Dear Shri Rahul Gandhi,
The All-Party Conference (APC), convened by Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh, at New Delhi on September 15,2010, to discuss measures to end the current violence in Jammu & Kashmir ended with a single agreement to send an all-party delegation headed by Shri P.Chidambaram, the Home Minister, to the State for an on-the-spot study of the situation. After it returns and submits its report, another All-Party Conference is proposed to be held to discuss its recommendations.
2. This decision reminds one of a similar initiative taken by Shri V.P.Singh, the then Prime Minister, in 1990. Instead of cooling the tempers, Shri V.P.Singh's initiative exacerbated them. Instead of facilitating a political consensus on how to deal with the situation, Rajiv Gandhi, the then Leader of the Opposition and his aides, could not resist the temptation to use the opportunity to undermine the credibility of the V.P Singh Government in the eyes of the people. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was then supporting the V.P.Singh Government.
3. In 1989-90, the Congress (I), headed by Rajiv Gandhi, played the role of a spoiler. The BJP, now advised by L.K.Advani, is trying to play a similar role of spoiler in order to embarrass the Government of Dr.Manmohan Singh and draw political mileage out of the current crisis in J&K. During the election campaign of last year, the BJP, then headed by Advani, who was projecting himself as made-to-be Prime Minister, sought to project Dr.Manmohan Singh as a weak and soft Prime Minister. This projection failed to make an impact on the voters. Its bid to return to power fell flat.
4. The BJP is now trying to project Dr.Manmohan Singh's Kashmir-related policies as weak and soft and to blame him and the Government of J&K for the fresh wave of trouble in that State. It has also been projecting itself as an uncritical supporter of the Army and other security forces for the way they are dealing with a thankless situation and confronting head-on the proxy war being waged by Pakistan through its surrogates in J&K.
5. The BJP is calculating that by exploiting a highly emotional issue such as J&K, it could retrieve the electoral ground lost by it in last year's election. No one can question the patriotism and nationalism of the BJP. They are of high order as they have always been. But, patriotism and nationalism are not the sole driving forces of its actions and statements. Partisan political calculations are another factor just as they were in the case of the Congress (I) when V.P.Singh was the PM.
6.The no-holds-barred partisan political battle waged by the Congress (I) in 1989 -90 benefited the separatists and terrorists by showing that the Indian political class cannot unite even in the case of a major crisis. A similar battle being waged by the BJP now could have a similar result.
7.In the face of the relentless campaign of the BJP seeking to blame what it looks upon as the soft policies of the Manmohan Singh Government for the deterioration in the situation in J&K, the Congress (I) and the Government find themselves in a dilemma. There is a realization in the Congress (I)----as there is in the parties to the left of the political spectrum--- that there has been a qualitative change in the situation in J&K with mass defiance of the law and order machinery replacing terrorism as a weapon of struggle against the State. This mass defiance might not have grown to the extent it has since June if the Government of India had promptly acted on complaints of a false encounter involving the Army and regarding the initial incidents of use of force by the Police and other para-military forces against protesters breaking the law.
8.A complacent feeling in Srinagar and New Delhi that the mass protests and defiance, which started in June, would be short-lived and would fizzle out as past street protests had contributed to a lack of vigorous corrective action to moderate the use of force against the street breakers of law. The situation did not call for vigorous counter-terrorism techniques and patriotic rhetoric accompanied by demonisation campaigns against Pakistan and its surrogates in the State. It called for carefully moderated crowd control techniques and a new articulation of Government policies reflecting some empathy towards the angry youth and concerns over the perceived excessive lethality of the force being used against the young street protesters. Our appeals for calm and restraint should have been addressed more to the youth than to the conventional separatist leaders.
9. At the All-Party Conference, one could sense that while the BJP continues to be impervious to the new ground signals coming from the streets of Kashmir, the Congress (I) and the left parties have started realising that the situation in J&K since June is qualitatively different and requires a qualitatively different approach marked by reasonable firmness and not ruthlessness in action against the law-breakers and a new kind of language that would keep the fresh wave of people’s alienation contained and eventually reversed. The refreshingly different interventions of Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress (I), and the leaders of the left stood in sharp contrast to the Hyde Park oratory of BJP leaders and spokesmen that one had been seeing on the TV news channels every day.
10. The comments that have come from you after the All-Party Conference calling for time and support to Shri Omar Abdullah, the battling Chief Minister of the State, show a welcome realization that it will be unwise to undermine his position whatever be his sins of omission and commission. The Prime Minister, who is constantly under attack by the Hyde park orators of the BJP, cannot be expected to show any initiative which could provide oxygen to the BJP’s ill-advised campaign against him at this critical time.
11.It is important that simultaneously with the all-party exercise initiated by the Prime Minister, the youth wing of the Congress (I) under your leadership initiates a non-governmental back-channel of communications with the angry Kashmiri youth. The first step in that exercise should be an all-party youth conference on Kashmir with two items on the agenda---- the human rights situation in the state and how to mitigate the anger of the youth. Kashmiri members of the youth wings of the political parties should play an active role in this matter.
12. The situation as it has developed in J&K is an emotional challenge to the youth of the country. All of us---whether politicians or professional bureaucrats--- who made our names in dealing ruthlessly with terrorism and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, have intellectual and professional deficiencies in understanding the current situation. It is time for the youth of the country to take the lead in thinking of meaningful gestures and non-provocative actions on the ground that could help in containing the anger in J&K before it consumes all of us ---young or old. ( 17-9-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies . E-mail: email@example.com )