J&K Row: Clueless Centre Adds To Chaos

23 August 2008
The Times of India

New Delhi: Despite strenuous efforts to achieve a breakthrough in talks with the Jammu agitationists, the Centre's approach to resolving the Jammu & Kashmir tangle has suffered from a multiplicity of approaches with no central 'command' assessing how to engage the principle players in both regions. After being initially swamped by the agitation in the Valley, governor N N Vohra has been given a clearer brief on how he is to deal with Hurriyat hardliners, but his efforts are also being duplicated by 'independent' channels, some blessed by the Centre, as well as other political figures who have involved themselves in the situation. The off-record refrain in PMO has been that it was essentially the job of the home ministry to oversee the negotiations and formulate strategy, but this has not actually been the case. For one, while the Prime Minister has not been shy of handling J&K in the past, this time around the hot potato, at least in public eye, has been with home minister Shivraj Patil. But while Patil grapples with the situation, the PM has been receiving inputs from individuals and the intelligence apparatus and though he has not committed himself to a political engagement with parties, National Security Advisor M K Narayanan's recent visit to J&K was an initiative independent of the home ministry. It is understood that home ministry was miffed over the representation in the NSA's team. The full outcome of the NSA's visit is yet to become apparent but Narayanan did hold some closed door discussions with political leaders and apparently undertook some 'undisclosed' meetings as well. And while the NSA mission was unfolding there were others at work who include former J&K chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, water resources minister Saifuddin Soz and MoS in PMO and Congress general secretary Prithviraj Chavan. A recent review in Srinagar yet again took note of the government's inability to put out its message effectively, while the separatists have been successful in manipulating public sentiment on the basis of speculation and rumours. The multiple channels at work have only made this task more complicated while 'authentic' information of what the government is doing or considering is not available. The Centre remains clear that the demands raised by separatists like withdrawal of armed forces and special laws are simply unacceptable, but an impression has been created that some concessions can be got out of the government given the tumult in the Valley. On its part, the government is prepared to play a waiting game, not offering provocation but making it clear it is not going to bend to separatist demands. But the problem remains that this messaging often does not get through which is critical to the situation where high-decibel separatist propaganda seems to prevail. The correct projection of the Centre's stance is important as it affects that segment of the population which is not on the streets and may not be be wedded to the separatist cause but is looking to see which side is bending.