Two months after the latest round of furious protests by the Kashmiri people began, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finally chose to address the issue. This was at an “all-party” meeting convened in New Delhi to discuss the situation in Kashmir, from which many parties to the struggle there were conspicuously absent. Manmohan Singh’s remarks at the meeting were enough to dispel any illusions that his government was going to launch any fresh initiatives to solve the problem.
The speech, delivered in Urdu and talking of the need for “a political solution” and of the “pain and alienation” of Kashmiris, was high on atmospherics but contained absolutely nothing which represented even the slightest concession to the demands raised loud and clear by the Kashmiri people.
No mention was made of the atrocities committed by the armed forces on the men, women and children of Kashmir, to say nothing of tendering an apology. Not a word was said about the shooting down of protestors, the fake “encounters”, the rape and molestation of women, the combing operations, and the daily harassment of ordinary people. Then what does it mean to talk of the “pain and alienation” felt by the Kashmiri people? Nothing was said about punishing those guilty of crimes against the people. As for the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the PM said a virtual NO to this long-standing demand, by saying his government would like to work towards a stage when it would be possible to withdraw it! In other words, there was no chance of removing it now.
Instead, Manmohan Singh repeated all the old formulas which have led nowhere up to now, and which hold out no promise of any change for the Kashmiri people. This included mentioning that his government would “consider” autonomy for the province, with the condition that “the people have to be convinced that this future has to be grounded in political and economic realities of our time” – whatever that is supposed to mean.
Jawaharlal Nehru promised plebiscite for the Kashmiri people – he explicitly declared that if the Kashmiri people declared to opt out of the Indian Union, they would have the right to do so, on the basis of a ballot. Article 370 was introduced into the Constitution to guarantee autonomy for Kashmir, as part of the interim arrangement for merger of Kashmir with India. However, for 62 years, no referendum has been held on what the Kashmiri people want. Article 370 has become a dead letter. The ground reality is that the Kashmiri people are under the jackboots of the armed forces, raped and murdered at the will of the occupying army. Those who occupy the Chief Ministers chair in Kashmir are working under the dictate of New Delhi. They haveno other choice. Those who oppose Delhi's dictate are murdered or imprisoned.The Kashmiri people do not want autonomy any more—they want freedom, or azadi, from the colonial, imperialist Indian Union.
The Prime Minsiter also spoke, as the government has done many times before, of the need to develop employment opportunities, and promptly announced the setting up of another “expert group” to look into this. A good part of Manmohan Singh’s remarks were addressed to lecturing the Kashmiri youth and their families about how they should study and not take recourse to the path of protest. This only confirms that, despite his words, he is incapable of understanding the real “pain and alienation” of the Kashmiri people.
The Prime Minister’s very belated address on the issue of Kashmir was clearly nothing more than an attempt to present an image of being ‘concerned’, while actually indicating clearly that the ruling class has no intention of changing anything on the ground and that it intends to continue ruling Kashmir just as it has for so many decades – with an iron fist and tall promises.