Serious dialogue need of the hour

Date March 8, 2013 Interview by

Political leaders of almost all parties in Jammu and Kashmir are of the opinion that the execution of Afzal Guru and the unrest and police action on protesters following that event are a setback to the peace process. Any employment or economic package, they feel, cannot be a substitute for a political initiative. Excerpts from an interview Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, the CPI(M)’s representative in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, gave Frontline:

Does the anger in Jammu and Kashmir following the hanging of Afzal Guru have to do with that incident alone or does it point to larger issues as well, considering that life was returning to normal in the State?

I think the execution of Afzal Guru has considerably added to the anger and sense of alienation already existing in the minds of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. At a time when there was a dire need to maximise measures to reduce the trust deficit between the State and the rest of the country, the episode could produce results to the contrary. The act has unfortunately scratched the scars of the 2010 summer unrest, which were gradually healing.

Has the execution heightened the sense of alienation among the Kashmiri youth? Could the government have eased the situation by handing over the body to his family for the last rites or informing the family about the execution? Given the situation in Kashmir, do you think the government should have handled the situation with sensitivity?

The entire process of execution of Guru was not only indecent, it has also left bare the mindset that could not hold the basic decency of a democratic set-up and the legal requirements in dealing with an issue full of serious political ramifications for Jammu and Kashmir. The family was not informed well in time before the execution of their family head. The gist is that the sensitivities of Jammu and Kashmir have not been taken into consideration while finalising the execution of Guru.

Do you think the firing episode could have been avoided? Three persons, including two teenagers, have reportedly died. Is there a fear of things slipping back into the state they were in if some gesture is not made by the Central and State governments?

First of all, let me express my condolences for the loss of life in these firing incidents at different places in Kashmir. As the situation was precarious, I think the loss of life could have been avoided with utmost restraint from the security forces. It was obvious that there would be heightened anger and outburst of sentiments following this episode, so the police and other security forces should have been directed to follow the standard operating procedures, which were not followed at some places as was reported by the local press. I apprehend that the execution may encourage tendencies not supportive to the peace process, which was cultivated with huge efforts and investment. Any further casualty will not only provide impetus but also have a ripple effect, and the situation can turn into a major law and order problem.

You mentioned that the people are reeling under severe shortages of food and other essential items such as baby food and fuel, including LPG, because of the present situation. Do people expect relief from the Centre or from the State government?

There are reports about non-availability of medicines in hospitals, especially in the rural areas, and of food items, fuel and LPG. The State government must take steps to ensure that people who were injured at different places in Kashmir receive proper treatment. It must also ensure the availability of medicines and other necessary items in hospitals across the Valley. The State government should rush its teams across Kashmir to ensure the proper availability of ration and other essential commodities to people.

The Centre seems to believe that an economic package for Kashmir in the form of jobs under some government scheme may help alleviate the volatile situation. What, in your view, do Kashmiris need right now, and how can the State or Central governments help in this?

It is not only because of the lack of economic packages and employment schemes that the situation has turned volatile and so grim in Kashmir. In the people’s perception, the deep-rooted political uncertainty should be the focal point which must be addressed in order to alleviate their alienation. There is a sense of denial of justice, which should be the concern for all shades of political opinion in the country. No economic package or employment schemes can do wonders in the absence of a serious, meaningful political initiative in Kashmir.

Do you see any shift in the Central government's attitude towards Kashmir or does it continue to be business as usual in the hope that things will settle down? There is an opinion that an all-party meeting should be convened on the issue, given the volatile situation. Is there a likelihood of this spilling out of Kashmir?

I don’t think there is any significant change in the policies of the Central government vis-a-vis Kashmir. With regard to an all-party meeting about defusing the situation, what happened to the recommendations of the all-party parliamentary delegation that visited Kashmir after the 2010 summer unrest? Has the Government of India implemented any of the recommendations? So, I think the time has come for the Government of India to take meaningful measures and focus on the situation in Kashmir. There is need for concrete confidence-building measures that can pave the way for a serious and meaningful dialogue with all shades of opinion in the State.

What is the CPI(M)’s position on the death penalty, and what has been the impact of the Union Home Minister’s statement regarding the reasons for the hasty execution? Do you think it is being perceived as unfair, given the pendency of appeal in other similar cases?

The abolition of the death penalty is now under debate in the CPI(M), and there are strong voices in favour of its abolition. As far as my own opinion is concerned, I stand for its abolition as execution is the most indecent sentence in the modern-day world. There is a general perception in Kashmir that Afzal Guru has been hanged in view of various political considerations and that his is a selective execution. The people in Kashmir are of the opinion that Guru was not allowed to avail himself of judicial remedies against his death sentence.
Unfortunately, the UPA government has succumbed to jingoistic and sanguivorous demands of the BJP and other right-wing parties at the cost of the fragile situation in Kashmir. The UPA has set a precedent by implementing the BJP’s jingoistic and ultranationalistic demands by the instant hanging of Guru after the rejection of his mercy petition. As in all such cases that belong to other States, political considerations have determined the implementation of judicial verdicts. The problems faced in Kashmir are going to be aggravated further with this kind of attitude at the Centre.

Were there, in your view, other considerations behind the execution? Will the jingoistic declarations by parties like the BJP worsen the situation within and outside Kashmir and muffle rational opinion? What should political parties be articulating at the moment?

I have made it clear that the execution of Guru is fraught with narrow interests. It is not that we are going to do something great for the country by adopting an appeasement policy and addressing the jingoistic declarations and irrational demands of communal hawks, but the fact is that all shades of political opinion must apply a course correction in their approach. We must also revisit our policies that are loaded with narrow and petty political interests. As far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, efforts should be made to reduce estrangement and the increase trust deficit. Alienation and anger form a breeding ground for extremism.