As centre seems to mull political engagement to address the deepening crisis in Kashmir, it will find the political outreach to Kashmir will not be easy at all
Both New Delhi and the Hurriyat are talking about the dialogue but both don’t seem to mean it. The talk is more or less tentative, gauging each other’s reaction than actually offering anything concrete. For the devil lies in the detail. New Delhi doesn’t make a direct offer but wants the Hurriyat to engage the union government instead. And Hurriyat wants to be formally engaged as the only representative of the political aspirations of the people of J&K.
And therein lies the rub: as centre seems to mull political engagement to address the deepening crisis in Kashmir, it will find the political outreach to Kashmir will not be easy at all. And even if the government chooses to engage separatist groups, it will find them unwilling to respond because of the unproductive nature of such engagements in past and the new complications and factors in play which have drastically shrunk Hurriyat’s space for talks.
During his recent visit to J&K, the home minister Rajnath Singh said he was open to talk to anyone if it helped restore peace in Kashmir.
“I held meetings with civil society and political delegations. I am willing to talk to anyone. I am inviting everyone who is willing to help us in resolving problems of Kashmir,” he told reporters during the press conference. “I don’t want to leave anybody. I have already said that I have invited all and all stakeholders are welcome and anybody ready to talk to us is welcome”
But Singh didn’t mention Hurriyat by name even when the question was asked whether the government would talk to the grouping or extend a formal invitation to it.
Singh’s visit was followed by that of the BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav who similarly sought to engage “all stake-holders without pre-conditions”.
However, both Rajnath Singh and Madhav have stayed short of outlining the form that this outreach will take. Instead they, especially Singh, have sought to address the situation through some empathetic talk and assurances of administrative measures.
For now, the centre has talked broadly and vaguely about the engagement: there is talk of a solution within the ambit of constitution but no word on its possible contours. In case of J&K, restoration of the state’s lost autonomy could be well within the constitutional framework. But BJP, given its longstanding political position on the state, will hardly go the distance.
Similarly, Government has talked about dialogue but without specifying who the government will talk to. It will hardly do if the government talks to the mainstream political parties as they don’t question the political status quo and their politics doesn’t lead to frequent anti-New Delhi uprisings. By the same token, a stage-managed process of talking to obscure and the generally unidentified delegations of people will hardly change anything. What will make a difference is not only an offer of a meaningful dialogue which not only promises staying the course but is also held with the right interlocutors. And in Kashmir, only separatist groups fit this bill.
But then it is not so simple. For one, the kind of the open-mindedness such an engagement needs, BJP government in New Delhi doesn’t possess. The party champions an extreme integrationist view on Kashmir, one which includes abrogation of Article 370 which gives J&K its autonomous status – albeit drastically eroded – in Indian Union. And Hurriyat which represents the separatist extreme in Kashmir politics can’t be approached from an integrationist standpoint. It will kill the political raison ‘detre of the separatist amalgam should they become part of such an engagement, especially when Pakistan is also being left out of the process.
Chairman of one Hurriyat faction Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has said that any dialogue on the state will have to include Pakistan. “All stakeholders for us means Pakistan and the representatives of all the regions of the erstwhile princely state of J&K,” he said. “For a Kashmir dialogue to succeed and get to an acceptable solution, it should be ideally held simultaneously among the three parties to the dispute – India, Pakistan and Kashmiris”.
But in the existing political scenario there are fewer prospects for such advanced level of dialogue. More so, with relations with Pakistan already in tatters. The ties have sunk to a new low following the acrimonious exchanges and the blame game over the prevailing turmoil in Kashmir at United Nations. And with Islamabad out of the loop, Hurriyat will hardly find it politically tenable to be a part of the dialogue process with New Delhi, nor worth its while given such parleys by their very nature drastically circumscribe the scope of a political settlement and limit it to a little more than some local and minor political and administrative re-adjustment. Also, on past evidence, even such adjustments are unlikely to materialize and the centre has often pulled out of the process at the first sign of the normalcy.
This hardly leaves a scope for any political engagement with Kashmir in the absence of a dialogue with Pakistan. Following failures of talks with moderate separatists, the thinking in New Delhi has been that the dialogue with Pakistan is synonymous with the talks with Hurriyat. And for the past some years this approach to Kashmir has served New Delhi well. But now relations with Islamabad have sunk to a new low. And, meanwhile, the separatists are back in the ascendant in Valley. This has made things more complicated. There is no way to politically reach out to the separatist sentiment in Valley, except through the severely discredited mainstream parties. And this will hardly shore up the situation.