July 24, 2016

Modi Govt Further Alienated Kashmiris: Tarigami

CPI(M) central committee member and Jammu and Kashmir MLA Md. Yusuf Tarigami was in Delhi in the beginning of the week to meet leaders of national parties and seek their intervention in bringing Kashmir back from the brink. Among others, he met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, along with CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, on July 20. The turmoil in Kashmir, which erupted following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter on July 8, has claimed over 40 lives and left more than 3400 injured. In a free and frank discussion with Rajendra Sharma for PD/Loklahar, he underlined the gravity of the current situation. Here are excerpts from this discussion:

0              Kashmir is literally burning again. What has actually happened?

Kashmir is on the boil once again. No doubt this is not the first time that Kashmir is facing such eruption of mass anger. But the protests this time are bigger and the protesters angrier, reflecting a much deeper sense of alienation. In some respects, the present situation is similar to the one prevalent in the 1990s. This is also reflection of hopelessness of 25 years that have gone by since that phase. It's an injured psyche or hurt sentiment. They see Indian forces as oppressors.

0              Why is this happening again and again?

This situation has come to such a pass because of continuous neglect of the Kashmir problem. Time and again, CPI(M) and other forces have suggested concrete measures for moving towards addressing important issues. But successive governments have made, at the best, some half-hearted efforts in addressing the people's sense of alienation. In early 1990s, the then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, promising autonomy as a solution, said that “sky is the limit”. But as follow-up, nothing was done -- a big zero. Similarly the UDF government, headed by H D Deve Gowda, promised “maximum autonomy” in its Common Minimum Programme. But when the NDA formed government, the autonomy resolution, duly adopted by J&K assembly, could not be even tabled in Parliament for consideration. Again in the context of turmoil of 2000, all-party meetings were called. But subsequently no-follow action up was seen. Similarly from time to time, many interlocutors were given responsibility of talking to Kashmiris and finding a way out -- Pant Committee, Vohara Committee, Padgaonkar Committee. But reports of these committees were not even placed in Parliament, what to talk of serious discussion on them?

0              What has been the role of the new NDA regime in Delhi and the PDP-BJP alliance government in J&K?

Now a new regime is in charge in Delhi. Environment of anti-minority witchhunt is being created. It also has had its own negative impact on psyche of Kashmiri Muslims. Sense of alienation amongst them has got further deepened since this regime came to power in mid-2014. At the end of 2014, elections to J&K asembly were held. PDP and BJP contested against each other, arousing communal passions. But after elections, they made a U-turn and joined hands to form the coalition government. This has only added to already prevailing political uncertainty in the state.

As far as attitude of the Modi government towards the Kashmir problem is concerned, one instance will be sufficient to illustrate. Late CM of the state Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was publicly snubbed by PM Modi in a public rally in Srinagar in 2015. Sayeed had underlined the importance of huge majority enjoyed by the Modi government and suggested that now is the time for dialogue with Pakistan and all shades of opinion in J&K. Modi in public rebuked him and said he knew everything about Kashmir and no body should advise him on what needed to be done. Naturally Kashmiri people felt humiliated.

0              What are new features of the present militancy?

This question is natural... After all in the last assembly elections, masses of people participated in the process, which also included the youth. Actually it was also widely accepted that level of militancy and militant activities had substantially gone down in the last 10 years. Then, why is this sudden spike in militancy?

Militancy today has a new face. The new militant is a well-educated youth. Burhan Wani's funeral saw participation of a huge number of people. Earlier when militants were killed, their funeral did not attract big crowds. Now that is changing very fast. Youngsters coming out on the streets in big numbers are no more demonstrating their anger just through stone-pelting. They are emboldened enough to go and attack, still mainly with stones, only the camps of police and other forces, their pickets etc. Many deaths have taken place in firing on such protesters. Not only that, even during encounters with militants, local people, especially youths, gather in big numbers to protest and pelt stone on security forces.

An entirely new generation has come in the last 25 years. Still slogan of ‘aazadi’, which means an independent Kashmir, has huge attraction. At the same time, Islamisation is also taking place. Pakistan's appeal is also increasing. Until now this was not so. Militants have now much wider support. Burhan Wani's killing has led to eruption in the entire Kashmir. People from all sections have come out on the streets to protest, usually accompanied by stone-pelting youths. South Kashmir has been focus of these protests. Incidentally, this part of Kashmir has been the main mass base of the ruling PDP. People's disenchantment with PDP is palpable. People's anger against its unholy alliance with BJP has also contributed to the present unrest. Promises of big changes stand totally belied. Nowhere people have seen any positive change.

0              What are the steps the government took since this round of eruption?

Since eruption after Burhan Wani's death, people are only seeing repressive face of the state. The Centre's only response to the crisis is to send more forces. In the first 7-8 days, in frequent firings by forces, dozens were killed and hundreds blinded or injured. Still Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh claimed in Rajya Sabha that his government is following a policy of 'maximum restraint'. This is their restraint. People in Kashmir are asking will they respond in similar manner in case of any other part of India. They feel Kasmiris are always treated differently. They are discriminated against.

The state government is practically not to be seen anywhere. It's not in control. It was caught totally unaware. CM Mehbooba Mufti took five days to speak out and issue an appeal for calm. She has taken even longer to call for an all-party meeting. What role she is able to play can be gauged with the fact that full three days after ban on newspapers in Kashmir Valley, her media advisor issued a statement claiming that CM did not know of any such move. She is not in control.

0     Do you see any silver lining amid all these?

One silver lining in this otherwise bleak situation is that in spite of eruption of people's anger, Amarnath Yatra has continued without any significant problem. In fact, in Bijbehara where people were agitating against the death in firing of a local youth, when a bus of Amarnaath Yatris met with an accident, they gave them all the necessary help. Similarly tourists trapped in sudden outburst of protests, remained totally safe and unharmed.

0              National channels are airing that Pandits agitating for being sent to Jammu for safety. What is the reality?

As far as Kashmiri Pandits are concerned, this has to be understood that there cannot be any solution to the Kashmir problem without dignified return of our Pandit brethren. But as far as agitation of Pandits for being sent back to Jammu for safety as flashed on national channels is concerned, this is from Pandits who are employed in special central government-sponsored rehabilitation programme on specific condition of serving in Kashmir Valley. Some of them may wish to use insecurity plea to seek transfer out, which is otherwise denied in this programme. But a few hundred Pandit families that have remained in Kasmir, have not really complained.

0              What is the way out you are suggesting in your meetings with national political leaders?

Obviously, the only way to come out of the present crisis is the path of dialogue. Dialogue has to involve all the forces at national level as well as all the stakeholders at the state level. At the same time dialogue with Pakistan is also necessary. It's a question of assuaging Kashmiris’ feeling of being under occupation and being discriminated against. It will need a huge concerted and creative effort. Unfortunately, the present government at the Centre does not give much room for hope. This is not without significance that PM Modi did not utter a single word for more than 10 days after the violence erupted.