Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah says he wants the Armed Forces Powers Act revoked in some parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
Congress president Saifuddin Soz insists that all this is possible, but one his party should have been consulted, and two, this is not the right time; Home Minister PC Chidambaram says both are right, which probably means that he agrees about the withdrawal of AFSPA from parts of the state but that this should be after full and agreed consultation.
The result is that once again AFSPA is being discussed on television and in print, as the media has been given a bone to chew and is doing so to the satisfaction of all. No one has bothered to question the different wings of government who otherwise work so well together as to why they are airing their differences about such a sensitive Act in public, and why did they not resolve all these issues before announcing a decision to the world?
There can be only two answers. One that all involved with Kashmir at the highest echelons of government are totally incompetent, and the right hand has no idea of what the left is doing. Or two, they all know what they are doing and are using AFSPA again to divert attention and in the process gain some brownie points for the discredited Chief minister and state government.
Of course there are aspects of both, but this time the scales do seem to be weighed in favour of the second option as the interviews, the angst, the charges and allegations are well choreographed for the consumption of the ordinary citizen who still is idealistic enough to believe those in power, and of course the media that pedals news today without scrutiny and often little understanding. The fact that no decision is being taken speaks volumes about the little drama being enacted at the centre, as the intention is not just to divert attention from the headline grabbing antics of the chief minister but also to further delay any action on this all important issue.
The kind of ad hocism that has attached itself to governance these days is amazing. It is as if an issue has no history with the current debate being flagged by Omar Abdullah and Soz making no mention of the discussions held with the Kashmiris by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, or even the working group recommendations at the instance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The interlocutors report is just another addition to the lot, and significantly is of little interest to the people of Kashmir whose destiny it is expected to directly influence.
The Chief Minister should explain why, of all the various demands that have been put forth in these meetings and reports, he has attached himself to AFSPA? Why is it that the some excellent recommendations by the Prime Ministers own working groups are not in discussion at all? After all the release of political prisoners is an easier demand to concede but is not part of the current discourse at all. The answer is simple, the intention is to diffuse the heat generated by the most recent custodial death of a National Conference worker who was last seen alive in the Chief Ministers residence. Of course, one cannot blame Omar Abdullah for wanting to diffuse the situation, but the manner in which this is being done is making a mockery of the demands for justice and rights being voiced over and over again by Kashmiris and the saner voices in the rest of India.
AFSPA has been in debate for decades now. Its withdrawal forms part of government committees and reports. One would have expected a serious government to come out with a serious package on Kashmir, not of money and crumbs, but one recognizing and conceding the just demands of the people. This would have had far reaching impact and opened new doors for dialogue at all levels. The announcement would have had the backing of even Vajpayee’s assurances to the Kashmiri’s that would have taken care of some opposition from the BJP. But instead of going through this exercise, and coming out with a Rights and Justice package, the government has been trying to unnecessarily involve the people in a debate that they don’t intend to go anywhere.
The talk of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission or something to that effect is also pointless, simply because truth can only come out through effective enquiries and investigations, and reconciliation can only follow justice. The reluctance of the governments, both at the state and centre, to order impartial investigation into even major incidents of human rights violations makes a mockery of Truth. And clearly without the necessary probe justice is denied to the victims and their families, making Reconciliation a farce.