The Jammu and Kashmir Situation: All Party Parliamentary Delegation - Part I

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New Delhi, Sept.19 (ANI): When the All Party Parliamentary Delegation (APPD) visits Srinagar, it will see slogans like 'Go India Go'; or 'Indian Dogs, Go Back', and 'Azadi' plastered on the walls. They will also be greeted with such slogans in order to drive home the point and to create a lasting impression on them that the entire Kashmir Valley, if not the state, is against the continued presence of India and Indians.

Against such a backdrop, the delegation would do well to start by turning the clock back and recalling the words of the tallest Kashmiri leader of modern times, Sheikh Abdullah.

On December 3, 1948 at a function of the Gandhi Memorial College at Jammu, Abdullah said: "Kashmiris would rather die following the footsteps of Gandhiji than accept the two-nation theory. We want to link the destiny of Kashmir with India, because we feel that the ideal before India and Kashmir is one and the same."

The ideals that Abdullah referred to were primarily secularism and democracy.

In his opening address to the Constituent Assembly on November 5, 1951, he noted: "The real character of a state is revealed in its Constitution. The Indian Constitution has set before the country the goal of a secular democracy based upon justice, freedom and equality for all without distinction. This is the bedrock of modern democracy. This should meet the argument that the Muslims of Kashmir cannot have security in India, where the large majority of the population are Hindus..... The Indian Constitution has amply and finally repudiated the concept of a religious State which is a throwback to medievalism........The national movement in our State naturally gravitates towards these principles of secular democracy."

On Pakistan, he noted: "The most powerful argument that can be advanced in her favour is that Pakistan is a Muslim state, and, a big majority of our people being Muslims the State must accede to Pakistan. This claim of being a Muslim State is of course only a camouflage. It is a screen to dupe the common man, so that he may not see clearly that Pakistan is a feudal State in which a clique is trying by these methods to maintain itself in power...........Right-thinking men would point out that Pakistan is not an organic unity of all the Muslims in this subcontinent. It has, on the contrary, caused the dispersion of Indian Muslims for whom it was claimed to have been created"

On Independence, he said: "I would like to remind you that from August 15 to October 22, 1947, our state was independent and the result was that our weakness was exploited by the neighbour with invasion. What is the guarantee that in future too we may not be victims of a similar aggression."

From Sheikh Abdullah trying to preserve Kashmir's secular foundations, from his optimism and enthusiasm for India to the 'Azadi' and pro-Pak slogans of today, has indeed been a long journey

Reams and volumes have been written about what went wrong during the last six decades, about Kashmiri grievances, about the dilution of autonomy, about rigged elections, about the overbearing presence of the security forces, about the ever-present fear stalking the streets, about massive corruption, about no real economic development despite transfusion of huge funds, poor governance by successive state governments. And so on.

The APPD would obviously not have the time or opportunity to look into all of these issues. What they could, however do, is to take stock of the situation and determine, as Sonia Gandhi put it so poignantly, why are they so angry with us.

This would involve, above all, listening, a trait politicians are not very good at. However, individually and collectively, they need to put the urge of listening to their own voices in cold storage during the visit.

They need to feel the pain of mothers and fathers who have lost young ones, understand the fear that stalks the streets, for the civil population as well as the security forces, empathise with Gen Next, who have known nothing else but the strong-hand methods and the ugly face of India.

Just listen, learn and absorb. Don't offer half-baked prescriptions and solutions. If anything, bond with the grief and frustration in an emotional package that has at its centre, compassion and sensitivity that restores human dignity. Understand the hurt, the anger at repeated humiliations, and accept that it can't be healed in a day, but that just by connecting with a disillusioned generation a beginning can be made.

There will be a lot of talk about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Paradoxically, it is both a non-issue and fundamental to finding that elusive starting point for talks. It is a non-issue because neither is it the cause of the long lingering problem nor is it a solution. It is a Constitutional instrument used by the government in a specific situation. It has legal and security implications that have been detailed so many times that it doesn't need repetition here.

However, the fate of the AFPSA is fundamental to the debate because more than legal or political, it has become a political issue. Like the slogan of azadi, AFPSA has caught the imagination of the political establishment and the people as the one issue whose repeal will demonstrate Indian sincerity and willingness to be flexible. More importantly, it will give the mainstream political parties, some lever with which to go back to the streets in order to mobilise supporters.

Hence, the call on AFPSA has to be political. The question is whether, on balance, its repeal will be seen as a victory for the separatists, a sign of the Indian government bowing down to pressure and the implication that if pressure is sustained, azadi too will be conceded. Or, will it be seen as demonstrating sincerity, taking that first important step towards defusing the situation and giving the mainstream parties something substantive with which to gear themselves to fight the long battle ahead.

Consisting of seasoned politicians, the APPD should be able to make this all important political call. By Salim Haq (ANI)

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