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Does PM matter?

The good doctor tried to intervene in Jammu and Kashmir but was completely overtaken by the aggressive Home Minister P.Chidambaram, to the point where the latter insisted on leading the all party delegation to the Valley a few weeks ago and wanted the members to follow a structured agenda. In fact Chidambaram has been making statements about small issues that should have come from the state government---such as the opening of schools and colleges---with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah having been virtually driven further indoors, if that was possible.

The decision to appoint interlocutors for “a sustained” dialogue between New Delhi and Srinagar had generated some interest in the Valley, in that it could have been a step forward. The demand was for a political delegation as every sensible person in Jammu and Kashmir, and in Delhi for that matter, was clear that only political leaders could acquire the mandate to take the negotiations forward in a productive manner. So the expectation was that a team of political leaders would be appointed to begin the discussions, in which all shades of opinion---including the separatists and the youth---would be spoken to and consulted.

Instead a mouse emerged from behind the government roar of “we are going to do all that we can” and the country was told that three individuals ---a journalist, an academic and a bureaucrat---had been entrusted with the highly complicated and demanding job. For once the people of New Delhi and Srinagar are on the same page with their reactions as the dismay in the Valley was equaled, and perhaps surpassed, by the indignation and disbelief in the national capital. This has nothing to do with the personal capabilities of the three individuals, but everything to do with the government’s reluctance to repose powers in political leaders lest the Home Minister lose control. After all no political leader of any consequence is going to accept Chidambaram as the last word on Kashmir.

This announcement has really served as a giant step backwards, adding to the disillusionment and cynicism engulfing Jammu and Kashmir. This columnist was in the Valley on the day the interlocutors were announced and the reactions from the policemen, to the separatists, to the political leaders including many from the Congress party itself, to the ordinary citizen ranged from anger, to an expression of complete frustration and anger at being toyed with again.

Now it is being made out that the journalist in the group is not the “head” of the team, and that there is room for a political leader. But this is just absurd talk, and it is not going to work at all. No one in the Valley is willing to talk to this team that will probably drive in and out of Srinagar in a convoy of security forces, meet the chief minister, talk to a few persons the National Conference can arrange meetings with and return with little except their own views of what should be done in Jammu and Kashmir. The separatists have dismissed the team as a joke, and the people have lost interest and instead of looking at New Delhi have turned to look inwards again for the “next step” that could make their demand for azadi acquire more teeth.

Opportunity after opportunity lost. It can only be because of one of two reasons. One, that the government is ignorant and arrogant and does not care about Jammu and Kashmir which is of course, quite possible. Or two, and this seems to be plausible as well, is that the government does not want a solution of any kind and is quite happy containing and keeping the state by force. It is almost as if some devious person at the centre is willing and pushing the young people into violence so that the security forces can be pushed in to “control” the situation. Peaceful demonstrations have always upset the governments in Delhi, be these British before 1947 or others in Independent India. For peaceful protests force negotiations that the political leaders in power are afraid of, while violence begets violence and the state, of course, has mightier guns.

At the same time the youth in Jammu and Kashmir seem to have realized---and one can only hope that this remains ---the power of non violence. The protests all across the Valley in this phase have worried the security agencies and the governments to a point where the young people were first branded as Lashkar e Tayaba, then as Hizbul  and terrorists, until finally the truth as they say, was out and the world realized that these were spontaneous protests by the youth. There is anger and frustration but this has to be channelised into peaceful protests, as nothing works more for the people protesting against governments, than non violence. It increases the pressure on the governments, both domestically and internationally. JKLFs Yasin Malik is one who realized this a long time ago, and although he has spent days and years in jail, he has managed to resist the pressure from the state to become violent.

One knows it is easy to counsel especially when hope is literally, dying day by day in Jammu and Kashmir. There is no point in asking the Prime Minister to intervene, as he is clearly no longer in command. The others in the UPA government are totally insensitive to the issue. Perhaps then one should appeal to this team of interlocutors to resign and make it clear to the government that if there has to be a way forward, and if the demands and the aspirations of the people of Kashmir have to be taken firmly on board, the first step will have to be in the form of senior political interlocutors armed with authority, knowledge and sensitivity.


(The author is National Affairs Editor, News X.
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