BJP veteran Yashwant Sinha has slammed the Indian government for its Kashmir policy, insisting that “India has lost people of the valley emotionally”. In an interview to ‘The Wire’ recorded on Friday, Sinha who has held India’s finance and external affairs ministries answered questions from journalist Karan Thapar on him being criticised for an article he wrote in a leading English daily on the state of economy that left the BJP embarrassed.
Asked to describe and characterise the Indian government’s attitude to Kashmir at the moment, Sinha said the “government is looking for a military solution.”
“I am looking at the alienation of the masses of people in Jammu and Kashmir. That is something which bothers me the most… We have lost the people emotionally… You just have to visit the valley to realise that they have lost faith in us,” Sinha said. Sinha leads a civil society organisation–Concerned Citizens Group (CCG)– which has released several reports after its visits to the Valley.
“And in today’s newspapers there is a report that even the northern army commander has said that we have broken the back of militancy in the valley and this is the time now to start a dialogue process. Why aren’t they starting it? Why are they beating around the bush? Why are they only making rhetorical noises and not doing the actual thing?” he asked.
He said if the Indian government doesn’t act immediately, then the “impression we have recorded in our report that government of India is not concerned, they are not bothered about us, that feeling will deepen in the valley.”
“If we start now there is a possibility because at the same time, I would say, there is a constituency for peace in Jammu and Kashmir and it’s our last chance almost to get hold of that constituency and move forward,” he said.
Sinha said that Prime Minister Narendara Modi should have followed up his August 15 “na goli se, na gaali se, gale laga ke” (not with bullets or abuses, but with an embrace) remarks by “embracing Kashmiris.”
“People are still waiting from August 15 and now it has been six weeks. Then the home minister goes to Srinagar and he says ‘we are prepared to talk to all stakeholders, I invite all stakeholders to talk to me’. Now, what is this? That he is sitting in the guest house, and people will come and seek an appointment? Is this the way a dialogue is conducted?” he asked.
“Now, with the prime minister having said what he said, the home minister having said what he has said, it is time to operationalise these statements from rhetoric to action. And what should they do? They should first identify the stakeholders. When we say we’ll talk to the stakeholders, who are their stakeholders? “
Asked if that includes the Hurriyat, Sinha said, “It does.”
Referring to the Agenda of Alliance between PDP and BJP, Sinha said there should be clarity on “who their stakeholders are. They should do that, number one. Number two, then they should say who the interlocutor for the dialogue from the government side will be. Is it going to be a home minister? It was Mr. Advani, the deputy prime minister, who was the interlocutor on behalf of the government.”
“So is it going to be a home minister? Is it somebody specially appointed? Is it going to be a single member task force? Is it going to be a multi-member thing? All these things will have to be decided. Then you have to set out a time frame. That we are going to meet the stakeholders in this manner. Send out invites, ask them to come wherever and talk to the interlocutor.”
He said the process has to have a fixed timeframe. “Nobody in Kashmir is going to accept something which is indeterminate. So these are the steps we have said, in a press statement recently, the government should take and immediately start the dialogue process so that the political problem can be addressed.”
Replying to a question about whether the “surgical strikes” and the tougher posturing on the Line of Control had strengthened India’s hands vis-à-vis Pakistan , Sinha said he was “extremely unhappy that the situation along the LOC has been allowed to deteriorate and there is – always there are acts of violence from both sides – something which we had been able to bring under complete control when Vajpayee was the prime minister.”
“As far as Pakistan is concerned, there must be consistency in our policy,” he said, criticizing Modi government’s “flip- flop policy” towards Pakistan.
“Now they’re saying we’ll not talk, we’ll not talk, but the point is, you have not been consistent. Our policy towards Pakistan must be informed by consistency. At the same time I will say that Pakistan is, unfortunately, a necessary third party in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
“And therefore, if you want a final resolution then we’ll have to involve with Pakistan at some point of time,” he said adding the India cannot carry on with its refusal to talk to Pakistan forever.
“We visited the valley about six weeks ago again and again interacted with a wide range of people. In our report, we have pointed out that we found there was more despondency among the people this time than there was earlier, even in 2016, in the wake of the Burhan Wani,” Sinha said.
He said the situation has deteriorated. “The security forces are killing the so-called militants. That is happening. But the alienation, which is the fundamental issue in Jammu and Kashmir, the alienation today is deeper, wider than it was earlier,” he said.
Sinha claimed he has sought an appointment with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the issue 10 months ago and was “hurt” as it did not materialise.
“I am hurt. I am absolutely hurt. That you ask for time, ten months has gone by…Let me tell you, ever since I have been in public life, no prime minister of India, starting with Rajiv Gandhi, has ever said no to a meeting I have sought… no prime minister has said to Yashwant Sinha, ‘I don’t have time for you.’ “And this is my own prime minister who has treated me like this. So if somebody rings me and says please come talk to me—sorry, the time has passed… I have been treated shabbily,” he said.