In the past week, the Centre has recognised - after a long and costly delay - the political nature of the problem in Kashmir. Almost two months after Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing triggered an avalanche of protests in the Valley, followed by a hard security crackdown, New Delhi has now sensed that the protests are not necessarily the problem, but the symptom of the problem.
That problem remains the political and psychological alienation of the Kashmiri street from New Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on unity and compassion in his Mann ki Baat telecast on Sunday and his point that every live lost in Kashmir hurts all Indians are positive developments.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has said that the government must be willing to talk to all those who are ready to shun violence — this implicitly suggests that doors will be open for separatists like those in the Hurriyat.
Read: Burhan Wani aftermath
Union home minister Rajnath Singh has promised that pellet guns — which have caused both grievous injury and become a symbol of insensitivity— will be replaced.
In Kashmir, curfew was lifted from most parts on Monday— after 51 consecutive days of lockdown and subsequent clashes in the aftermath of Wani’s death on July 8. An all-party delegation led by Home Minister Rajnath Singh will visit Jammu and Kashmir on September 4 to consult with a wide spectrum of opinion.
All of these are encouraging steps. But unless the newly-dawned recognition of the political problem, and the tentative outreach by the government are followed up by quick— very quick— action, the momentum will be lost. New Delhi needs to evolve a roadmap immediately. This should include initiating dialogue— back-channel and formal— with moderate elements in the Hurriyat. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is still fondly remembered in the Valley because of his willingness to engage— Mr Modi needs to go back to that approach. The government needs to depute political representatives on the ground in Kashmir to reach out to the disaffected. It also needs to open itself to new political frameworks for resolving the Kashmir problem.
The Constitution is a remarkably dynamic document and with political imagination, ways can be found to grant a degree of autonomy to Kashmir without hurting the unity and integrity of the Union. The government also needs to send a clear message to the security forces to be restrained, and work in coordination with each other.
Belated though it is, Delhi is slowly getting back on track by adopting a political approach. To make it meaningful and productive, it needs to act now.