I did know you as Omar at a time when you were more media friendly—now of course you are more media savvy, I am sure you at least will appreciate the difference in the two words—but am not sure whether this greeting is in order. But then I am a cynical and thick -skinned scribe and I guess “Omar”, at least for the purpose of this letter, will just have to do.
I am becoming quite a letter writer, having written at least twice to your party president Sonia Gandhi, oh sorry you are not in the Congress party, forgive me for the slip up. Your tears in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly while speaking of that poor young lad who was killed by the Army moved me to write this missive , probably as atonement for my guilt that somewhere deep down I remained unmoved, cold and distant, as you were when 118 boys were gunned down in the Valley in 2010. This time you cried, “broke down” is how the media described it, but somewhere the impact of the tears was washed away by your constant expressions of helplessness. The “what can I do,” “why do you always blame me” refrain that one heard all over again from you does not become a person sitting in the Chief Minister’s chair. You are there for action, to do, to prevent, to stop, to act, and if you cannot do any of this for whatever reason then don’t you think Omar the gentleman’s way out is to resign?
I am not a Kashmiri but just an ordinary person who has had the good fortune of seeing for herself what the Kashmiri goes through these days. And believe me it is not pretty. It is in fact, very ugly. I have seen the women waiting with dull eyes for husbands they know will not return but will never admit it, even to themselves. I have seen the mothers looking out of their doors waiting for their family members to return safely, not knowing who will be picked up for unknown crimes, who will be molested, who will be shot. I have seen the young people caged in their homes without electricity, without the internet, without any entertainment as they are not allowed by their families or by your government to gather at café’s or any public place. I have seen ‘clampdowns’ with barbed wires manifesting the inhuman nature of these curfews where people are treated with no respect or dignity, only as suspects and potential terrorists. I have not seen the mass graves but I know what they carry. I have not met the thousands who have disappeared but have met some of their mothers and wives who are still searching for them. And I have seen at close quarters a political class that does not care, that does not emerge from its mansions, to hold the hands of the people and to assure them that it cares. Caring even in our own homes cannot be confined to rhetoric, it has to be demonstrated by action, and action Omar is totally missing from the ground in the Valley.
Your tears would have had some meaning even in 2010 when the first boy was shot for pelting stones. You could have turned tragedy into an opportunity by visiting the family, holding their hand and coming out to lead the protests as one of them instead of one of the ‘others’. You are not old, you could have given a new direction to the youth, many of whom told me then that when you came you had inspired hope but that was shattered by the violent summer stretching into winter. You could have addressed their demands of governance on a war footing, you could have set up a dialogue with them for their aspirations, you could have opened all doors and embraced them as your own, but you did quite the opposite didn’t you? You closed the doors, you appeared to agree with the first branding of them as terrorists, you pitted yourself against them, and ran away to Delhi. In other words you neither cried, nor did you act, and left them with no choice but to unite against you. You did not realize that while they were pelting stones they were still willing to be heard, and that the real problem for you and the authorities was when they stopped pelting stones. Because it was then that hope died, and with it started your isolation Omar because the young who had supported you for longer than many others in the Valley moved away.
You said that you were told about Afzal Guru’s hanging just a few hours before. I know for a fact that you were told much before, simply because all the action after the execution was expected at your end of the stick. In that Kashmir was going to react, and you had to be given sufficient warning to ensure that the clampdown was total and complete. This cannot be done, even by the most efficient system, within a “few hours.” And I wonder what you told them when they took you into confidence about the execution? Did you warn them that they would set the clock back entirely in Kashmir? Did you insist that Afzal Guru should be allowed to see his family? I know you said that you would have flown them down, so why did you not? You are the chief minister, not a major domo for the Congress government, why then didn’t you take a position? At this point too, if you really felt strongly as you claimed on all the television channels, and the government was not listening to you,you could have resigned? What is the point of blowing the bugle after the deed is done?
Now of course it does not matter whether you resign or do not as the people, the last few who remained, have lost all confidence and trust in you. Or so it seems from the reactions pouring out all over the internet, the internet you and the UPA government of which you are an ally fear so much as it carries more truth than any of the television channels and the big newspapers for whom Kashmir is how you define it, not as it really is. We have all become ostriches, perfect in hiding our heads in the sand and pretending Kashmir as we paint it to be. It is not. I somehow believe you know it is not, and your tears are not directed at the Kashmiris but at New Delhi which is your real constituency and which respects ostriches.
The letter is longer than I intended so I will close now. But just one point, you said that you had not taken the “flag in my hand to seek apology for every killing again and again.” Why not? You are an elected representative, it is your job to apologise and apologise again, as many times as state forces kill your people. Perhaps then you might actually ensure that your people are not killed, arrested, detained and harassed on a daily basis. You can make a beginning, perhaps, by withdrawing the draft Police Reform Bill but I think even that is too much to hope for.