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Why is everyone lying about Kashmir?

Last updated on: September 20, 2010 08:49 IST

Image: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters

September 1 was Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's wedding anniversary. He spent the day in Delhi, at the Imperial Hotel, where he took his wife out to dinner to celebrate, just like you and me.

He could have celebrated it in Srinagar, flown in family and friends and treated them to Kashmiri Wazwan (fabulous food is served at the chief minister's official residence). He could have met people, party members, ordinary Kashmiris, and asked them how they spent their wedding anniversary. But he chose to be in Delhi. It was a Wednesday.

Text: Aditi Phadnis

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Why is everyone who has anything to do with Kashmir lying?

Image: The deserted Dal Lake during a strike in Srinagar
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters

Earlier in the day, he met Home Minister P Chidambaram, and they discussed the possibility of relocating security forces from some cities and towns in Kashmir, releasing some political prisoners and an employment package for militants who had served their sentence. 'Sources' said these discussions would be soon announced officially. We are still waiting.

Why is everyone who has anything to do with Kashmir lying? Abdullah is supposed to be in Srinagar, he turns up in Delhi. He holds discussions with the home minister. What he discusses is important, but no one bothers about seeing it through.

The people of Kashmir just get a tantalising glimpse of all the wonderful things the Centre and the state government have in store for them, only if they would just behave. But nothing sees the light of day. Can they be blamed for believing the government exists only to exploit and suppress them, for feeling disempowered to the point of helplessness?

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For India, conceding 'azaadi' is out of the question

Image: Policemen pray as they place offerings on top of their vehicles during a curfew in Srinagar
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters

The Cabinet Committee on Security that discussed, among other things, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act earlier this week saw two views. One was: "AFSPA is not an issue in the current violence in the valley. Those who are throwing stones, responding to the call of the Hurriyat, have one demand: azaadi. For India, conceding that is out of the question. So, why should the AFSPA be amended, even partially?"

The message was: "We are the Indian state. We should behave like the Indian state. If we believe Kashmir is a part of India, then we should use the AFSPA against people who believe it should not be part of India."

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Please, tell us what to do: PM

Image: A boy holds a toy gun during an anti-India rally
Photographs: Mohsin Raza/Reuters

But another part of the government continued to say it would push towards making the AFSPA more humane as a way of reaching out to the people of Kashmir. Not just this, other things need to be done: some kind of redressal mechanism so that people's grievances concerning law and order are addressed.

Neither has happened so far. At the all-party meeting on Kashmir, in his opening statement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was shocked to see even young children getting involved in violence. The tone of his address was, "Please, tell us what to do."

If there is such a divergence in the Centre's approach to the Kashmir issue, things are no better in the state. In all Indian states, however imperfectly they might function, two institutions do exist: the Vigilance Commission and the Information Commission. In J&K, neither has been appointed.

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On corruption in Kashmir, the less said the better

Image: Kashmiri protesters participate in an anti-India protest in Khonmuh, south of Srinagar
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters

If the Omar Abdullah regime feels charges of corruption against his government are balderdash, why doesn't the government appoint these two commission, and also an Accountability Commission to probe charges of extortion and excesses by the police? Why doesn't the Congress that is part of the government make this its central demand?

On corruption in Kashmir, the less said the better. The government has been appointing teachers in government schools. Before their names are announced, successful candidates get a call. The person at the other end says, "You've been selected. Come to such and such place." The demand ranges from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000. If you don't pay, your name can vanish from the list. It is no coincidence that Peerzada Mohammed Syed's ancestral home in Kokernag was attacked by a mob on Eid day. He is the education minister from the Congress.

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The Congress is committing the worst possible sin

Image: Rahul Gandhi with Omar Abdullah
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters

Relations between the National Conference and the Congress are unfathomable: the two coexist in uneasy cohabitation. Today, Omar Abdullah is in a position in which if he seeks out a union minister to secure something for Kashmir, the minister will cancel all his appointments and see Abdullah first. He can call 10 Janpath any time he wants, confident he will get an appointment.

So, he sees no reason to either ask or pay attention to the counsel and advice of his Congress colleagues, in or out of the government. The Congress, too, is pretty much a free agent. That the People's Democratic Party did not attend the all-party meeting called by Omar Abdullah in August was understandable. But why did Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand stay away?

The Congress is now committing the worst possible sin. It is giving the impression that it can change alliance partners midstream. Credulous reporters say the congress president's overtures to PDP are preparatory to dumping Omar Abdullah. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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The numbers don't add up for PDP and Congress

Image: Rahul Gandhi with Omar Abdullah
Photographs: Amit Gupta/Reuters

Apart from ideological difficulties, the numbers don't add up. In the 87-member J&K assembly, the Congress has 17 seats and the NC has 28. At 45 they just about make the 44-member simple majority mark. The PDP has 21.

In order to form a government with the PDP, the Congress will be required to create a complicated architecture of support from the Panthers' Party and independents -- who can rock the government and make it fall at will. So, there is no other option. Omar Abdullah needs support. Rahul Gandhi who said this in Kolkata was only being realistic.

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