Closed Doors

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In third month of crisis, neither Delhi nor Srinagar is visibly indicating any sort of willingness to seriously engage Kashmir, reduced to a problem of imposing authority in a real estate, writes Masood Hussain

A worker of Chairman of the hardline faction of All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, Syed Ali Geelani tells Sitaram Yechury, the General Secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist), from inside a door that Geelani would not meet any member of the All Party delegation of parliamentarians in Srinagar, 04 September 2016. PHOTO BY BILAL BAHADUR

Sitaram Yechury and other APD members faced closed door at Hyderpora. (Photo: Bilal Bahadur/KL)

Delhi is clearly in chaos as its hawkish stand has limited its options to manage Kashmir, frozen for more than two months now. Overnight stay of All Party Delegation (APD) comprising 28-MPs from 20 parties in Srinagar failed like Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s two earlier visits. Delhi’s skewed outreach is adding to the hate and mistrust and shedding more blood.

“It shocked me that Home Minister of world’s largest democracy announced that he has approved use of PAVA cells as a new weapon to replace pellets guns, hoping that would not kill” a keen Kashmir watcher Altaf Ahmad said. “As world watched, I expected him to talk politics and engagement, he choose weapons instead.”

Rajnath said the government had neither supported nor opposed to the idea of some members seeking meetings with separatist. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Shabir Shah, Yasin Malik and Prof Abdul Gani Bhat had handshakes and some quick talk with few of them. Syed Ali Geelani, instead, closed doors on them. This helped Rajnath to dub Geelani’s response an anti-thesis of Kashmiriyat and Insaniyat. “They (separatist) do not believe in Jumhooriyat also,” Singh said in the lawns of Lalit Grand. There were no whispers that the visit coincided with 600 people being driven to hospitals.

APD did not meet anybody whom Singh had not met earlier. The state government had framed an initial list of 230 people. Some people with separatist tendencies had been bracketed in “religious personalities”. But they all backed out. Finally there were less than 200 people, even much lesser. The entire outreach plan was restricted to mere monologue in which lawmakers talked to parties having no issues to talk about.

But it was the shut door at Geelani’s Hyderpora residence that became the postcard of APD failure. Of all the talk APD had, this was the most talked about incident. But why things changed so fast in last five years?

APD meeting Geelani in 2010.

APD meeting Geelani in 2010.

It was September 20, 2010 when Yechury and many other members of a similar 39-member APD created history by initiating meetings with Kashmir’s separatist trio: Geelani, Malik and Mirwaiz. After the killing of 100 youth in 109 days in police firing, the gesture conveyed the beginning of re-engagement.

BJP, then in opposition, had the same party line that it exhibited last week. Reaching out to separatists, Ms Sushma Swaraj said, was not a good idea. “It was not a collective decision,” she said, adding, “If some members wanted to go, how can we stop them? They went but our decision was not to go. So we didn’t go.”

APD members meetings with separatists were termed as beginning of “breaking the ice” and were welcomed by local unionists as “welcome departure from the very routine”. Hurriyat leaders were no less-excited either. Many thought the process, if followed up, can make headway on crucial issue of Kashmir.

Yechury led five MPs (Owaisi, N N Rao (TDP), Balu (DMK) and Dr Ratenala (Akali Dal) drove to Hyderpora where Geelani had pitched a tent. He offered them juice saying tea cannot be offered as milk supply coming from periphery is being destroyed by the police. They sat for a long time, agreed to disagree but talked.

“(P) Chidamabaram has rightly said that we (India) have made pledges and commitments to Kashmir and it is time to accept them. We have the same demand,” Geelani told them. “Restoration of normalcy will just remain a dream unless India accepts the five points we have made.” These included accepting Kashmir as a dispute, setting free prisoners, demilitarizing the region, punishing the personnel guilty of gross violations of human rights and withdrawn the black laws. These points, he said, are a pre-requisite for restoring normalcy and could become base for political engagement in immediate future.

“The Government of India knows A to Z of what is happening in Kashmir,” Geelani told them. “But if they have sent you to give a feel of ground realities, be honest and objective.”

“He (Geelani) has his point of view (on Kashmir) and the government of India has its own viewpoint,” Yechury told reporters later. “We will take up the five points with the government of India.”

When Gurudas Dasgupta met Mirwaiz at his Nigeen mansion, the cleric wore a black band to protest killings by the police and paramilitary. Assaduddin Owaisi told Mirwaiz that he will discuss the prevailing situation within the party and take up the issue with the central government, too. Mirwaiz suggested a joint parliamentary delegation of India and Pakistan for holding a meaningful dialogue on Kashmir.

Ram Vilas Paswan had separate meeting with Geelani and spent many hours talking to JKLF leader Yasin Malik in Maisuma. After the detailed meetings, Paswan said most of the people arrested under PSA were innocents and should be released immediately. He appealed prime minister to initiate time bound action plan on the basis of findings of the delegation.

That was not the only thing that APD did. Almost 11-members visited SMHS hospital and faced literally paralyzing anti-India protest. Even medical staff protested. They were there for 10 minutes.

