By Karan Thapar
Is there a disconnect between what the government and BJP say about Kashmir and how they act? The honest answer is I don’t know although I have my suspicions. So let’s explore this issue more closely.
The truth is for a while the government has sounded rather emollient. You may recall one or two instances but I bet you’ll be surprised by how many there have been and what they amount to.
First, on Independence Day the Prime Minister said the solution was to embrace Kashmiris, not shoot or abuse them. Shortly thereafter the Home Minister, speaking in Srinagar, said he was “willing to talk to anyone” and promised not to act “against the sentiments” of Kashmiris. He also said he would “make 50 visits a year if necessary.”
This month Mr. Rajnath Singh went further. He said he had asked the state government to move juveniles arrested for pelting stones from jail to remand homes and review their cases sympathetically. On the 21st this paper reported the government might offer an amnesty to stone-pelters and withdraw cases against first- time offenders.
Of course, these are just statements but they are, nonetheless, significant and, taken together, suggest determination if not also sincerity.
However, the most striking promise is one that’s got the least attention. When asked by this paper on the 17th if the Special Representative would speak to Hurriyat, BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav not only confirmed he would but pointedly added: “The dialogue has to happen in a very open manner, without any precondition.” In fact, this echoed what Mr. Madhav had told this paper in August last year. At that time he said the government was ready to “engage all sections of the Valley’s society” and Kashmiris could “ask for the moon within the Indian Constitution.”
No one could dismiss all these comments as one-offs or made casually. They’ve been spoken by men of responsibility and repeated so often they clearly form a consistent chain. So the natural expectation is these comments must have led to major changes. But if they haven’t then, surely, the question I began with is valid?
Now let’s look at what’s happened. For a whole year Ram Madhav’s promises of August 2016 were forgotten before the Prime Minister revived them but only verbally. A Special Representative of cabinet rank has, no doubt, been appointed but so far he hasn’t made a credible effort to speak to Hurriyat. And as for the claim there will be no preconditions and Kashmiris can ask for the moon the way the Prime Minister pounced on Mr. Chidambaram’s stand, that India should consider reforms that may restore the autonomy Kashmir had at accession, suggests this was said more for effect than implementation.
So do you get the feeling the BJP knows how to say the right things but doesn’t act on them or is inexplicably slow to do so? And then, side by side, there’s all this talk of scrapping Articles 35 (A) and 370 or building Sainik Colonies which, admittedly, may be intended to taunt but certainly don’t reassure Kashmiris.
As I admitted, I’m not sure there’s a disconnect but it certainly seems like one. However, what I’m more certain of is there’s confusion in the BJP’s and the government’s thinking. They either don’t realize what they’ve said or don’t want to act on their statements.
If this leads you to the conclusion they say one thing and do another I wouldn’t necessarily disagree.