India should address human element of Kashmir within democratic norms, not set pre-conditions for dialogue

Union finance and defence minister Arun Jaitley’s recent Jammu and Kashmir visit was uninspiring. Far from clearing the dust kicked by a junior minister on the row over Article 370, his emphatic assertion of talks within Indian constitution have belied the little hopes triggered by prime minister Narendra Modi’s assertion of resolving Kashmir within theparadigm of “Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat” reminiscent of his predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee’s promise of “Insaniyat ka daira”. The defence minister who remained non-committal on the fate of the much abused Armed Forces Special Powers Act instead embarked on a different plane by choosing to treat Kashmir through special financialpackages, a tested and failed formula which can only induce high corruption levels, pilferages, squandering of money but not ensure any respect for the national mainstream among the alienated and angry masses of Kashmir, much less woo the latter into the mainstream. Financial packages have been offered since the times of Narasimha Rao, more handsomely since Vajpayee’s tenure but have been not only severely flawed in their poor assessment of the financial needs of the state and its people but also failed to be a solution to a problem that is essentially political in nature. Dealing with the political element of Jammu and Kashmir would require foresight, bold initiatives and an off-the beaten-track approach. With his offer of talks within Indian constitution, which is more like a red rag in Kashmir, Jaitley did just the opposite, dashing any hope for a meaningful settlement of Kashmir issue. Even Vajpayee made the waiver of that conditionality one and a half decades ago when he opened some channels of direct talks with select separatists. The slew of meetings were informal and failed to be designed into a comprehensive process of dialogue, which was the need of the time then and cannot be any less emphasized now. No heavens had fallen then and nothing dramatic would happen now of such riders were not to be spelt. 

Any offer of dialogue on Kashmir must come without pre-conditionalities which could help address the trust deficit and in no way would amount to agreeing to all the demands of the separatists or any other Kashmiri group. Any healthy dialogue involves putting on table different perspectives, negotiations, adjustments and compromises that are suitable propositions for all stakeholders. In the Kashmir situation, that would not just be the central government and the Kashmiri separatists but eventually also people from all parts of the state. This may be a rather arduous task but can be made a possibility only by beginning with a clean slate and without any pre-conditions. An earnest effort in this direction, therefore, has to come from the government to begin a process of dialogue that can start with separatists but gradually become more and more inclusive taking in all shades of opinions, regions and communities. The separatists too may need to be more realistic by patching up their petty differences and spelling out their vision for the future, besides readying themselves for some bold decisions on the table, incase there is an offer of a meaningful dialogue. Jaitley’s political stinginess begs the answer to the moot question: Why would there be unrest and alienation in Kashmir if things could be suitability fixed with a dialogue within the Indian constitution; the existing legal mechanisms would otherwise have been sufficient to address the cause of anger. 

A good way to begin in Kashmir, however, could be to use the mechanisms within the Indian constitution to ably and fairly address the human element of the problem, which would result in decimating the trust deficit. Doing away with laws like AFSPA that give unconstitutional powers to the armed forces to operate in Jammu and Kashmir, arrest, torture and kill people including innocents with impunity on the pretext of counter insurgency could be one way. Other steps like probing the mammoth complaints and allegations of human rights violations would also go a long way in building the confidence of the people. The immediate do-ables should be to ease the atmosphere and save the people from the stifling atmosphere by calling for a moratorium on random crackdowns, raids and arresting youth on frivolous or no charges at all and also facilitating an atmosphere where peaceful protests and voices of dissent are encouraged. The footprints of the security forces would also need to be reduced in a phased manner. Such measures are well within the parameters of the fundamental democratic rights that the Indian constitution guarantees to its citizens and if indeed the constitution needs to be invoked, it is only in addressing the human element, allowing for a stifling atmosphere to be transformed into one filled with hopes and a quantum of trust. Let the Indian state and its agencies operating in this state first begin with its constitutional and moral obligation to the people of this state. Any dialogue process could then be rooted in these much needed confidence building measures which are within the Indian constitution and also within Modi’s proclaimed “insaniyat, jamhooriyat and kashmiriyat.”