When Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh struggled hard to respond to a question whether he would apologise for the killing of Kashmiri youth at the hands of police and paramilitary forces, it became amply clear that he sided with the forces and not the people. Rajnath Singh visited Kashmir for two days (July 23-24) to have an on 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 and belongs to an older class of politicians. And when he landed in Srinagar July 23, many expected that he would deal with the crisis politically. But he also could not come out of the security-laden bureaucratic influence and that was clear when he dealt with the questions at the new conference he addressed at the end of his visit.
Singh was not expected to deliver “Azadi” to Kashmir but his visit could have made difference had he created some political space in his discourse. He too got entangled in figures to further validate the argument that it was actually the Kashmiri youth who was responsible for the trouble. Not denying the fact that the youth who engage in the pitched battles with the police and paramilitary forces had burnt the 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 such situation like in Haryana and Gujarat is often being talked about and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah did not mince his words in saying that two different sets of standards were being adopted to deal with rioters in Kashmir and 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 were released by the police.
The excessive use of force to contain the trouble is the only route the police and paramilitary forces took resulting in highest number of injuries (3000 civilians) Kashmir has seen in last 26 years in a particular phase of unrest. And over 50 are dead, that too in just five days. Rajnath Singh only expressed regret and extended condolences to families that too when he was here. This did not happen in parliament, where the entire political leadership of country debated the Kashmir unrest. They did not show any empathy with the thousands of families who were passing through a painful stage and they were part of “the integral part”. Government is bound to listen to the organs of state and rely on the feedback given by various agencies. This is also a fact that this time the trouble started after a militant commander was killed and people who got killed or injured or are still caged for 20 days now 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. For that matter then the police used force to tackle them, curfew was in place and communication blockade was complete to cripple people’s lives; then why an important functionary of the government should descend and give an impression that his government was concerned? He could have patted the security forces from Delhi only. Rajnath Singh did talk about the lethal turned non-lethal pellet gun and a possible ban on it, offering injured to take them to Delhi and the maximum restraint. However, that does not match with the requirements of the day.
Kashmir has not witnessed the trouble for the first time and in recent years it has taken a different shape where the involvement of general public has overshadowed the militants in the “fight against the Indian state”. No doubt the elections have been held with huge participation of people and very recently the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti too got elected with a significant margin but that did not change the reality on the ground. Rajnath Singh ignoring that political reality and not directly talking about that issue and to an extent reducing that to some discussion that could take place after “consulting CM Mehbooba Mufti” is to trivialize the who issue that only gives space to those who have been averse to dialogue.
The Home Minister’s cold response to any political outreach not only belies the repeated track of A B Vajpayee which PM Modi has mentioned more than few times but also discounts “The Agenda of Alliance” that both Peoples Democratic Party and Bhartiya Janta Party have agreed upon before forming the government. This is what AoA says about holding talks with Hurriyat and others “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. This dialogue will seek to build a broad based consensus on resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K”. But Home Minister took shelter under a caveat that normalcy must return first. Who will help in restoring normalcy and how if you don’t reach out to those whom the people follow at least in responding to shut down calls? Same is the case when it comes to Pakistan. Singh shut the doors on Pakistan but look at what AoA says “The Union Government has recently initiated several steps to normalise 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”. And a senior minister in Mehbooba Mufti rightly told Singh in reference to non implementation of AoA that “we feel we are a failure”.
Moreover, how can normalcy restore in an atmosphere where curfew and communication blockade is the only option being used to enforce uneasy calm. Although, he is in 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 grand bargain to Jammu and Kashmir. And when Singh was in Kashmir he wrote a suggestive piece giving eight points that could be beginning to a new process in the state. He stressed on recognizing Kashmir as political issue rather than law and order. Though Singh nodded in considering those eight points and also to have a look at the report given by the Interlocutors appointed by the UPA government in 2010 but he failed to come out of the security backed perception to deal with Kashmir. As the Valley groans in pain for about 18 days, it needs a healing touch, it needs political attention that could give a way out to avoid 2010 like situation otherwise we are poised for a long haul that could be a point of no return.
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