A group of concerned citizens including me visited the town of the martyr a little over 69 years later, on December 13, 2016. We went there to meet the local people and discuss the current situation with them. As we entered the town, a few words scribbled in bold letters on a wall caught our attention. "Indian dogs go back," they said. This is not an isolated example of how much things have changed in Kashmir during the last 69 years. In Anantnag, where we were having a similar interaction with civil society groups of south Kashmir, a young man told me bluntly that the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008 was the work of Indian intelligence agencies. This was in response to my statement that Pakistan was not abiding by its commitment to not allow its territory to be used for terrorism against India and continues to unleash cross-border terrorism against us. In Shopian, a youngster told us that the youth of Kashmir had no fear anymore even of death, thanks to the excesses committed by us.
The feeling of betrayal and discrimination by India runs deep in the mind of the average Kashmiri. On the issue of betrayal the narrative runs like this (I am mentioning it without in any way endorsing it): The Instrument of Accession was conditional and gave India the power only over the three subjects of foreign affairs, defence and communications. Over the years, we have gone back on this commitment and, despite the existence of Article 370 in our Constitution giving special status to the state, have tried in various ways to integrate it into India. In 1953, Pandit Nehru arrested Sheikh Abdullah, the most popular leader of Jammu and Kashmir and largely instrumental in ensuring its accession to India, on suspicion that he was hobnobbing with foreign powers to break away from India and become independent. Elections were rigged to install puppet regimes. The complaints extend from imposing our laws on them to denying them the right of self-determination to not resolving the J&K issue for 69 years. The list goes on.
The feeling of discrimination extends from ill-treating Kashmiris in the rest of India, to the PM not attending the funeral of Chief Mufti though doing so in the case of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, to arresting the children under the infamous Public Safety Act and keeping them in regular jails with hardened criminals instead of juvenile homes, to the imposition of AFSPA in the whole state and to the presence of security forces everywhere.
The use of pellet guns is the biggest discrimination of all, according to the Kashmiris. We did not use pellet guns during the Jat agitation in Haryana, the Cauvery agitation in Karnataka, the Patel agitation in Gujarat or any other agitation anywhere else in the country. It appears that it is specially reserved for the Kasmiris and is meant to blind their whole next generation. The use of pellet guns is the most emotive of all issues today in Kashmir.
Their present mindset prevents them from seeing things in their correct perspective. There is a readiness to believe the worst without verifying. They are blind to the excesses committed by Pakistan, including cross-border terror attacks by it.
The demands everyone articulated before us include the holding of a plebiscite as laid down in the UN resolutions, the holding of trilateral dialogue with Pakistan in order to unite the old Riyasat of J&K and finally grant them Azadi.
It must be noted with regret that the initiative this time has passed into the hands of children of ten, 12, 14 and 16 who are sovereign unto themselves and outside the control of the established leadership. The leaders are forced to follow, they are unable to lead.
The situation from our point of view appears impossible on the face of it. Some believe that the use of force is the only way out of the present situation. They ascribe the return to normalcy in the Valley to the use of force and the determination of the authorities not to flinch in the face of violence. This is a mistaken belief. The fragile peace is temporary and can break again at the slightest provocation. In fact, everyone in the Valley is living under the apprehension that something terrible may happen in the near future, and that this time, it will be worse than any thing that has happened in the past.
Sections of the Indian media, specially some TV channels, are hated in the Valley with a passion which is unbelievable. They have contributed in no small measure in creating the kind of misunderstanding which exists in the minds of the people there.
But all is not lost in the Valley yet. There is still some light at the end of the tunnel. People still refer to Vajpayee with a great deal of respect and there is appreciation for the approach he had adopted. The present delicate calm is the best opportunity to reach out to the people in J&K in the spirit of Vajpayee and engage them in a dialogue. After all, the Agenda of Alliance between the BJP and the PDP, which is the basis on which the present government has been formed, clearly states, after talking approvingly of the dialogue process started during the Vajpayee rule, that the new government would also similarly begin a dialogue process with all stakeholders in the state. All stakeholders will include not only the people living in the various parts and regions of the state, but also the Pandits who still live in the Valley, or have migrated, and the Sikhs who stay there braving all odds as well as other minority groups.
My appeal to those in authority is to ensure that the present window of opportunity is not lost.The issue of Jammu and Kashmir is a political issue and has to be resolved politically and not by force.
(Yashwant Sinha is a senior BJP leader and former Union Minister of External Affairs.)
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