NO one interested in peace and normalcy in Kashmir valley would oppose dialogue with alienated sections of the society to understand their “genuine grievances” and to regain their trust. However, talking to citizens that are victims of circumstances created by others, including countries inimical to India, is one thing and blinking before secessionists whose agenda is to dismember the country is quite another. That is why antics of Sitaram Yachuri (CPM), Gurudas Gupta (CPI) and Ram Vilas Paswan (LJP) have outraged the nation. They went beyond their mandate to call upon separatist leaders who had rejected with contempt the Government invitation to meet the high level Parliamentary delegation that recently spent three days in J&K. Instead of marginalising Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik, who are playing the Pakistani game by inciting violence and spreading venom against the nation, these delegates provided them with yet another opportunity to get international publicity for their treacherous demands by agreeing to talk to separatists in full media glare. There was no dialogue between these peaceniks and secessionists. The former just listened to the anti-India outbursts of Geelanis that must have gladdened the hearts of their Pakistani masters.
If the purpose of sending the Parliamentary delegation was to understand the anger and misery of ordinary citizens, including the Kashmiri Hindus who had been forced to live as refugees in their own country and of the people of Jammu and Ladakh, it was defeated. What the nation and the world heard were not the “legitimate” grievances of the entire population but the outlandish cry for azadi and demonisation of our army. The self-styled flag-bearers of “secularism”, inadvertently or otherwise, brought the international focus back on these traitors. Were the peaceniks unaware of the motives of the secessionists? More than two years ago, on August 25, 2008 to be exact, Geelani expounded his “plans for Kashmir” in an interview to senior journalist, Asha Khosa of Rediffmail.com. He said, “I have a three point target, first to impose Islamic Nizam (jurisprudence) in J&K. Islam should govern our political thought, socio economic plans, culture and the ongoing movement. The creed of socialism and secularism should not touch our lives and we must totally be governed by Koran and Sunnat (precedents from Prophet Muhammad’s life)”. Demand for azadi is a camouflage. Their not-so-hidden agenda is Islamisation of J&K through terrorism, subversion, mob violence and media manipulation.
In Jammu, the delegation faced protests from BJP, Kashmiri Pandits and refugees from West Pakistan and PoK over the denial of adequate opportunity to put across their views. There was visible anger and frustration among the people over certain delegates finding time to visit the residences of separatist leaders but had little time to listen to the grievances of the citizens of the region that want total integration of the state with the rest of India. A senior member of the delegation, Arun Jaitley, has this to say, “The neglected regions of Jammu and Ladakh nurture a profound sense of discrimination. They feel that in terms of sharing of political power and economic resources they are the discriminated regions. Their emotions and arguments were hugely persuasive”. However, the package announced by the Government after the delegation’s return from J&K doesn’t reflect people of Jammu’s “hugely persuasive sentiments and arguments”.
The 8-point package announced by Home Minister P Chidambram is a mixed bag. The decision to open schools and colleges in the valley and providing Rs 100 crore as additional assistance for infrastructure in educational institutions are welcome steps. The announcement to set up special task forces to look into the development needs of Jammu and Ladakh regions creates flicker of hope among the people. These regions had long been discriminated against. Concrete action on this front would go a long way to remove their half-a-century old grievances. The initiative to set up a group of interlocutors under the leadership of an eminent person to begin the process of sustained dialogue with all sections of the society can deliver if the interlocutors chosen for the job are credible persons. Among the names doing the rounds in political circles are that of Sitaram Yachuri and Digvijay Singh. Both are totally unacceptable. Picking either of them for the sensitive task of engaging the people of J&K for restoring normalcy and ending discrimination against Jammu and Ladakh would be counter-productive.
One of the major concessions to mainstream parties in Kashmir is the decision to review notifications declaring certain areas as “disturbed”. It is a delicate matter that won’t brook any hasty decision as it would also involve re-deployment of security forces. The Unified Command, of which the security forces are a part, would meet soon to take decisions on several sensitive issues like reducing the number of bunkers and checkpoints in disturbed cities like Srinagar. Since the separatists have already issued yet another calendar of protests that also involve stone pelting as a weapon to provoke the police and security forces to react, the Unified Command, one hopes, would take a considered view of the ground realities even while taking measures that would help restore normalcy in the valley. That there is no mention of any move to dilute or withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is a saving grace keeping in view the fact that several state parties, including National Conference, had been forcefully demanding dilution/withdrawal of the Act. BJP is perhaps the only party that was opposed to any dilution of the law. The armed forces have repeatedly made it clear that it would be extremely difficult for them to counter terrorists and insurgents in the absence of such a law.
The Union Government’s approach to the problem is confused and halting. Let the Government understand the ground reality. While common people in J&K are fed up with long spells of cross-border terrorism, insurgency and mob violence and want peace to be restored, the separatists are bent upon prolonging the agony. They will have to be dealt with a heavy hand and Article 370 that breeds separatism will have to go if the state is to live in peace and lead to prosperity.