My leaders

Today the theme song in Kashmir is ‘peace and tourism’. Seen in right historical perspective, it is after decades perhaps after the jashan-e-Kashmir days of late fifties that this song has become so intense and louder that one may call it   Kashmir song’ of 2011.

It is not only the traditional official drum beaters’ that are orchestrating this song to the full boom or New Delhi that is making it sound louder. But, unprecedentedly the dissenting political leaders those espousing the  ‘right to self-determination’, demanding implementation of the United Nations Resolution on Kashmir  or raising voices for Azadi or aspiring for total independence have also joined the new theme song.

Top pro-independence leader Muhammad Yasin Malik ‘urged tourists to visit Kashmir without any fear and enjoy its natural beauty to its fullest. He called upon people to defeat vested interests and tour operators were spreading canards about the safety and security of tourists in the Valley with an intention to divert tourists to Himachal Pradesh and other states.’ Hurriyat (G) leader Syed Ali Geelani stated that he did not ‘favor destroying charm of tourism season in the valley. To see tourism boom in the valley   his party has ‘not framed any programs’ of shutdowns and severe protests this summer.”

His diktat: “No projectile propelling this year”, will be followed by the youth to the biblical dot his party men believe as gospel truth.  He has asked his workers to distribute bills of welcome to tourists and pilgrims on their arrival in the valley and also share their ‘painful’ stories with them.  With most of the top leaders of his faction behind the bars it seems the year 2011 will be virtually a year of political siesta for him. He was seen in the vanguard of discontent and agitation during past three summers. These three summers had seen millions converging on the roads raising slogans for right to self-determination and Azadi all across the valley. These slogans directly or indirectly had resounded all across the state. The 2008, agitation, over the allotment of some hundred acres of land to a temple board had brought down the Congress-PDP coalition government in the state. The 2008 agitation after the communal holocaust of 1947 in Jammu had for the first time brought the state to the precipice of disintegration. For the first time after the closure of the Jhelum Valley Road in the wake of UN resolutions of 1948 and 1949 Kashmir valley starved of life saving drugs, medicine and other essentials. The summers of 2009 and 2010 are fresh in the minds of the people and I am not going to repeat what happened during these summers. A lot has been written about five month long 2010   agitation that had seen hundred and sixteen killed.  Talking about impact of this agitation or analyze its political implications in this column will been bordering on repeating what has already been said.  Best and top most columnists and analysts in the world have debated and discussed 2010 situation in perspective of Kashmir problem in over two thousand international newspapers. The 2010 situation had set many in India to rethink and made New Delhi to take some initiatives including sending both official and unofficial parliamentary delegations to the state and appointing a team of interlocutors for drafting recommendations to the government for addressing Kashmir “problem”. It is a question, if these initiatives bring some positive results or at least indicate a path that could honestly lead to the goal of ending political uncertainty in the state.  

I don’t want to take dangerous risk of reading more than obvious in this paradigm shift of Syed Ali Geelani.  What has brought about this metamorphic change in Kashmir leadership is the question. Why tourism related economy nagging their minds. It is the question they only can answer with authority. Tourism at its peak in mid seventies and first two years was contributing ten percent   the state GDP. This industry has suffered lots of troughs and has had only few crests. And it has not brought even dividends worth investments made during past over five decades.  The major sectors that have sustained state economy during the worst of its periods have been handicrafts and agriculture. The shrinkage of agriculture land with more and more areas getting urbanized should be a cause of concern. This urbanization can have catastrophic impact on the state economy. If Kashmir leadership is in a mood to look for an alternative discourse, they need to study John Ruskin’s Unto the Last that had changed Gandhi’s thinking, perspective and life. Many a historian sees this work as a bible for Green Politics- the new genera of politics that aims at creating ‘an ecologically sustainable society rooted in environmentalism, social liberalism and grassroots democracy. Environment has the potential of keeping leaders in headlines and dominating prime time slots on international channel.
 Has Kashmir leadership started looking for successful tourist summer out of concern for the people directly connected with tourism. It would be too early to conjure an argument that if this preludes creating an atmosphere for entering into a dialogue with New Delhi. Other than official interlocutors from the government two more initiatives that is the old Kashmir Committee with veteran BJP leader Ram Jethmalani at top and second, the non-congress and non-BJP group of parliamentarians and civil society with Paswan as its leader are at play for bringing all Kashmir leaders including Syed Ali Geelani on board. These committees have been   advocating meeting of preconditions common in two factions of the Hurriyat Conferences for setting tone for reinitiating dialogue with dissenting Kashmir leaders.

There are also indications that the team of interlocutors are also suggesting to the central government for meeting the conditions laid down by the Hurriyats. Most of these conditions are routine demands, like release of prisoners, withdrawal of troops from civilian areas and repealing of laws like AFSPA, in more than one way these organizations have very subtly been demanding   return to 1987- 1988 situation when MUF had contested the elections.

In the emerging scenario when Kashmir leaders are talking tourism that is economy return to 1989 situation without AFSPA and bunkers in the civilian areas should not be difficult propositions for powers in New Delhi.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)