Kashmir Missing In Modi's First-year Priorities

17 June 2014
Rising Kashmir
Shujaat Bukhari

Srinagar: When Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met his Indian counter part Narendra Modi on May 27 in New Delhi, there was no mention of 'Kashmir' in the briefing by both sides. Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz did tell the media later that it was discussed but officially it was not confirmed as part of the 50-minute long meeting. This did raise eye brows in Kashmir about how the policy on this contentious issue was being followed. But the analysts gave it a pass for the reason that both leaders must be given time to match up the chemistry to find out ways and means to address such complex issues. However, it seems now that Kashmir does not figure anywhere in the priorities Modi has set for himself for next one year. Discussing it with Pakistan is surely an external dimension and that may come up any time in case both sides agree to see it as the issue that keeps them at distance. However, the Modi government has not made up its mind to even address the internal dimension of the problem. When President Pranab Mukherjee addressed the joint session of parliament on June 9 (first after the general elections), he spelled out programmes and policies; the Modi government would follow for next one year. There was no mention of Kashmir as an issue that needed attention. The only priority Modi has set is about the return of Kashmiri Pandits who have left Kashmir in early 1990 after the armed rebellion broke out in Kashmir. There are conflicting figures about how many left at that time. Kashmiri Pandit organisations claim that 4 lakh people migrated but the government figures suggest that 24202 families went out of Kashmir which roughly comes to not more than 1,50,000. Again the government data reveals that 219 KPs were killed. President Mukherjee said in his address 'Special efforts will be made to ensure that Kashmiri Pandits return to the land of their ancestors with full dignity, security and assured livelihood.' This surely is a welcome step and Kashmiris have always shown their concern over the plight of KPs, even as they have themselves faced the worst of conflict in last over 20 years. What is more disturbing that Omar Abdullah government has reportedly proposed repurchase of their houses disposed of in distress before fleeing Kashmir. This, according to a report in THE HINDU is part of a Rs. 5,800-crore Prime Minister's Reconstruction Programme aimed at incentivising Kashmiri Pandits to return to the Valley. This will further distances between the two communities and put them on loggerheads. Return of KPs to valley must come after taking all the stake holders into confidence. Putting them ghettoes without even deliberating the issue with the representatives of majority community will not suit their return. Gun totting security men may provide them security in designated zones, as is evident from the course of statements being made by the government, but the real confidence and sense of security can only come from their erstwhile neighbours. Ignoring the ground realities in Kashmir and not prioritizing them is something disturbing when one looks at the new government in Delhi. During the election campaigning in Jammu Modi had invoked former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee's line of 'Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat and Kashmiriyat' to address the Kashmir issue. Vajpayee had not only walked an extra mile to reach out to Pakistan but along with then Pakistan President Parvez Musharraf he had laid a strong foundation for reconciliation, peace and compassion through Confidence Building Measures. He had also engaged with the separatist leaders in Kashmir, though that could not yield much. Prime Minister's no road map policy for Kashmir was further vindicated with the visit of trusted lieutenant and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley who virtually shut the doors on any political engagement in the near future. He not only was non-committal on the issue of withdrawal of controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) but he also put conditions on any possibility of talks with those who challenge the Indian rule in Kashmir. 'We are willing to talk to everybody who wants to function under Indian constitution and Indian sovereignty. Constitution and sovereignty are two issues with which there can be no compromise,' Jaitley told reporters on June 15. That means the Government of India does not recognize the political dissent on the ground. Interestingly Jaitley was appointed as interlocutor for Kashmir by the previous Vajpayee led government in 2002. He had held talks on devolution of powers with then National Conference nominee and Minister Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah. One could take Jaitley's statement on face value. But the talks or demands within the ambit of Indian constitution have so far failed to yield anything. Rejection of Autonomy resolution by Jammu and Kashmir Assembly with two-third majority stands testimony to the fact that how New Delhi has undermined the institutions it wants to strengthen in the state. The BJP, which is in power, again has instead called for abrogation of Article 370, which gives special status to the state. So the question of giving more does not arise. Now that Modi has taken over as the 'strong' Prime Minister, he has in the first few weeks ignored the real issues in Kashmir. Addressing one particular issue in isolation also sounds like that he would follow a one-sided approach. With this mandate Modi should not try to address the one community that has voted for him at least in Jammu and Kashmir. This problem needs a comprehensive approach that is inclusive and has all the dimensions in place. The dialogue between Delhi and Separatists that broke down in 2008 must be resumed without conditions. Prisoners' cases must be dealt with compassion and the economic issues also be pursued with an open mind. Distances between Srinagar and Delhi have increased over the past few years. Youth are completely alienated and angry at the treatment they are receiving. One can hope that Modi modifies his priorities and includes both external and internal dimension of Kashmir in his priorities. Resumption of dialogue with Pakistan, strengthening existing CBMs and doing more on Kashmir is the need of the hour. Sitting on this simmering political unrest won't serve any party. Modi must show that his policies are not framed on the basis of vote bank but on the realities on ground.