Judging by its election manifesto, the BJP is opposed to conciliation in Jammu and Kashmir.
Chennai: A group of former bureaucrats, academics and members of civil society have written an open letter to the Home Minister regarding the decision to close the lifeline of the Kashmir Valley, which is the Jammu-Srinagar highway, on two days a week to civilian traffic.
The move has been initiated by Radha Kumar, a former member of the Group of Interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir, who now resides in Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu. The group includes retired diplomats and government servants who have had dealings with J&K and are familiar with the issues regarding the Valley.
Among those who have signed the open letter are Mr Anand Sahay, Deccan Chronicle and Asian Age columnist, Mr M.G. Devasahayam, retired IAS officer from TN cadre and Mr Gopal Pillai, former Union Home secretary and Mr Nagalsamy, former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu & Kerala
The letter reads:
Dear Home Minister,
We, a group of former government servants, academics, analysts and civil society, many of whom have been associated with Jammu and Kashmir in our individual or official capacities, write to express our deep distress at the continuing and indeed intensifying alienation of Kashmiris from the rest of India. The decision to close the highway to civilian traffic twice a week, and to let it be used only by the forces until the election is concluded, undercuts our democratic credentials and attracts the charge of military rule. It is, moreover, only the most recent of a series of actions that add to disaffection in the valley. Others include banning the JKLF and the Jamaat e Islami, imprisoning their leaders as well as those of the Hurriyat, and denying security to members of political parties.
In these conditions, what kind of a turnout can we expect in the valley? Taken together, the policy of President’s rule, counter-insurgency, crackdowns and arrests, combined with threats to rollback Articles 370 and 35A and alterations to the administrative structure of the state, provide formidable disincentives to vote.
Yet the people of Jammu and Kashmir desperately need to vote - and vote convincingly - for the valley to emerge from its current state of confrontation and siege. Kashmir needs a government that can hold out hope instead of hatred, one that will work to re-establish peace on the ground. These steps will only be taken by an elected government, as the harsh measures that have been taken under President’s rule indicate.
Even at this late stage, your Ministry can minimize the disincentives for Kashmiris to vote. The first step would be to rescind orders for closure of the highway, followed by release of those arrested (unless there is substantive evidence of their being involved in recent terrorist attacks such as on the CRPF at Pulwama), restoration of security to political leaders and return to a policy of defense against attack rather than preemptive action. If your government could initiate a Ramzan ceasefire, then why not one for elections?
It took fifteen years of hard work for Jammu and Kashmir to emerge from the dark days of the 1990s. As the sharp fall in violence between 2005-2012 showed, the most hopeful period for Jammu and Kashmir was when there was a peace process in the state, starting in 2000. Though terrorists made strenuous efforts to disrupt it with high profile attacks, including on Hurriyat members, to which the Vajpayee and Singh administrations responded both militarily and diplomatically, neither allowed terrorists to bring the peace process to a grinding halt.
In the past four years, most of the hard work of the previous fifteen years has been undone, for reasons that remain unknown because no reasoned explanation has been offered. These elections offer an opportunity to craft a more conciliatory policy towards the people of the state, including dissidents who have engaged in peace initiatives, such as the Hurriyat M, who have once again held out an offer of talks.
Judging by its election manifesto, the BJP is opposed to conciliation in Jammu and Kashmir. Nevertheless, whether your party wishes to avail of this opportunity or not, surely you would recognize that governance is larger than party interest and a change of course is required, lest the situation in the state worsens to a point of no return. We urge you, even at this late stage, to take the steps mentioned above. Jammu and Kashmir will only then be able to have a free and fair election.