The former top Indian government servants, academics, analysts and civil society members associated with Jammu and Kashmir have written to Union home minister Rajnath Singh to express “deep distress” at the continuing and intensifying alienation of Kashmiris from the rest of India.
The signatories include Seema Mustafa, Amitabh Pande, Salahuddin Ahmed, Madhu Bhandari, Kapil Kak, Gopal Pillai, Aftab Seth and Hindal Tyabji, reports from Delhi said.
Referring to the decision to close the highway to civilian traffic twice a week until the election is concluded, the signatories said it “undercuts our democratic credentials and attracts the charge of military rule”.
They also referred to “a series of actions that add to disaffection in the valley” that they said raise concern. These include banning the JKLF and the Jamaat e Islami, imprisoning their leaders as well as those of the Hurriyat and denying security to members of political parties, they said.
The signatories said such conditions provide “formidable disincentives to vote”. The home ministry can minimise these disincentives if those actions are reversed, they said.
They said in the past four years, “most of the hard work of the previous fifteen years has been undone, for reasons that remain unknown”.
Judging by its election manifesto, the BJP is opposed to conciliation in Jammu and Kashmir. Nevertheless, whether your party wishes to avail of this opportunity or not, surely you would recognize that governance is larger than party interest and a change, of course, is required, lest the situation in the state worsens to a point of no return.
The full statement, with the signatories, has been reproduced below.
To: Shri Rajnath Singh
Honourable Home Minister of India
Dear Home Minister,
We, a group of former government servants, academics, analysts and civil society, many of whom have been associated with Jammu and Kashmir in our individual or official capacities, write to express our deep distress at the continuing and indeed intensifying alienation of Kashmiris from the rest of India. The decision to close the highway to civilian traffic twice a week, and to let it be used only by the forces until the election is concluded, undercuts our democratic credentials and attracts the charge of military rule. It is, moreover, only the most recent of a series of actions that add to disaffection in the valley. Others include banning the JKLF and the Jamaat e Islami, imprisoning their leaders as well as those of the Hurriyat, and denying security to members of political parties.
In these conditions, what kind of turnout can we expect in the valley? Taken together, the policy of President’s rule, counter-insurgency, crackdowns and arrests, combined with threats to rollback Articles 370 and 35A and alterations to the administrative structure of the state, provide formidable disincentives to vote.
Yet the people of Jammu and Kashmir desperately need to vote – and vote convincingly – for the valley to emerge from its current state of confrontation and siege. Kashmir needs a government that can hold out hope instead of hatred, one that will work to re-establish peace on the ground. These steps will only be taken by an elected government, as the harsh measures that have been taken under President’s rule indicate.
Even at this late stage, your Ministry can minimize the disincentives for Kashmiris to vote. The first step would be to rescind orders for closure of the highway, followed by release of those arrested (unless there is substantive evidence of their being involved in recent terrorist attacks such as on the CRPF at Pulwama), restoration of security to political leaders and return to a policy of defense against attack rather than preemptive action. If your government could initiate a Ramzan ceasefire, then why not one for elections?
It took fifteen years of hard work for Jammu and Kashmir to emerge from the dark days of the 1990s. As the sharp fall in violence between 2005-2012 showed, the most hopeful period for Jammu and Kashmir was when there was a peace process in the state, starting in 2000. Though terrorists made strenuous efforts to disrupt it with high profile attacks, including on Hurriyat members, to which the Vajpayee and Singh administrations responded both militarily and diplomatically, neither allowed terrorists to bring the peace process to a grinding halt.
In the past four years, most of the hard work of the previous fifteen years has been undone, for reasons that remain unknown because no reasoned explanation has been offered. These elections offer an opportunity to craft a more conciliatory policy towards the people of the state, including dissidents who have engaged in peace initiatives, such as the Hurriyat M, who have once again held out an offer of talks.
Judging by its election manifesto, the BJP is opposed to conciliation in Jammu and Kashmir. Nevertheless, whether your party wishes to avail of this opportunity or not, surely you would recognize that governance is larger than party interest and a change, of course, is required, lest the situation in the state worsens to a point of no return. We urge you, even at this late stage, to take the steps mentioned above. Jammu and Kashmir will only then be able to have a free and fair election.
The letter was signed by Salahuddin Ahmed, former Chief Secretary of Rajasthan, Madhu Bhandari, former Ambassador of India to Belarus, Lithuania and Portugal, Sundar Burra, former Secretary to the Government of Maharashtra, Nitin Desai, former Secretary & CEA Ministry of Finance, MG Devasahayam, IAS (retd), Gourisankar Ghosh, former Executive Director, UN WSSCC, Geneva, Meena Gupta, former Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Sajjad Hassan, former Secretary to the Government of Manipur, Happymon Jacob, Professor of International Relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University,Prem Shankar Jha, author and columnist, Kapil Kak, former Air Vice-Marshal of India, Radha Kumar, former member, GOI’s Group of Interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir, Satish Kumar, former Professor of Diplomacy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Sudhir Kumar, former member, Central Administrative Tribunal, Seema Mustafa, Centre for Policy Analysis, Nagalsamy, former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu & Kerala, Amitabh Pande, former Secretary to the Government of India, Gopal Pillai, former Home Secretary of India, Badri Raina, author and columnist, Anand Sahay, columnist and commentator, Deepak Sanan, IAS (retd), Karan Sawnhy, International Centre for Peace Initiatives, Aftab Seth, former Ambassador of India to Japan, Hindal Tyabji, former Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir, Ravi Vira, former Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and Shiv Vishwanathan, Professor of Social Sciences, OP Jindal Universit.