Modi government’s policy on Jammu and Kashmir is not clear

The fact can’t be overlooked that Hurriyat and other local leaders have a significant hold over Kashmir and it’s high time talks were held with them to bring about some level of peace in the region

Modi government’s policy on Jammu and Kashmir is not clear

Humra Quraishi

What is the Modi led government’s policy on Kashmir? Instead of the much-needed talks with the Hurriyat leaders for trying to find that crucial way-out from the ongoing mess, there is a complete U-Turn, with several of the Hurriyat men imprisoned or placed under house arrest, if not booked under the various Acts.

I wonder whatever happened to the earlier efforts of New Delhi reaching out to the Hurriyat? Not to overlook the fact that the former prime ministers of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh had invited Hurriyat leaders from Srinagar to New Delhi on different occasions for discussions and official talks.

I had interviewed the then chairman of the Hurriyat, Maulana Abbas Ansari in New Delhi in January 2004, for talks between the Centre and five of the Hurriyat leaders- Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Maulana Abbas Ansari, Abdul Gani Bhat , Fazul Haq Qureshi, Bilal Lone. He gave the interview a day after meeting LK Advani and just a couple of hours before his scheduled meeting with the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

I recall asking Maulana Abbas Ansari why some Hurriyat leaders– Syed Ali Shah Geelani, JKLF’s Yasin Malik and Democratic Freedom Party’s Shabir Shah- had decided to boycott that meet. He had given no clear answer to that; instead, focused on why he and his four colleagues had decided to come for that meeting – “What’s wrong with our talking with the Centre, after all even Mahatma Gandhi had talked to the British, there was Nelson Mandela who did the same. And we agreed to talk to the Centre after they came around to our basic condition that these talks would be held without any conditions and in total sincerity. Right now, we want the Kashmiris to be heard, to be allowed to live and live in dignity. Has anyone bothered to find out what the Kashmiris want?”

In fact, Maulana Abbas Ansari had also expressed his views for peace to return to the Kashmir region. “No solution will be possible till the Kashmiris are not heard and not asked what they want. It’s in the interest of both India and Pakistan that a solution is worked on as soon as possible, for God forbid, if a war erupts then the whole of South Asia will be in ruins… don’t ask me what will happen to us Kashmiris for hum toh waise hi mar gaye hain, we Kashmiris are almost dead but I’m worried about this entire region. I’m repeating that if war erupts this entire region tabah ho jaega,” he had added.

Around 2009, during another meet held in New Delhi -Multi Party Dialogue on the Political Future of Jammu and Kashmir- which was hosted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, I had interviewed Hurriyat’s Professor Abdul Gani Bhat who was invited for that meet along with several other Kashmiri leaders. And he was emphatic, “Paradise is lost to the people of Kashmir. Now how do we regain the paradise lost? I can make no big claims, I’m no politician but I am an eyewitness and seek a settlement. I want to call a spade a spade… There ought to be de-militarization in the region. India can’t withdraw its troops from Ladakh and Pakistan can’t withdraw from the Gilgit, but why can’t troops be withdrawn from the towns and villages! ”

Apart from the several official meetings, Central leaders in New Delhi had been meeting the Hurriyat leaders on other occasions too, perhaps, to continue the connect with the Kashmiris and with the ground realities in the Kashmir Valley. In fact, in February 2006, when the former prime minister Manmohan Singh had invited the Hurriyat leaders for talks to New Delhi, some of them had opted out of that official meet, but had met him ( prime minister Manmohan Singh) on a one-on-one basis. In the spring of 2006, People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone had met Manmohan Singh. And Yasin Malik too had come to New Delhi in mid-February 2006 to meet Manmohan Singh. Before that meet, Yasin Malik had undertaken a signature campaign in the Valley, where he had emphasised, “The people of Kashmir are the principal party and they need to be made partners in the decision making. Thousands of the ordinary Kashmiris have communicated through their signatures that they want to be included in the dialogue process.” In March 2005, Malik had also put up an exhibition called ‘Voices of Peace’ at Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi, perhaps, in the hope that his message for peace would gain momentum from that particular venue.

During the course of the interviews, Hurriyat leaders stressed and focused on peace. When I had interviewed Sajjad Lone in Srinagar in 2001, he’d emphasised, “We want peace. Every Kashmiri wants peace but the Government of India is not letting us even talk or enter into a dialogue, leaving us frustrated. But as I said earlier, there can be no peace with broken promises and the GOI's track record has been full of deceit. … Hurriyat is absolutely against any bifurcation talks. We are all one people. We want no division of the state on any lines. This state has to remain intact”.

Yasin Malik, had also been saying emphatically, “I’ve always believed in a non- violent struggle. In 1983, I first jumped into this struggle for self-determination. It is only much later in 1988 that I took up an armed struggle under the banner of the JKLF but six years later, in 1994, we again opted for a unilateral ceasefire, gave up violence and wanted a peaceful settlement of this problem. The Government of India has to decide what it wants because it has adopted a different yardstick for peace process in Nagaland and it is treating us on a different level. I believe that India and Pakistan can’t hold any talks without involving representatives of the Kashmiri people. Kashmiris have to be involved in these talks and cannot be bypassed.”

Today, though a couple of the Hurriyat leaders seem to have lost their earlier level of popularity amongst the local Kashmiris yet they are not hated as the so called mainstream Kashmiri politicians are. Perhaps, what holds out in their favour is the fact that unlike the mainstream politician, they are not running away to New Delhi or to some other locale. The fact that these Hurriyat leaders are staying in the Valley, facing the ground realities along with the masses, reflects much. Their significance cannot be overlooked, nor bypassed.

What seems strange is that today, on one hand the Government of India leaves no opportunity to state that the Hurriyat leaders are irrelevant and not part of any discussions on Kashmir, yet they are rather too frequently jailed, if not placed under house arrest. This is enough to indicate that the government does realise that these local leaders have a hold on the sentiments of the Kashmiris and with that on the prevailing conditions in the Valley. And it is high time that talks and discussions were held with them to bring about some level of peace in the Kashmir region.

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