J&K: Dangerous Drift
by Sandhya Jain on 28 Sep 2010 9 Comments

Two potentially momentous events occurred almost simultaneously in the previous fortnight – the Kashmir talks and the Ayodhya verdict. Sadly, both ended on a flat note, thanks to the lack of courage and imagination on the part of the Congress party which dominates the UPA coalition at the Centre.


The all-party delegation which visited Jammu & Kashmir from 20-22 Sept. 2010, ended without tangible results due to the disarray in the Government and the Congress party. That Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram headed a delegation without internal cohesion was understandable as it contained disparate parties; what was inexplicable was that the delegation proceeded without internal debate and consensus regarding its approach to the different stakeholders in the State. The Home Minister appeared to have no private brief on behalf of the Centre, with which delegation members could persuade the myriad parties to come to the negotiating table. It was simply a fishing expedition.


The absence of Defence Minister A.K. Anthony, who stood tall in defence of the armed forces and resisted moves to dilute the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), and the politically acute Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, cast a shadow even before the delegation took off.


The impression that a confused Government was representing a befuddled party was aggravated by the 14 Sept. meetings that People’s Democratic Party leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had in Delhi with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This unleashed speculation that Congress was planning to dump the non-performing National Conference and revive its old alliance with the PDP.


Ms Mehbooba Mufti, who attended the 16 Sept. all-party meeting on Kashmir, fed the fire by hinting that the PDP was a better alternative to the NC. As the resultant conjecture threatened to derail the all-party delegation to Jammu & Kashmir, Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi stepped in for damage control, urging ‘time and support’ for beleaguered Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who was doing a ‘tough job’.


In these circumstances, without the glimmer of a consensus on how to tackle the violence in the Kashmir Valley, the all-party meeting decided to send a delegation to the State to talk to anyone interested in talking within the framework of the constitution. But the delegation violated this mandate at the very outset, when Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI) and Ram Vilas Paswan (Lok Janshakti Party) et al went to visit the anti-India Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik at their residences, after the trio decided to boycott the delegation which was meeting all interested parties at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre.


This decision to meet separatists responsible for the plight of Kashmiri Hindus and Sikhs was worked out in consultation with the Home Minister, a clarification that came after Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj declared it had not been discussed with or cleared by the entire delegation. But BJP in turn stunned other communities in the state when its leaders turned up to pray at the Hazratbal Mosque without even a murmur about visiting the Shankaracharya Hill, without meeting leaders of the Sikh community which recently received a ‘quit Kashmir’ call, without meeting the miniscule rump of Hindus in the Valley, and without visiting the Army, paramilitary and police personnel who have been injured answering the call of duty. Instead, delegation members visited persons injured in clashes with the security forces, i.e., the stone-pelters.


Thus, in Srinagar city, the all-party delegation met deputations of the National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, Congress, separatists, local CPI-M, all of whom made greater autonomy the cornerstone of their presentation and demanded withdrawal of the Army and AFSPA from certain areas of Kashmir. In other words, there was a concerted show of (Sunni) Muslim identity politics.


This was capped by the visit to Jammu the next day, where the delegation found no time for the Hindus of Jammu province; the refugees from West Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied-J&K; and the forced exiles from Kashmir Valley. Again, some members rushed to the Government Medical College, Jammu, where Shabir Shah, booked under the Public Safety Act, is enjoying government hospitality! A small delegation of Panun Kashmir leaders met the MPs late in the night of Sept. 21, after national media began flashing news that Hindu leaders were being excluded.


The critical question regarding the phase of violence that began on June 20, with organised stone-pelting that has caused brutal injuries to security forces and passers-by, has not been asked in Kashmir, Delhi, or any world capital taking interest in independent India’s festering sore. This is – who is manufacturing these Stone Age weapons, where are they been manufactured, how are they distributed, and how is the supply line being maintained?


These are not facile questions. Even a cursory look at pictures of youth carrying stones in their hands reveals that these are not ordinary pebbles or bricks that may be found on roadsides – though even then the sheer quantities would demand explanation. They are scientifically manufactured weapons, of requisite size and cutting edges hewn to cause maximum injury to their targets, similar to Neolithic era tools that can be seen in the site museums of ancient civilisations all over the world.


Since state intelligence agencies have discovered that the stone-throwing youth are being paid to unleash the violence and unrest in the Valley, for a political purpose, it urgently needs to move ahead and uncover the ‘factories’ where these lithic weapons are being fashioned. And the Indian State must make it clear that there will be no mollycoddling of Neolithic Neanderthals until the violence comes to a complete halt. Until such time, the Army must act as it must.


The other failing of the Centre (leaving aside the massive northern India floods and disastrous Commonwealth Games) is Ayodhya. Here the Supreme Court also stands compromised as its reluctant decision to order deferment of the title suit verdict was undoubtedly at the behest of the Centre. This has triggered speculation about the extent of delay envisaged – will the verdict come only after the Bihar assembly elections or be further postponed to conclude Id in November and Muharram in December; will new reasons be added? Finally, if the Centre can force the timing of a verdict, can it also dictate its substance? It’s a crying shame.


The author is Editor, www.vijayvaani.com
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