By K.N. Pandita
Prime Minister’s two-day visit to the valley was marked by total bandh observed by valley dwellers on the call of hard-line separatist leader, Sayyid Ali Shah Geelani. During his previous visit also strike had been observed in the valley.
No official comment is forthcoming on this situation. Either the Prime Minister is kept totally uniformed or the public reaction is taken for granted as part of Kashmir politics. But it discredits Indian presence in the valley and international observers could raise an eyebrow.
For Pakistan, it is a strong favourable point to tell the world community that India has lost credibility with Kashmiris. Passive resistance is what Indian leaders preached in their struggle for freedom from colonial rule, Gandhi being the foremost among them. Democracy is more the will of the people than the rule of law. In Kashmir dissidents are using the double strategy, a deadly blend of violence and non-violence.
Certain baffling questions arise. Why could not the ruling coalition parties neutralize the call given by a rank separatist leader? Why could not they muster strength to counter the strategy of separatists? Does their inaction stem from their weakness or have they a method in madness?
The total strike is a reflection on all parties that have formed the coalition. It has exposed them to the ridicule of observers and commentators. It proves that the coalition has no moral right to hold the reins of power because it does not command popular support of the people. Any self-respecting government would have tendered its resignation the moment PM left the valley. But power hungry politicians are the last on the earth to hod a conviction and stand fast by it.
As usual, the Prime Minister made a vague and elusive statement on the eve of his departure for Kashmir. He said he would talk to those who shun violence. In other words he was to talk only to those political parties that have endorsed state’s accession to the Indian Union. What was he to talk to them?
If the talks were about solution of Kashmir issue or restoration of internal law and order, these parties have no locus standi just because they have no mass following. The bandh has proved their political impotency and irrelevance. It is a different matter that they could manage to win the elections, an exercise in which the separatists were not at all participants. Even the buffoons can make history.
It is now clear that both National Conference and Pradesh Congress are misleading the central leadership on ground situation in the valley. More disappointing is the line adopted by the UPA leadership of adhering to the redundant and disastrous policy of offering cash doles in order to wean away the Kashmiris from pro-Pak propensities. This is a classical example of “willing suspension of disbelief”
Central leadership is morally bound to ask the ruling parties in the State to account for the erosion of their popularity with the masses of people in Kashmir and yet stick to power like a leech. Not only that, it must open the doors of negotiation with the separatist, hard line or soft line whatever.
Where is the separatist chapter which New Delhi claims to be of soft liners? No soft line separatist gave a counter call to Geelani’s diktat. They could not because they would not be listened to, leave alone the mainstream parties. Even PDP which has been healing the wounds of militants and their cohorts ever since it surfaced on Kashmir political landscape sealed its lips on the call for the bandh.
True, the so-called mainstream parties in Kashmir do manage to assemble people off and on in order to make a show of their existence. What is important is to know the tone and tenor of the speeches of their leaders in these gatherings. Pro-Pak and pro-sectarian undercurrents dot their speeches as they know what goes down the throat of the audience.
The Prime Minister has no option but to throw bagfuls of monies to the ruling clique just to keep the fractious segment on its side. It is the cost he pays for face saving. And mind you, there is no accountability, neither asked nor given. It is a bribe with sophistication. Each cash dole of bribe entitles the recipients for another dole and another dole.
A nationalist government is duty bound to put questions to the ruling parties in Kashmir to prove their credibility and popularity with the masses of people. The impact of the recent bandh is widespread. It arms Pakistan with a lethal weapon to discredit India’s position. New Delhi should not show signs of imbecility in the face of manifest blackmail by the ruling parties in the State.
Reversing its policy of pandering to dubious pro-Indian elements in the valley, New Delhi must come forth boldly to express its readiness to talk to those who command huge popularity with the masses of people. New Delhi has been talking to militant leadership overtly or covertly. It has no qualms of self-esteem in that sense. There appears no reason why it should not talk openly to the hardliners as well. The ongoing situation of providing crutches to a declining political force is negation of statesmanship. The bull needs to be caught by its horns.
Lastly, the total bandh observed in the valley on the eve of PM’s visit is an eloquent proof that there is hardly any goodwill left with the valley majority for the extirpated religious minority of the valley. As such the packages announced by the PM and other agencies for their return and rehabilitation is the biggest joke of post-independence period.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).