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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Does the room have a view?

I don't want one more bed- room added to my home,” Israeli writer Amos Oz once argued, while opposing his government’s policy of b...

Written by Mohan K. Tikku |
November 24, 2004

I don’t want one more bed- room added to my home,” Israeli writer Amos Oz once argued, while opposing his government’s policy of building housing settlements on occupied lands leading to even more bloodshed, “What I want instead is peace.”

One wonders if something similar could be said about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s announcement in Jammu promising two-room accommodations to Kashmiri Pandit families who have lived in single-room tenements since their eviction and exodus a decade and a half ago. Of course, the promise of a two-room flat will gratify anyone who has lived in camps in near sub-human conditions, where clean water and sanitation are a bit of a luxury.

But promising more money or additional room space is not the issue. The issue — and this is a point that peace initiatives and interlocutors seem to have missed all along — is the restoration of Kashmir’s composite culture. That is one thing that has suffered the greatest damage through the campaign of violence in Kashmir. Any solution would be self-defeating if it seeks to buy peace by-passing this reality.

In other words, it is a culture in which the various groups and communities have traditionally found themselves harmoniously placed. It was part of the militancy project — imported or indigenously inspired — to shatter its edifice. Without doing that, they could not have gone very far. They had succeeded to a considerable extent.

One problem with the Centre’s Kashmir policy has been that it often says one thing and does another. It keeps saying that it is willing to talk to all groups and parties in J&K. But what it does mostly is talking or just seeking to talk with the parties in power and the Hurriyat in the Valley. Other regional formations, such as those in Jammu and Ladakh, or those representing minority interests, are made to take a back seat.

Even to suggest that it will talk to the one first, and then the next and the next at later dates, does not make sense. If ever the Centre means to talk to all groups and parties, it cannot be done sequentially. They have to be engaged simultaneously. For one thing, every group and party has a separate agenda — even apart from the separatist agenda — and part of the challenge is to bring them back together as part of a harmonised whole.

From current appearances, it looks like the Centre would be willing — as it has done earlier — to strike a deal with the most articulate or the most violence prone group(s); and armed with this fait accompli, force the decision down the throats of less troublesome parties in as persuasive a manner as possible.

However, past experience has shown that that cannot be the route to a durable peace. What better arrangement could the Centre have asked for than the Sheikh-Indira Accord of 1974, and yet it fell apart. In a sense, that was bound to happen. All arrangements that are worked out with a single party/leader, however agreeable these may look on paper, result in alienating the others who then work for subverting it.

The same could repeat itself even if the Centre were to reach a deal with the Hurriyat. That is quite apart from the still open argument regarding the representative character of this seven-party conglomerate. Hurriyat leaders may be able to bring down the shutters with a hartal call in Sopore or Srinagar, but that is not the same thing as winning in an open vote.

Nor can that be an adequate basis for the Hurriyat to speak for all Kashmiris or all three regions of the state, which it often presumes to do. This seven-party combine has yet to win the popular vote in the Valley; and even after it did so, it would need to talk to the other political formations in the other two regions of Jammu and Ladakh.

Unless the Centre means to take the same tried-and-failed route to problem resolution, it must engage all the groups and parties in a multilateral discourse. It can then bring them together on a single platform so that they can begin to appreciate each other’s point of view and work towards mutual accommodation. Later, a durable solution can be expected to emerge.

Thus, peace making is a project in which all people of the state, irrespective of the class, community or region they belong to, are the stake holders. It has to be clearly understood that someone does not become a bigger stake holder simply by carrying a gun; nor does one become a non-stake holder just for being in a small minority. The test of a true democracy is not that it lets the majority walk away with everything, but that it demonstrates a capacity for accommodating the minority, however small that be. And, the composite state of Jammu and Kashmir has a dozen odd distinct minorities to look after. The problem, therefore, is not about arranging an additional room, but ensuring that everyone, irrespective of class or community, does find his or her place under the Kashmir sun.

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