UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s belated realization for the need to find out what angers the youth in Kashmir and why there is such deep rooted alienation is a sad reflection of how ill-informed the party holding the reins of the country is. One cannot excuse the Congress led UPA of complete naivette. And this may be not only because the party has been in power for enough time during the last twenty years of very visible alienation and anger, especially in the recent years. The anger has been on the boil for two years but it had started seething in the years preceding that. Instances can be traced through a trail of events including the widespread protests over Ganderbal fake encounter killings in 2005 and the infamous sex scandal in 2006.
Interestingly, when these issues rocked the valley, Congress government was in power not only in the centre but also at the helm of affairs in Jammu and Kashmir. It was Congress regime’s follies that led to the Amarnath land row agitation, which has been a turning point in the politics of the state, not only fuelling an aggressive anti-India campaign in Kashmir but also sharply dividing the state on communal lines. The party has been in power or has been a major alliance partner of those in power for almost the last one decade, ever since there has been a decline in presence of militant groups, through the years of peace process and the endless rounds of back channel diplomacies or some open consultations. The party has a strong presence in the state, in or out of power. Sonia Gandhi’s constrained knowledge about the cause of anger betrays either her lack of faith in her own party based in Jammu and Kashmir for feedback or the inability of the latter to give an honest account. That during its own rule in the state, the party severely bungled, only contributing in increasing the level of impatience and anger in Kashmir, reveals that Sonia’s reliance more on the team of three interlocutors that she talked about rather than its own cadre members within the state is due to a bit of both.
However, it is unlikely that this is a simple case of just plain ignorance and the sudden realisation that there is a need to understand the cause of anger as well. This summer, between the time that anger began turning into violent rage to the announcement of interlocution on Kashmir, the Congress party at the national level oscillated between the extremes of calling these protests as campaigns sponsored by Lashkar-e-Toiba to reinforcing the need for dialogue. The Congress response all along has been marked by inconsistency that is not only the hallmark of this party in power alone but has been the wont of all other political dispensations in power at the Centre, all guided by their own confusing web of dichotomies, inconsistencies and lack of clarity. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that a lack of policy on Kashmir is what contributes to the accumulating anger of the people of Kashmir. As for the anger, New Delhi already has enough feedback on why denial to address the political dispute lies at the fountainhead of alienation, that alienation and anger has been further fuelled by a continuum of human rights abuse. Most protests, on bigger or smaller scale, have been inspired by the acts of brutality by security forces and police or the official denial to grant justice. There is a trail of protests from Ganderbal fake encounters to killings during Amarnath land row protests, from Bomai killings to Shopian rapes and murders. Last summer’s wave of protests, unprecedented as they were, triggered after the revelations of fake encounter killings and gained momentum as a young boy, not even remotely connected with the protests, was shot dead by a tear-gas shell, and for a week the officials clandestinely tried to pass it off as murder through its usual mechanism of rumours. Doesn’t New Delhi get it? Not after media has been reporting these issues?
Not after experts have pointed out the gravity of the situation? Not after several rounds of previous interlocution and track two processes? So how does a fresh team of interlocutors assigned the task for a year enable those in corridors of power to become more enlightened. Other than costing the state exchequer a huge sum on managing this team, it may achieve nothing, at least in terms of educating New Delhi about Kashmiris ko gussa kyon aata hai any better than what is already known. The initiative, controlled and monitored, without the much talked about red lines, may as well be an attempt to buy time on Kashmir, for a plethora of reasons, and allow the problem to linger. It is in this light that Sonia’s new found compassion for Kashmiris needs to be viewed. It appears to be less inspired by sympathy and more by the crisis of inconsistency and dichotomy that prevails at the highest echelons of power.