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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 39 New Delhi September 17, 2016

It’s Kashmir again

Sunday 18 September 2016, by Kuldip Nayar

A few years ago when I persuaded Yasin Malik, the first militant in the Valley of Kashmir, to give up his fast unto death, his demand was that the International Amnesty should visit the Valley to verify the violation of human rights. He broke the fast when I gave an undertaking that I would myself head a team to Srinagar to prepare a report on the violations of human rights.

Today that kind of confidence has gone. The Hurriyat has refused to meet the delegation because the Hurriyat is not sure whether the delegation can deliver. There is yet another reason. The Hurriyat wants to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of Kashmiris, who have gone beyond the stage of talks. They want a separate, sovereign country. And they feel that the Hurriyat failed them in the past because it sought solution within the Indian Union.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed the dele-gation. The Home Minister was justified in saying that the Hurriyat’s refusal went against the spirit of Kashmiriyat, which disseminated of love and harmony. The Hurriyat does not seem to recognise that. It gives little importance to the fact that the party came to power through free ballot box, the democratic way of measuring support in the country. The BJP has secured a majority of 543-member in the Lok Sabha on its own, with no alliance before or after the polls. On the other hand, the Hurriyat is only a combination of three factions. One is led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who still wants accession to the Islamic state of Pakistan, the other by Yasin Malik and the third by Shabbir Shah.

Geelani is their leader because he represents anti-India feelings on the one hand and the Islamic content on the other.

My feeling is that at least two of them have become irrelevant in the present situation in the Valley. They still prefer a settlement through a dialogue. The youth have, however, gone back to the gun because they do not find either Yasin Malik or Shabbir Shah delivering what they want, that is aazadi. The gun is no solution either.

Over the years the Organisation of Islamic Countires has lost its importance in India. Even the Muslim population, some 25 million, cares little about what it says. Therefore, it was not surprising that the Indian media did not even report that the OIC had asked for a referendum in Kashmir. The Muslim countries are them-selves to blame for this because they blatantly support Pakistan, just because it is a Muslim country.

Unlike Pakistan, where the last word is with the Army Chief, India is ruled by Parliament. The Hurriyat has insulted it. To insult it is to insult the Indian people. It was the suggestion by the CPI-M that the delegation went. Yechury, the party’s General Secretary, was insistent that the talks should begin with the Geelani group. Raising the anti-India slogans when the delegation reached Geelani’s residence may be helpful in placating the hardcore. But it does not address the core of the problem. Rajnath Singh has made it clear that Kashmir was an integral part of India and will remain so. This has put an end to the dialogue on Kashmir that Pakistan has been relentlessly demanding. Where do we go from here? There is no option to talks. Even a limited war can become the nuclear one.

What New Delhi has to appreciate is that the Kashmiris’ desire to distance themselves from India may not be considered in any meaningful transfer of power from New Delhi to Srinagar. Yet the impression that the Kashmiris rule themselves has to be sustained. The National Conference waged a long war to get rid of Maharaja Hari Singh and had an icon like Sheikh Abdullah to provide a secular and democratic rule in the State. But the party suffered defeat in the Assembly polls because it was seen too close to New Delhi.

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won because its founder, Mufti Mohammad Sayyed, kept a distance from New Delhi, without alienating it. The Kashmiris voted for him because he gave them a feeling of defiance. Omar Farooq Abdullah had to pay the price of the National Conference’s image of being pro-Delhi. Kashmir’s links with India is too close to challenge it beyond a point. Still the Opposition, however small, gives the Kashmiris a vicarious satisfaction of defying New Delhi.

Kashmir feels strongly about New Delhi’s step-motherly treatment meted out to the language. And it is generally believed that it is languishing in neglect because Urdu is considered the language of Muslims. If New Delhi were to own and encourage Urdu, the Kashmiris would have at least one reason less to feel aggrieved.

People are generally poor like the rest of India and they want jobs which they realise will come through only development, including tourism. But they are not themselves picking up the gun or any other weapon to drive the militants out. One, they are afraid of them and, two, there is a feeling that what the militants are trying to do is to give them an identity. Therefore, the criticism that there is no resistance to the militants from within the Valley should be understandable because it is part of the people’s alienation.

I still believe that the 1953 agreement, which gave India the control of defence, foreign affairs and communications, can improve part of the situation in the State. The Kashmiri youth, who are angry over the State’s status as well, can be won over by the assurance that the entire Indian market is available to them for business or service.

But this alone may not do. New Delhi will have to withdraw all the Acts relating to the fields other than defence, foreign affairs and communications. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which was promulgated some 25 years ago to meet the extraordinary situation in the State, is still in operation. Were the government to withdraw the Act, it would placate the Kashmirs on the one hand and make the security forces more responsible on the other.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com