Hopes of the Srinagar-New Delhi dialogue process' success have suffered a big jolt following the National Conference's withdrawal. The Jammu and Kashmir separatists are already out of it. This will have a swingeing effect on the state's political situation.
The hard-line faction of the Hurriyat Conference, led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has never been a party to any dialogue process with New Delhi, directly or indirectly. The moderate faction's chairman, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, has already termed the round table conference and the working groups as a "meaningless exercise" unless the bilateral dialogue between separatists and the Indian leadership converges on some agreement.
It was National Conference President Omar Abdullah, who had asked for the "widening of dialogue and setting up of the working groups "to address internal and external dimensions of the Kashmir issue. It was he who on October 24 announced pulling out of the dialogue process over the continuing human rights violations in complete disregard of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's promise of "zero tolerance" for such abuses by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.
"National Conference was in the forefront of dialogue process, we wanted the process to be widened," Omar Abdullah told Hindustan Times. With his party pulling out of it, he felt "it has come to a grinding halt, as far as the internal dimension is concerned."
There are reasons for that. Abdullah says it was he who had asked for the setting up of the working groups to address the internal and external dimensions of the Kashmir issue. Therefore, one could imagine the fate of the dialogue process once his party is out of it.
National Conference's exit leaves Congress, its allies in the ruling coalition - PDP, Peoples Democratic Forum and few ethnic groups - at the round table. PDP is aware that NC's participation is important in the dialogue process. Without NC in it, PDP loses much of its shine as a party working for the interests of Kashmiris.
Moreover, NC has quit on the issue of the human rights. PDP does not have an issue to counter NC's stance. It had come to power in 2002 on the slogan of giving a healing touch to the state.
Some reports linked the NC decision to its displeasure over the Hurriyat Conference's growing clout with its move to reach Islamabad in a bid to solve the Kashmir issue. Others have traced it to the increasing importance of PDP leader and former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who is heading to the UN this month-end as head of the non-official delegation of India.
Hurriyat chief Geelani however says that whenever NC is out of power, it resorts to such "political tactics".
"It's rubbish," says Omar.
First of all, it was me who has been asking for Hurriyat's participation in the dialogue process. Secondly, Mufti Sayeed is part of the ruling class. How can we have any objection to it."
He goes on to add: "Only the party out of power can do it. When we are in the government, we cannot step out of the dialogue process of our government."