Amit Shah's Visit Reflects Centre's Indifference to Solving Kashmir Question

The Union home minister neither met separatists nor mainstream party leaders.

Srinagar: On June 22, days before Union home minister Amit Shah was to visit the state, Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik surprised many with a public statement in which he said that separatists were “ready for talks“.

“I’m happy that the temperature in the Valley has gone down… things are much better now. Look at Hurriyat, Ram Vilas Paswan stood at their door and they didn’t open the door. Now they are ready for talks,” Malik said, addressing a function in Srinagar.

The governor has been running the state for more than a year now after the fall of the coalition government of the People’s Democratic Party and Bharatiya Janata Party in June last year. As a direct appointee of the Centre, Malik, through his statement, positioned himself as the government of India’s spokesperson. He also seemed to suggest that the time was ripe for peace talks.

That the statement came just a few days before the maiden official visit to Kashmir of one of the most powerful ministers of the Modi cabinet added weight to its promise.

Also read: What Does Modi’s Second Term Portend for Kashmir?

But when the home minister finally landed in the Valley on his two-day visit beginning June 26, the issue seemed entirely missing from his itinerary.

Shah did not extend any olive branches to separatists, who had, this time, surprisingly not given a shutdown call in response to the high-profile visit. Calls for strikes across the Valley is a tradition the Hurriyat has maintained each time a prime minister or any senior Union minister has visited Srinagar.

Not only was a strike passed over, but moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq had, in fact, insisted on talks for more than a month, in interviews and statements to newspapers. He had even told the Indian Express that they would respond positively if the Centre was to “initiate meaningful talks” on Kashmir.

But the home minister followed his own script during his stay in Srinagar. While he chose not to speak to reporters directly, the message he sent was clear – the Centre will continue with its crackdown against militants and separatists.

“There should be zero tolerance towards terrorism and terrorists, and there should be continued strict action against terror funding,” Jammu and Kashmir chief secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam said at a press conference, quoting Shah on the second day of his visit after he chaired a meeting to review the security scenario in the state.

At the same time, in what may well be seen as a snub to regional political parties, Shah also decided against meeting them, though he gave an audience to a few BJP leaders and workers and a select group of panchayat representatives and members from the tribal community of Gujjars.

In fact, while the home minister was in town, the Income Tax department carried out raids at several places, both in Kashmir and Jammu. Six of the raided premises belong to the family of Abdul Rahim Rather, a senior National Conference leader.

Many in Kashmir saw a “clear message” from New Delhi in the manner in which the Union minister neither engaged with mainstream parties nor showed any signs of the Centre warming up to separatists for a dialogue on Kashmir.

A senior political analyst said the BJP and Centre have been trying to reconstruct the narrative and lay the foundation for their own brand of politics in Kashmir.

Also read: In Kashmir, Power Eludes Those Who Wield it

“They want to create their own stakeholders in the Valley and have already begun acting on their long-term strategy of weakening not only separatists, but even those political actors who represent secular, regional and nationalistic aspirations in Kashmir,” says the analyst on condition on anonymity, adding that it is in this context that “we need to analyse the home minister’s visit and also his decision to stay away from meeting leaders from state political parties.”

From Modi 1.0 to Modi 2.0, the BJP-led government has continued its approach towards Kashmir. After breaking all communication channels with Pakistan, the Centre then went after the separatists, and at the same time continued with anti-militancy operations, with security forces killing 733 militants since 2016 – 117 of them in the first six months of this year.

Barring Mirwaiz and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, most of the separatists, including Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Muhammad Yasin Malik and almost the entire second rung of the Hurriyat’s leadership, are languishing in jails in and outside the state.

JKLF chief Yasin Malik. Credit: PTI

The fact that the Centre has put its own interlocutor on Kashmir, Dineshwar Sharma, in what can only be described as ‘pause mode’ for almost eight months now, shows that the Centre does not want to be seen conceding on Kashmir.

The last time Sharma was part of any sort of interaction in Kashmir was in November, 2018. Though he visited Srinagar again on June 11 and met governor Malik, there is no certainty as to whether the Centre will give him a go-ahead to resume his mission in Kashmir any time soon.

Political commentator Siddiq Wahid says, having relied heavily on its muscular policy when it comes to Kashmir, the Centre cannot be expected to change its stand anytime soon.

“These are early days of the second chapter of the government at the Centre and we will have to wait for the next three to four months before we get an idea on how the government wishes to go ahead on Kashmir,” says Wahid.

Wahid, however, adds that it is unlikely that the government of India would give up its present policy and walk the path of reconciliation when it comes to Kashmir.

A senior state BJP leader that this reporter spoke to agreed. “Under the governor’s rule we have been able to break the back of militancy and corner those who have been fomenting trouble in the Valley, including separatists,” says the BJP leader, who was a minister in the previous state government.

Also read: If the Past Year in Kashmir is Any Indication, Delhi Must Brace Itself for Worse in 2019

He says the Centre’s priority is to get the “situation back on track” in Kashmir before taking the next step of holding assembly elections in the state.

The Centre, however, seems to be in no mood to enable elections, which are long overdue, to take place in Kashmir. This has become evident after the home minister flew back to New Delhi on June 27 and moved the resolution in parliament to extend president’s rule in the state by six months, from July 3. Amid criticism from the opposition, the Lok Sabha gave its nod to the bill.

This has dashed the hopes of state parties, particularly National Conference, which has been repeatedly seeking elections in the state. Party vice-president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah said he had expected that the home minister’s visit would give the Centre a “better understanding” of the situation in Kashmir and the “need to change the approach to the state”.

Shedding light on how things will pan out in the coming days, Wahid says the Centre’s approach towards Kashmir should not surprise anyone at all. “This is an authoritarian government which hardly bothers to take anybody on board when it comes to Kashmir,” he adds.