Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi are embarking on a two-day visit to J&K from Tuesday. Apparently, the main thrust of the PMs visit is to help boost economic activity; he is scheduled to lay the foundation stone of the Ratle Hydro Electric Power Project near Kishtwar and to inaugurate a railway tunnel linking Banihal with Qazigund. His mere presence in the valley, however, is bound to invigorate fresh hopes for a peace process.
The PM is coming to Kashmir at a time when parliamentary elections are not far-away; he does not have any political capital left nor time to kick-start a new peace process. Despite this, some influential voices emanating from New Delhi are advocating that the Prime minister must carry with him a political signal. In the absence of a strong political message he has even been advised not to undertake the journey at all: Dr Manmohan Singh may as well not go, they say.
To expect a cautious person like Manmohan Singh to initiate a peace process almost at the fag end of his political career and particularly when a hardliner like Narendra Modi is expected to pose a serious challenge to UPAs 10-year rule, is simply out of question. Manmohan Singh, despite his good intentions, has proved to be unworthy of a true peacemaker. For an economist-turned-politician it seems economics itself is politics. The point has not been missed in Kashmir that the PM is visiting J&K for the third or fourth time, Sonia Gandhi towing along each and every time, to inaugurate a rail service. Where does this rail go?
Practically nowhere. Presently, the trains travel a distance of about 100 kms from Baramulla to Qazigund within the valley itself. With the inauguration of the 11-km-long tunnel across the Pir Panchal, the rail service will get extended up to Banihal. The railway line linking Kashmir with Jammu, and hence with the mainland, was conceived as early as in 1983. In 2002, it was declared a national project. Despite the PM coming again and again to inaugurate the railway line in instalments, the real dots are still to be connected; roughly 100 km of the most hazardous section of the railway line from Banihal to Udhampur is yet to be laid-out.
The PM may have been advised by his brain trust that in the absence of a significant peace process the repeated and piecemeal inauguration of railway service may cheer the many anxious minds in conflict-ridden Kashmir. However, Singh must understand that people can be fooled only once and not always.
Keeping aside the separatists heap of scorn, even chief minister Omar Abdullah seems to be unimpressed by the PMs futile efforts. The psyche and mindset of the people of the state have not been understood so far, which is the main cause for the differences between centre and the state. The Kashmir issue needs to be addressed politically. Economic packages are not the solution to the issue nor can it be found at the point of the gun, Omar Abdullah said, in a blunt criticism of the PMs impending visit. An elected chief minister commenting that economic packages cannot be the only solution to the Kashmir problem and his reference to the continued and overt use of military means to suppress peoples will can never be taken lightly as a political gimmick to earn some brownie points.
In the ever surcharged atmosphere of Kashmir, such a statement is sure to further accentuate already suppressed feelings. The CMs main grouse seems to be the non-implementation of the report submitted by the three-member team of interlocutors appointed by the centre. People know there has been no action on the recommendations or the report of the interlocutors. It would be difficult for the people to trust any more teams that could arrive here from Delhi, Omar had said.
Omar, it seems, is yet to learn the lesson well. Did he really believe that the interlocutors exercise was a serious and sincere attempt to resolve the vexed problem of Kashmir? He would be better advised to pay attention to the Congress working committee member and senior Kashmiri leader Makhan Lal Fotedars musings during his recent visit to Kashmir. Fotedar was asked to clarify his statement making light of the problems in Kashmir and if so, why the prime minister formed Working Groups and why the then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao made an announcement that sky is the limit.
Fotedar was candid enough to disclose that the working groups were formed because there was no clue where the funds released by the centre were going. As far as the sky is the limit statement made by Narasimha Rao, Fotedar said this was in the context of development, and not the resolution of the Kashmir issue. Ironically, everybody in Kashmir believed that Raos sky is the limit remark was in reference to a promise made for the restoration of the autonomy. Yours truly has had a firsthand experience of how that speech of Narasimha Rao from the faraway shores of Burkina Faso evolved, but thats something to be left for a later day.
But more disgusting is Fotedars revelations that appointment of interlocutors was a management tool. It was a damage control exercise as the government here was not able to control the situation, thats why such moves were undertaken. While Fotedars utterances have not divulged any new information, he has, however, only confirmed what was already suspected in Kashmir. A Kashmiri is, inevitably, always accused of overstating his plight and at worst he is even berated for a victim mentality outlook. A dispassionate evaluation of what Fotedar, a long-time insider, has said only confirms the unreliability of New Delhis stances towards Kashmir.
The author based in Srinagar writes on contemporary issues. Views expressed are personal.
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