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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Kashmir: Winning Hearts And Minds By Rekha Chowdhary

It can not be said as a paradigm shift, but there is certainly a change in the emphasis in the way New Delhi is responding to the problems in Kashmir. After almost a two months’ cycle of violence and upsurge in the streets all over Kashmir, there is a definite shift in the tone and tenor of the Government of India – as reflected in the statement made by the Home Minister, PC Chidambaram in the upper House of the Parliament Friday last. Rather than offering the ‘conspiracy theory’ and putting all the blame on the external elements like LeT, the Home Minister has sought to look within and own up the responsibility of Indian State in the muddled situation of Kashmir.

Three related points emerge from his statement. First, the acknowledgement that Kashmir is a political problem needing a political solution – the emphasis therefore is on resumption of dialogue and the readiness of the Government to engage the separatists including the hardliners. Second, there is the reference to the ‘uniqueness’ of Kashmir problem, needing the ‘unique’ solution. By reminding the nation that Kashmir had acceded to India under special circumstances, the Home Minister has invoked the historical elements of the problem as well as its specificity. This is a pointer towards the need for ‘out of box’ thinking towards Kashmir. Indicating the complexity of the problem, Chidambaram has stated the need of serious thinking - ‘we have to put our heads together and find a solution to this unique problem. Thirdly, there is an unambiguous allusion to ‘people’ and the need to bring them on board. As per Chidambaram’s statement, it is important to win the hearts and minds of people of Jammu & Kashmir. There is also an acknowledgment that as for as the Kashmiris are concerned, there is a trust-deficit. Emphasising the need to restore the confidence of Kashmiris in the Indian State, the Home Minister has referred to the promises made by the Government of India and the importance of delivering on those promises.

It is not difficult to speculate the response of Kashmiris to this changed tone of the Home Minister. Already the indications have come from the separatists who have rejected the offer of dialogue. In the background of the situation as it has developed in Kashmir during past two months or so, it is not expected that a changed stance of Government of India would make an impact in Kashmir, at least, not immediately. For one reason, this is not the first time that New Delhi is adopting this tone. Earlier also there have been occasions when such responses have come from Delhi. One such oft-quoted response in Kashmir is that of offer of ‘anything under the sun’. That nothing came out of these is very much ingrained in the popular psyche. It is the crisis situation like the present one when such pronouncements are made by the Centre, however, when the situation ‘normalises’ or comes to the ‘manageable level’, the approach also changes. In mid-nineties, in a situation of total political vacuum in the mainstream politics, the National Conference was lured to contest election on the promise of ‘Autonomy’. What happened to the Autonomy Report and the Autonomy Resolution – is still fresh in the minds of people. More recently, Vajpayee had walked extra miles to approach Kashmiris. He had acknowledged that India had made mistakes in Kashmir and had offered to give them healing touch and to engage them. The process had aroused great expectations in the minds of Kashmiris and they had put their confidence in the peace process initiated by Vajpayee. The separatists, going by the mood of people, had also brought in flexibility in their political strategies. However, one can see to how the situation stands now – the hopes of people in the peace process are totally shattered and not only the separatists who entered into dialogue but the very dialogue process stand discredited.

In a situation where the sincerity on the part of the Government of India to address Kashmir is seriously doubted, the statement of the Home Minister, howsoever politically correct, will not be trusted. The responsibility of changing the response in Kashmir purely lies with the Centre. It has to prove its credibility by taking concrete steps in that direction. The minimum that is required is, in the words of the Home Minister himself – to deliver on the promises that the Government has made. The Government of India need not wait for a positive response from the separatists. Given the hurt-feeling during the last two months and the consequent political aggressiveness on the streets, the response of the separatists may not come for some time. What it can do, meanwhile, is to look at its own records, for instance, the reports of the Working Groups constituted by the Prime Minister of India and start the process of healing by implementing on these reports. Already the Home Minister has referred the need to address the issues like AFSPA and reduction of security personnel in the state. There are many other measures which the Government of India can take up on its own, without needing any nudging from the separatists. If the unilateral process on its part is sincerely pursued, there is no issue as to why a congenial environment would not be created for pursing the process of finding resolution to the ‘unique problem’. With every political measure taken up by the Government in Delhi, the level of anger in Kashmir will come down.

It is important at this moment for New Delhi to understand the level of discontent, anger, disillusionment and mistrust in Kashmir. Winning ‘hearts and minds of people’ in this situation is not very easy. It needs to create a minimum level of trust. But even for that, it will have to make extra efforts.

(Published in Greater Kashmir, 10th August, 2010)

Kashmir: Winning Hearts And Minds By Rekha Chowdhary

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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