Follow Vajpayee Doctrine in True Sense and Spirit
A net-covered bunker during a curfew in Srinagar (AFP)
Home Minister Rajnath Singh's Mission Kashmir, which followed Prime Minister Modi's 'Kashmir is a political problem' remark, had nicely set the stage for dialogue. But as luck would have it, the visit ended up as a major disappointment and piled more hurt in the Valley.
Rajnath's mission - the second in the last one month - rather than finding solutions to check street rage, sadly dithered from the real 'political problem' that Prime Minister Modi had set out to fix.
Modi had, in a major departure from BJP's known stand, called Kashmir a political problem and said he was saddened at the loss of life there. Against this backdrop, it was expected that Rajnath Singh would succeed in breaking the current logjam. Tragically it did not.
Singh's visit has now thrown up more questions than solve the teething issues that confront governments at the state and Centre as they look at the unrest spanning over seven weeks.
Few here believed Singh’s visit would be groundbreaking; a complex issue like Kashmir understandably takes time to sort out. However there were enough indications that it would at least open the doors for negotiations with moderate separatists - who being pro-talks unlike the SAS Geelani's faction, hold the key to the vexed problem.
Within the separatists, the doves – who have held five rounds of parleys with New Delhi from 2002 - are keen to have a political process but want the Centre to announce some concessions before they come on stage. Like an immediate stop to the police killings and crackdown on pro-freedom demonstrators. And pulling out the additional forces including BSF, who made a comeback on valley streets after 12 years, to contain the current unrest.
Governments in New Delhi and J&K should understand that for the first time in last three decades, the separatists are not in charge and it is the young boys who are leading the uprising that is far more dangerous in aggression and spread. The Mirwaiz Umar faction of doves is under tremendous pressure from the streets not to engage in a `photo-up or tokenism’ but eke out from New Delhi a solution which is honourable and palatable to Kashmiris. The new age street protesters will not desist from prolonging the unrest till something `achievable’ is extracted and for this very manner the separatists are not ready to jump in for talks till some CBMs are initiated.
The anger on the streets is so much that the Mirwaiz faction is unlikely to sell the proposed replacement of pellet guns by PAVA shells as crowd control measures or visit by all-party delegation to valley as a CBM. Meaning, the moderates would perhaps need more time and assurances to come for negotiations if at all the Centre is looking at that option.
It is here that Track Two interlocution works well. Whenever the Valley is in fire and wounded, the government always falls back on a set of people who enjoy clout in the moderate Hurriyat. These people have been adept in doing the spade work for donkey's years to get the separatists to the table. Whether that process is on or not, it is incumbent upon the Centre – which seems serious to defuse the current crisis this time around – to create the right atmospherics for the doves to join the peace process.
The onus now flatly falls on the two senior-most members of the government, the Prime Minister and Home Minister. Both seem to be focussed in addressing the problem given that they have spoken on the issue more than once.
The Centre needs to be magnanimous in its approach and use the current strife to engage with its `own’ people who are angry and alienated and have taken to the streets to voice their frustration. It needs to lend an ear to people’s grievances and find a resolution without losing focus and time.
Talking of time, had Rajnath chosen to utilise the 36 hours he was in Srinagar a bit differently than meeting the "all-agreeing" mainstream parties and some "insignificant" parties, he would have broken some ice or instilled a reasonable degree of confidence amongst the aggrieved parties. Or least won goodwill by showing that Centre cares for Kashmiris.
He could have gone to a hospital and met the injured who have their lost eyesight - partially or permanently. Or families who have lost their kin in the agitation. Rajnath could have shared the grief of the family of 25-year-old Riyaz Ahmad, a bank teller, who was shot by security forces while returning home on his two-wheeler at Chattabal- barely seven km from the Chemashahi guest house where he was lodged.
That was opportunity lost.
Both sides sticking to their guns won't help bring calm on the streets. The two have to walk the talk. Knowing the predicament and times the separatists live in, the Centre should take the first step, and try and engage them within the contours of the Insaniyat doctrine of Vajpayee.
Also, New Delhi needs to be consistent with its words and approach on Kashmir. Some voices within the government suggesting talks would be under the ambit of the Constitution puts off the separatists who would have liked to engage under the Insanyat line.
A statement from Dr Jitendra Singh, minister in Prime Minister’s office, did come as a spoiler on day one of Rajnath’s Srinagar visit. When he was here essentially on an outreach programme. The MoS said there was no need to engage with 'people who advocated the breaking up of the country'. The statement did not go well with the people who read it as an"intransigent and dithering’’ approach from the Centre.
For bringing a perceptible calm in the valley which has seen killings, injuries and people getting blinded, it is important for New Delhi to have a consistent stand. Rushing in more troops and offering talks – means the signals are unclear. For lasting peace which will come only through a dialogue of engagement, the Modi government needs to follow Vajpayee doctrine in true sense and spirit.