The Kashmir knot: Delhi needs to understand that it is a political problem and not a security issue
“Talks are the only option” were her parting words at the interaction with media after her 25-minute-long meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti herself put a caveat saying that the stone pelting as also the bullets (on government side) would have to cease first.
“We need to make the atmosphere conducive to pick up the thread wherefrom AB Vajpayee left it” Mehbooba said, sounding confident about her meeting with the prime minister.
On the face of it, however, there seems to be no assurance. Reaching out to people in Kashmir to look forward to a “positive” summer has been a growing demand amid a clamour that those pelting stones need to be dealt with an iron hand.
Kashmir watchers have also attributed a motive to the Modi-Mehbooba meeting, saying that President’s Rule was also being considered as an option in Delhi. The Congress and the National Conference had joined the chorus, saying direct rule from Delhi had become inevitable as Mehbooba failed to deliver.
To this, Mehbooba curtly told a reporter “it is for the Centre to answer”.
Apparently, she looked unfazed over this demand but the reality is that this is being promoted to make her agree to the tough line to deal with crisis rather than going soft and reconciliatory.
PM Modi himself sent a stronger message on 2 April when he inaugurated a tunnel on the Srinagar-Jammu highway and sought to tell the youth of Kashmir to choose between terrorism and tourism.
That surely did not go down well on the ground and was seen as a “threat” coming from the prime minister who should have reached out to the angry youth. This was followed by unprecedented student unrest triggered by an incident at a college in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
In every nook and corner, students from universities, colleges and higher secondary schools poured on to the streets and engaged in pitched battles with the police, leading to a new phase of commotion from the community.
The government acted and closed colleges and universities for about a week thinking tempers will cool down. But when they opened on Monday, violent protests erupted again at SP College and the adjacent SP Higher Secondary School in the heart of Srinagar.
The anger demonstrated on the streets is the manifestation of a continuous denial on New Delhi's part to recognise Kashmir as a political issue.
Mehbooba did say that “some involved in stone pelting are disillusioned while others are being led astray”.
But that is not the correct assessment. She has represented this anger of youth in past and knows better. Perhaps to remain in government, she has to adopt this approach though she repeatedly invoked Vajpayee’s initiative to counter today’s Kashmir tide.
The message she gave after meeting was not as positive as the ground reality demands.
Out of sight, out of mind
New Delhi’s mindset has not changed and it continues to be locked in the “law-and-order” frame. Its approach is militarised and if things do not change it could be used with full power. That obviously would drift it further. In case President’s Rule is imposed, New Delhi will lose face at the international level.
By postponing the Anantnag by-elections it has already indicated “surrender” to those who did not want elections. People in majority thwarted the process and it obviously helped Pakistan harp further on how Kashmiris do not like the Indian system.
In case President’s Rule is imposed, the facade of democracy will be over for the next few years. Can the Modi-led government afford to bite the dust at the international level? Perhaps not, but it will push Mehbooba to do things they want even if those measures boomerang on her.
PDP is on a weak wicket and is discredited on the grounds for joining hands with the BJP, which did not respect the Agenda of Alliance (AoA). PDP's Haseeb Drabu, the architect of AoA and the state's finance minister, rushed to the BJP office in Jammu to meet Ram Madhav.
No Kashmiri leader has demonstrated this kind of weakness, which amply made it clear who the leading party was.
Moreover, not a single agenda point of the PDP in the AoA has been followed up but three major election points of the BJP has been vigorously followed by the government.
Today when the Modi government is talking tough on Kashmir, it does not augur well for the situation.
The approach adopted by Vajpayee was not of confrontation but of reconciliation and about reaching out. If at all the BJP government at the Centre wants to see a semblance of normalcy it should shun the militarised approach and move on the following:
Empower the Mehbooba Mufti government to deal with situations on its own without interference from New Delhi
Announce a reach-out to the separatist trio: Geelani, Mirwaiz and Yasin
Open channels of communications with Pakistan to talk Kashmir
Put an end to anti-Muslim activities of those associated with the Sangh parivar in the Jammu region
Make its ministers accountable on governance
Allow democratic spaces so that the youth can talk and vent their ideas
Accept that Kashmir is a political issue and needs political approach.
Kashmir's history is witness that if you use force it rebounds with more anger and agitation. While Mehbooba admitted that the coming two to three months are crucial, she should focus on making the Centre realise the gravity of the situation.
Unless that is done positivity could only be a dream. Those looking for tourism as a way to see Kashmir back to normalcy must understand that only peace and stability could help in that coming true. But the road to that is only through political approach and not the 'security' way of thinking.
The author is the editor of Rising Kashmir