As India and Pakistan observed their 70th birthday, Kashmir found it had little to celebrate. Though celebrations were held in Valley too, they were held as usual under a strict security cover. Valley was observing hartal call. Streets were deserved. Security restrictions were in force in the sensitive urban areas like the downtown Srinagar.
A hush had descended on Srinagar, on the broad stretches of the deserted markets, on the Boulevard along Dal lake, on the Bund along river Jehlum and on the congested downtown localities. So that when a three-wheeler moved in round a corner, its grating sound reverberated through the scene for a while, and was soon gone, leaving more silence in its wake.
The city thus wore the look of a place evacuated of its people. Even in the deep interiors, in the lanes and by-lanes of the city proper, far away from the heavy security bandobast, the movement was less than usual. At an odd open corner shop here and there, though, groups of 4 to 5 people usually gossiped about the prevailing state of affairs.
The truth of the matter is that there is very little that has changed in Kashmir. The Valley remains in a time warp, struggling to get rid of the lingering bitter conflict that has plagued the state since India and Pakistan won their freedom from the imperial yoke and Kashmir which got divided between the two newly created nations became a bone of contention. Ever since while the two countries have gone on with their respective destinies, Kashmiris have remained hopelessly mired in the conflict. Thousands of lives have been lost. The lives of the living have been turned upside down. And there is no foreseeable hope that the situation will improve in future. As the things stand, Kashmir is going to be stuck in this quagmire for the years and the decades ahead.
Though Prime Minister Narendra Modis reconciliatory stance towards Kashmir in his Independence Day speech is a welcome development, it is a cold comfort to people in Kashmir. The PM said Kashmir will make progress only if the people of the nation come together. He further added the problem of Kashmir can be solved by hugging Kashmiri people. Na goli se, na gaali se, Kashmir ki samasya suljhegi gale lagaane se. He also said that that the country will never become soft on terrorism. However, in terms of the resolution of the conflict, this means nothing more than some good noise about the state.
In the three years it has been in power the NDA government at the centre has refused to politically engage Kashmir. It has acted against dissident groups like Hurriyat. The centres only response to the situation is to use more force. After a feeble attempt at a political engagement in the first weeks of the unrest, New Delhi has given up all pretence of any outreach. No political engagement has been initiated with the representatives of the pro-freedom sentiment even after the post-Burhan unrest wound down in December last. For BJP, the priority has been the successive elections in different states of India. Similarly, the engagement with Pakistan is unlikely to restore anytime soon. This has created a fraught situation which can take a dangerous turn if no efforts are made to address and engage with it. After PMs verbal outreach one only hopes New Delhi will change its approach to Kashmir.
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