A sub-inspector sitting in the VIP enclosure at the Independence Day parade threw a well-polished shoe at Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. And within minutes became a hero in the valley with the Internet buzzing with comments about the 'heroic deed'.
Abdullah did not blink an eye, went on to take the salute and remained a picture of total composure. The tragedy is that he has lost the goodwill of his people, and there were not many sympathetic voices for him as the reactions started pouring in.
The policeman will be dealt with, no doubt firmly, but the government of Jammu and Kashmir will have to sit up and take serious stock of its isolation in the state.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the last week has come out with a long appeal to the people of the state to abjure violence, and to embrace peace and reconciliation.
It was a speech high on rhetoric and very low on substance. Except for announcing an expert panel of some corporate honchos to recommend jobs opportunities for the young people of Jammu and Kashmir, there was nothing else that the prime minister had to contribute to the ongoing crisis in the state.
There were no suggestions, there were no proposals, it was almost as if the speech was forced as the government had come to the conclusion that it needed to make a gesture.
In fact, if the good doctor had dispensed with the rhetoric altogether and instead focused on substantive immediate proposals he would have earned some goodwill and response.
The silence from the state was almost ominous as this time around most leaders and political groups did not even bother to reject the speech as it did little to arouse interest and confidence.
Abdullah tried to announce some jobs etcetera, but this was completely overshadowed by the brown shoe that missed him by inches.
The separatists, or more specifically Syed Ali Shah Geelani, have drawn a long plan to ensure that the Ramzan days are not spent in just fasting, but in action.
Strikes, protests have become the order of the day with it now clear to the world that the agitation in the valley has acquired a momentum of its own and will not be quelled by lathis and bullets.
The tragedy is that New Delhi has still not woken up.
A security expert perhaps spoke for the top echelons of government when he said, "We have gone through so much we will go through this as well." What he did not say, and was obviously not interested in even asking was at what cost?
And that is the problem. There is a disinterest, a disconnect that prevents the rest of India from even recognising what is going on in Kashmir.
The security agencies, including the intelligence, really does not want to even accept that the protests are spontaneous, that the people are angry and unhappy, and that the pressure cooker is now boiling without a valve to let off steam.
And the politicians, including those who matter in the current dispensation, take their cue from the bureaucrats because they themselves have little knowledge and understanding of any situation.
The result is the current protest in Kashmir is seen through a security prism, and not as a protest involving the people. The prejudice against Kashmir is at its peak in Delhi with all political parties -- left to right -- totally unable and unwilling to take action.
The proposal to send an all party parliamentary delegation to the valley has come to nought, and there is not a single political leader in Delhi today who one can speak to on Kashmir in the hope he or she will understand and urge action.
The corruption in the Commonwealth Games had the government acting, with the prime minister taking command and constituting a group of ministers panel to handle the crisis.
But the situation in Kashmir has not elicited the same reaction. Dr Manmohan Singh has in fact, reversed what he said earlier.
The declared intention of the central government was to generate a dialogue so that a consensus on a way forward, on a broad definition of autonomy, and other such matters could be reached.
He has now said in what is a complete turn about, that autonomy can only be discussed if there is a consensus. And who is going to help bring about that consensus? No answer.
There was not a word in the prime minister's speech about resuming talks with all the political parties, the separatists and now the youth within a specified time frame.
It is absolutely essential for the Centre and the state apparatus to reach out to the people and bring into play a series of measures that will address the anger to some extent at least, and give a reprieve from violence.
Dole is not the answer, dignity and respect is.
A beginning can be made by:
- Releasing the young people, who have been arrested in the past weeks, as well as the political prisoners.
- Withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in suggested phases, within a specified time limit. After all, the withdrawal of the army from Srinagar ten years ago worked, despite the hesitation of the government and the cynicism of political parties.
- A judicial commission headed by a well-known, impartial panel of judges should immediately be appointed to look into the missing persons charges. Again a time frame for the report and implementation of recommendations should be fixed.
- The National Human Rights Commission should be directed to constitute a team of eminent citizens to hold a people's hearing into the charges of human rights violations.
- A political panel of credible MPs from different political parties should begin consultations with the youth.
One can go on and on. There is so much that needs to be done and this has nothing with handing out money as if Kashmiris are standing with begging bowls.
Immediate action should be taken to restore some level of trust so that talks can begin immediately at all levels, and with all concerned sides.
The government will do well to remember that the shoe hurled by the sub-inspector reflects anger, and if this has affected the Jammu and Kashmir police then the need to move forward acquires even greater urgency.
Dr Singh will do well to remember that people are not the Congress party. They are not fools and do not take kindly to being treated as such.
Rhetoric might please some in Delhi, it has stopped working for the Kashmiris a long, long time ago.