Later that afternoon, they visited Tangmarg where Ghulam Hassan Mir, then a cabinet minister, hosted them. The town had witnessed six civilian deaths as twenty others were injured over an alleged report of desecration. Home Minister P Chidambaram got a feel of ground when youth addressed him: “You say Kashmir is your integral part but your forces have been killing us in bits and pieces but you do not feel the pain..Your forces kill anybody and everybody but what is more painful for us is that when your personnel resort to rapes.” The boy said he was risking his life to tell all these things. “Chief Minister Omar Abdullah could come here only because of you otherwise he could not come,” the young man said.

Not even iota of 2010 happened in 2016. Though the faces changed in the delegation, Geelani’s five points had remained unchanged in five years. Had not Geelani shut his doors on Yechury, APD visit might not have qualified to page one of newspapers. This is despite Yechury is one of the few lawmakers who understands Kashmir better and is publicly suggesting Delhi should negotiate a fresh relationship starting 1948, a maximum position that Kashmir can have within the ambit of Indian constitution.

While Yechury in not upset over the shut door, Chief Minister’s statement made it a historic failure!

But where was the dialogue? Home Minister said some members had gone to reach out to separatist in their individual capacity. Prior to that she had written a letter to Hurriyat in capacity of PDP president and not the Chief Minister and these letters were humiliatingly delivered on the eve of APD visit. There was no spadework to suit an informal engagement. It was destined to fail. Even if it had happened, there was likelihood of it getting the 2010 way.

J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti along with her cabinet colleagues met All Party Delegation led by union Home Minister on September 04, 2016.

J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti along with her cabinet colleagues met All Party Delegation led by union Home Minister on September 04, 2016.

Back home after the visit, Home Minister has briefed the Prime Minister and the APD are brainstorming to make certain recommendations. Home Secretary’s presentation to the parties makes a clear case against state government that resorted to threats throughout thus deteriorating the situation. However, almost all the lawmakers insisted that it was no time for not backing Chief Minister Ms Mehbooba Mufti.

The only thing that was new in the meeting was that Home Minister Rajnath Singh would again fly to Srinagar will invite the entire unionist camp – NC, PDP, Congress, BJP, Communists and others, and go for an in-camera brainstorming. The consensus in this meeting will eventually be placed before the cabinet in Delhi for follow up. Interestingly, the meeting said that separatists should be isolated and situation tackled sternly. It has a harsh policy for media too!

Last APD in 2010 resulted in certain measures. Though the development related measures were taken up, nothing was done on political front, especially after the agitation fizzled out.

BJP in Delhi has limited its response by sticking to status quo. It is unable to spill out if it is willing to talk “the moon” that Ram Madhav talked about. If that happens that goes against its rudimentary thought process – Eak Vidhan, Eak Pradhan, Eak Nishan, the trilogy that it launched to corner Pandit Nehru in 1952 after Delhi agreement. BJP believes in Kashmir’s complete integration into the union.

Interestingly, it has already triggered a diplomatic crisis by raking up Baluchistan. Prime Minister talks against Pakistan’s terror sponsorship from G-20 platform. “Aap Andar Ki Taraf Deakhiyay,” was Rajnath’s response when a reporter asked him about engaging Pakistan.

When Rajnath presided over a meeting of state administration that included state police chief and the chief secretary, his team asked one question: “Why are not you able to manage the Srinagar newspapers which are full of atrocities everyday?” It indicated not the atrocity but its reportage could be interrupted.

Seemingly, the government has launched a war against its people. Ransacking is a normal exercise now. Cops and paramilitary men ensure windowpanes are without glasses and once they enter, apparently chasing the protesters or raiding for arrest, they see to it that no electrical appliance survives. For people, they are adding the costs for rebelling.

Sopore Fruit Terminal, for instance, starts working as early as 3 am. But government is keen it follows the secretariat timing: 9 am – 5 pm!

This is triggering reaction. In Shopian, last week, police fought for three hours to vandalize the venue of a peaceful gathering. It left 300 civilians injured. Then people appeared like ants creating a situation that the mixed contingent of police, paramilitary and army simply fled.

Thousands are already in custody and still there is lot of space, if one goes by the large scale arrests taking place across Kashmir. Now Chief Minister, whose two of five months rule were devoured by the crisis, has personally started issuing threats asking agitation mobilizers to be brave enough and stay home during nights! This coincided with Kashmir police chief camping in South Kashmir to oversee the nocturnal raids, of which one led to 60 injuries and one death, already.

In absence of any political intervention – even army suggested it, Kashmir seems unlikely to change. The periphery has already lost the walnut harvest, a Rs 500 crore loss. “I see the only thing that can help is the fatigue,” one top police officer said. “Apple harvest is round the corner.”

Given the limitations of options in the hawkish line Delhi has adopted, Kashmir is heading towards harsh days. Eid is unlikely to be celebrated normally. Seemingly, BJP is smartly playing with PDP to strengthen its political capital in the mainland. Surprisingly, the rightwing party has stalled its slide in Jammu. Now certain changes might come swiftly.

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