‘Kashmir is a forbidden fruit. A bite at it can cost as heavily as it had cost Adam. It can cost you your political heaven.’ This is what overwhelming majority of politicians and political parties in India believed in. And continue to believe in. This belief exists ever since New Delhi published its first political gospel on Kashmir in 1947- The White Paper. No political party or leader whatever his stature ever tried to look at Kashmir outside this gospel. Over a period of time this Paper became as sacrosanct as ancient scriptures and talking outside it is still considered outrageously sacrilegious. Looking at Kashmir outside this paper is not only reckoned as unpatriotic but also blasphemous.
Has this mindset changed is a poser- a baffling question that vexed me during recent days on seeing a sudden flurry in most of the national level political parties with regard to Kashmir. Every political party whatever its strength in parliament has been competing for a space in Kashmir. Every small and big leader has been looking for a role and emerging as broker for peace. Surprisingly not only Muslim leaders even clerics considered Kashmir as live ember that on a touch could burn one’s fingers. But of late they too have started taking interest in Kashmir and looking for a role for bringing in peace in the state that in a row witnessed three summers of discontent and death. One after another group of leaders, politicians, parliamentarians and party tagalongs have been landing at the Srinagar airport and whizzing to political sanctum ‘sanctorums’ on the verdant slopes of Zabarwan hillock. On Wednesday a six-member Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) delegation headed by former BJP President Rajnath Singh arrived in Srinagar. This time the mission was not to unfurl tricolor on the only clock tower in Srinagar’s Red Square and attract screaming headlines on the satellite television channels but what it described it as understanding the problems faced by the people and preparing a road map for Jammu and Kashmir. The team did not include any top leaders of the party known for their rhetoric on Kashmir but it included some middle wrung leaders of this party; Ravi Shankar Prasad, Maya Singh Shahnawaz Hussain, K. K. Jain and P. Natha. Ostensibly, there was no reason for these leaders to visit the state when compared to earlier three years it was holding a promise for a trouble free summer. However, the visit came close on the heels of reviving the defunct Kashmir Committee. The committee was constituted during the NDA government and was headed by BJP leader and legal luminary Ram Jethmalani. The Committee remained on scene for many years and made many a foray to Srinagar. There was no public announcement about the mandate of this committee that apparently was a private initiative but was fully supported and backed by the government. It was engaged with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference headed by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and other allied leaders. No transcripts of the discussion that took place between the Hurriyat leaders and Committee members were made public. It is commonly believed that the committee succeeded in organizing photo sessions between the Hurriyat leaders and Prime Minister, Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani. The committee in no way could claim of having made a headway that could be seen as helpful in ending six decade old political uncertainty in Kashmir. It is a puzzle what brought about revival of this committee when many other similar panels have been constituted by New Delhi. The revived Kashmir Committee will now have former Law Minister Shanti Bushan as its chairman. He once again shot into prominence after becoming vice chairman of the drafting committee for the Lok Pal bill. In Indian civil society Mr. Bushan is not only known as a legal luminary but also a man of integrity but the question remains what role can he or his Kashmir Committee play with regard to Kashmir without a mandate from the establishment.
Notwithstanding, epitaph of this committee having been written much before its took off, there is a silver lining in its constitution that if it could play a role in bringing about flexibility in the Kashmir policies of the Hindutva parties including BJP that could give confidence to governments in New Delhi for taking some bolder initiatives for initiating a meaningful, time framed dialogue with Pakistan for ending uncertainty not only in Jammu and Kashmir but in the South Asian region. Minus the usual diatribe the statements made by BJP leadership during their visit to Kashmir had some positive streaks in them. Taking a departure from its grandiosity about doing away with the special status of the State, abrogation of already much eroded article 370 it has brought some ostensible flexibility in its traditional stand and it has been articulating its concern for resolving the problem of Jammu and Kashmir within the ambit of ‘justice’ and ‘humanity”. The BJP leaders repeating the two words that were used by former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had dreamt of resolving Kashmir problem during his life time, speaks more than the lexicon meaning of the words. The two when seen in perspective of history of the Kashmir dispute are unto themselves loaded statements. Many Kashmir leaders have been demanding resolution of Kashmir on the basis of justice and fairplay.
It would not right to dismiss the visit of the BJP leaders as a failure in view of it almost relooking at its stand on the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the feasibility of its continuing it in the state. BJP has been most ardent supporter of continuance of the act that besides given sweeping powers to shoot, arrest, search and detain people to the lowest functionaries also provides impunity to armed forces against any legal actions. The BJP shedding its stiff stand on Kashmir is in a way making history. If one believes the former BJP President Rajnath statement that the party ‘honestly’ wants to resolve the issue then it can be seen as good changing mood in New Delhi towards Kashmir.
Earlier the five month long 2010 mass agitation had caused many topnotch Indian leaders and members of civil society to visit Kashmir. The non-Congress and non–BJP political parties at the Centre formed the “Committee for promotion of Dialogue with Jammu and Kashmir. The Committee having top leaders like CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat, CPI general secretary AB Bardhan, Forward Block leader D Biswas, Lok Jan Shakti party president Ram Vilas Paswan, RSP leader Abani Roy, Janata Dal(S) national secretary Danish Ali, Telugu Desam Party MP Nama Nageshwar Rao and Rashtriya Lok Dal member Shahid Siddiqui has been visiting Kashmir and meeting members of civil society. The committee has been meeting the families that suffered human loss during past summer and autumn. It will not be just to say that committee has been putting a flop show but fact remains that for it not addressing the central issue that has been contributing to the fragility of peace in the state it has been touching peripheries or the consequences.
Some political analysts in New Delhi have been attaching a lot of significance to unprecedented interest shown by the opposition parties in Kashmir affairs. They see it as a positive development. However the top political leadership of Kashmir is skeptical about these moves. Syed Ali Shah Geelani sees these moves as ‘dilatory tactics’ to ‘hoodwink’ international community on situation in Kashmir. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq holds the view unless India agrees that Kashmir is an ‘unresolved issue’ the activities by Indian political leaders are useless. So have commented other
The scepticism of these leaders is not uncalled for. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has long history of visits by top most leaders from New Delhi and holding parleys with leaders that at different times of contemporary history articulated the demand for “granting of right to self-determination and holding of plebiscite.” It were not only Acharya Kripalani, Jay Prakash Narayan or Lal Bhaduari Shashatri that were engaged with the leadership of Kashmir during fifties, sixties and seventies but a host eminent intellectuals of times mostly with left leanings visited Kashmir. Met leaders inside jails to persuade them, not to insist on the right to self-determination but think of some resolution within the framework of the Indian Constitution. It cannot be denied that J.P.’s persuasion of the then leadership did materialize into an agreement between Sheikh Abdullah and Mrs. Gandhi – but this agreement failed on the test stone of time. It proved nothing but temporary crisis management exercise is a stark reality. Twenty two years history fully testifies it.
The new Indian leadership that has now been visiting the state will have to learn from the past experiences that for ending political uncertainty in the state they will have to graduate from crisis management to the resolution of the problem.