April 22, 2021
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Kashmir: The Way Forward

Kashmir: The Way Forward

Barkha Dutt has useful suggestions for the all party delegation to Kashmir:

The fact that the finance minister and the home minister are both going to be part of this political delegation is a signal by the UPA that this is not a mere cosmetic intervention. Now, let them show imagination and empathy by breaking free from a bureaucratic schedule of meetings that may only allow them to engage with yes-men. The worst thing that could happen is for this delegation of politicians to be locked away in a sanitised, sarkari bungalow, where carefully chosen shikaarawallahs and carpet-sellers get five-minute audiences with the bada sahebs. Quite, simply, if you want to preach only to the converted, don’t expect an evangelical impact.

No, indeed. Let our politicians walk through the stillness of curfew-torn Srinagar; let them meet the boys and girls at the university and wrestle with their intractable anger; let them spend a day with a hapless local policeman and see how he is crushed between the volatile rage  on the streets and the duty of his uniform and let them look the alarming and growing radicalisation of the valley’s youth straight in the eye and ask themselves what Congress president Sonia Gandhi seemed to ready to talk about: “why are they so angry with us?” [Read on at the Hindustan Times: Cut The Red Tape]

While Ms Sonia Gandhi's intervention is indeed welcome, even if it is too little and too late, a quick note on an important detail that needs highlighting as there seems to be a widely-held misconception about the 2008 assembly elections, which is repeated in the above article as well:

In an extraordinary election in 2008, all eight assembly seats in Srinagar voted for the National Conference, despite a failed call by the separatists to raise the stakes of the election to that of a ‘referendum’. So, why is it in 2010 that neither the elected representatives nor the separatists seem to have any control of the street?

Variations on this theme find their way in various op-eds by various concerned commentators. So it is important to place the protests and the 2008 elections in perspective.

Yes, NC did indeed win all eight assembly seats in Srinagar district.

Yes, the elections were fair and credible, and overall turnout percentage was indeed impressive at 61.23.

But if we are talking about Sringar district, the turnout was abysmally low in the much touted 2008 election as well:

And that perhaps explains the situation on the street. 

The separatists have traditionally been strong in Srinagar and the co-relation of the turnout figures with areas of protest would be an interesting study to carry out in detail.  The point I wish to undercore is that  it is not a sudden case of their being 'angry with us'. It would also be useful to remind ourselves about where the protests before 2008 elections at the height of Amarnath yatra controversy were specially intense. And we should not forget that while the turnout for 2008 assembly was 61.23, that for the 2009 parliamentary election was 39.68%. In short, there have always been localised areas where the separatist sentiments are intense and focus on those areas should clearly be a priority.

On Kashmir, HT has had some good reportage and op-eds recently. As Samar Halarnkar insightfuly pointed out:

Home Minister P. Chidambaram — not particularly liked by his colleagues but perhaps the only minister who recognises how quickly Kashmir is slipping away — has, in Cabinet meetings, stressed India’s history of broken promises in Kashmir. That is a rare, welcome recognition of reality, but he has little support.

It is also important to recognise that Omar Abdullah, heralded as India’s new hope for Jammu and Kashmir when he was elected the chief minister in 2008, could never connect with his people or his colleagues, and showed no indication he cared about Kashmir’s long-festering wounds.

But, in the middle of this crises, it is churlish to lay all the blame at his door. On Kashmir’s streets, Omar is not the issue. Nor is his pet theme, the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). It doesn’t affect the current generation because the army isn’t deployed in civilian areas, as it was during the militancy of the 1990s.

Yes, demilitarisation is a very important symbolic gesture, but the underlying grouse of the Kashmiri is with unaddressed aspirations, of promises broken over 63 years, of the daily humiliations, all of which are blamed directly on Delhi. [Read the full piece:  The Problem is Delhi]

And some of the most practical and useful suggestions come from Amitabh Mattoo which should be read in full:

Clearly, there is need for more sane and sober voices such as these to engage with the young protesters in Kashmir valley. 

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