Rather than flying envoys in and stage-managing PR, the Govt must first ensure a degree of normalcy in the Valley
These are cold facts. The Kashmir Valley has been under a digital siege with internet and mobile networks shut down ever since Article 370 was abrogated in August. Zero online operations and transactions have hurt everything that matters on the human liveability index — businesses, bank transfers, hospital referrals, telemedicine, distant learning and even student registrations. There has been an unprecedented security lockdown ever since Jammu and Kashmir was downgraded from a State to a Union Territory, ostensibly to prevent people from protesting against the decisions imposed. Three former Chief Ministers, who have always been the bridge between the people and the Centre and have acted as a bulwark against exported militancy taking roots on home soil, continue to be under detention for fear that their old stated positions on protective status for the Valley would now amount to inciting treason. And without addressing the civilian drift, resulting from the denial of the basic right to life’s conveniences, and the continued disfranchisement of people, the Government, once again ill-advisedly, is resorting to a “guided tour” diplomacy to prove that all is well. May be, it should have focussed on working on ordinary locals and empowering local governance structures than para-trooping its own version of the truth. But faced with increasing criticism over what it justified as a decision within India’s Constitutional space, it is now going out an arm and limb to quell international anxieties about the situation on the ground. Needless to say, its controversial policies on citizenship and student protests over the same have made it somewhat desperate for some goodwill hunting. So while the Government may tomtom having the US ambassador on board as part of a delegation of envoys for a familiarisation trip in the Valley, what it forgets is that the European Union nations, Australia and many Gulf countries have chosen to stay out. The EU ambassadors have been receptive to the European Parliament’s concerns about the rights situation in Kashmir and recused themselves as they insisted on meeting the former Chief Ministers and wanted to move freely. It is shameful that our democracy has come under a cloud of suspicion and doubt from the many nations that valued and respected us for honouring it in the first place. Except the US envoy, who may have joined in as part of his nation’s strategic fair weather with India, there are no heavyweights (most are from Africa and Latin America). Also, they were rushed through the “troublesome” Srinagar during the first part of the day and then taken to Jammu for civilian interactions.
Clearly the Government’s desperation to re-order propaganda over perception has meant that it has hardly learnt lessons from its last PR misadventure when it let in an “unofficial” EU delegation of MPs for an ear-to-the-ground survey of Kashmir. It turned out to be a “friendly” mission, having been organised by a pro-Government NGO. Besides, the delegation comprised known hardliners and far-right MPs. Clearly then, this looks like another stage-managed, damage control fix than an open house. Except that such gimmicks are past their prime at a time when information has a way of trickling out from the many subterranean highways. The Government should understand that a narrative of victimisation will always find more takers than the dissemination of its sanitised intentions. Justifiably, a whole spectrum of Opposition leaders, led by the Congress, are demanding that countrymen be allowed to visit the Valley first. This is indeed unavoidable as civil and political engagement, howsoever chaotic or negative, has to happen if the administration wants to go anywhere with its wishful thinking of changing the political template of the sub-region. Otherwise, the reorganisation of Kashmir will only be seen as an exercise in point-scoring and demonisation of another kind of otherness, that all of the Valley is secessionist and the enemy at our gates. In fact, this pick-and-choose approach queers the perception of India even more. If indeed the Government wants to publicise normalcy, then it should first ensure a degree of it at the ground level. If the Government is so confident that the world at large and citizens at home have made peace with the legality of the changed situation there, then it should take a step forward, no matter what the risks, and let the muzzled voices out. It should have the absorptive strength of criticism, too, if it wants to mainstream the political economy of Kashmir. Unless it wants to prove Pakistan right and allow terrorism to grow here.
(Courtesy: The Pioneer)