There is consensus on the issue of peace agenda in Kashmir between the ruling BJP government and the Opposition parties. It was reflected in Kashmir when former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led Congress delegation publically declared support for peace initiatives although they took a dig at the “mal-governance” of the PDP-BJP government in Jammu and Kashmir.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s recent four-day visit to J&K reinforced Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 15 August message to reach out to and embrace the Kashmiris with love. His visit and Manmohan Singh’s visit have set at rest the fears about tinkering with Article 370 and Article 35-A of the Constitution of India. Rajnath Singh met scores of delegations both in Kashmir and Jammu and assessed the security scenario with the top brass of the government, the Army, the security agencies and the police, and visited turbulent Anantnag in South Kashmir.
CM welcomes move
J&K Chief Minister welcomed the presser of the Home Minister and demanded the implementation of the “agenda of alliance” between her party PDP and the BJP, as if her ally is an obstruction. Governor N.N. Vohra largely reacted by his silence—that is how he is there, as interlocutor for four years without any report in public domain and governor for nine years after being a director of the prestigious IIC, of which he recently became president to replace the country’s top legal eagle Soli Sorabjee.
The separatists are despondent as usual, talking only about “trust-deficit” and condemning the “harshness of the NIA”. While the militants have been shooting and scooting, and lately surrendering, people remain in a fix and the media is in a catch-22 situation.
J&K consists of distinct entities in five separate regions with nothing in common with one another. The hilly areas of Gilgit, Baltistan and Skardu and the Punjabi-speaking areas of Muzaffarabad etc. are Pakistan-occupied.
The idea of inclusive India, with great efforts made by tall leaders, integrated the diverse divisions of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh as the mosaic of different ethnic, religious and tribal groups and united these together in a culture of mutual tolerance and creative interaction as a plural and democratic J&K. Unfortunately, it has got engulfed in the worst phase of militancy, intolerance and distortion by the self-serving myths of competing political interests.
Currently, unlike in the past, radicalisation in Kashmir is taking over the socio-political discourse and gaining greater appeal. The pro-Pakistan narrative, which was noticeably very weak, has become strong again. The recruitment of local boys in the ranks of militancy is phenomenally on the rise. The new age youth and students are up in protest against the very idea of India and the democratic process. The young innocent lives of the Army/police personnel are lost on a daily basis. The political space of the mainstream polity has shrunk. Democracy is in peril and the attempt to destabilise Kashmir and change its demographic profile is galore.
The revival of militant activity in the state and elsewhere is a serious issue and a reminder that the militant outfits are spread, present and active to strike anytime and anywhere. The youth joining the militant ranks in anger is a hugely disturbing phenomenon; public support to militancy had considerably reduced but it has surfaced with a fresh vigour. The phenomenon of terror, panic and disinformation has plagued the valley. The security scenario, inwardly, is not very assuring. Political uncertainty is on the horizon and militancy is on the big rise. There is no centrally organised command of local terror groups; they operate like criminal gangs and Pakistan is able to coordinate these gangs. The current turmoil has imperilled democracy and is undermining the legitimacy of the idea of India in Kashmir.
There is a deep psyche of alienation in all Kashmiri communities and the “Kashmiris are yearning for peace and peaceful and secured life and liberty for the current and future generations”.
The country’s strategic and constitutional interest lies in the welfare of the people of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh and not in land alone. There is an urgent need for the peace process through meaningful dialogue. Prime Minister has taken a call, and that is why Rajnath Singh reinforced PM Modi’s 15 August message of embracing the Kashmiris with love. The Home Minister has invited all, and that includes those who have not been so far part of mainstream polity for their own political reasons.
The military hot pursuit needs to be blended with regular dialogue with the stakeholders including the agitationist youth. The military brass, the political class and the civil society are urging for political reaching out.
The Kashmiri society, the Muslim majority and the exiled Kashmiri Pandits, are suffering. The Kashmiris are loudly voicing the societal sense and understanding that separatism is not a political option and a “resolution of all the issues by negotiations and peaceful dialogue is the only way forward for a dignified permanent exit root”.
The rhetoric, dithering, political ambiguity and flip flop of separatists in past offers of talks are costing all Kashmiris dearly. Another opportunity is at their door steps and it is for them to rise to the occasion and respond to the PM and HM’s call. Talks and talks is the only way for the Kashmiris to iron out the issues and find solutions in the interest of all concerned. As a Kashmiri in exile, I advocate that it is the love for Kashmir and reaching out to its people that alone can resolve the “K” imbroglio permanently.
The PM’s call needs to be responded by all the stakeholders and the separatists. They should come up with a roadmap for talks and the permanent resolution of the “K” imbroglio. The onus lies on the Kashmiris to embrace the peace agenda and work to end the phenomenon of death and destruction.
Ashok Bhan is a senior advocate in the Supreme Court of India and chairman of Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group.