Talking the talk

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Suddenly the atmosphere is rife with the anticipation of talks between New Delhi and Hurriyat, even though there is little concrete evidence that the union government is even interested in talks. The speculations began with the recent visit of the home minister Rajnath Singh during which he expressed his openness towards talks with “all  stake-holders”. This approach was taken forward by the BJP General Secretary and the architect of J&K Coalition Government Ram Madhav during his subsequent visit to the state. He said the centre was open to hold talks in Kashmir with anybody “without pre-conditions”. This meant there was no bar for the Hurriyat to hold on to its position of not talking within the ambit of the constitution.  So are the talks on? Over the past week, there have been some indications to this effect. A degree of policy shift on Kashmir is in evidence since the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s August 15 speech in  which said the problem of Kashmir can be solved by hugging Kashmiri people. “Na goli se, na gaali se, Kashmir ki samasya suljhegi gale lagaane se,” Modi said.  

Rajnath Singh who was in Kashmir recently only cemented this perception saying that the centre was “willing to talk to anyone in Kashmir”. However, Centre hasn’t so far announced as to what form the engagement with Kashmir, if any, will take and whether there is a formal plan to rope in Hurriyat. As of now, New Delhi has yet to express an explicit desire for dialogue with separatists, choosing instead to club them with “all stakeholders”. But considering the cosmetic and unproductive nature of similar engagements in past, New Delhi is unlikely to find any serious takers for its delayed outreach. There is even no indication that the centre will appoint  a new Track II team in the wake of the lingering turmoil in the state. Anyways, this will be an experiment that has been tried and rejected several times before. Any new such team will have to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, trick by trick.

If the goal is truly a solution, this calls for a fundamental shift in the strategy and the practices adopted so far. The immediate priority, in any case, should be to draw separatists into a dialogue which they believe in. A dialogue that creates a sense of incremental progress towards some goal. As things stands, this certainly is not even remotely the case. New Delhi, it appears, continues to be in the management mode. But as the continuing turmoil would have you believe, Kashmir has moved far beyond this stage.

In the more than three years that it has been in power the BJP government at the centre has so far refused to politically engage Kashmir. It has acted against dissident groups like Hurriyat by unleashing its law enforcement agencies upon them. The centre’s instinct has been to use more force. 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 PM’s verbal outreach which was followed up with by the successive visits of Rajnath Singh and Ram Madhav one only hopes New Delhi will change its approach to Kashmir and start a credible political outreach.

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