J and K: Elections are an antidote
By H. K. Dua

After several worrying weeks, the country is feeling relieved over the situation in both Jammu and the Valley getting settled into normalcy. The violence in Jammu and the repercussions across the Banihal have, however, left deep scars that will require some time and effort to heal.

It is time for the Centre, the Governor and the political parties to sit back and go over the events that have caused a severe setback to all that had been done — half-heartedly or otherwise — during the last few years to tackle the Kashmir question in all its aspects.

While an accord has been reached over the land and facilities for the Amarnath pilgrims, a few essential aspects that have come to the surface would need to be attended to urgently lest a situation of similar intensity should develop again causing renewed trouble.

The allotment of the land need not have become a serious problem if only the then Governor S.K. Sinha had taken the trouble of anticipating the misunderstanding it would create in the Valley and the consequent agitation in Jammu.

It will be, however, a fallacy to believe that the Jammu trouble was only over the land for the Amarnath pilgrims. What burst out was the pent-up anger of the Jammu people over the feeling that while they are an essential part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, they had been the victims of continued neglect because of what they thought was Centre's policy of "appeasement" of the Valley. Steps will have to be taken now at the central as well as the state level to ensure that the feeling of discrimination does not remain unattended to for too long.

Another serious aspect that came to the surface was the way the separatists used the opportunity provided by the Jammu agitation to raise their head and take to the street and liberally shout pro-Pakistan or “Azadi” slogans. Syed Ali Shah Geelani — whom even the Hurriyat was boycotting for months — tried to capture the secessionist platform. Even Mehbooba Mufti, whose party was part of the government until a few days earlier, seemed to be speaking the language of the separatists when she backed calls for diverting trucks to Muzaffarabad in view of the Jammu agitators blocking traffic to Kashmir.

The Centre and the State Governor — who used a commendable mix of tact, restraint and firmness — will now have to ensure that leaders of different streams of political opinion are engaged in dialogue, and the separatists led by Mr Geelani kept at bay and firmly denied opportunity to foment trouble again.

While the separatists need to be told in plain words that enough is enough, it is worth resuming — maybe after a brief pause — talks with more reasonable sections on the autonomy question. Some of the relevant people in the Valley may not be averse to entering into a dialogue which can carry on even after the State Assembly elections due to be held before the onset of winter.

It does not matter if some elements choose to remain stuck in their obduracy and secessionist thoughts. Let them remain outside the pale, if they want to, but it must be made clear to them that whichever way the autonomy question is sorted out, the borders will not be redrawn, nor a slice of Indian territory be given away. This message was made clear by the Prime Minister to General Musharraf and was equally meant for those who still think that their future lies with Pakistan, despite the political uncertainty that country is caught in.

Another, possibly a more disturbing side-effect of the agitations on both sides of the Banihal, is that the communal divide in the state has widened. This, the Centre and the Governor cannot tackle; the initiative to bridge the divide has to come from well-meaning leaders of political parties and eminent public figures in both Jammu and the Valley. The future risks for not creating communal harmony are more serious than can ordinarily be visualised.

During the agitations, communal diehards did try to arouse passions in Jammu and Kashmir. They ought to know that passions are easy to arouse and difficult to douse in India. Hopefully, the leaders of the Sangh Parivar, who have shown a tendency to play with fire, must have discovered this in Jammu where they found that many of the new leaders who cropped up out of nowhere were not going by their script. The BJP leaders also found that they were isolated at the all-party meeting when a solution was sought to be evolved for the Jammu agitation. It will be a pity if they still persist with their exclusivist agenda to fight the next general election.

While much needs to be done to heal the scars in Jammu and Kashmir, what needs to be avoided is the view by a few influential people in the Congress that elections for the State Assembly be postponed for some time to allow the situation to become more congenial than is at present. This view should be firmly rejected. And, now when he could be feeling relieved over the situation turning better, Governor N. N. Vohra must make it clear that the Assembly elections will be held in the state by mid-November.

Elections, after all, are also an antidote to the secession syndrome.



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