Kashmir Delegation – A Mission to Nowhere

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The much hyped visit of the all party delegation to Kashmir comprising of 26 Members of parliament has finally ended. A day before the arrival of the delegation, Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) sent a personal letter to all separatist leaders asking them to come for talks and interact with the delegation. Coalition partner BJP, as expected, distanced itself from this communication. Most opposition parties like Congress, CPI (M), JD (U), NC, PDF and Trinamool Congress had already declared that separatists must be included in the dialogue. The Home Minister in Delhi too had issued a statement saying the centre was ready to talk to all those interested in finding a solution to the problem. On being asked whether this included the separatists there was no clear answer though some spokespersons of the government did clarify that only those who believed in the Indian constitution were welcome for discussions. The separatist leadership in J & K on the other hand stated very categorically that they will not meet the parliamentary delegation unless the government first removed the AFSPA and initiated some confidence building measures.

The first day on 04 September was eventful as four members of the delegation, Mr Yechury of CPI (M), Mr D Raja of CPI, Mr Sharad Yadav of JD (U) and J P Yadav of RJD went uninvited to meet Mr Geelani at his residence. The separatist leader shut the gates of his residence in their face and denied them entry as well as any meeting. A similar attempt with JKLF leader Yasin Mallik too met with no success.  Mr A Owaisi of AIMIM fared a bit better as he could meet Mr Mirwaz Umar Farooq in the temporary jail where he lodged and was able to exchange pleasantries with him, but he too refused to hold any discussions. There is no clarity if the move on part of these MPs had the blessings of the government or was it on their own initiative. The government did not come out with any statement despite questions from many on this critical aspect. As things stand, it will be impossible to believe that the Home Minister was unaware of such a move. Whatever be the case, no one can refute the fact that while it may have caused some embarrassment for the government, more importantly it showed that the separatist leadership was not interested in an early solution to the current problem in Kashmir valley. They were more interested in exploiting the situation further for their own nefarious designs than to put a stop to the sufferings of people. The whole episode showed that the central government’s stand of not talking to separatist leaders was correct in principle.

Frankly none of the five MPs involved in the above drama have any worthy credentials to speak on behalf of the government in such a complex situation. Majority of them have dubious records which include sympathising with anti national elements. They were more likely to exploit such visits to further their own agendas rather than that of the nation as a whole. The central and state governments failed to carry out the ground work necessary prior to such visits and it will not surprise anyone if the authorities are as clueless today as they were a few days ago on how to resolve the problem. The question that needs an answer is why does everyone flock only to the valley to find a solution to the problem of J & K? The fact that the state of J & K is much more than just a few districts of the valley never gets highlighted. It is as if it has been taken for granted that J & K is valley and valley is J & K.  This is a seriously erroneous approach. If the government is sincere about resolving the problem then J & K must be seen as a whole and then steps taken to isolate the more problematic areas.

Kashmir all party meeting

Kashmir all party meeting

Given the uncooperative stance of the separatists it is time the central government, in conjunction with state government, takes a few concrete steps on its own to resolve the current situation. First it must stop the use of the pellet guns for a limited period to diffuse the tension. Next victims with injuries, particularly those who are serious, must be given the best possible treatment under arrangements of the state government on priority. Lift curfew totally and reassess the need based on how the public responds to the same. Reportedly the government spends over Rs 100 crore annually on the security, hotel stays and transportation of the top separatist leaders. This largesse must be withdrawn with immediate effect along with any other privileges that they are accorded. It defies any logic as to why we treat them as state guests when they do not want to be part of the state. The government must block all fund inflows to these leaders from abroad as also limit their movements. In short it is time these selfish leaders are cut to size and exposed for what they are.

