Modi government can’t afford to mishandle Kashmir

Since the summer unrest of 2016, observers from Srinagar have been asking New Delhi to come to the negotiating table and start talks with the Hurriyat.

“Tral again? We are already in wounds, can’t tolerate more!” This was written by a young Kashmiri on Facebook when news broke that Sabzar Ahmad, a close aide of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, was trapped in an encounter with forces at Nazneenpora village of Tral. The youth’s dismay spoke volumes about the helplessness of a common Kashmiri before a giant, ruthless state.

Rumours spread over social media like wildfire, sending alarm bells ringing in the power corridors of Srinagar and New Delhi.

This was what the team led by former Union minister Yashwant Sinha and other political commentators had warned of.

During the first fortnight of March 2017, five encounters between militants and forces have taken place across Kashmir.

Last week, troops launched an anti-militancy operation in Padgampora village of Pulwama district, just 35km from Srinagar. Two militants were killed after a fierce, 10-hour gun battle.

Among those killed was a 15-year-old-boy, Amir Nazir. Reports said he was part of the jeering crowd, many of them throwing stones at forces. Amir’s body was garlanded like that of a groom. The images of his mother offering milk to her dead son went viral, and captured the imagination of people across the globe.

While Amir’s funeral prayers were on, another photograph hit headlines. This was an anguished Kashmiri boy, about 10 years old, tears rolling down his cheeks. The picture was worth a thousand words. It spoke of the sad story of Kashmir.

The team of “concerned citizens” led by senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha had submitted in its report: “There is a strange apprehension among the Kashmiris that something untoward is going to happen once spring sets in. What happens in the period after April 2017 is expected to be much higher in magnitude and intensity.”

Within no time, strict curfew was imposed in entire Tral, but it didn’t help matters. By the time curfew was imposed, the youth brigade had stormed the encounter site and snatched an INSAS rifle of a CRPF man.

The youth of Kashmir have lost fear. The credit goes to New Delhi, which has failed to control the ground situation in Kashmir.

Across the length and breadth of Kashmir, one hears of the excesses of the forces on the young generation. It is stated that many have become militants or stone-pelters because of the excesses of security agencies against even minors, making them hardcore stone-pelters. In many cases, these boys go and join militant ranks, only to get killed in a trap.

Every stakeholder of Kashmir has cried his heart out, asking the government to initiate a dialogue on Kashmir. These cries are not heard in New Delhi’s corridors of power.

In his “Kashmir Report”, the team led by Sinha, even suggested a multi-dimensional dialogue between India and Kashmiri leaders, and between India and Pakistan for settling the Kashmir issue.

The question is whether New Delhi is committed and serious about understanding the problem in Kashmir, or is just buying time for a period of relative peace.

Like his predecessors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has missed the plot where Kashmir is concerned.

Modi won the 2014 election with a thumping majority. Indians were disillusioned by multi-crore scams, and a government which seemed to be in slumber. People in mainland India hoped for a visionary leader, and saw Modi as their saviour.

In Kashmir, many people, including the Hurriyat groups – especially Mirwaiz Umar Farooq – and mainstream parties like People’s Democratic Party (PDP) kept repeating that they had high hopes from Modi and the BJP government. All of them seemed to be basking in sweet memories, and the genuine bonhomie of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Kashmir has great respect for the former PM, who had come up with an out-of-box solution for the state and had everyone on board, including Hurriyat and Pakistan.

Modi views the Kashmir dispute only through the prism of Pakistan, national security and Hindutva-RSS led votebank politics. In politics, there is a difference between being a statesman and a politician.

So far, the much-famed Modi has behaved like a mediocre politician. Keeping every aspect of Kashmir dispute in view, he should be a statesman and solve the jinxed Kashmir dispute.

If Modi does so, it will not only make his image stronger in mainland India, but will also build himself internationally – something that he seeks so much.

General Parvez Musharaff had focused on two important, long-pending conflicts of the world. The Kashmir dispute and the Palestine-Israel conflict. He had come up with out-of-box solutions for both conflicts.

The point Musharaff wanted to make to the world was that he was a “peace-loving General”, and cared for the people in both conflict regions.

Both Musharaff and Modi have things in common. To Musharaff’s credit, he was close to solving the Kashmir conflict, had the lawyers’ agitation not gripped Pakistan. Will Modi attempt likewise? Only time will tell.

Like any other region in the world, Kashmiris too have the right to live. Students have the right to make their careers. Mothers have the right to stop worrying about their sons, and the youth have the right to enjoy life. The stumbling block is the Kashmir dispute.

The Modi government needs to act, and act now, before it is too late. Modi must prove to Indians and to the world that he is a statesman, and not a mere politician.

If he chooses to be a mediocre politician, he may even win a second stint as PM of India, but he can never match Vajpayee. Vajpayee is still remembered in various capitals of the world, and particularly in Kashmir, for his vision of peace.

Since the summer unrest of 2016, Kashmir observers from Srinagar have been asking New Delhi to come to the negotiating table and start talks with the Hurriyat. But the ostrich-like attitude of the BJP-led government at New Delhi is not helping solve the problem. Till New Delhi does not budge, the air of Kashmir will be engulfed by negative peace, at best.

New Delhi must make a difference between positive and negative peace, the sooner the better. Precious time is being lost. The government must start a positive dialogue on the Kashmir dispute. Kashmiris have been craving this positive, meaningful peace for a long time.

The political dispensation in New Delhi and the Indian public is busy watching the election aftermath in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur. Far from mainland India, discontent is brewing within a population which has always looked towards New Delhi and its leaders with hope.

Let Modi walk tall with his 56-inch chest in and around Srinagar’s Lal Chowk, like he did in Uttar Pradesh, by solving the jinxed issue of Kashmir.

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