Kashmir – A Window of Opportunity
A few months ago tension prevailed in Kashmir. Most of the roads were barricaded. Students were throwing stones at the security forces. Curfews were the order of the day. It is no longer the case.
Shops are open. Tourists are flocking to the Valley. Life is fairly normal.
The winter of discontent seems to be behind. It is spring time in the Valley which provides an opportunity to step up search for a solution of the problem which has kept growing and defied a solution for over 63 years.
Some people do speak of fears that winter always is peaceful in the Valley and it is summer when the snows have melted, infiltrators come across the Line of Control and create trouble and people’s anger, incited or otherwise, bursts out.
I met some Kashmir leaders and analysts earlier this week in Srinagar, who think this summer will not see recurrence of a large-scale violence which marred its peace before the onset of winter. This provides a window of opportunity for making efforts to resolve the internal Kashmir question.
Instead of stone throwing and slogan shouting one hears reasonable voices in Srinagar now. But most people, however, stress that present calm in Kashmir, should not make Centre complacent about the situation.
A plus point in the situation is that the people don’t like to be with Pakistan. Even those who were earlier preferred Pakistan to India in their affections, seem to be disillusioned simply because of the kind of situation prevailing across the border. Some people do talk about uncertainties about the future of Pakistan. This does not mean that they want the Indian Government to take the people of Kashmir for granted.
The three interlocutors – Mr Dilip Padgaonkar, Dr Radha Kumar and Prof M M Ansari – have been at work talking to various sections in the Valley, Jammu and the Laddakh regions of the State during the last few months. Their conversations have helped in listening to voices across sections of the people even though the Hurriyat and the separatists have refused to meet them. Listening to the people’s voice has, in a way, toned down some of the passions. There is no substitute to talks to resolve problems and disputes.
One difficulty was lack of consensus in finding a solution to the six-decade old problem. Actually consensus is required both in New Delhi as well as in J&K.
It will help if national political parties are able to find a consensus of what should be done to resolve the Kashmir question. Most political parties in Delhi can come to agree about the nature of the solution for J&K. The BJP has, however, returned back on its position it used on Article 370.
Led by Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, it had toned down its stand on Article 370. But with him no longer in control of the party, the Advani camp is reviving its tough stand on Article 370. The BJP’s stridency is in the way in evolving a national consensus on the Kashmir issue at the Centre.
Even if a consensus is worked out in Delhi among the national parties and BJP persuaded to fall in line with other national parties, the problem of evolving a consensus within the state of J&K is really difficult.
There are too many streams of thoughts among the political parties in the civil society and groups and factions in the Hurriyat to permit evolution of consensus in the State.
There is also the regional question which is the predominant hurdle in bringing about consensus in the State. The people in Jammu for over the years have been nurturing a grievance that the Valley has been looked after by the Centre and Jammu has been neglected in many ways. The people in Ladakh have also been vociferously complaining about how its development has been neglected by the Government in Srinagar.
In the Valley the predominant feeling is that the Centre has, over the years, eroded article 370 and gone back over the promises it had made when the State merged into the Union.
But during the past few years three Prime Ministers have offered greater autonomy to J&K. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao told me in an interview when I was the Editor of the Hindustan in the nineties that “sky is the limit” for giving autonomy to J&K. Mr Vajpayee also made the promise of autonomy to Kashmir during his tenure as Prime Minister. Dr Manmohan Singh has also been promising autonomy to Kashmir.
For some reason or the other, the problem of greater autonomy to J&K has not been redeemed by the Centre.
There is perhaps no doubt left in most people’s mind that short of separation from India, the status for Kashmir within the Union of India and the Constitution of India will have to be re-evolved to satisfy the people. The quantum of autonomy and the nature of relationship between Kashmir and the rest of the country may have to be sorted out through a dialogue.
<i> (The writer is a senior journalist and now Member of Parliament.)</i>