Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will deliver a speech on government’s policy on Kashmir to a predominantly Kashmiri Muslim audience.
But it would be watched and heard with an equal interest and attention from Leh to Lakhanpur, by more than 11 million people - Buddhists, Hindus, Paharis, Gujjars, Jammu Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits alike. Similar attention would be there across the border- occupied Kashmir.
“The significance is natural. As he has already stated that he would be interested in dialogue, that would be keenly watched as to how he intends to do so,” Tahir Mohi-ud-Din Kashmir’s leading political observer told Hindustan Times.
Kashmir would be looking forward to his response to the confidence building measures that have been sought by All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq- release of political prisoners, gradual demilitarization, more people to people contact between two parts of Jammu and Kashmir divided between India and Pakistan and repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Public Safety Act and Disturbed Areas Act.
“Either there should be some major announcement on confidence building measures or a path-breaking declaration of handing over of Dul Hasti power project to J&K and some compensation to the state because of the losses suffered by the state , owing to Indus Water Treaty.” Tahir, who edits Urdu newspaper “Chattan” or the rock, felt.
It would be his first major public speech – election speeches apart- after April 7, 2005, when he had flagged off “Caravan –e-Aman”, or ( Caravan of peace) a cross LoC bus service from Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium, the place made historic by his immediate predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Vajpayee had extended “hand of friendship” to from there on April 18, 2003.
A great part of Manmohan Singh’s agenda is known. He has declared his intentions to talk to the people of all shades of opinion. And Home Minister P Chidambaram has said that “everything would be on ( negotiation) table.”
Despite all this, when he approaches the microphone, there would be many watching and listening him, holding their breath.
“It would be important to know as to what he has to say, especially as a mood of high expectations is sweeping the state,” Gul Mohammad Wani, a professor of political science in Kashmir university. He would have to find a reply to a lot many questions, for even the hardline separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani would be looking for something from him.
Geelani who has given call for a shutdown on his arrival, described the Prime Minister as a “gentleman”. Which side of PM would be there for him to see on Wednesday.
Others, too, are having their questions.
“Are we there,” Jammu Muslims have asked. Jammu Muslim Coordination Committee, leader Zahoor-ud-Din has spoken of 35 per cent Muslim population in Jammu region. “We should be taken into confidence.”
Kashmiri Pandits are worried about the whole spectrum. “ We are Kashmiris, too”, said K N Pandita, one of the leaders of the community. Panun Kashmir leaders like Ajay Charngoo have voiced apprehensions about the proposed dialogue.
Gujjars have asked for a package, seeking political reservation in the legislative bodies.
Within the Valley, there are several reminders and questions staring at the Prime Minister. His commitment to “ zero tolerance” to human rights excesses during the second round table conference on Kashmir in Srinagar , has been questioned too often.
Apart from Shopian episode, which is now being probed by CBI to find out truth about the alleged rape and murder of two women, five months ago, the recent killing of a boy in Kupwara, offers another reminder.
Even the mainstream parties have questions- NC would be looking for a word on autonomy. PDP has projected Self-Rule as the ultimate solution to Kashmir crisis.
Which one of these would be there in the speech of PM? In few hours, it would be known.