back to the electoral process. Though the NC initially stayed away from polls, it participated in the 1996 assembly elections, after then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao promised the “sky is the limit” for a resolution on Kashmir.
The NC contested on its autonomy plank and, though there were allegations of coercion and rigging, managed an overwhelming majority. Even as the conduct of an assembly election with the NC’s participation became Delhi’s de facto solution for Kashmir, the Centre unilaterally binned the NC’s autonomy resolution, even after the J&K assembly had passed it with a two-thirds majority.
Meanwhile, senior separatist leaders Yasin Malik and Shabir Shah, both released from jail in 1994, had decided to pursue a peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute. Indeed, Shah had begun a process to reach out to minorities across the state to broaden the scope of a political solution. There was no response from the government. Malik declared a unilateral ceasefire, abandoned militancy and adopted Gandhian non-violence. Despite the JKLF giving up arms, scores of Malik’s colleagues were killed. In 2007, Malik had even launched a statewide door-to-door campaign, the “Safr-e-Azadi (Journey for Freedom)”, to mobilise support for the Indo-Pak peace process and create space for Kashmiri voices in the dialogue. There was no response.
A constituent member’s “proxy participation” in the 2002 assembly polls was the provocation for the Hurriyat split in 2003, but the issue of dialogue with Delhi was always the sticking point within the conglomerate. While Geelani insisted on tripartite talks, the Mirwaiz group initiated direct dialogue with the Vajpayee government. The talks yielded no results. Malik and Shah had stayed neutral during the split. While Shah met the Centre’s interlocutor, Yasin too held talks with Delhi. Again, no results. Dialogue seemed to have become an end in itself rather than a means towards a resolution. Meanwhile, Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf had scaled down its position. Islamabad no longer insisted on the UN resolutions and even sidelined Geelani, the strongest pro-Pakistan voice among the separatists. Still no result.
To pursue dialogue with Delhi, the moderates had to pay a heavy price. First, Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone and then Mirwaiz’s uncle, Maulvi Mushtaq Ahmad, were killed. There was also an assassination attempt on Fazal Haq Qureshi, another pro-dialogue leader. When Modi came to power, Mirwaiz had hoped the new government would take its cue from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and his credo of “insaniyat”, and keep up the dialogue. But this time, the Modi government has abandoned even the pretence of being open to unconditional dialogue.
Now that the gloves are off, it has only strengthened a growing conviction in Kashmir: the approach adopted by moderates for more than a decade was always flawed. The impression that Delhi had used dialogue merely to strengthen the status quo is also reinforced by the progress — or lack of it — in negotiations between Delhi and mainstream parties in Kashmir that didn’t question a solution within the bounds of the Indian Constitution. Never mind entertaining political demands like continued…