Year of Possibility

Year of Possibility
Hope the ice breaks at last
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Is it a new phase in Kashmir politics? Or it is a reenactment. If it is a new phase, where will it lead to? If it is reenactment, is it all about procrastination or something beyond. These questions have been hammering my mind for the past many days and doggedly I have been looking for their answers.

The reasons for these posers haunting my mind were two-fold. One, Chairman APHC, Mirwaiz announcing to reach out to Indian intelligentsia and opinion makers by visiting  various states and telling them ‘truth’ about the Kashmir dispute. And second, the visit of parliamentarian and civil society delegations that many newspapers called as track-two team.

It is not for the first time that APHC leaders have felt the need of reaching out to intelligentsia, intellectuals and civil society in various Indian states. Immediately after the birth of the organization the conglomerate leadership started travelling to various state capitals for mobilizing the Indian public opinion in support of their ‘cause’.  With a view to reach out to a wide spectrum of Indian civil society and opinion makers the conglomerate in 1995 inaugurated an awareness bureau in New Delhi. The opening of an office by the APHC in the capital was not only welcomed by a cross section of political leadership in the capital but was seen as a major political development vis-à-vis New Delhi and Srinagar.

Besides, many a members of parliament, think tanks and opinion makers the function was attended by top leaders like Inder Jeet Gupta and IK Gujral. The speech of Syed Ali Shah Geelani on this occasion had created waves and it had provoked lots of commentaries from credible columnists including one from IK. Gujral. The bureau was not manned by trained and professional people but workers of APHC constituents with no training in public relations and scant political understanding and exposure. And with passing year it got embroiled in one after another controversy.

In December 2003 this office got closed down at very bad note when its bureau chief a member of the Muslim Conference led by Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat was arrested allegedly for money laundering. Thereafter the APHC not only dropped the idea of reopening its office in New Delhi but made no endeavor to reach out to opinion makers and think tanks in New Delhi. It is a jigsaw puzzle as to why the APHC has announced that it will be travelling from city to city to reach out to people in India. 

An eleven member parliamentary-civil society delegation comprising   Ram Vilas Paswan and Shoaib Iqbal of Lok Janshakti Party, Gopal Choudary of Communist Party of India (Marxist), D Raja of Communist party of India, Namo Nageshwar Rao of Telgu Desham Party, Danish Ali of Janta Dal (Secular), Maheshwar Hazari of Janta Dal (United), Shahid Siddiqui of Rashtriya Lok Dal, academician Prof. Kamal Chenoy, film maker Mahesh Bhatt and journalist Seema Mustafa. Many have been looking at the visit of this delegation as follow up to the visit of parliamentary delegation under the leadership of Home Minister, P. Chidambaram in the month of September.  The September visit had ended up in the announcement of an eight point package and appointment of     of three interlocutors for ‘initiating’ a dialogue with ‘all shades’ of opinion’. This team of light weights without any terms of reference and a mandate from the Parliament could be at best pronounced as team of researchers by and large found no takers in the state. It is believed that team was appointed for short term gains on diplomatic front, one, to offset the impact of the four month long agitation in the state on the international opinion and second, to tell President Barrak Obama during his visit that the government in Delhi was engaged with Kashmir leaders. There is also other opinion about New Delhi appointing a non-politician team as interlocutors that is the team could articulate their views about the Kashmir problem with more freedom than political leaders tethered to political stand of their parties on Kashmir dispute.  .  

The 11-member delegation met leaders on the both the sides of fence and the wailing mothers of the children killed during past five months. The team called Kashmir a cage and blamed the government in New Delhi keeping people in dark.  The team apparently seemed moved at the situation as has been obtaining in the state and one of the members of the delegation stated that ‘There was negative portrayal of Kashmiris by depicting them as terrorists. I appeal the national media to portray real picture of Kashmiris. We are with the Kashmiris from the roads to Parliament.’   

The team announced that it was on a fact finding mission in Kashmir and on its return to New Delhi it will place its recommendation before the government. It seems that the team will repeat the recommendations that many nongovernmental organizations and civil society groups have been articulating. That is release of political prisoners, amending or repealing Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Public Safety Act, removing of bunkers from civilian areas and engaging Kashmir leaders espousing the cause for right to self-determination. Seen in right perspective these demands are fallout of the political uncertainty in the state and not its cause.  The visit of the two parliamentary delegation one, ‘official’ and second ‘unofficial’ when seem   in a broader perspective is a very positive development. In the recent past it is for the first time when the teams of Indian law makers have visited the state and are trying to reach out directly to victims of the political uncertainty in the state.  It is also for the first time that these people are getting feel of the situation in the state and gathering first hand information about the political aspirations. 

Seen in perspective of the response that the delegation of civil society and Members of Parliament got from the political leadership espousing the cause of right to self-determination and people at large it seems that it will set a rethinking in the government about the continuance of team of interlocutors appointed two months back. The fact remains that the   interlocutors for their being boycotted by both the factions of the Hurriyat  Conference, the Bar Association and other political parties demanding ‘independence’ outlived  its utility before even making a start.  As against this the vibes in the state do suggest that if a parliamentary team with elaborate terms of reference and a proper mandate for addressing the dispute and engaging with leaders and political parties outside the electoral politics is appointed it will find better takers than those of the team comprising Dileep Padgaonkar, Prof. Radha Kumar and Dr. M.M. Ansari. The statement made by the leader of parliamentary delegation in Srinagar very subtly suggested the central government for taking bold initiatives and accommodating the demands of Syed Ali Shah Geelani for initiating a process that would help in the resolution of Kashmir problem.

I look at the interest shown by parliament members from various political parties in reaching out people of the state and the APHC deciding to tell its point of view to people in India as a new political development in the state. The two developments when seen in tandem do suggest that 2011 could be a year of possibility.

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