People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 38

September 19, 2010



Kashmir: Act without Delay


IT is more than three months since the turmoil and mass protests by the youth in Kashmir valley began. Till the Eid day, 68 people had lost their lives due to the police firings on stone pelting youth. It is significant that not a CRPF jawan or policeman has died in these clashes. The state government was paralysed and the central government failed to take any steps to tackle the situation except for sending some more paramilitary forces at the request of the state government. The CPI(M) had urged the government at the beginning of the monsoon session of parliament to send an all-party delegation to the valley to hear the views of all sections of the people. This was not done.

Finally, it was expected that the government would announce certain measures which would help to end the cycle of confrontation and restore normalcy, so that the political process of dialogue could begin. There was talk of an Eid package which was to be finalised by the Cabinet Committee on Security. This meeting, which was to be held on the day of Eid, September 11, was postponed to Monday, September 13. The events that took place in Srinagar on Eid day, when certain elements in the procession to the Lal Chowk resorted to arson and attacks, vitiated the atmosphere.  This has come in handy for those elements in the ruling establishment who do not want any major steps taken towards installing confidence among the people in the valley that their issues and grievances will be taken up for discussion.

The meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security did not announce any worthwhile measures except to issue a statement affirming the government’s belief that dialogue and discussion is the only way forward and stating that the dialogue could embrace all the issues that agitate the minds of people in Jammu & Kashmir, especially the youth. The statement also talked of addressing the issue of “trust deficit” and “governance deficit.” But this deficit cannot be attributed to the state government only; the centre is also responsible. Even after the prime minister stated that non-lethal methods should be used against the agitators, firings by the CRPF and the police continue. Not surprisingly, all the protests are directed against Delhi and the Indian state.

There was a mass protest on September 13 against the desecration of the Koran by an individual in New York. These protests were utilised by the extremist and fundamentalist forces. Many government buildings were attacked and destroyed. In the police firings on that day, 15 people were killed. For the first time in this period, a policeman was killed after being run over by a speeding vehicle. The delay in announcing the centre’s measures has proved costly.

What led to the dithering by the centre in announcing the much needed measures can only be surmised. It is reported that there are differences in the government and the Congress party on the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from selected areas in the state. The armed forces have come out against any step to revoke this Act in any part of the state. It is argued that the soldiers need the protection of the Act to operate in civilian areas. What is being proposed is that the Act should not be applicable in areas where the army is not deployed or in operation in the valley. For instance, Srinagar, Gandarbal and many other parts of the valley do not have the army deployed and in operation. It is the police forces which are deployed there. There is no necessity, therefore, for the AFSPA to be applicable in these areas. The CPI(M) is of the view that there are draconian provisions in the AFSPA, and that these need to be amended. But since this would take time and have to be adopted by parliament, the immediate solution is to remove the Disturbed Areas proclamation from certain parts of the state where the army is not operating. This will make the AFSPA redundant in these areas.

This step is important in the context of the accountability of the security forces. There have been serious violations, like the Machil incident in which some army officers got three innocent villagers killed at the Line of Control on the pretext that they were jihadis. If the security forces are made accountable for any violations, it will instil a degree of confidence among the people.

The government called an all-party meeting to discuss the Kashmir situation after the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security. All the political parties represented in parliament attended this meeting held on September 15. The CPI(M) and other Left parties reiterated their view on how the Kashmir situation should be dealt with. The only concrete step which has emerged from the meeting is the sending of an all-party delegation to Kashmir --- a demand which has been voiced by the CPI(M) for the past two months.

After the all-party meeting, now there should be no further delay. The government should immediately announce that stone throwing protests would not be tackled by police firing; all the young men in jail should be released except those facing very serious charges; the government should announce a package of relief for the injured and rehabilitation for those permanently incapacitated. The state government and the centre should also set out measures for reviving economic activities in the state after the prolonged shutdown; special emphasis should be given on provision of employment for the youth.

Most importantly, the government should initiate a political process of dialogue with all sections in the state. Such a dialogue is possible if no preconditions are set by any side.

Jammu & Kashmir has a special status accorded to it in the Indian constitution. Over the years, the denial of autonomy and democracy in the state has exacerbated the situation, feeding the growing alienation and discontent. The solution to the Kashmir problem is vital for India’s secular-democratic edifice. The UPA government should be guided by this perspective and not rely on the misguided notion that the Kashmir problem is basically a security issue.