March 2003 News

Changing Winds In Kashmir

18 March 2003
The Hindustan Times

New Delhi: It is noteworthy that the Centre has decided to engage the Hurriyat in talks even as Pakistan-inspired terrorists have stepped up their campaign. The indication, then, is that dealing with terrorism is a question which does not necessarily have a bearing on conversing with different segments of opinion in J&K. Whatever the outcome of this approach, the Centre cannot now be accused of cussedness. Indeed, it has gone beyond what it had contemplated before the polls. It had then held that the post-election talks should be conducted with all elements of the elected legislature, meaning the J&K government and opposition groups and individuals, but not others though the last point was not hammered home. With Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani revealing that the Centre's interlocutor, N.N. Vohra, has been authorised to discuss the Kashmir issue with the Hurriyat or any group that forsook violence, the ball is in the court of the umbrella organisation of the secessionists. But it is hard to miss the dip in its leverage. If it now comes to the talks, it will do so in a situation where it has lost its shine, given the nature of the election verdict and the post-poll mood in the state. Had the Hurriyat announced before the election its desire to meet the Centre half-way, its non-participation may not have acquired the meaning it now does. Clearly, the secessionists were divorced from popular opinion in the Valley, and continued to insist on Pakistan being admitted to the table as a bona fide party. Mr Advani has quite rightly ruled this out. No special significance need be attached to the Hurriyat leaders calling on Sonia Gandhi. If anything, the meeting underscores their compulsion to trim their sails to the changing wind in Kashmir where the Congress is a player once again. Now that Mr Advani has linked greater devolution of powers to J&K with greater power-sharing among the three regions of the state, it will bear watching if the Hurriyat will seek out Mr Vohra on this terrain.


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