Kashmir All-Party Visit : More Hype, Less Hope
Since June, the Kashmiri people have shown remarkable courage and endurance in the face of brutal repression, meeting each firing on mass protestors with fresh and unabated protests. After months of bloodletting of ordinary Kashmiri people in firing by security forces, the government at the centre finally took some political steps in Delhi – of these, the main one is an all-party meeting followed by an all-party delegation's visit to Kashmir.
While these moves are a positive gesture, there is always the danger that on Kashmir, the "all-party route" could well be a pretext for political inaction. It may be recalled that the Prime Minister, in his address on Kashmir, had made the possibility of autonomy contingent on a 'consensus.' It is well known that repeal of Article 370 is a part the BJP's core agenda and this party opposes even dilution of the draconian AFSPA. For the Congress to invoke 'consensus' on Kashmir in this backdrop is a thinly veiled excuse for doing nothing. The Jammu unit of BJP has reportedly boycotted the all-party delegation in protest against the non-inclusion of "nationalist organisations" – i.e., the communal fascist RSS and VHP! The choice of Chidambaram – known for his Green Hunt gospel – to head the delegation too is hardly likely to inspire confidence in Kashmiri people.
Meanwhile the situation in Kashmir remains dismal. In Bandipora some weeks ago, a man returning home in the evening was shot dead by security forces – who later claimed they ‘mistook him for a militant.’ This incident is one of many that illustrate the draconian character of the AFSPA, which allows security forces to use force to kill even on 'suspicion.' Some days back in Mendhar town, Jammu, firing on a procession protesting against reported burning of the Quran took three lives. Giving the lie to official attempts to paint protests in J&K as sponsored by Pakistan/militants, large numbers of Hindus and Sikhs joined Muslims in mourning and protesting the deaths in Mendhar. Even on the eve of the delegation's visit, four people including a 19-year-old girl were reportedly killed in firing on protests, bringing the death toll to 105.
The visit was projected as an attempt by the spectrum of political forces in Delhi to feel the pulse of Kashmir. But the curfew clamped on Kashmir for the two-day duration of the delegation's visit could not have inspired much credibility or confidence in Kashmiri people. With curfew in place, the delegations' meetings with Kashmiri people could hardly be open and frank. But even at these carefully planned and policed meetings, the people's resentment and anger could not be suppressed.
The visit by some members of the delegation to the home of separatist leaders who had spurned the offer to meet the delegation has become the most-discussed aspect of the delegation's visit. This move to reach out to separatist leaders, while positive, cannot mean real issues are confronted and real and meaningful dialogue initiated by the Indian Government.
As it is, the visit has failed to usher in any real change in New Delhi's policy towards Kashmir. Even while the delegation is in Kashmir, the Minister of State for Defence in Delhi ruled out dilution or revocation of AFSPA, going further to declare that AFSPA and the Army are being needlessly 'demonised' in Kashmir. The visit also failed to address the humanitarian crisis (caused by lack of access to food, milk, medicines etc) building up in Kashmir in the wake of continuous curfew. Hundreds of Kashmiri youth arrested for stone-pelting are in jails, facing charges of 'waging war against the state.'
Overall, the all-party delegation's Kashmir visit falls far short of the Centre's promise of a 'healing touch.' The visit can serve as an image-correction exercise for the UPA Government, but cannot compensate for the lack of real political initiatives within Kashmir. Until and unless the Government revokes the draconian AFSPA, releases all political prisoners and withdraws charges against arrested youth, shows a will to acknowledge and end state repression rather than continue to rationalise it by praising the 'restraint' showed by security forces and begins unconditional talks with all forces in Kashmir, the Government's gestures and words on Kashmir can only remain cosmetic.