An all-party delegation is slated to visit Srinagar next month to open dialogue with the people. It’s a laudable initiative. The question nevertheless remains whether time’s ripe, the sentiment conducive and the Valley receptive to reconciliation?
One view of the visit: It’s never too early or too late to reach out to alienated citizenry; that a direct encounter with the severity of the situation would help national parties appreciate better the challenges facing the people, the local administration and the security forces.
The other argument: Not much would come out of the one-off visit without sustained outreach at other, more difficult, tiers. Elected representatives will have to pick up courage to connect with rebellious constituents, at once mobilizing peer leaders, parents, teachers and elders to reason with the youth who’re veritable family dropouts.
“The glaring inter-generational cleavage needs bridging,” noted Wajahat Habibullah, a former J&K cadre IAS who was Commissioner, Kashmir Division, during the insurgency of 1990s. The post-nineties generation of Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits, he continued, grew up amid violence and distrust: “They know nothing about Kashmiriyat.”
Another name for syncretism, Kashmiriyat was always a nubile concept, blown out of public consciousness in the decades after the Pandit exodus of January, 1990. Even a vestigial narrative of the romantic construct conjured up by Sheikh Abdullah, hasn’t had any inter-generational voyage.
“Reconnecting the youth with elders should be at the core of any peace initiative in Kashmir,” averred Rajiv Vora of Swaraj Peeth Trust that has worked with the Valley’s youth. “Their aspirations have to be relocated in India ….”
Vora’s comment alluded to Kashmir’s cross-border dimension. But before getting to the substantive, there’s need to address the emotive: use of pellets, excessive force, resultant casualties and house raids that exacerbated disaffection, swelling the number of youth with guns.
That brings one to the elephant in the room-- the Hurriyat . Why would separatists who thrive on popular distrust of India, help mainline parties restore normalcy? Replied Habibullah: “There’s one concern the Hurriyat is duty-bound to share with others: the wellbeing of youth fighting troops on streets…Its wider connect with the disaffected population enhances its responsibility to reach them succour without prejudice to its stance on Kashmir.”
A healing touch approach by elected representatives would take jamhooriyat (democracy) and insaniyat (humanity) to Kashmir’s doorsteps. The all-party team should go there as good listeners, not spokespersons of any established authority. They’d connect better as emissaries of people of India holding out a caring hand.
That also will jell well with the PM’s new slogan-- mamata (empathy) and ekta (unity). To be true to its word, the BJP, cautioned an official, has to have an image makeover. “It must abandon reassertion of its traditional positions to be heard and believed in Kashmir…”
If nothing else, it will be good tactics to pull the Valley back from precipice.