The all-party stock-taking in Delhi of the parliamentarians’ Kashmir visit produced a statement replete with phrases on which there could have been a consensus even without a discussion: no compromise on issues of national sovereignty; no place for violence in a civilised society.
The newsy bit that a committee of parliamentarians could be formed for ‘sustained engagement’ with equity-holders in Kashmir found no mention in the statement. In fact, the manner in which it kept doors ajar for talks left one befuddled: “The members requested the central and the state government to take steps for a dialogue with all stake-holders.”
Given that the team to Srinagar was led by home minister Rajnath Singh and included finance minister Arun Jaitley, the self-exhortation reflected the maximalist BJP’s existential dilemma on Kashmir. The search for a middle-ground on the issue, in short and long term, could be for the party a paradigm shift — from its life-long campaign against Article 370.
Not a wee bit surprising, therefore, that it let the opposition do the talking; the CPM’s Sitaram Yechury revealing plans for taking forward the initiative in terms of proposals the Centre did not reject or endorse upfront.
The BJP’s diffidence has been one constant in New Delhi’s Kashmir outreach. Their hesitation, as also of the Congress, seems rooted in the inevitability of Kashmir’s shadow on the poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh where their rivals — the SP and the BSP— chose the easier option of going unrepresented in the all-party delegation.
As the party in power at the Centre and in the state, there was no easy slipway for the BJP. That explains its preference for the tacit as opposed to the Opposition’s explicit advocacy of engaging with the Hurriyat. To every pointed question on whether there will be talks with separatists, Rajnath refused to single them out. His rehearsed refrain: there’d be dialogue with ‘all’ stakeholders.
Tuesday’s all-party discussions were held in the backdrop of reports that the Centre was planning a crackdown on Hurriyat leaders. The home minister felt compelled to dispel the possibility at the very outset; the reports, based on an official briefing, having the potential of breaking the broad political consensus the Centre needs as a buffer to tackle the Kashmiri unrest.
That begs the question whether it was a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. Or was it a conscious manipulation of the media to show the saffron clan as retaining the hunter’s instinct while confabulating with the hare.
The writer is Political Editor, Hindustan Times.