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Kashmir : Long Haul

Tuesday 8 May 2007, by Nikhil Chakravartty


Can the light be at last seen at the end of the tunnel in Kashmir? This question has now come up with the statement by the Union Home Minister that the time to resume the political process in Kashmir has arrived and with the report that Farooq Abdullah has been called by the government to return home from abroad and he has agreed to respond.

It was obvious when Jagmohan was summarily removed from the post of the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir that the government would now proceed along a different line from the one of unredeemed repression which came to be associated with his name. At the same time it would be unsafe to share Mufti Sayeed’s rather glib assumption that the political process could be initiated here and now. One wonders whether he has taken into account all the factors that need to be checked when a political process is set in motion. It is not as easy as rushing an armed police picket to bring back order. It is more difficult to start a political process than opening a stengun to fire a few rounds, to shoot to kill. This is unfortunately more true in Kashmir today than at any time in the past.

It is to be frankly admitted that all these months, the levers of the political process were thoughtlessly broken in Kashmir. The appointment of Jagmohan as the Governor was done by the government without taking into account its immediate fall-out on the political sphere. No doubt a strong Governor was needed at that moment to avert an imminent disaster—and there was hardly any immediately available to stick his neck out as Jagmohan did—but there was no reason for the Union Home Minister not to anticipate that Jagmohan going as the Governor would lead to the instant resignation of Farooq Abdullah as the Chief Minister. No doubt Farooq had considerably lost his former standing in the public eye in his home State for his misrule and acquiescence in corruption, but even with all that, Farooq quitting the Chief Ministership and the coalition Ministry formally resigning meant that one plank of political functioning was removed.

Next came Jagmohan’s extraordinary action in dissolving the Assembly and that too without the clearance of the Centre—recall the Prime Minister’s reported umbrage which in normal circumstances might have led to the instant recall of the Governor. The argument in support of the dissolution of the Assembly trotted out at that time—that it woiuld have helped to assure the public in Kashmir that the discredited Ministry and its hangers-on would not be brought back to rule over them—was hardly convincing.

In reality, this step only brought fresh impetus for the militants that their line of total polarisation between themselves and the security forces had succeeded, and from now on only armed confrontation would prevail, thereby demolishing one more means to resume the political process.

The third factor that had the possibility of keeping up the political process was George Fernandes’ appointment as the Minister-in-charge of Kashmir Affairs. From the very beginning he made it a point that the militants at different levels must be talked to. What he did was just to listen to them, and to persuade them to talk and to help them to see that there was another path for civilised argument than the violent confrontation of Kalashnikovs. When Fernandes was appointed, the expectation was fairly widespread that perhaps the exploration would now begin for political contact and dialogue which have to precede the resumption of the political process. Unfortunately Fernandes’ mission was sought to be thwarted at every step by the Home Minister, and the Governor on his part could not have possibly taken a shabby attitude towards a Cabinet Minister without a nodding acquiescence from the Home Minister. It, therefore, speaks volumes of Fernandes’ steadfastness that he adhered to his mission without falling a prey to the provocations that came from both the authorities and the secessionists. This sabotage of Fernandes’ initiative was one more example of the government’s abandonment of the political process.

Again, the announcement of the disbandment of Fernandes’ charge together with the unceremonious burial of the all-party team attached to it, was one more unthinking move that could possibly have convinced even a moderate militant that the government was leaving no point unplugged in abandoning the political process. As this came almost simultaneously with Jagmohan’s recall, the government seemed to proclaim that it has no policy whatsoever in Kashmir, that while the symbol of all-out repression was removed, the channel for dialogue was also being shut. The government also made no effort to help the minority Pandit community to stay on in the Valley nor handle them with care and understanding when a good section of them left the Valley. In other words, no clear policy on the Kashmir crisis.

With such a sorry background of gratituously tampering with the political process, it is ironical on Mufti Sayed’s part now to talk about beginning the political process immediately. In this context, the invitation to Farooq Abdullah to return marks the long-delayed turning point in the government’s pllicy towards Kashmir.

While Farooq’s return is to be welcomed and the government’s decision to mobilise him for the purpose of starting the political process is a wise step, one has at the same time to guard against any exaggerated optimism that he would be able to pull off a miracle. Both he and the government have to realise that Kashmir is a long haul and it will not be easy to take the iron out of its soul. The bitter anger coupled with intense antagonism that all-out repression has brought upon the Kashmiri mind has only helped the confirmed secessionist. It is not going to be easy to win over such an embittered people. There are of course redeeming features too. The human rights groups’ exposure of repression in Kashmir—particularly the fact that they are Indian activists—would enable the Kashmiri to undertand that there is an India beyond the muzzle of the security forces’ gun—an India that is friendly and understanding —and that if a ceasefire comes, it would help to sort out problems by means of dialogue. When guns are silenced on both sides only then can one talk. Farooq’s return to his homeland has to act as the signal to the Kashmirs, including the militants, that the time has come for talks, and the guns must stay silent.

A new opportunity but no easy path ahead.n
(Mainstream May 6, 1967)

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