Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s two-day visit to Kashmir has sent out the message that the Centre wants to talk to the people of the Valley and build an “emotional bond” with them. But he came up against that old problem — who represents the people of Kashmir? Singh met 23 delegations, including retired government officials and representatives of the travel and tourism trade, but prominent civil society and trade representatives stayed away. Those who met him had one message — talk to “all stakeholders”. This is the Kashmirspeak for the Hurriyat. Even the ruling People’s Democratic Party wants the Centre to talk to “all stakeholders”. The PDP told Singh that the Centre should see Kashmir as a political issue and not see it only through a development or security prism. But the Centre’s dialogue with representatives of fruit growers’ unions, and secretariat employees’ unions can only go that far. Monday marked the 17th day since curfew was imposed in Kashmir, from the day after the killing Hizbul Mujahideen “commander” Burhan Wani. The government has to find a better way of breaking the impasse.
Lifting the AFSPA in some areas, as Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has suggested, ahead of the more difficult task of amending or repealing it would signal that the government wants to bond with the people of the Valley. Another step to take soon is to replace the use of pellet guns with non-lethal methods of crowd control. The home minister has said such methods are being studied, prompting arguments from some sections of the security forces that if it were not for pellets, the CRPF would be using real bullets against stone throwers. Such case-building should not be allowed to cloud better judgment. Where else in the country have pellets been used to disperse violent mobs?
Having reached out to other national parties to forge a united stand against terrorism in Kashmir, it is now time the NDA government seriously considered sending an all party delegation to the Valley to signal the genuine intention of a political engagement. This is among the measures that former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has suggested in the columns of this newspaper and elsewhere, along with reducing the presence of the armed forces in the Valley. The question that arises is why the UPA government in which Chidambaram held an important position never took any of these steps. This easy ability of the political class to do one thing while in office and say another out of it is one reason that no political initiative on Kashmir has got off the ground and why the Kashmiri people distrust such initiatives. The seriousness of the present situation demands that political parties begin to forge a lasting consensus on how to move forward on Kashmir, which inevitably has to include also talks with Pakistan.