December 2016 News

Time Is Right To Open Talks In Kashmir, Says Sinha

24 December 2016
The Hindu
Nistula Hebbar

New Delhi: With street protests ebbing in the Kashmir Valley and the winter set in, the former Union Minister, Yashwant Sinha, has called the current period the 'right time' for the Central and State governments to open dialogue with all stakeholders, including the Hurriyat. Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Sinha, who along with four other eminent citizens visited Kashmir twice in the last couple of months, said while the situation had the appearance of normality, things were unsettled beneath the surface. The former information commissioner, Wajahat Habibullah, the chief executive of the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation (CDR), Sushobha Barve, the former Air Vice-Marshal, Kapil Kak, and senior journalist Bharat Bhushan were the other members of the group. The group, which has paid for arrangements on its own and neither sought nor received any security cover for the visit, is clear that it is not acting on behalf of any government or party. 'We are not even acting under the aegis of the CDR, but as a group of concerned citizens,' Mr. Sinha said. 'We visited Kashmir twice: the first time we kept ourselves to Srinagar and the second time [from December 10 to 14] we went to Baramullah, Anantnag and Shopian. While day-to-day life appears to have become normal, things are very unsettled beneath the surface, and anything can incite passions, like the killing of Burhan Wani in July,' he said. 'We have to begin a dialogue process... and this is the right time. There is severe winter and things appear to be normalising, with schools reopening and the hartal calendar down to a twice-weekly call. The stakeholders should be drawn from various regions of the State, should include the minorities, including those Pandits living in Kashmir (who have complained that the facilities to the members of the community who migrated were not being extended to them), the Sikhs and the Shia community (we met their Agha Saheb in Badgam) in the Valley. The broader the group of people being spoken to, the more chances of a lasting solution,' he said. 'The narrative in the Kashmir Valley is a very strong feeling of betrayal, and of discrimination against the people of the State by the rest of the country. The most important example of this sense of betrayal is over the use of pellet guns, which are not used in any other place than in the Kashmir Valley,' he said. Mr. Sinha described the protests and violence this time as different from the situation not just in the 1990s but also during 2008 and 2010. 'Earlier, the protests were verging on anger, then full of anger; this time, the protest has turned into hatred. The street was under the control of kids, from as young as 12 years to 14 and 18 years of age. Even the Hurriyat was compelled to follow in their wake, rather than controlling it. This youth protest does not have a single defined leadership, and is diffused... The youths are very angry; when we met them during our second trip, they were blunt and didn't hold back. The idea that we were a country occupying the Valley is very strong among them and historical facts have been mutated to such a degree that it aids this belief,' he said. He said the agenda of alliance between the People's Democratic Party and the BJP does talk of a dialogue with all stakeholders, including the Hurriyat. 'They point to Mr. Vajpayee's period and the dialogue process he had initiated. So that's a commitment, and I see no reason why the two governments should not engage themselves in a dialogue process,' he said. He dismissed suggestions that any lack of acceptability of the alliance between the two parties in government was a factor in the situation. 'Considering the number of seats the BJP won in Jammu, this was the only alliance that was possible. If this was a government that was formed based on the numbers in the Valley, then Jammu and Ladakh would have felt neglected,' he said.

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