The BJP should be held to its promise of dialogue with all stakeholders, including Hurriyat, and even Pakistan, as that is the only way out of the present imbroglio in Jammu and Kashmir, says senior party leader Yashwant Sinha.
He feels that after having promised dialogue, citing former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, somebody should ask why the Centre is going back on the agenda of the alliance with the Peoples Democratic Pary (PDP).
"We should hold them (the BJP) to their own promise in the agenda of the alliance where they have said they would talk to all internal stakeholders. After praising Vajpayee for doing what he did, they were saying that we will do the same thing. Somebody should ask them why are you going back on the agenda of the alliance?" Sinha told IANS in an interview.
The former External Affairs and Finance Minister — who is now somewhat alienated from the BJP leadership — headed an apolitical group of eminent citizens that visited the Kashmir Valley twice last year for initiating talks with separatists and other groups after months of unrest that left nearly 100 people dead and thousands blinded by pellets fired by security at street protesters.
He said the group had given its recommendations to the government of India on bringing peace in the valley where "the situation is going from bad to worse because people are getting more and more alienated".
"The most important suggestion that we had made was the reiteration of what had been promised in the agenda of the alliance between the BJP and the PDP (when they formed the coalition government) on national reconciliation and on starting talks with all the stakeholders, including the Hurriyat," Sinha said.
He said some of the suggestions "have been acted upon" and regretted that "some have not been acted upon".
"I am not claiming credit that it is because of us that those improvements have taken place. Take the use of pellet guns for instance. It is much less now than it was earlier. The cases of blinding (people) have reduced."
But, he said, the government has gone back on the promise of dialogue "because there is no talk of talks now, and it is only military action that is taking place" in the Kashmir Valley.
The former minister said it should not be surprising to know that separatists are getting money from Pakistan because it "is something which was well known".
"They are called separatists because they want to separate. Otherwise, why would we call them separatists? So everything about them was known. I don't think in the last two-and-a-half years anything new has emerged to persuade the authorities to go back on the promises made in the agenda of the alliance."
He said the "only way out" of the Kashmir problem was to have talks "not only with internal stakeholders but also with people across the LoC, which means Pakistan" as agreed to between the BJP and the PDP.
"Even if we exclude Pakistan for the time being, why should we not have dialogue with our own people in Jammu and Kashmir? We are having dialogue with the Nagas," he said, urging that the situation in Kashmir was a "matter of the greatest concern" and the problem should be resolved without losing any time.
He said the authorities and the people of India should note that "it is not merely the territory of Jammu and Kashmir that we have to hold, we have to win back the hearts and minds of the people who have been alienated.
"And that is the challenge for us and we can achieve that challenge only by reaching out to them, offering dialogue and if the offer is accepted then actually talking about the resolution of the issue."
Asked why the BJP was still part of the coalition government that has failed to restore order in the valley, Sinha said the question should be why is the PDP, led by the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, allied with the BJP.
"The BJP is going back (on its promises) and who should be the first to react? The PDP. If the PDP had persuaded the BJP then that there should be a dialogue, that there should be a national reconciliation and if the BJP stood persuaded then, and the BJP has gone back on that understanding, then who should react? The PDP. I can't react on their behalf."
Asked what he planned to do about initiating the peace process in the Kashmir Valley, the BJP leader said there was nothing he could offer to Kashmiris.
"It is only the government of India or the government of Jammu and Kashmir which can make an offer. But I think the time has come where the people of India should reach out to the people of Kashmir.
"There must be more people-to-people dialogue, people-to-people conversations. People of Jammu and Kashmir must be assured that the people of India feel for them. Let's see. The future will tell."
(Sarwar Kashani and V.S. Chandrasekar can be contacted at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org)