Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar

From India Today, “Groping in the Dark

“For two days in some areas of Srinagar, soldiers were polite, roads cleaned up and anti-India graffiti washed white, not for the agitating people but for the visitors from Delhi. The all-party delegation (APD) of 39 parliamentarians arrived in restive Kashmir, united in purpose to assess the ground situation but left clearly divided in intent. In the end, there was no unanimity among the delegates even about calling on the separatist leaders who had declined formal invitations to meet them. The separatists, on the other hand, put up a united show despite being ideologically divided. It was all on television-the restatement of separatist positions, the public resentment the delegates faced and their familiar disagreements with separatists and among themselves.”

“When the parliamentarians arrived on September 20, they drove along deserted roads, where the “Go India, go back” slogans had been removed. Para-military forces had suddenly turned courteous. While stopping vehicles, CRPF soldiers saluted “Jai Hind” and politely asked, “Do you have a curfew pass, sir?” Local journalists, at the receiving end of identity checks and insolent interrogation till the previous day, were amused. The change was restricted to a small area in Srinagar and the volatile Valley without its newspapers remained locked down for the eighth day in a row. But when some members went to meet separatist stalwart Syed Ali Shah Geelani at his Hyderpora residence, there was no escaping first-hand reality.

If Geelani was unforgiving, the pro-dialogue Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was as difficult when another group led by the CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta came calling at his posh Nigeen residence. Under the open sky in his manicured lawn, he put up a show of force, reading from a prepared printed presentation, fully aware that it will be beamed on national TV. The angry Mirwaiz had a proposal ready and demanded concrete steps to be taken like forming an official Kashmir committee of parliamentarians both in India and Pakistan to initiate a meaningful and sustained process for resolving the issue. In a similar display, Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik highlighted the importance of involving Pakistan to LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan, again in the presence of TV cameras, from his party headquarters in the congested and volatile Maisuma locality.

In all this, the principal Opposition party, the BJP, stayed away, calling these meetings an individual decision. None of the Congress members of the APD visited the separatists either. This stand is a major indication of the difficulties that lie ahead in devising a consensus approach to deal with the issue. Away from the clamour of cameramen and journalists, the parliamentarians stayed the night at Lalit Grand, the palace of the erstwhile Dogra Mahraja and now Kashmir’s only five-star hotel, and did not see protesters throwing stones and being shot at by men in uniform. However, the delegation did face the depth of anger in the main hospital in Srinagar, at the revered Hazratbal shrine and in Tangmarg where the people’s wrath had destroyed almost the entire government infrastructure after six protesters were killed in firing by security forces on September 13.

Planned visits to two other hospitals were cancelled after a group of the members was jeered at by angry relatives and attendants of the wounded in the SMHS hospital. Apart from the partly scuttled attempts at public outreach, the delegation’s agenda appeared discordant. BJP’s Sushma Swaraj may have disagreed with the decision to meet with the separatists, but, perhaps to avoid being branded as communal, she visited the Hazratbal shrine. She too could not escape a sample of the anger when a group of residents told her: ‘We don’t want to be with India. We want freedom.'”

“Buoyed by the defiant Kashmir street, the separatists have made their positions clear by putting forward their conditions for any forward movement. There is little the state government can do to affect a change on the ground after having significantly lost credibility. The Valley is almost solely in the hands of the security establishment. Sending the APD has created an opportunity for New Delhi to step in with concrete measures outside the realm of security control and engage with the emerging reality. Whatever the APD assesses, the onus of coming up with a response to the difficult situation in Kashmir is now on New Delhi. It can ignore that only at the risk of persisting peril.”

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