the issue politically. The Modi government has exhibited a lack of consistency ever since it came to power. The Home Minister’s assertions may not be worth rejection but they need to be followed up with pragmatism.

Not only Rajnath Singh, but the BJP’s pointsman on Jammu and Kashmir, Ram Madhav, has spoken of dialogue. On September 21, he said in Srinagar: “We have said from the beginning and we have maintained that our doors are open to all the stakeholders in the State, they are welcome to come and have dialogue with the State government; whoever wants to talk to the Central government, we are open to dialogue.”

On the face of it, the statement is encouraging. But the moot question is who is moving in that direction? The issue of preconditions should apply to both sides and the initiation of such a process is the responsibility of the State that is facing the challenge on the ground. Ram Madhav is also the architect of the Agenda of Alliance (AoA) that helped stitch the “unnatural” coalition between the BJP and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The issue of sustained engagement with both Pakistan and the Hurriyat is very much included in that.

So far there has been much talk about talks, but in practical terms nothing has been done to initiate any process of political engagement. That is why one is compelled to posit the five Ws to know what the five Cs mean.

No seriousness

Although Rajnath Singh and Ram Madhav have talked about dialogue, the way the Government of India has dealt with the issue in the past three years does not suggest any seriousness in opening a dialogue process. Kashmir witnessed unprecedented public protests in 2016 that resulted in the death of nearly 100 people and injuries to thousands. The use of pellets resulted in injuries to scores of young boys and girls, and many of them lost their eyesight. This led The New York Times to headline the story on the issue as “An epidemic of ‘dead eyes’ in Kashmir”. This serious situation was followed by a number of non-governmental initiatives to reach out to political leaders and civil society to bring an interface. One group led by an agricultural scientist, M.J. Khan, with the senior journalist Shahid Siddiqui and the defence expert Qamar Agha as its members, visited the State twice.

This group apparently had the patronage of Rajnath Singh. However, there was hardly any movement forward. Although it is 70 years since India became independent, those who visit Kashmir are still in the process of “understanding the issues”.

CCG Initiative

The biggest breakthrough on this front was the initiative called Concerned Group of Citizens (CCG) led by former Union Minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha. Accompanied by Air Vice Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak, former Chairperson of the National Minorities Commission Wajahat Habibullah, the journalist Bharat Bhushan and the activist Sushobha Barve, he made three visits and brought out reports on each visit reflecting the real stories from the ground. Yashwant Sinha’s visit to Kashmir in October 2016 helped a great deal to ease the situation as people attached some importance to it. Since he is a senior BJP member, the impression was that he might have a mandate from the government. That is why he had access to even hard-line separatist leaders such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who wanted to stress that they were not averse to dialogue if New Delhi was serious and would not put any condition. The group did not mince words in its reports and highlighted the groundswell of concerns emanating from every nook and corner of Kashmir. People reposed faith in its members and interacted with them.

But nothing came out of the visit as the Modi government did not recognise the group’s effort; perhaps it did not want any dilution of its hard power policy vis-a-vis Kashmir. Yashwant Sinha was forced to state publicly that Modi denied him audience when he wanted to brief him on Kashmir.

“I am hurt. I am absolutely hurt. That you ask for time, 10 months has gone by. Let me tell you, ever since I have been in public life, no Prime Minister of India, starting with Rajiv Gandhi, has ever said no to a meeting I have sought; no Prime Minister has said to Yashwant Sinha I don’t have time for you,” a deeply disturbed Yashwant Sinha told The Wire, a news portal. “And this is my own Prime Minister who has treated me like this. So if somebody rings me and says please come talk to me, sorry, the time has passed, I have been treated shabbily,” he added.

His “soft approach” towards the situation earned him animosity in the government and his open confrontation with Modi earned him brickbats. He turned bitter and was forced to say that India had emotionally lost Kashmir. “I am looking at the alienation of the masses of people in Jammu and Kashmir. That is something which bothers me the most. We have lost the people emotionally. You just have to visit the Valley to realise that they have lost faith in us,” Yashwant Sinha said, going by his interaction with people.

When it is “difficult” for a government like that of the BJP to be soft on Jammu and Kashmir on which its stand is known, the non-governmental approach could have paved some way for a dialogue, which the state apparatus could have used further. But in discrediting the efforts of eminent people, the hard-line policy is clearly visible. Against this backdrop, the “offers” made by Rajnath Singh and Ram Madhav do not hold much promise.

By denying room for dialogue, the Modi government has reinforced its policy of a military approach to the Kashmir situation which could only provide more opportunities for extremism and violence. It has also discredited its coalition partner in the State, the PDP, which had dialogue and reconciliation as the basis of its politics in the State. The PDP today has lost its space and goodwill as right-wing forces, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), supported by the BJP, are out to meddle with the special status of the State. Gunning for Article 370 and Article 35A in the Supreme Court shows that the RSS and the BJP have not given up their stand on Kashmir. The BJP’s compromise on the AoA was perhaps a ruse to take power in the State. Kashmir may present a semblance of normalcy, but the simmering discontent and the sense of despondency is very much visible on the ground. This is a political bomb that can explode with even a minor trigger.