If at all the September 4-5 visit of the all-party delegation to the Valley achieved anything, it was to reinforce Kashmiri anger and pessimism and put the gap between Srinagar and Delhi in stark relief. The fourth visit of its kind—after 1990, 2008, 2010—its potential utility was already circumscribed by New Delhi’s refusal to look at Kashmir creatively, outside of the security prism. The visit also highlighted some deep fissures. Was the rebuffed bid by five MPs to meet Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani part of the delegation’s mandate? Home minister Rajnath Singh said: “Neither had we said yes nor no.” Ram Madhav, the BJP’s general secretary and Kashmir minder, added fuel to the fire: “Wonder why meeting a few unwilling Hurriyat leaders is so important when there are elected MPs/MLAs in Kashmir.”
Many here, however, believe Geelani and others have, by refusing to even open their doors to the MPs, played into New Delhi’s hands—offering it a pretext to go more hardline and crack down on the agitation. “The problem is, no one (in Kashmir) takes into consideration political realities in India,” says Omar, a doctor from the Valley. “No national government in Delhi, at least not the BJP, will seek a resolution as per the wishes of Kashmiris. Separatist leaders never factor this in while demanding azadi. A middle ground has to be found...Kashmir is small, India is a big country. We lost one generation in the ’90s. India can kill another 100,000 Kashmiris to retain this land, we can’t afford to lose another generation.”
The doublespeak by Indian leaders is not lost on Kashmiris. Even pro-India politicians agree the MPs’ visit was a mere ritual, enacted without any serious homework. “They never bother to interact at this level when Kashmir is seemingly calm,” says Tariq Karra, senior PDP leader and Srinagar MP. “This non-serious approach has shaken the trust (of Kashmiris) in such delegations.” Karra also blames New Delhi for its “habit” of chasing events, not anticipating them. “These visits have proved to be an event, not a process,” he says. Had it not been so, he continues, New Delhi would have acted on the recommendations of earlier delegations, five working group reports, the Rangarajan Committee report on infrastructural deficit in J&K and the interlocutors’ report after 2010.
“The phraseology used by three former PMs—Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘Anything short of azadi’, Narasimha Rao’s ‘Sky is the limit’, and Vajpayee’s ‘Within the ambit of insaniyat...’—too merely hide a cautious, ‘ad-hocist’ approach,” says Karra. Had these phrases been institutionalised as policy, they could have become benchmarks for forward movement. “Has this delegation got the mandate to offer more than what three successive PMs offered?” asks Karra.
Geelani, on the other hand, probably had little room for even a show of bonhomie. After all, he had met a Yechury-led delegation at his home in the midst of the 2010 agitation, yet it yielded him nothing—beyond angering his supporters. The ageing patriarch was only blamed for sabotaging the agitation. Yechury concurs: “Last time, we had a detailed meeting with Geelani. Maybe the failure in follow-up was why he refused to meet us this time.” He, however, doesn’t take it to heart and remains optimistic. “Please understand, it was not a snub. We understand the ground reality and realise there is a need to start an unconditional dialogue with stakeholders, including separatists.”
But that’s easier said than done. The institution of dialogue has lost its credibility in Kashmir, thanks to the lack of a coherent Kashmir policy over successive regimes in Delhi. The ‘moderate’ separatists, who held many rounds of talks during the NDA-I and UPA regimes, say they feel betrayed and pushed to the wall. Shahid-ul-Islam, spokesman of the Mirwaiz Umer Farooq faction, counts the risks Hurriyat leaders took to engage with Delhi. “Mirwaiz’s uncle was shot dead, his own house was attacked; other leaders too were targeted physically. All to no avail,” says Islam. “There was no change in AFSPA, not even a serious probe into human rights abuses,” he adds. “Due to their insincerity and betrayal, they have pushed away even those leaders who were willing to engage.”
Geelani, in fact, says the fate of over 150 rounds of Indo-Pak talks on Kashmir in the last seven decades inspires no confidence. “They met, had tea...there was a photo-op,” he says. “But the bloodshed in Kashmir didn’t stop. Our fourth generation is living under the shadow of India’s forced occupation.”
Meanwhile, the toll in the ongoing agitation is mounting: 75 dead, nearly 9,000 injured, over 100 of them partially or fully blinded. New Delhi’s iron-fisted policy is, understandably, inviting a toughened response from the separatists. While curfew was lifted from most of the Valley after 52 days, the shutdown continues. So do protests and clashes. There’s no Eid breather in the latest protest calendar issued by the separatists. On festival day, people have been asked to march to the UN Observers office in Srinagar. A senior doctor told Outlook that two premier hospitals have asked staff to report to duty on the Eid as well. Thankfully, even in these grim times, Kashmiris have retained their famed sense of humour: when Geelani, Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik snubbed the MPs, a young Kashmiri journalist, Zulkarnain Banday, quipped on Facebook: “It’s triple talaq!”
By Showkat A. Motta in Srinagar