It's Kashmir again

It's Kashmir again

A few years ago, I persuaded Yasin Malik, the first militant in the Valley of Kashmir, to give up his fast unto death. His demand was that International Amnesty should visit the Valley to verify violation of human rights. He broke the fast when I gave an undertaking that I would myself head a team to Srinagar to prepare a report on the violations of human rights.

Today, that kind of confidence has gone. The Hurriyat has refused to meet an all-party delegation because the former is not sure whether the delegation can deliver. There is yet another reason. The Hurriyat wants to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of Kashmiris, who have gone beyond the stage of talks. They want a separate, sovereign country. And they feel that the Hurriyat failed them in the past because it sought solution within the Indian union.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh of the BJP headed the delegation. Singh was justified in saying that the Hurriyat refusal went against the spirit of Kashmiriyat, which disseminated love and harmony. The Hurriyat does not seem to recognise that. It gives little importance to the fact that the BJP came to power through free ballot box, the democratic way of measuring support in the country. The BJP secured a majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha.

On the other hand, the Hurriyat is only a combination of three factions. One is led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who still wants accession to the Islamic state of Pakistan, the other by Yasin Malik and the third by Shabir Shah.

Geelani is their leader because he represents anti-India feelings on the one hand and the Islamic content on the other. My feeling is that at least two of them have become irrelevant in the present situation in the Valley. They still prefer a settlement through a dialogue. The youth have, however, gone back to gun because they do not find either Yasin Malik or Shabir Shah delivering what they want, that is azaadi. The gun is no solution either.

Over the years, the Hurriyat has lost its importance in India. Even the Muslim population cares little for what it says. Therefore, it was not surprising that the Indian media did not even report that the Organisation of Islamic Countries had asked for referendum in Kashmir. The Muslim countries are themselves to blame for this because they blatantly support Pakistan, just because it is a Muslim country.

Unlike Pakistan, where the last word is with the army chief, India is ruled by Parliament. The Hurriyat has insulted it. To insult it is to insult the Indian people. It was on the suggestion of the CPM that the delegation went to Srinagar. Sitaram Yechury, the party’s general secretary, was insistent that talks should begin with the Geelani group.

Raising anti-India slogans when the delegation reached Geelani’s residence may be helpful in placating the hardcore. But it does not address the core of the problem.

Rajnath Singh has made it clear that Kashmir is an integral part of India and will remain so. This has put a question mark on the dialogue on Kashmir that Pakistan has been relentlessly demanding. Where do we go from here? There is an option for talks. Even a limited war can become a nuclear one.

What New Delhi has to appreciate is that the Kashmiris’ desire to distance themselves from India may not result in any meaningful transfer of power from New Delhi to Srinagar. Yet, the impression that ‘Kashmiris rule themselves’ has to be sustained.

The National Conference waged a long war to get rid of Maharaja Hari Singh and had an icon like Sheikh Abdu-llah to provide a secular and democratic rule to the state. But the party suffered defeat in the assembly polls because it was seen too close to New Delhi.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won because its founder, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, kept distance from New Delhi, without alienating it. The Kashmiris voted for him because he gave them a feeling of defiance.

Omar Abdullah had to pay the price for National Conference’s image of being pro-Delhi. Kashmir’s links with India is too close to challenge it beyond a point. Still the Opposition, however small, gives the Kashmiris a vicarious satisfaction of defying New Delhi.

‘Stepmotherly treatment’
Kashmir feels strongly about New Delhi’s ‘stepmotherly treatment’ meted out to Urdu language. And it is generally believed that it is languishing in neglect because Urdu is considered the language of Muslims. If New Delhi were to own and encourage Urdu, the Kashmiris would have at least one less reason to feel aggrieved.

In Kashmir, people are generally poor like in the rest of India and they want jobs, which they realise will come only through development, including tourism. But they are not themselves picking up the gun or any other weapon to drive militants out.
One, they are afraid of the extremists and, two, there is a feeling that what the militants are trying to do is to give them an identity. Therefore, the criticism that there is no resistance to the militants from within the Valley should be understandable because it is part of the alienation.

I still believe that the 1953 agreement which gave India the control of defence, foreign affairs and communications can improve part of the situation in the state. The Kashmiri youth, who are angry over the state’s status as well the situation, can be won over by the assurance that the entire Indian market is available to them for business or service.
But this alone may not do. New Delhi will have to withdraw all the Acts relating to fields other than defence, foreign affairs and communications. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which was promulgated some 25 years ago to meet the extraordinary situation in the state, is still in operation. Were the government to withdraw the Act, it would placate the Kashmirs on the one hand and make the security forces more responsible on the other.

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