"If the government is serious, it should announce confidence-building measures on one side and hold a political dialogue on the other"- Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) general secretary
After the failed visit of the all-party delegation led by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Kashmir and an unsuccessful attempt by CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and CPI national secretary D. Raja to meet hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a feeling is growing in Delhi that its “mid-way” approach on Kashmir is not yielding results and that the whole strategy needs to be reworked.
A combination of “grassroots democracy” in the form of panchayat elections and a hardened stance towards the separatists is expected to form the key component of the Narendra Modi government's plan to diffuse the unending bout of unrest in Jammu and Kashmir. The new policy could be in place once the Amarnath Yatra is over, with law enforcement agencies being told that there will be no “mollycoddling” of troublemakers, who the government believes are enjoying Pakistani patronage.
A move is under way to crack down on funding received by separatist leaders like Geelani, who is being watched by the National Investigation Agency. Geelani's personal secretary Peer Saifullah and son Nayeem Zafar were questioned by the agency about the funding of the ongoing unrest. "The whole approach towards the separatist leadership is being reconsidered. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti will be nudged harder to deal with governance issues, and the focus will be on elections to local bodies," said a senior official in Delhi. What has drawn the Centre's attention is the fact that local bodies, which traditionally act as a buffer for people's concerns and complaints, have completed their tenures. Former chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was keen to hold the elections in April, but after his death, the move got stalled.
Union home ministry officials said since the local bodies had completed their tenures, they had been rendered ineffective. The Centre is also exploring ways to ensure that Central funds reached the panchayats directly.
Jitender Singh, minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office, told THE WEEK that the average Kashmiri youth is keen to become part of the developmental process in the country. "They are bothered about the opportunities they are getting and want to benefit from the fast-paced development which the rest of the country is enjoying. The various delegations that came to meet us shared similar sentiments. They wanted peace to be restored and normalcy to return," he said.
Hectic parleys were going on in Delhi among the top brass of the BJP in an attempt to chalk out a strategy, which would also be acceptable to the all-party delegation that visited Kashmir. The BJP government is in the process of drawing up a slew of long-term and short-term measures in this regard.
Among the various groups that met the all-party delegation was a composite delegation of J&K and PoJK Refugees Front, which shared its concerns with leaders from Delhi. It sought quick disbursal of funds from the Rs 2,000-crore package proposed by the Centre for people who were displaced from PoK and are now living in India. Sources in the home ministry said procedural issues delaying the process were being ironed out.
As a strategy to rein in the separatists, the government is looking at the possibility of scaling down or even withdrawing the massive security cover and the financial support enjoyed by their leadership. There are also suggestions to cancel their passports, which will end their travel abroad. Interestingly, even while being held under house-arrest, Geelani has been holding press conferences and meetings at will. A senior Union minister recalled how the term house-arrest was diluted over the years. When Sheikh Abdullah was placed under house arrest, home minister Govind Ballabh Pant sent him to Ooty. When Abdullah complained that Ooty was hot, he was shifted to Kodaikanal.
The opposition parties are unlikely to support the Centre's new manoeuvres in Kashmir. Yechury, who spoke to all major separatist leaders except Geelani during his Kashmir visit, said the Hurriyat wanted the government to stop the killings first and then initiate a political dialogue. "What is the point of talks when people are being killed? This is the sentiment the Hurriyat leaders shared with us,” said Yechury. “If the government is serious, it should announce confidence-building measures on one side and hold a political dialogue on the other. It should also restart the Indo-Pak dialogue, which it had stopped after the Pakistani side proposed to meet the Hurriyat leaders. Since we stopped it, we need to restart it and begin an all-encompassing dialogue.” Raja said the government could have invited the Hurriyat for talks, but no such overtures were made.
Clearly, doubts remain on the government's intention as parties like the BSP have started indicating that the Uttar Pradesh election was dominating the attention of the Modi government. "To divert people's attention from the failures of the BJP and the Centre, the government can go to war [with Pakistan] on the issue of Kashmir and terrorism," said BSP leader Mayawati at a rally in Azamgarh in UP as she sounded the poll bugle.