The BJP has two choices today. Either make this visit about separatist rejection and let the social media trolls have their day. Or it can recognise that Opposition leaders have taken risks to try and salvage something for Delhi and take the separatist refusal as a sign of deep disaffection, and make a gesture that Kashmiris can relate to.
The all-party delegation to Kashmir which included leaders like Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, Sharad Yadav and Asaduddin Owaisi attempted to meet separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik during their ongoing visit to the Valley. The separatists, unsurprisingly, refused to meet them and the debate in television studios and on social media quickly turned into a discussion on why the mainstream leaders should never have tried engaging the leaders in the first place.
Policymakers need to understand the method behind the Left-liberal outreach to separatists in the first place. The Left leaders pitched it as a way to hear what the separatists have to say about the current situation. Frankly, those like Yechury, D Raja and Owaisi have been acquainted with Kashmir for years – and there is extensive media coverage on Kashmir to be able to discern conditions in the Valley without actually meeting the separatists.
What they were essentially doing on behalf of the BJP and the Indian state, which currently has no access to aggrieved Kashmiris, was to check if the separatists had any ideas on the way forward. Yechury and the others will have known in advance (based in part on their 2010 all-party delegation experience) that the separatists would reject the offer, given the extent of bloodshed since July and absence of remorse from the Modi government about the use of excessive force.
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The opposition leaders had two choices prior to this visit. They could have insisted that the BJP first announce concessions before the visit, about prosecuting those guilty of excessive violence and announcing a roadmap that addresses political questions, like restoring Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy. Or they could have tried to be a part of the separatist outreach to begin with. They have gone through the latter knowing fully well it would fail in the hope that it would offer an opening to the Centre to make substantive announcements.
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The BJP has two choices today. Either make this a visit about separatist rejection and let the social media trolls have their day. Or it can recognise that Opposition leaders have taken risks to try and salvage something for Delhi and take the separatist refusal – and the refusal of other political actors like trader associations, lawyers, civil society groups and youth on the street to engage with the Centre – as a sign of deep, widespread disaffection, and make a compelling gesture that Kashmiris can relate to.
The Centre’s options in this regard are limited. It has refused to ban pellet guns. It will not relax the use of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The BJP has no interest in restoring Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy. It is also yet to firmly indicate that it empathises with Kashmir’s suffering, which is paramount now in the minds of those in the Valley. PM Modi’s messaging and Rajnath Singh’s pronouncements on the loss of life in Kashmir have been weak, ambivalent and unconvincing. It is impossible to move ahead if the Centre does not make amends in this regard and get its messaging right on Kashmir.