Accommodative approach needed for real integration of Kashmir
A delegation of opposition leaders which had flown to Kashmir on Saturday to take stock of situation prevalent in the valley in wake of abrogation of Article 370 was stopped at Srinagar airport and sent back. The visit was in wake of conflicting reports about ground level situation in Kashmir valley. Authorities have prevented entry of opposition leaders claiming that they could jeopardise return of normalcy in the region. Kashmir valley is under security lockdown since August 5 after Article 370 was abrogated. Almost all leaders from the state, including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, have been placed under detention since then. The latest visit of leaders comprised of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and senior leaders of several other parties. The authorities have all along been claiming that the situation in Kashmir is normal, while opposition leaders have been claiming otherwise perhaps based on unsubstantiated news trickling in from the region. There have been allegations of suppression of freedom and democratic rights after Centre decided to withdraw Article 370.
If Kashmir is really normal then why were the opposition leaders not allowed to ascertain the facts for themselves? The authorities lost a golden opportunity to stop what is dubbed as uncalled for criticism of excesses by security forces by opposition parties by denying them right to witness normalcy in Kashmir. It was unlikely that the opposition leaders could address any meeting or hold talks with restive people of Kashmir and incite them towards violence in view of the prevalent situation. Besides, it is surprising to note that Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Satya Pal Malik, who had claimed normalcy in the region and even invited Rahul Gandhi to visit the state to ascertain the facts. He had even offered to send a plane to ferry Gandhi scion to the valley but reneged on his offer after the invite was accepted by former Congress president. He accused Gandhi of politicising the issue. Ruling dispensation has perhaps deprived opposition leaders their right to know the ground situation in Kashmir, which is now like any other state or Union territory.
The authorities cannot expect to restore normalcy in Kashmir by merely putting the leaders under arrest and curbing their freedom of speech. Rather than using coercive tactics to beat people into submission it would be better if authorities seek help of one and all into “integration” of Kashmir with the mainland. Those who went along with Gandhi to Srinagar were responsible leaders and not separatists. By denying them entry into the valley the authorities have given fodder to those critical of its decision on abrogation of Article 370 to claim that not everything is alright in the turbulent region. Though schools have opened in the area after “normalcy” was restored as claimed by authorities, thin attendance of students is an indicator that situation has been far from normal. There have been complaints of people not getting adequate food supplies and some are dying because of non-availability of medicines. It would be better if authorities take the opposition leaders into confidence and apprise them of steps being taken to help people in distress in view of prevalent situation in Kashmir.
With not much being known about the “real” situation in Kashmir with there being no independent source of information to ascertain facts, there is a possibility of vested people making wild allegations. In such circumstances, role of opposition parties is crucial in ensuring that attempts to bring normalcy were not disturbed by exaggerated claims. The central government and the Kashmir administration should have seized the opportunity of visit of opposition leaders to silence the critics of its decision and those making “allegations” of excesses by security forces. It could have played host to opposition leaders and taken them individually as Section 144 of Indian Penal Code was in force in the region. The opposition should have been briefed of ground reality that there is no ground for claim of excesses by security agencies and how security forces are maintaining calm. Since the central government has sought to open a new chapter in Indian history of integrating every region of the country, it should adopt accommodative approach to win over Kashmiris and opposition to ensure true integration of whole country.