Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh struggled to respond when he was asked if he would apologize for the killing of Kashmiri youth at the hands of police and para-military forces. It became clear at that moment that he sided with the forces and not the people.
Rajnath Singh visited Kashmir for two days (July 23 and 24) to make an on-the-spot assessment of the situation. Singh has a long-standing political career and is considered to be senior to even Prime Minister Narendra Modi in politics. He belongs to an older class of politicians. When he landed in Srinagar July 23, many expected that he would deal with the crisis politically. But he could not come out of the security-bureaucracy influence.
Singh was not expected to deliver “Azadi” to Kashmir, but his visit could have made a difference had he created some political space for everyone with his discourse. He too got entangled in figures and numbers to argue that it was actually the Kashmiri youth who was responsible for the trouble. There is no denying the fact that the youth who engaged in pitched battles with the police and para-military forces had burnt public property, attacked police stations and at some places chased the policeman to abandon certain areas, but that does not absolve the state of doing something different to deal with the situation. The mechanism to deal with situations like in Haryana and Gujarat is also being talked about, and former chief minister Omar Abdullah did not mince words in saying that two different sets of standards were being adopted to deal with rioters in Kashmir and the rest of India. He even talked about a recent incident in Jammu where a mentally retarded Muslim youth from Doda was detained under Public Safety Act for desecrating a temple, and at the same time 22 Hindus who resorted to arson and burnt property worth crores of rupees were released by the police.
“There are different sets of standards for dealing with rioters in Kashmir and the rest of India”
Excessive use of force to contain the trouble is the only route the police and para-military forces took, resulting in the highest number of injuries (3,000 civilians) Kashmir has seen in the last 26 years in a particular phase of unrest. And over 50 are dead in just five days. Rajnath Singh expressed regret and extended condolences to families when he was here, but that did not happen in the parliament, where the entire political leadership of country debated the Kashmir unrest. They did not show any empathy with the thousands of grieving families. The government is bound to listen to the organs of the state and rely on the feedback given by various agencies. It is also a fact that this time, the trouble started after a militant commander was killed, and the people who were killed or injured were rallying behind someone who pursued a violent path to achieve a political goal.
That, however, does not become basis for dealing with the situation through the security prism only. And if the police used force to tackle them, a curfew was in place and there was a complete communication blockade to cripple people’s lives, then why did an important functionary of the government arrive and give an impression that his government was concerned? He could have patted the security forces on the back from Delhi. Rajnath Singh did talk about the pellet gun and a possible ban on it, offering to take the injured to Delhi, but that was not enough.
Kashmir has not witnessed such trouble for the first time, and in recent years the involvement of the general public has overshadowed the militants in the “fight against the Indian state”. No doubt the elections saw a large turnout, and very recently Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti got elected with a significant margin, but that did not change the reality on the ground.
The home minister’s cold response to any political outreach not only goes against the AB Vajpayee track, which PM Modi has mentioned more than few times, but also discounts “The Agenda of Alliance” that the People’s Democratic Party and Bhartiya Janata Party had agreed upon before forming an allied government.
“The earlier NDA government led by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee had initiated a dialogue process with all political groups, including the Hurriyat Conference, in the spirit of ‘Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat aur Jamhooriyat’. Following the same principles, the coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections,” according to the Agenda of the Alliance. “This dialogue will seek to build a broad based consensus on resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K.”
The agenda also says: “The Union Government has recently initiated several steps to normalize the relationship with Pakistan. The coalition government will seek to support and strengthen the approach and initiatives taken by the government to create a reconciliatory environment and build stakes for all in the peace and development within the sub-continent.”
A senior minister in Mehbooba Mufti told Singh in reference to this agenda: “We feel we are a failure”.
Moreover, how can normalcy be restored in an atmosphere where a curfew and a communication blockade is the only option being used to enforce an uneasy calm? Although, he is in the opposition and did not talk the same language when in power, Singh’s predecessor P Chidambaram made a strong case for political intervention in Kashmir recognizing that it was essentially a political problem. He told noted journalist Karan Thapar that India failed to keep its promise on the grand bargain to Jammu and Kashmir. And when Singh was in Kashmir he wrote a suggestive piece giving eight points that could be a beginning to a new process in the state. He stressed on recognizing Kashmir as political issue rather than an issue of law and order. Though Singh agreed to consider those eight points and also to have a look at the report given by the interlocutors appointed by the UPA government in 2010, he failed to come out of the security-backed perception on Kashmir. The valley has been in pain for about 18 days, and it needs a healing touch. It needs political attention that could give help avoid a 2010-like situation. Otherwise, we are poised for a long haul that could reach a point of no return.
The author is a veteran journalist from Srinagar and the editor-in-chief of The Rising Kashmir