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Why Kashmir talk was a non-starter

It becomes imperative for the current government to look into the suggestions made by three-member committee of interlocutors appointed by the previous government and announce certain concrete steps. Photograph: (AFP)

WION New Delhi, India Sep 05, 2016, 03.04 PM (IST) Kartikeya Sharma
The Kashmir talks between the Indian government and various stake-holders from the northern state were bound to fail as it became an internal exercise for the representatives of political parties who were in capital Srinagar for the proposed dialogue.

Instead of an engagement with groups associated with the protests that have kept Kashmir on boil for almost two months, the all-party meet at Sher-e-Kashmir centre morphed into a briefing session by Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.

Although the current view within the Indian establishment is that the agitation is funded and instigated by Pakistan, but closely observed, it is clear that the seeds of discord were sown by the competitive politics of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Kashmir's People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

There is no denying that Pakistan has funded terrorists and aided and directed attacks on the Indian side. It would, however, be foolish to overlook the fact that the fierce Kashmiri pride, if denied its own political, cultural and social space, often erupts in violent street protests.

The PDP, on one hand, kept alive the rhetoric of 'a political solution' to the problem of Kashmir's demand for azaadi (freedom) alive, but was quick to establish a close working relationship with the BJP that has always opposed any demand for self-determination for the state.

The BJP-PDP combine in was expected to bring Jammu and the Valley together, but competitive politics for retaining core votes only created a bigger chasm.
A common minimum programme was devised by the state government to ensure a smooth tenure, but it only ended up alientating the PDP’s cadre that felt that the core issue on which they voted was compromised.

A host of issues contributed to it. Whether it was the mulling of Union Territory status for Ladakh (a part of the state that has a sizeable Buddhist population, as opposed to Kashmir that is predominantly Muslim), or the consideration of the idea of 'a neglected Jammu,' it only fostered distrust. The narrative of media also changed.

The above debates polarised the views on the identity of Kashmir. Whether it was the skirmish between non-Kashmiri students and local ones over India's defeat in a cricket match that turned violent at Srinagar's National Institute of Technology or the move to establish enclaves for Indian Army ex-servicemen called 'Sainik Colony' in Srinagar and Budgam that has been opposed by civil society and the separatist groups, Delhi appeared aloof.

Suddenly everyday politics became coded gesture of a more muscular India intent on dealing with the Kashmir issue as if the state had to compensate for Pakistan’s intransigent stand on various issues.

The belief that successfully organising elections in the state affirm India's commitment towards the ideals of its Constitution has failed in Kashmir. This approach has also failed in other parts of India where tribal areas still witness armed insurgencies -- proving the point that elections are only the starting point in a democracy not the end.

It becomes especially true in the state of Kashmir where Article 370 as an instrument of accession creates a different political situation on the ground.
In this case the PDP cadre not only merged into the angry mobs, but also vented anger against senior party leaders when their houses came under attack.

This brings us back to the question of a solution. First, it becomes imperative for the current government to look into the suggestions made by three-member committee of interlocutors appointed by the previous government and announce certain concrete steps.

Second, PDP leaders must show enough courage to engage the locals by organising meetings in rural areas so that the ground situation can be stabilised.

Third, Balochistan as an issue can only be a diplomatic pressure point, but not as a solution to the local problem.

And last, since it has recognised that the agitation is headless, it becomes imperative that small groups of professionals must be encouraged for talks and the reconciliation process so that the agitation doesn’t become hostage to entities like Hurriyat that have a fixed agenda.

The strength of any democracy lies in absorbing dissent and not ignoring it. The challenge before the Centre is not to treat Kashmir as a logistical issue, but as a political challenge where creative solutions within the ambit of constitutional norm should be made available to common Kashmiris.

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