In Kashmir, soft measures for hardcore elements won’t work

Condemnation of the incident in which a school bus was targeted by stone-pelters in Shopian, leading to injuries to students, has come readily from pro-separatists and like-minded politicians from Jammu & Kashmir. But that condemnation has remained limited to the act itself and not extended to either the stone-pelters or their patrons inside Kashmir valley or across the border. Representatives of the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party have blamed each other, pro-separates voices have accused both these parties, the Congress has held the PDP-BJP regime responsible, and the BJP has lashed out at everyone else, with some muted criticism for its alliance partner too.

But all of this leads us nowhere. Every time an incident of stone-pelting happens, there is a rush to apportion blame. The most common ploy to deflect attention from the issue is the raising of the question: ‘Who is responsible for creating stone-pelters?’ Separatist apologists say the NC and the PDP are guilty, the Union Government is guilty — in short, everybody except the divisive elements who want the breakup of India. The apologists will hark back to the days of 1947, assurances India gave, autonomy, need to have dialogue with Pakistan etc.

At times, NC leaders too appear to speak in a similar voice. On the other hand, the Mehbooba Mufti regime is not without blemish. It had provided amnesty to ‘first-time stone-pelters’ in the fond but misplaced hope that the decision would send out the right signals. The signals did go, but not about the State Government’s willingness to be accommodative in a bid to restore peace and confidence. The message that went through is that the PDP was soft and that stone-pelting could continue without hindrance. Days before the school bus was hit, tourists had been targeted by devious elements. It is clear as daylight that soft measures will not work. The masterminds of violence — of stone-pelting etc — are not going to be won over by carrots.

They understand the language of the stick. Unfortunately, the divide among mainstream politicians in the valley has come as a godsend to the separatists and their ilk who want the violence pot to remain on the boil. Calling stone-pelters as ‘freedom-fighters’, as one senior politician referred to them, reflects the extent to which these public figures can go to retain their parochial constituents. The larger Indian interest is not their concern. If the present situation is allowed to continue, a day will soon come when some drastic political decision has to be taken to set right the wrong.