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Unrest: why Rajnath's dialogue with non-Kashmiri Muslims is a dangerous con

Catch Team | Updated on: 24 August 2016, 22:38 IST

The historian and academic Siddiq Wahid cannot figure out New Delhi's current policy towards Kashmir. He acknowledges Prime Minister Narendra Modi's softened tone and talk of a "permanent solution" to the Kashmir dispute, but doesn't expect his regime to do anything that could make a redeeming difference.

"I don't see any policy except that they are unapologetic about everything that has happened in Kashmir so far," Wahid told Catch. "There is, no doubt, a talk about dialogue. But who are they talking to? Non-Kashmiri Muslim intellectuals. Well, you might as well talk to a man from Mars. What's the relevance?"

Wahid sees Home Minister Rajnath Singh's talks with non-Kashmiri Muslim intellectuals as an attempt to project Kashmir as a "Muslim problem". "It is a key element in the divide and rule policy. It pits Indian Muslims against Kashmiri Muslims. What do Indian Muslims understand about Kashmir?" Wahid asked. "The only way they can understand anything about us is by empathising with us only as Muslims. But Kashmir is a political problem. Even the prime minister has said now it's a political problem. What then is the relevance of talking to Muslims of India? You want to make it a Muslim problem. Because then it is easier for you to handle it."

Also Read: Kashmir unrest: how RSS ideology blinds Modi govt to the reality

Wahid's bitterness is more or less shared by the entire civil society. The statements on Kashmir emanating from New Delhi have left people here scratching their heads. The Centre has largely acted apathetic towards the turmoil, a posture that has only exacerbated the situation. The stance has teetered between a tough militaristic response to the ongoing protests to a casual admission of the need for dialogue, without specifying who to engage.

By talking to Indian Muslims, they want to make it a Muslim problem. Then it is easier to handle: Siddiq Wahid

In the 46 days of the agitation, the people that the Centre has engaged aren't Kashmiris, nor has there been a formal outreach to the political actors leading the unrest. Senior government figures have snorted at the idea of talking to the Hurriyat, which holds the key to resolving the crisis. The deteriorating ties with Pakistan haven't helped the matters either.

Divide and rule

Although Modi's belated expression of "pain" has made some difference to the reigning atmosphere of apathy, Arun Jaitley's speech in Samba in which he termed the stone-pelters as "aggressors" has left a bad taste.

"Exacerbating regional and communal divides in response to the political turmoil in the valley - is that the best Finance Minister and Minister of Corporate Affairs, Arun Jaitley, can do?" US-based Kashmiri academic Nyla Ali Khan posted on Facebook. Khan is the granddaughter of the legendary Sheikh Abdullah. "After all, Jaitley's association with the state of Jammu and Kashmir is not merely political, his father-in-law Giridharilal Dogra was one of the architects of the coup of 1953 (that toppled Sheikh Abdullah, then Kashmir's prime minister)".

The revelation about Rajnath holding two rounds of talks with non-Kashmiri Muslim intellectuals has sowed more doubts about the Centre's real intent. "There is a strand of opinion which regards Kashmir's association with India important for its secularism and for protection of Indian Muslims. But this isn't what the Kashmir dispute is all about. It is not a Hindu-Muslim issue," said political analyst and Kashmir University professor Gull Wani.

Also Read: Sense of insecurity: why a spate of proposed yatras has Kashmir on edge

"We forget that Kashmir acceded to Hindu-majority India against Muslim Pakistan. Kashmiris supported the popular leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah who backed this accession. Problem began when New Delhi unilaterally eroded the terms of accession. In all these years, New Delhi has done precious little to repair the broken trust. And BJP over the past two years has sought to further erode the last vestiges of the state's special status, triggering panic in the valley".

All talk, no action

Prof Wani believes the initiative to make a difference in the state lies with the central government. "Modi has talked of a permanent solution to Kashmir within the framework of the constitution. In the past such statements have hardly been followed up with a concrete plan of action, let alone translated into reality," he said. "Even today, the Centre has given no indication it has a credible plan of action. And how can you have one if you refuse to talk to the separatist groups leading the current unrest and question the political status quo?"

The kind of open-mindedness that a Kashmir dialogue needs, the BJP doesn't possess: Naseer Ahmad, columnist

Dr Hameedah Nayeem, chairperson of the civil society group Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies, too sees the Centre engaging in "diversionary tactics" on Kashmir rather than "confronting the problem head on". "You talk to non-Kashmiri Muslims in New Delhi and not non-Kashmiri Hindus. Why do you prefer to look at Kashmir through a Muslim prism and not recognise it as essentially a political problem?" asked Nayeem, who is married to senior Hurriyat leader Nayeem Khan.

The BJP's hardline stance is also to blame for the lack of credible options to address the turmoil. "The kind of open-mindedness that a Kashmir dialogue needs, the BJP doesn't possess. It champions an extreme integrationist view on Kashmir. And the Hurriyat, which represents another extreme in Kashmiri politics, can't be approached from an integrationist standpoint. It will demolish Hurriyat politically if they become part of such an engagement, especially when you are also leaving Pakistan out," said Naseer Ahmad, a local columnist.

"Under these circumstances, New Delhi is left with no option but to try and use more force to suppress the uprising and hope that fatigue sets in and leads to normalcy. But that will only leave Kashmir simmering for another mass outburst in near future."

Now that Rajnath has arrived in Kashmir, will he change tack?

Also Read: Kashmir: Invoking Vajpayee won't cut it anymore, Mr Modi. You must act

First published: 24 August 2016, 22:38 IST