The five-member civil society delegation led by former union minister Yashwant Sinha clearly achieved more than Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s all-party delegation managed in September. Soon after landing in Kashmir on Tuesday, the delegation managed to meet and discuss issues with hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. The BJP, however, has distanced itself from the outreach, saying it was Sinha’s personal initiative.
The five-member delegation – comprising former chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, former Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, Shushoba Bharve, the executive director of Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation and veteran journalist Bharat Bhushan, besides Sinha – clearly did much more in terms of substance and improving goodwill within the first two days of its visit than what the all-party delegation to Kashmir had achieved during its visit on September 4.
The main difference has been its ability to meet the Geelani, the Hurriyat Conference chairman, for close to an hour. Geelani, incidentally, had refused to open his doors to seven non-BJP MPs, led by CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who had tried to reach out to him for talks when they had gone to Srinagar as part of the all-party delegation.
While BJP spokesperson Srikant Sharma clearly told a news channel that “the BJP has nothing to do with this initiative. It was Yashwant Sinhaji’s personal initiative and he has himself made it clear,” the message among the people, local leaders and media in Kashmir is clearly that this delegation has the blessings of the Centre.
The meeting [between Geelani and the delegation] is seen as a fresh effort by New Delhi to pave way for talks with the resistance camp in Kashmir. In fact soon after landing in Srinagar, the delegation had driven straight to the resident of Geelani at Hyderpora, where the separatist leader continues to be under house arrest.
Emerging from the meeting, Sinha stated: “We had a good discussion [with Geelani] and it took place in a cordial atmosphere. We had come with an aim to hold talks and we succeeded in it.” He had added that the delegation comprises of “a few people who have come with goodwill to share the pain of Kashmiri people.”
The Valley has been in a turmoil since the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8, with incidents of violence claiming the lives of over 100 people and leaving over 15,000 injured.
In a statement, the Hurriyat said that Geelani had told the delegation that “the onus of peace in the region, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, lies with those holding power, military might and other resources.”
He had also reminded the delegation about the “historical perspective of the Kashmir issue, pending its final resolution since 1947” and urged the release of those arrested along with the withdrawal of cases registered against them “so that after consultation, a common and collective point of view can be put forward.”
It is widely believed that over 9,000 people have been arrested and over 400 have been booked under the Public Safety Act ever since a fresh round of violence erupted.
The delegation also met Muslim Conference chairman Abdul Gani Bhat, who spoke about how the intellectuals can play a positive role in resolving the Kashmir issue. Later, the five members also met the chairman of Democratic Freedom Party, Shabir Shah, who is under arrest at the Rajbagh police station. His party spokesperson said Shah “told the delegation that talks can’t be held when forces continue to kill civilians in Kashmir”. Shah also “made it clear to the delegation that India can’t sideline Pakistan for the resolution of Kashmir which is a core issue, and has to be resolved as per aspirations of people.”
Shah also referred to the discrimination involved in the use of pellet guns against the protesters in Kashmir, saying that this equipment was not used during the Jat agitation in Haryana or the Patel agitation in Gujarat. “The civilians are being killed and property damaged and students left blind due to the use of pellet guns in Kashmir,” he said.
On Wednesday, the delegation continued its interactions and met with the representatives of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) at its office on Residency Road.
Following the meeting, Sinha said, “this group came here for humanity, to understand the pain of the people here and to associate ourselves with that. In this regard, we are trying to meet all the stakeholders here.”
As for the response, he said, “I am in a position to say today that by the response we are getting, we feel that we can share their pain. After this, we will talk”.
Clearly, the man who has been sidelined by the BJP for speaking out against the ruling dispensation has managed to achieve much more than the Centre did through its earlier direct approach.
The challenges, however, remain in that most people of the state no longer trust the Centre to deliver on the promises. This negativity primarily stems from the belief that the Centre had trashed the reports of previous such delegations and interlocutors when the situation improved in the Valley.
This was pointed out by KCCI president, Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, when he said, “last time, no one met the delegation from Delhi as the reports of the delegations and interlocutors, who visited here before, were thrown into dustbins by the government of India.”
But as Wani indicated, people of the state are giving peace another chance. “We told them that you must prevail upon the government of India to start an unconditional dialogue with the stakeholders very soon.” The ball is now in the Centre’s court.