Kashmir needs a healing touch
The Parliament has spoken, the Prime Minister has spoken and almost all the political parties in Jammu and Kashmir and in the country have expressed anguish about the ongoing crisis in the state. An all-party meeting will discuss the issue on Friday amidst demand that an all-party delegation should visit the state where more than 50 people have been killed and about 5000 injured including security personnel in the past one month. The crisis broke out after the killing of a 22-year-old Burhan Wani last month in an encounter. Since then there have been violent protests with leaderless youth coming out demanding justice. Burhan is described as a terrorist by some and an icon by others. Angry young protesters have flooded the streets, pelting stones at the security forces and police personnel defying the month-long curfew. This killing seems to have raised a whole lot of questions.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, breaking his silence after a month, chose to condemn the violence in Jammu and Kashmir while addressing a meeting in Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday. He spoke of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s chosen path of ‘Insaniyat, Kashmiryat, Jamhooriyat’ for Kashmir.
Modi was eloquent in his significant remarks that “Every Indian loves Kashmir” and promised, “the azaadi (freedom) that every Indian feels, Kashmir can feel too.” But he had not spelt out the road map ahead to achieve this aim. Interestingly, Modi made his remarks after the visit of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to Delhi and her appeal for Prime Minister’s intervention. “Hope PM will address the unrest in Kashmir... Try to heal wounds, start talks to keep up Vajpayee ji’s Jammu and Kashmir initiative,” she said.
What was heartening was the debate in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday when the level was not only high but also the members spoke in one voice condemning the incidents and also sought some solution. This is not the first time such high-sounding words were spoken on Jammu and Kashmir. It happened in 2008, it happened in 2010 after a similar uprising. Roundtable conferences were held and expert committee reports have been submitted but the sad part of the story is the state continues to cry out for help. So what is required is not just words but action as what follows will be more important.
Mehbooba keeps talking about a ‘healing touch’. But the Kashmir crisis is not a mere law and order problem, as it is multi-dimensional. It has an emotional, political, religious and international dimensions and these need to be addressed. It is not as if the successive governments have not taken note of the crisis. But they have failed to tackle it.
There are three levels. The first is at the international level. Home Minister Rajnath Singh blamed Pakistan for the unrest. But there is also Pakistan sponsored anti–India propaganda outside about Kashmir and this needs to be tackled. As many experts feel dialogue is the only way forward and perhaps the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan could be the first step.
At the second level, the state has been hit hard by the present crisis with an unprecedented curfew for 32 days. The immediate priority is to restore law and order, calm the public anger and restore confidence among the people. For this Mehbooba needs all the support from the Centre and other political parties. She is running a shaky coalition. Mehbooba does not inspire the same confidence Mufti Sayeed did. There is mistrust between the partners and Mehbooba is worried about the political implications of her coalition politics. Both parties should try to implement the common agenda agreed between the two coalition partners.
The third level is the dialogue with all the stakeholders. The Home Minister has announced that the government is willing to hold dialogue with mainstream political parties, “moderates” and other “organisations” in the state. But for this dialogue to succeed, the government must have a political roadmap and a framework. There are many reports gathering dust in the Home Ministry and perhaps it is time to see how to make use of them.
The Prime Minister had talked about development and economy. But the situation in Kashmir merits an understanding beyond economic development. There is no doubt that the state’s economy has been hit badly by the crisis. As former Union Minister Karan Singh said in Parliament, until the day before the Burhan incident, the valley was flooded with tourists. Now it is not only tourism but also the shawl and other industries that have suffered.
Mehbooba is talking about ‘healing touch ‘and this balm needs to be applied to the misguided angry youth. The dreams of two generations have been lost in last two decades. However, the danger today is the growing homegrown militancy. According to one estimate, the number of militants has gone up from about 300 in 2010 to more than 3000 now of which more than half the youth are local. These frustrated young protesters are lured by Pakistan.
Above all, as many members spoke in Parliament about the trust deficit, the people of the state have no confidence in politicians. There is a need to bridge this gap and confidence building measures should be undertaken on an urgent basis. No doubt the Prime Minister did lament that the youth in the state instead of having a laptop or a cricket bat in his hand is choosing to hold a bullet. To correct this, the centre, the state, civil society, political parties and the people of Jammu and Kashmir should feel that the whole country is behind them.
(The author is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)