The former union minister discusses his motives for leading a civil society delegation to the Valley and how peace can be achieved.
Srinagar: Former union minister Yashwant Sinha is leading a three-person civil society delegation to Kashmir. This is the delegation’s second visit to the state, following one in October. Besides Sinha, journalist Bharat Bhushan and Sushobha Barve from the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation are part of the current delegation, with Wajahat Habibullah, ex-chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, and former air vice-marshal Kapil Kak part of the October team.
According to Sinha, the purpose of his visit is to try to finish the ‘unfinished task’ of resolving the Kashmir issue, as initiated by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee but which remained incomplete because the BJP could not return to power in 2004.
“I am only carrying that [Vajpayee’s] legacy [forward],” Sinha told this writer.
“The issue of Kashmir has remained unresolved for seven long decades. We should try and resolve this issue; and that is the surest way to attain normalcy in Kashmir,” he said.
This is the first time that Sinha, who surprised many by leading a delegation to the Kashmir Valley in October, has directly spoken about the political objectives of his travels to the state.
Sinha has consistently maintained that the purpose of the October visit was to “feel the pain and suffering” of the Kashmiri people.
He said his visit is not a result of any assurance from the Narendra Modi-led central government of holding a dialogue with the concerned groups, including Hurriyat leaders, on a political solution to the Kashmir issue. But, he added, the process of convincing the various sections of people in Kashmir to participate in such a dialogue was undertaken in the past and could happen in the future too.
According to Sinha, those who are demanding a plebiscite “should be convinced” about the sincerity of the dialogue before they agree to participate. Referring to the various groups, he said it is important to “first understand their point of view and then start a process to build a consensus”.
When asked if the response from Delhi to his previous visit to Kashmir was an inspiration to continue to push for the resolution of Kashmir issue, he said that he was encouraged by what he has achieved so far. “We wouldn’t be coming back if we had come back disappointed after our first trip,” he said, adding that he would keep talking to the people to create a better atmosphere to resolve the issue.
But Sinha reiterated that his delegation to the Valley should not be mistaken to be part of the track two delegation sent by the Centre.
“We suggest we should have acceptance with here and there so that [idea about the solution] will come out of talking to people.”
According to him, when his delegation was in the Valley in October, most people expressed a high opinion about Vajpayee, who, according to them, was “serious and sincere” about resolving the Kashmir issue. It is this goodwill for Vajpayee that may have led to the various groups in the state, including Hurriyat Conference chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani, opening their doors to his delegation, Sinha believes. Sinha served as Vajpayee’s finance and foreign minister over his two terms as prime minister.
Now, Sinha said, he wants to take Vajpayee’s view on Kashmir forward. “Vajpayee’s view is an unfinished past, which we had to leave behind because we [the BJP] did not come to power in 2004. Either way, I am only carrying [forward] that legacy and I am trying to finish that unfinished task,” he said.
In the aftermath of its visit to Kashmir in October, the Sinha-led delegation had submitted a report on its recommendations to the central government. But Sinha is quick to say that the delegation’s current visit to the state has nothing to do with the government’s response to that report. In the report, the delegation had highlighted many issues and observations, including the anger in the Valley over human rights violations and complaints that New Delhi did not see the Kashmir issue as a dispute and was thus unwilling to resolve it.
Athar Parvaiz is a journalist and researcher.