Wednesday, Dec 06, 2023

39 Steps To Paradise

39 Steps To Paradise

An MPs delegation to the Valley senses the anger roiling there

39 Steps To Paradise PTI

What The MPs Heard...

  • Pro-India Kashmiri politicians will never be able to find any solution
  • The army is seen as a brutal occupying force in Kashmir
  • Economic packages can’t substitute for genuine political engagement
  • The idea of being part of a prospering India does not appeal to Kashmiris
  • Separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani will have to be part of any    initiative India takes on the Valley


Kashmir’s extended summer of violence is heading slowly towards autumn, but it will still take time to see what the all-party delegation of MPs, which visited the Valley on September 20-21, has achieved—if at all it has. In the eyes of Kashmiris perhaps, the visit is a reflection of the Indian political establishment’s desire to at least listen to them. Even so, no one in Srinagar or New Delhi pins too much hope on the MPs’ visit yielding much.

The Omar Abdullah government tried to keep 38 of the delegates—Farooq Abdullah was the 39th—from the reality of Kashmir by putting the Valley under siege. Even pro-India politicians of the Valley who had been invited by the delegation were ordered to stay home. But that couldn’t prevent the delegation members from coming face-to-face with the people, through which interaction they might have formed an idea of the hurt and anger people feel over the killing of 110 persons in police or crpf action over the last four months.

There are some positives for New Delhi, though: the MPs understood that the peaceful passing of the tourist season is no barometer of peace in the Valley; that the status quo is unacceptable to the Kashmiris; that economic packages—Jammu and Kashmir received Rs 90,000 crore in the last two decades—are not a panacea for the region’s ills. This was echoed even by the traders and industrialists who met the delegates.

There were some harsh views brought home. For instance, the delegates learnt that Kashmiris didn’t want pro-India politicians of the Valley to be part of the solution, given their contribution to the present mess. And that the army is seen, because of its omnipresence and acts of brutality, as an occupying force. The delegates also learnt that the idea of Kashmiris joining in the story of a prospering India has no appeal in the Valley because of six decades of mistrust between Srinagar and New Delhi; that negotiations without Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the grand old man of Kashmiri separatism, will fail; and that it was Omar Abdullah’s cavalier attitude, and the gap between his government and the people, that caused the situation to spin out of control.

“I told them Kashmir has slipped from bad governance to no governance,” says Rashid, a legislator from northern Kashmir. “And it will take serious efforts to get governance first to ‘bad’ mode and then slowly to ‘good’ mode.” He asked Outlook not to use his surname as he did not want to be identified in any way with Sheikh Abdullah and his family, which he blames for all of Kashmir’s troubles.

Giving Ear: PC and Omar in Tangmarg

There’s no end to the anger people feel against the Abdullahs. Many had thought that Omar, as chief minister, would show some sensitivity. But they were disappointed, as word spread that he was celebrating his wedding anniversary in a five-star hotel in Delhi on September, when punishing curfews had been imposed on the Valley. It hurt Kashmiris even more that when the Indian leadership was going the extra mile, meeting the separatist triumvirate of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and Yasin Malik at their homes, the chief minister imposed the toughest-ever curfew in Srinagar. In fact, when the two teams led by Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) and Gurudas Dasgupta met them, Geelani and the Mirwaiz were under house arrest.

Nothing can explain the rationale of the curfew across the Valley on September 22-23, which came after the hardline Hurriyat, spearheading the ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’, modified its protest calendar. Apparently, under pressure from the people, it had asked them to open shops and schools on the two days. This opportunity was ignored by the government, fuelling more public anger.

The parliamentary delegation’s visit also underscored the deep fissures in the Indian political establishment on the issue of Kashmir. That New Delhi needs to do some serious homework before undertaking any major initiative on the tricky issue was evident when the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj hit a dissenting note, keeping out of the visit some of the members led to the separatists’ houses. Yechury, who was part of a five-member team that met Geelani, however, said they had the mandate of the full delegation. Despite some discomfort in the presence of a battery of reporters at Geelani’s house, Yechury sounded optimistic. “There is at least some meeting ground,” he said after Geelani conveyed  to him his conditions for ending the unrest.

These are:

  1. accepting Kashmir as an international dispute;
  2. beginning the process of demilitarisation;
  3. releasing prisoners;
  4. punishing security personnel involved in killings; and
  5. ending further killings and arrests.

The Mirwaiz voiced his regret about the fact that New Delhi feels the need to consult the separatists only when the situation in Kashmir gets out of hand. “They forget Kashmir once things are normal,” he said. He asked New Delhi to “facilitate the establishment of a Kashmir committee, comprising senior representatives of all major Indian political parties to engage with the representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir”.

Some delegation members hazarded a trip to Tangmarg, the scene of the September 13 firing that left six people dead and 85 injured, and also a couple of hospitals in Srinagar, where again they encountered the rejuvenated demand for azadi. As Dasgupta put it, “I have no hesitation in saying that the rest of India does not have any idea of what is happening in Kashmir and the people of the Valley feel that Indians do not show concern. There is a critical degree of alienation and if we still do not realise that, Kashmir may be lost to India.”

The delegation rounded off its visit by paying obeisance at Kashmir’s revered Hazratbal shrine, where a middle-aged man told the MPs: “Your country has spilled enough blood in Kashmir. We request you with folded hands to leave this place.” Since that is unlikely, Kashmiris will now wait to see if New Delhi has any plans to cede something. Or if the plan for Kashmir is ‘no plan’.