Across the aisle: Revisiting Jammu and Kashmir

We cannot allow ourselves to be caught between a hard place and a hard place. If we do, the losers will be the people of J&K and India will lose the opportunity to find a political solution.

Written by P Chidambaram | New Delhi | Updated: January 7, 2018 7:11:37 pm
J&K snowfall A Kashmiri youth jump covered with snow trees at Tangmarg in North Kashmir’s Baramulla. (Express Photo By Shuaib Masoodi)

From time to time we are rudely reminded that there is an issue concerning the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The last reminder came on the night of 30-31 December 2017, when militants attacked the CRPF Training Centre at Lethpora in Pulwama district killing five CRPF personnel and injuring three.

Different sections of the people — and the polity — have different views on the issue of J&K. At one extreme is the position of the Hurriyat: secession. They know their goal of seceding from the Indian Union is impossible and can never be achieved. At the other extreme is the hard, muscular, militaristic position of the BJP. They know that will never lead to a political solution.

We cannot allow ourselves to be caught between a hard place and a hard place. If we do, the losers will be the people of J&K and India will lose the opportunity to find a political solution. Fortunately, that need not be so, and there are many initiatives that can be taken that will pave the way to a political solution of the Kashmir issue.

I have written extensively on J&K. Please read the five columns that appeared between April 17 and September 18, 2016, and the two columns that appeared on April 16, 2017 and July 16, 2017.

A Pre-election Gimmick

On the eve of the election in Gujarat, the government appointed Mr Dineshwar Sharma as Special Representative (SR), but his mandate was not clear. Subsequently, it was indicated that the SR will talk to anyone who was willing to meet him, and therein lies the catch.

The government — and the BJP — had branded the Hurriyat as secessionists and asserted that there will be no talks with them, ever.

The government — and the BJP — had branded the demand for azadi as no different from the demand for secession and asserted that there will be no talks with those who demand azadi.

The government — and the BJP — had branded the stone-pelters as anti-nationals and cracked down on them using the army, the paramilitary and the police.

The government — and the BJP — had after the attack on the Pathankot Air Force Base in January 2016 ruled out talks with Pakistan.

‘No talks’ was presented as if it were a policy. In support of the policy, more jawans (Army and para-military) were deployed in the Kashmir Valley. It was claimed that the hard, muscular, militaristic approach will put an end to infiltration and militancy. Has it? Look at the Table containing the numbers of persons killed in the last four years:

Infiltration and militancy, supported by Pakistan, have caused turmoil in J&K. But it would be wrong to think that the issue is infiltration and militancy. Infiltration and militancy are the consequences of the issue. The issue is the long-pending dispute concerning the accession of Kashmir. The state of J&K was forcibly divided following the first war between India and Pakistan in 1947, and remains divided until this day. Four wars have been fought over the issue. No purpose will be served by pretending that there is no issue or there is no dispute between India and Pakistan.

Vajpayee vs Narendra Modi

Wisdom lies in actively working to find a political solution to the issue of J&K. Both Mr A B Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh will be remembered for their diligent efforts to find a solution to the issue. On several occasions, a solution seemed to be within our grasp, but the solution — if there was one — slipped out of our hands. The fault of the present government is that it does not seem to want a solution; it is not making a diligent effort to seek a solution; and by shutting the door on talks with all the stakeholders, it has foreclosed a solution in the near future.
The way forward is to invite all stakeholders for talks.

Unfortunately, the stakeholders have perceived the appointment of the SR as a pre-election gimmick and have totally rebuffed the good fellow. Without diminishing the importance of those who met him (from a fruit growers’ association to a football association), take a look at the list of stakeholders who did not meet him: Congress, National Conference, CPI (M), as a party; Hurriyat Conference; Recognized Students Unions; Trade Unions; Politically active youth groups

The policy of ‘no talks’ with the Hurriyat or those who demand ‘azadi’ or those who were arrested for stone pelting (all citizens of India) had doomed the mission to failure.

Try Alternative Approach

Still, all is not lost. I support the idea of interlocutors, but that step has to be part of a set of measures. Here are the measures that I had outlined in my column of April 16, 2017:

Promulgate Governor’s Rule in the state;

Announce that the Central government will hold talks with all stakeholders;

Appoint interlocutors to pave the way for talks;

Reduce the presence of the Army and para-military in the Kashmir Valley and hand over the task of maintaining law and order to the state police; and

Strengthen the defence of the border with Pakistan and take deterrent action against infiltrators and militants.

I stand by every word. If you are one of those who had thought that the hard, muscular, militaristic approach of the government should be given a chance, please look at the table once again. You may change your view.

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