After the separatists it is also time to take the elected representatives, both MLAs and MPs, from the state to task. If the valley is burning, is it not the duty of these leaders to be present at the grass root level in their constituencies and make efforts to diffuse the situation? One often hears that bulk of the population in the valley does not see its future with Pakistan or as an independent nation. They just want peace and environment to go about their lives in a normal manner with hopes of better times for their future generations. If that be so one sees no reason why these elected representatives do not make a meaningful contribution in diffusing the situation. In reality one hardly sees any effort on their part. They are conspicuous by their absence from the scene of action. This applies equally to representatives from the ruling as well as the opposition parties. Democracy is not about getting elected to sit in protected ivory towers while ones constituency is suffering. There is no point in camping in Delhi or indulging in mudslinging at each other while the real need is to be there with your people. These elected representatives must deliver in these testing times; else their very existence is questionable to say the least. Needless to say that this premise is based on an assumption that all elected representatives from the state are true sons of India and believe in the Indian constitution without any reservations.

The three famous terms, Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat and Jamhooriyat,  coined by former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee often come up for discussion during such troubled times in J&K. It may be prudent to understand what they mean and imply. Kashmiriyat is all about the rich cultural, social and peaceful heritage of the Kashmiries based on Sufism. Insaniyat relates to display of fairness and honesty by all concerned. Jamhooriyat is all about democracy in word and spirit so that people have a say in governance and those in power are accountable to the people. The last in the list suffered a major blow in 1987 when reportedly elections in the state were rigged to keep Muslim United Front (MUF) out and National Conference came to power with Farooq Abdullah as the Chief Minister.  This was an aberration but since then all elections have been fair as is widely accepted by all. Without a doubt the Indian government has delivered on Jamhooriyat over the last 25 years.  In light of this it will do everyone concerned a lot of good if the issue of Jamhooriyat was laid to rest once for all and the 30 year old aberration consigned to the bin.

Next is the issue of Insaniyat whose definition is normally limited to purported atrocities of the security forces, use of excessive force and immunity granted to the forces under AFSPA. This limited definition in itself is flawed. How can Insaniyat be limited to one affected party only? It has to shown by all concerned for it to be effective. Without a doubt there have been occasional excesses by the security forces, but it is also equally true that the local population too has committed excesses on the security forces. One can discuss this till cows come home and still not reach a conclusion. The local population will always fail to appreciate the tough task being carried out by the forces with a host of constraints binding them at each step, but the fact remains they still need to deliver in full in the interest of the nation. Suffice it to say that if there is no cause there will be no reaction and therefore no excesses, no use of force and no need for AFSPA.

Last in the list is the issue of Kashmiriyat. This primarily relates to the local population and their leadership. Unfortunately over a period of time the cultural, social and peaceful heritage of an average Kashmiri has been replaced by coarseness, hate, intolerance and violence. This is primarily because of selfish interests of a few power hungry leaders who have pushed their flocks to the brim of disaster in more ways than one by selling dreams of a merger with Pakistan or an independent state. Unfortunately there are few, if any, sane voices in the valley to put things in correct perspective and present a correct picture for either of these options. Like the Jamhooriyat aberration of 1987, Kashmiriyat too took a big blow in 1990 when ethnic cleansing was carried out by design at the best of separatists wherein over 300 Hindu Pundits were killed and an estimated 250,000 were forced to leave their ancestral homes in the valley. The availability of easy money from Saudi Arabia and advent of Salafi Islam since 2000 in Kashmir too has played no mean part in killing Kashmiriyat in the valley.

Unfortunately it is fashionable to blame the central government for lack of Jamhooriyat and the security forces for lack of Insaniyat, but no one talks of the continual erosion of Kashmiriyat from the valley in the same vein. It is a given that no amount of force or governance will resolve the problem in Kashmir unless a strong foundation based on Kashmiriyat is laid for a lasting peace in the valley. The onus for this will lie on the people of Kashmir themselves. Local political, religious and other leaders will have to play a major role with the central government playing a supportive role to facilitate the whole process. Education and development will be important tools towards this goal. Once that is in place Jamhooriyat will automatically have an enhanced role to play in the state while Insaniyat will not be an issue anymore. Uniforms will be seen where they ought to be seen and not in streets of Srinagar or other towns and villages in the state. AFSPA will die a natural death. Hopefully all this will result in the ‘Heaven on Earth’ regaining its pristine beauty and glory once again.

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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