It is not my focus. If reading between the lines, Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh’s speech at Srinagar past Monday in anyway suggests that a faction of the Hurriyat Conference or its like minded groups have become spent cartridges in the eyes of New Delhi. Many political commentators at New Delhi and Srinagar have been writing on political impact of Prime Minister’s visit to Kashmir. Some writers in perspective of his speech have been discussing relevance and irrelevance of the Hurriyat Conference what they prefer to call as moderate group. In this column I have written umpteen times about bad conducting of this faction of the multi-party combine after 2002. I did write how the organization compared to many other organization in the state in the past had shot into international prominence on the crest of a movement that it had no role but it failed to grapple the opportunities from time to time for furthering resolution of Kashmir problem. I more than once tried to analyze that how, for some of its leaders pursuing different interests the faction was getting sucked into vortex of dilemmas where from it will be difficult for it to come out. I did write how it made disaster of an opportunity for failing to articulating its point of view with courage of conviction in 2005 when it had called upon Manmohan Singh without an agenda. I stopped short of writing an epitaph of this conglomerate believing that it might learn politics on the job and improve skills of conducting itself as a real political force.
Let me reiterate I am not to dwell upon the political dynamics of Prime Minister; Manmohan Singh, contrary to high expectations of APHC (M) leaders he not addressing them in his speech, I will not also be focusing on why his speech had received a kudos from Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi but on some other points in his speech that I believe were meshed so innocuously in the text of his speech that they failed to generate a much deserved debate.
Manmohan Singh was in Srinagar for two days. He was here in connection with 5th convocation of Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology and to take stock of various development schemes under Prime Ministers Reconstruction Program under execution in the state. This visit compared to his other visit undoubtedly was subdued but was not different than has earlier visits. It had both, domestic as well as external dimensions. Domestic in as much as he tried to reach out to people of the state who not in agreement with the stated position of Government of India on the question of accession of the state and the external dimension as he tried to send a message to Islamabad about prospectus of peace in the region.
This visit compared to his previous visit some six months back had some positive streaks in it. He had visited the state last when India and Pakistan relations that had soured after the Mumbai terrorist attacks continued to worsen with remote chances for improvement. The relations between the two countries this time were relatively better. The turbidity that had overwhelmed the relations between the two countries had after meeting between Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister of Pakistan Yusuf Raza Gillani in Bhutan had comparatively lessened. Despite mistrust persisting between the two countries the new initiatives have set ball rolling for reinitiating the paused composite dialogue for resolution of all outstanding problems including that of Jammu and Kashmir.
It cannot be denied that the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh while outlining the importance of peace in the region and stating that the good relations were ‘necessary for peace and progress in the region and for enabling people in two countries to live in peace’ made no mention of resumption of composite dialogue with Pakistan for resolving Kashmir and other disputes and most of it was laced with of ‘Pakistan stopping allowing using of its territory by terrorist for striking in India for starting dialogue on “known issues’.
But one of the two sentence that I believe had got innocuously enmeshed in the text of the speech and that are pregnant with messages was:
“Today I would like to say to our neighbors across the line of control that they should help in creating an environment in which people from both sides of Kashmir can live in peace and work together and India wanted to look at possible measures to strengthen links between people on both the sides. ”
These words, when read between the lines, or analyzed in perspective of the composite dialogue that was going on between the two countries from 2004 to 2007 more or less hints at reviving of dialogue for making of LoC porous for enabling people to move across freely, improving trading between two parts of the divided Kashmir, demilitarization, joint management of five autonomous divisions of Kashmir. The statement if not strictly but broadly seems in line what came to be known as Musharraf formula. The formula now seems not in tune with Pakistan’s current Kashmir policy. If a recent article “ “by former Pakistan Ambassador in New Delhi Ashraf Jehngair Qazi (known for his moderate views)’ in the News on Saturday is taken as an indicator there are now no takers for Musharraf idea of solution outside UN resolution. He very emphatically and vehemently writes that General Musharraf’s discarding of the UN Security Council resolutions was unnecessary and unacceptable.’ Notwithstanding the limitations of the proposals discussed by the two countries for four years on track two or in summits at highest levels they still continue to provide some framework for resumption of dialogue for an amicable and just solution of most outstanding dispute between the two countries. The hint dropped by Prime Minister in his Srinagar speech needs to be viewed not in isolation but in tandem with the scheduled visit of the US President Barrack Obama and in all likelihood the hind will become louder in coming days.
Another important sentence that I see as a departure from the traditional approach of New Delhi’s policy on Kashmir that had got lost in the maze of Prime Minister’s text was:
“We felt people of the State are not only interested in financial assistance and development projects but also desire a political process that meets their aspiration.”
These words by all stretch of imagination seem to be in sync with the popular discourse in the state that the problem of Jammu and Kashmir was not about economic packages, development schemes but a political problem deeply rooted in contemporary history of the sub-continent. His ideas seem in synchronization with those of many important contemporary writers on Kashmir who been maintaining that If Kashmir problem would have been purely a social and economic issue it would not have persisted after 1950, when the state witnessed unprecedented social and economic reforms like introducing most ‘sweeping land reforms- first of its kind in the entire sub-continent. Between 1950 and 1952, seven hundred thousand (700,000) landless peasants, mostly Muslims in the valley and two hundred fifty thousand (250,000) lower caste Hindus became peasant-proprietor as over a million acres were directly transferred to them.” The land to tiller, abolishing of big landed estates and abolishing of debt were highly revolutionary economic incentives but it is historical fact that these economic reforms of far reaching consequences followed by a lot of development activity in the state from 1953 to 1961 also failed to address the political aspirations of the people of the state. And in fact it was only after introduction of these economic reforms that the voices for political resolution of Kashmir became louder and louder.
I give lot of weight to these two sentences of Manmohan Singh’s speech than to his not mentioning about quiet dialogue with “moderate leadership” or ruffling feathers of Hurriyat (M) for not dropping a hint about his intentions of inviting them for dialogue and I see a great hope in the two sentence and see them as a paradigm shift in thinking about Kashmir problem in New Delhi