Here’s a short take on the sound and images from Srinagar: The Centre’s invite for talks with stakeholders was in the nature of a public notice; the PDP’s letter to separatists a wobbly one-legged outreach and the Opposition’s beeline to Hurriyat an overture without the force of mandate.
This isn’t a defence of the separatists’ refusal to meet parliamentarians. It’s about real politik. The Centre refused to give Hurriyat primacy among stakeholders; the latter set preconditions that New Delhi demilitarise and accept Kashmir as a ‘dispute’ for dialogue to open.
Even before the all-party delegation set foot in Srinagar, it was obvious that neither the separatists nor the parties in power at the Centre and in the state were inclined to spare each other a face-saver. The scorched earth positioning obviated all chances of a thaw, leave alone a breakthrough.
Caught in the cleft stick was the Opposition rump that tried reaching out to the separatists. The CPM, CPI, RJD, JD(U) and the AIMIM’s valiant bid was a non-starter. One reason for that was their lack of legislative presence in the Valley—unlike the PDP, BJP, Congress and the NC who didn’t go knocking at Hurriyat’s doors.
In some parts it seemed a photo-op. The result of the half-hearted exercise could be deeper distrust of the Centre and the coalition in power in the state. Mehbooba Mufti’s missive to Hurriyat, not as chief minister but as PDP chief, exposed a debilitating hiatus over the coalition’s ‘agenda’ for governance that is unequivocal about talks with Hurriyat and Pakistan.
The chasm was evident as much in Rajnath Singh’s cryptic replies to questions on Mehbooba’s letter and discussing Kashmir with Pakistan. “Yes, I’m aware of such a letter,” he remarked. The home minister termed Kashmir an ‘internal matter’ and was laconic as much on Pakistan: “I’m speaking to my countrymen. No need to drag in outsiders.”
On the positive side, the Centre has, albeit indirectly, accepted Hurriyat as a stakeholder. “That should help when another effort is made to start a dialogue,” said Rajiv Vora of the Swaraj Peeth Trust that has been active in the Valley.
“The BJP might perceive the Hurriyat as evil….but it’s a necessary evil. There’s no escape from it in today’s Kashmir,” noted another pro-talks Kashmir watcher. He felt the Centre’s decision to abandon pellet guns should be followed up with the release of separatists. To reduce tension, the Centre should make suo motu announcements for compensation and high-end medical care for pellet gun victims and the families of dead.
The reality is that there’s less support in the Valley for talks with the Centre. Conversely, separatists are a red rag among the middle classes of northern and western India who mostly support the party.
It’s a gingerly walk ahead amid pitfalls and political landmines. Neither side can afford to blink without a good bargain. For conflicting reasons, Kashmir’s the raison d’etre of both.
The writer is Political Editor, Hindustan Times.