Two weeks after > protests in the Kashmir Valley caught the authorities by surprise, a semblance of calm has been restored. It is a tenuous one, built on extended curfews, and it has come at a huge price. Even as the government faces difficult questions about the blunt tactics employed to disperse crowds of stone-pelters across Kashmir, there is an evident effort at political outreach.
Speaking in the Lok Sabha, Home Minister Rajnath Singh sought an all-party meeting to address the problem. > Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti chaired another such meeting in Srinagar that asked Delhi to engage in a larger political dialogue with all stakeholders, “including separatists”. These are important, necessary steps.
But given the record of outreach in the Valley, the Centre needs to > get its framework for a political conversation right. If the proposal to include stakeholders in a larger process is to be credible, the idiom must be genuine. Regrettably, far too much of the vocabulary on Jammu and Kashmir is platitude and hollow cliche.
The challenge before the government is to demonstrate that it is not reaching out as an automatic response learnt from some worn-out troubleshooting manual — but to show it has acknowledged the outrage, weariness, and distress in the Valley. That it cares enough to be open to being nudged out of its certitudes.
Former Home Minister > P. Chidambaram’s suggestion this week that India assure the people of Kashmir that it is conscious of the spirit of the grand bargain promised at accession almost 70 years ago has invited a rebuttal from a senior BJP Minister at the Centre. Even the Congress party has reacted cautiously to the wide-ranging interview to India Today TV in which he emphasised the importance of carrying Kashmiris along.
But if national politics means to respond to the > cries of agony from the Valley this month, it must adopt Mr. Chidambaram’s touchstone — that the issue in the Valley is not about land but about people. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had forged a way forward by seeking talks within the framework of “humanity”, thereby sidestepping the issue of allegiance to the Constitution.
The gains of that breakthrough have long since been dissipated. Mr. Chidambaram’s appeal that India accept an “asymmetric devolution of powers” for J&K, which it has recommended for the Tamil provinces in Sri Lanka, is one such idea that could open a route forward. It should not be reflexively dismissed.