Herald View: The agendaless wonder of all-party meeting on Kashmir today
The PM and the Home Minister's meeting with representatives from Jammu and Kashmir is clearly aimed at breaking the ice and for optics. Restoration of statehood and special status may have to wait
Meetings without an agenda is yet another innovation of the Union Government led by Narendra Modi. The Government which used lies and subterfuge in August, 2019 to steamroll its agenda in Jammu & Kashmir, has now called a meeting of leaders it had abused, misled and detained, presumably to discuss the future course of ‘Naya Kashmir’. There is however no agenda circulated till the day before the meeting. It is worth recalling that the Prime Minister himself had assured leaders of the National Conference, who called on him days before the dramatic developments of 2019, that there was no truth to rumours about the impending abrogation of Article 37o. The then Governor of the state was even more vehement in denying any such possibility hours before the deed was done. The Parliament and the opposition were kept in the dark. Amarnath Yatra was abruptly suspended and tourists ordered out of the state before the announcement. Security reinforcements poured into the state triggering panic. The army was used to put out the fake news of an impending terror attack. A curfew was imposed in the Valley and the National Security Advisor camped in Srinagar to oversee ‘normalisation’ of the situation and as proof circulated photographs of him partaking presumably vegetable biryani on a deserted street in Srinagar.
Leaders of political parties including three former chief ministers were placed under house arrest. Political activists, civil society activists, even businessmen and students who could potentially raise their voice were arrested and many of them put in jails in far-away places outside the state. Law officers of the Government, it is now known, lied in the Supreme Court. The Internet was shut down and newspapers in the state forced to curtail the number of pages or shut down in view of the news blackout and travel restrictions. Two years later, nobody is asking Home Minister Amit Shah if he still believes leaders of the NC, PDP and the Left in Kashmir are irrelevant; or why he has agreed to a meeting with the ‘Gupkar Gang’ and if the objectives behind the misadventure have been met.
The agendaless wonder is still being hailed as an important step forward. It is important because the ‘no U-turn’ government’s willingness to talk is a tacit admission that it had erred in 2019. It is important because it gives an opportunity, at least on paper, to leaders from Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, to speak their mind. Whether they actually get the opportunity remains to be seen because this Government has not only perfected agenda-less meetings but also how to consume time with power-point presentations by bureaucrats and security personnel, monologues by the Prime Minister and then, for paucity of time, allowing the mildest participant some time to speak. For all we know, the meeting is a reluctant gesture under international pressure, increasing concern over human rights violations in the erstwhile state and China and Pakistan making Kashmir a common cause.
Developments in Afghanistan are also said to be responsible for the change of heart. The prospect of the Taliban resuming power in Kabul severely limits options and possibly makes it imperative to cool the temperature in Kashmir, now that the futile Rambo-like exercises have run their course. Delimitation of constituencies, reorganization of districts, changes in demography of the Valley are the other contentious issues on the table. Chances are that the all-party meeting will be used for optics and as an ice breaker. Restoration of statehood or the status-quo-ante will have to wait for a more opportune ‘political’ moment.