A group of eminent Indian citizens led by ex-minister Yashwant Sinha has termed the idea of azadi as “nebulous” while admitting that the sense of “dismay and despondency” had grown among the people and the situation was “much worse” than their previous visits.
“Some Kashmiris go to the extent of saying that all institutions in J&K are discredited and what is worse is that there are no political leaders with unquestioned credentials. So people have no faith either in the system or the mainstream political leaders. There is frustration in the people because of lack of governance and the absence of law and order. One of the reasons they support the nebulous idea of “Azadi” is because they feel that the present system does not deliver and perhaps something else would solve their problems,” the Concerned Citizens Group (CCG) said in its report, released after its third visit to Kashmir.
The group has said that during its visit on August 17-19, they met with some representatives of prominent political parties, office-bearers of the J&K Bar Association, civil society members from Srinagar, Anantnag, Shopian, Pulwama, and Kupwara in North Kashmir.
They also met with college students.
The report of the CCG, comprising Sinha, Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Kapil Kak, Sushobha Barve (Executive Director, Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation) and journalist Bharat Bhushan was released Monday.
“The most disquieting conclusion of the interactions this time around was that as compared to the previous visits, the sense of dismay and despondency in the people had grown,” the group said.
It said there was all round opposition to “attempts to revoke” Article 35A of the Constitution of India.
The “judicial raking” of the Article 35A issue seems to have pushed the demand for “Azadi” to the background (it has, however, neither disappeared nor become secondary, only less urgent) as people see the attempts to change rules for special rights of people of J&K as an existential threat and of changing the Valley’s demographic profile, it said.
“People believe that revoking Article 35A can potentially lead to a demographic change in the state as outsiders are facilitated to buy land and property in the state. This was completely unacceptable to them.
“The simmering anger also stemmed from the belief that the central government was a ‘passive collaborator’ in the petitions filed before the Supreme Court of India,” it said.
The group said this belief was strengthened not because of the statements from the ruling party in New Delhi and its frontal organisations but the Centre’s attitude itself.
“So Kashmiris openly alleged that the judicial attack on Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was being ‘stage-managed’ by the central government,” it said.
“The situation in the state itself is to a large extent impacted by developments beyond the control of the state government – e.g. the legal challenge to Article 35A, the repeated statements about abolition of Article 370 by those close to the ruling party at the Centre, the exaggeration of the ground situation in the Kashmir Valley by the national media, especially TV channels, etc,” it said.
They said the proximate reasons for this not only seemed to be the “lack” of dialogue with the Kashmiris but also because tourism had plummeted, hotel business was in dire straits, there was flight of capital and an overall economic downturn leading to greater unemployment and economic distress.
The CCG had visited the Valley several times during the 2016 uprising.
“The situation (this time around) was much worse than the previous two years,” the release said quoting the third report of the Concerned Citizens Group (CCG).
Sinha, a BJP veteran leader, was the Minister for Finance and External Affairs in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
The group said the distance between rest of India and the Kashmiri youths seems to have “increased”. This was evident in the fact that even the people who used to talk reasonably earlier were using “the language of the militants and separatists this time”.
“People complained not only of the military approach to the problem of Kashmir, but also of a judicial/Constitutional aggression against the people of Kashmir in attempts to undo Article 35A of the Indian Constitution which ensured special rights for the permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir,” it said.
The CCG said the only “saving grace” was that in personal discussions prominent members of civil society continued to use cautious and measured language which suggested that there was still a constituency for peace.
It said this also suggested that societal leaders were willing to make an effort to end the violence and ensure a peaceful atmosphere so that a dialogue could begin to address their issues in less emotionally charged manner.
“This was very encouraging as was the positive response of the people to the Prime Minister’s message on Independence Day– that Kashmiris need a hug and not abuse or bullets. People said that they were waiting for the operationalisation of PM’s message and hoped that this would happen soon,” the group said in the release.