November 2004 News

Old Wine, Old Bottle

19 November 2004
The Asian Age

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's maiden visit to Jammu and Kashmir was certainly not historic. And as National Conference leader Omar Abdullah put it rather eloquently, if he did not close any doors he did not open any either. He spoke well and from the heart as it were, but was unable to strike a chord with the people of Jammu and Kashmir that could assure them of a better future. There was the usual economic package, but in the absence of political assurances, this failed to have an impact. Expectations were raised when out of the blue the government announced its decision to withdraw troops from Jammu and Kashmir, but the Prime Minister's rather bland reiteration of old promises for a New Kashmir did not allay suspicions on the ground. There is a need to strike out, and to move away from stated positions in a manner that is convincing to those looking for more and does not disturb those who are still more comfortable with the status quo. It is a thin line but it is not impossible to tread with a little dexterity and wisdom. Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf has moved out of the four corners and has suggested proposals for a solution of Kashmir that can certainly not be music to the ears of the extremists and sections of the Pakistani Army. Prime Minister Singh could have made a beginning by seizing the initiative, calling a round table of Kashmiris including old, young, moderates, extremists, scholars, politicians for a brainstorming on options. He could have made this a more regular fixture, by scheduling more rounds of discussions at periodic levels to discuss India-Pakistan relations, Kashmir and what would be acceptable to the people. And in the process channelised and formalised public opinion from Jammu and Kashmir. For the problem with policy making on Jammu and Kashmir here is that it does not factor in the people of the state. If those in government at the Centre open their ears to the voices from Jammu and Kashmir, they will not only find it easier to formulate policy but they will find themselves taking decisions that actually elicit positive responses from within the state. After all in a democracy the people are the most valuable yardstick, but through the rough and troubled years the distance between Srinagar and New Delhi has grown to a point where the people are rarely heard. The result is that policy on Jammu and Kashmir has long grown stale, and the little cosmetics freshen up the top without really checking the rot. Dr Singh has made the move, he has tried to reach out, but he must break out of the shackles of officialdom and realise that a politician can never hurt by actually holding out not one, but both his hands, first. A New Kashmir requires a new vision, not old promises dressed up in new language.


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