Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement to a delegation of Opposition parties from Jammu & Kashmir that “those who lost their lives during recent disturbances are part of us, our nation…” is reassuring after his long silence,
including in his Independence Day speech, on the terrible toll the last six weeks of violence and unrest have taken in Kashmir. He spoke about the atrocities committed by Pakistan against the people in its Balochistan province on August 15, but this is
the first time he has put the people of Kashmir front and centre. The prime minister’s seeming effort to reach out to the protestors politically, by offering dialogue “to find a permanent and lasting solution within the framework of the Constitution” is the first sign since the protests began that the Centre has acknowledged the nature and seriousness of the problem.
Given that the anger in Kashmir owes much to the steady undermining of its special status through a series of constitutional amendments over six decades, however, this promise of dialogue within the ambit of the constitution may not be enough to win people’s hearts. This is why former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s pledge to find a solution within the boundaries of “insaniyat” won him and his government so much political traction, enough for the separatists to come on board for talks. It is truly unfortunate that neither he nor his successor, Manmohan Singh, used that opportunity to put in place substantive measures to address Kashmir’s alienation, despite some really forward-looking moves such as the cross-LoC bus service and trade. Pakistan cannot be wished out of the frame, but while India wrestles with how to talk to Islamabad, and on what, there is much that the Centre can do in Kashmir. Using Prime Minister Modi’s remarks as a fresh starting point, the government could begin by removing AFSPA from certain areas, and replacing pellet guns with other methods of keeping public order.
At a time when the prime minister has made this outreach, it is strange that the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh should have launched a “track 2” with eminent Muslims on what is to be done in Kashmir. Mixed messaging usually kills the better signals. The problem in Kashmir cannot be resolved by looking at it through a “Muslim” prism. Kashmiris have a separate predicament from that of the Muslim community in the rest of the country. It is absurd to conflate the two.