So New Delhi is not interested in talking to the separatist leaders of Kashmir, including those of the Hurriyat Conference. It argues that they are not elected, have no standing, and that the mainstream leaders, who are elected, are the real representatives of the people. It argues that mainstream leaders seek votes and get elected in spite of poll boycott calls of separatist political organisations. All this is fine.
But all this remains limited to mere arguments only. Long ago in Srinagar, Farooq Abdullah told the former spy chief of India, AS Dulat, “I’ve figured out that to remain in power here you have to be on the right side of Delhi and that’s what I’m going to do.” In spite of remaining on the right side of Delhi, Farooq feels betrayed and jilted. He told a local Urdu magazine a few months ago that had Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah been alive to see the armed uprising of the 1990s, he would have been the happiest person.
There are reasons for Farooq’s wavering stands and opinions. After their political solutions were rejected outright by the Centre, mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have consistently advocated that their mandate is to carry forward the development agenda in the state and nothing else.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, as the chief minister of the state, used to argue that the Kashmir issue would be solved by India and Pakistan and his job was to carry the process of development forward. His successor, Omar Abdullah, while addressing an election rally in Budgam in 2008, said the day separatists said they would provide water, electricity and roads to the people; he would give up mainstream politics.
The National Conference (NC) has an avowed political agenda and it is the only mainstream party in Jammu and Kashmir that had passed a Bill on the state's autonomy in the Assembly in 2000. Autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir has been a part of the party's plank.
To counter the NC, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) came up with the idea of self-rule. The PDP was the first party to propose dual currency for Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). It also calls for an advisory council comprising the upper houses of the legislatures of both parts of Kashmir as a mechanism to address the economic issues between them. It believes that unless internal and external issues of the state are addressed effectively, Kashmir will continue to remain a “festering sore”. Seeing the fate of the autonomy resolution passed by the NC, the PDP has never brought its self-rule proposal up in the Assembly for debate and discussion.
However, the Centre did initiate a dialogue with the mainstream political parties of Jammu and Kashmir.
Under UPA-1, in March 2006, the then prime minister Manmohan Singh set up five working groups on Jammu and Kashmir and started a roundtable dialogue with all mainstream parties of the state. Separatists declined to participate in the dialogue saying it degraded their position as the only genuine Kashmiri representatives.
By 2007, four working groups presented reports to Manmohan Singh, while the fifth group, on Centre-state relations headed by Justice (retired) Saghir Ahmed submitted his report to Omar Abdullah in 2009 when latter was the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
Now let us see the action of the Centre on the reports.
Justice Ahmed, in his report, had said demand for autonomy “can be examined in the light of the Kashmir Accord or... on the basis of some other formula as the present prime minister may deem appropriate so as to restore the autonomy to the extent possible”. The Centre has not spoken so far on Justice Ahmed’s recommendation that the autonomy report should be examined.
A group headed by MK Rasgotra suggested a joint consultative group of ten members from each of the legislatures on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) to periodically exchange views on social, economic, cultural and trade affairs. The report said the governments of Jammu and Kashmir and PoK “may be encouraged to undertake consultations, as necessary, for the provision of disaster and relief measures during calamities and epidemics”. It asked for opening up of several cross-LoC routes including Kargil-Skardu, Jammu-Saikote, Turtuk- Khanpula, Chamb-Jorian-Mirpur, Gurez-Astoor-Gilgit, Titwal-Chilhan (across Neelam valley) and Jhangar (Nowshera-Mirpure-Kotli roads.
So far, not a single recommended route has been opened.
A working group led M Hamid Ansari, the current vice president of India, wanted law and order to be tackled under normal laws and recommended revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). At present, there is not even a discussion over revocation of the AFSPA.
Another group headed by C Rangarajan recommended that the state's share of free power from projects of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) - a public sector undertaking - be enhanced from the existing 12 per cent. The group proposed transfer of the 390MW Dulhasti Power Project to the state government. The Dulhasti Power Project is still with the NHPC and the state's share of free power in NHPC projects continues to be 12 percent. Recently, the union power minister rejected demands of returning power projects to the state as preposterous.
In a nutshell, mainstream political parties are not trusted even on a small thing like that of the return of a power project though recommended by a working group constituted by the prime minister. Such is their standing. That is why moderate separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq repeatedly says that the job of mainstream political parties is to carry forward development and they have no role in resolving the Kashmir issue. The Centre has proven the Mirwaiz right by not conceding to any of demand of mainstream political parties after a prolonged dialogue with them in the working groups constituted by none other than the prime minister.