‘The politics of candyfloss’ Where will the dialogue offer lead us to?

There’s only one way into this fortress, and that’s to scale the walls.’ This dialogue from famous Hollywood blockbuster movie of early Seventies, ‘Where Eagles Dare”, with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood in lead roles resonated in my mind on seeing a spate of statements from the ‘resistance’ and ostensibly ‘dissenting’ leadership on the Governor N.N. Vohra’s address to the joint session of the Assembly on Wednesday. For any student of contemporary Kashmir politics, the interest exhibited by the ‘dissenting’ important leaders at the address is a sort of making history. These leaders for past two decades either have been ignoring such addresses or dismissing them to the trashcan. 

Is it subtle expression of change of mind-set, a paradigm shift or a display of misplaced understanding? This question is bound to hammer the public mind. In his address Governor stated that the new PDP-BJP government in the State will initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with “all internal stakeholders” including “all political groups” to evolve a consensus on resolution of all outstanding issues’. He also asserted that with a view to enlarge ‘constituency’ of peace the new dispensation will follow the approach adopted by previous NDA government headed by Vajpayee. And will initiate the dialogue process with all stakeholders in the state in the spirit of Insaaniyat, (humanity) Kashmiriyat (syncretism) and Jamhooriyat (democracy). 

The Governor who in his address to the legislature presented roadmap for governance and development of the state government also identified some of the ‘outstanding issues’ that state government wants to discuss with all stakeholders in the state. These include withdrawal of the AFSPA, de-notifying some disturbed areas, one time settlement of the refugees from ‘Pak’, dealing the issue of settlement of five lakh West Pakistan Refugee (WPR) on ‘humanitarian grounds’ and return of Kashmiri Pandits. The governor in his address was not articulating views of the central government on the political issues confronting the state. 

In this column, more than once, to the raising of adrenaline of some “leaders”, I did analyse how the phrases ‘Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat’ where nothing more than grandiloquence. And these were in no way synonymous with allowing people an opportunity to decide their future and nor provided a roadmap for resolving the Kashmir dispute in accordance with internationally recognized parameters. Such propositions at best can be described as politics of ‘candyfloss. That like the sweet ball leaving momentary sweetness in the mouth, gives short-lived sense of achievement to political class. 

What is the newness, in the Governor’s address that the ‘leaders’ only have seen? And made them say that they ‘would not shy away from entering’ into such an engagement. Of course with a rider, ‘if these are held at higher level’. They showed willingness for participating in the proposed ‘dialogue with internal stakeholders’ to be initiated by new CM provided framework for the talks has some elements of previously held talks by them with former Home Minister, L.K. Advani in two sittings on 22 and 27 January 2004. These talks have been dwelled upon in detail by Advani in his autobiography, ‘My Country My Life’ (pages 682-693). 

Surprisingly, the offer of engagement by the BJP-PDP coalition with “all political groups” and stakeholders for ‘evolving a consensus’ on resolution of “all outstanding issues” found an echo in an unexpected quarter- the APHC (G), that promptly issued a statement that the multi-party combine will discuss the matter once it officially receives an invitation. Notwithstanding, the governor without any ambiguity having identified contours and confines of the proposed process, which obviously is a state level dialogue, the offer of talks also prompted a statement from Syed Ali Geelani. That he will ‘support the dialogue if it honours sacrifices of Kashmiris.’ In political struggles, choice of words and phrases in itself make a political statement.

The choices of words, whether consciously or inadvertently made in the statement issued by the conglomerate very subtly suggests, there is softness in attitude towards the offers for a dialogue. The use of phrase “respecting aspiration of people” instead of “right to self-determination ” in the statement when looked in the context of political struggle of the state can be called as an ideograph- “ a word frequently used in political discourse that uses an abstract concept to develop support for political positions. Such words are usually terms that do not have a clear definition but are used to give the impression of a clear meaning”. 

If there is not something outside the public gaze in the offer of the dialogue for the ‘dissenting leadership’. And if this offer by the BJP-PDP government materialises it could at best be historically compared to the State Peoples Convention of 1968 organized by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah under aegis of the Plebiscite Front for bringing about a consensus amongst all stakeholders in the state for finding a solution for Kashmir ‘issue.’ For this convention a steering committee of most important leaders had been constituted. And all stakeholder had been invited for the convention. The only difference between the two is that this one is proposed by the government in power. And one organised in 1968 was boycotted by the Congress government led by G. M. Sadiq. Nevertheless, it will be wrong to believe that the convention was held without a tacit understanding of the power centres in India. Many important Indian leaders were directly involved in the exercise. Some of them saw it as a step forward that could prove catalytic in finding a permanent solution to the Kashmir problem. 

The deliberations and proceedings of the convention indicate that every aspect of Kashmir problem, from legality of the accession to the international status of the dispute and from constitutional relations with India to economy of the state were freely discussed. And multiple voices of dissent that marked the convention only exposed chinks in the armour that ultimately led to the burial of the movement for plebiscite, dissolution of the Plebiscite Front and Indira-Abdullah agreement. Truth is Indira-Abdullah agreement did not end political uncertainty but pushed the State to a more devastating phase. 

Where will offer for dialogue from new dispensation to the Hurriyats and other stakeholders lead to is a moot point.