Policy planning group?

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In the summer of 2017, Congress party with a lot of fanfare announced what it called the ‘Policy-planning group” to access the situation in the Valley. What was important about this panel was that it was headed by former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Congress, which had been very critical of the Centre as well as then PDP-BJP coalition government in J&K over the handling of the situation in Kashmir, claimed that it was concerned over the “disturbed” situation in the Valley. So it was said that (then) Congress president Sonia Gandhi had put together this new group which had, besides Dr. Singh, also former Home Minister P. Chidambaram and CWC members Karan Singh and Ghulam Nabi Azad, J-K Congress in-charge Ambika Soni, state Congress chief Ghulam Ahmed Mir, CLP leader in state Rigzin Zora, former MP Tariq Hameed Karra and party vice-president Shyam Lal Sharma as members.

At that time Congress said that the group will study and “assess the ground situation and make initiatives for restoring normalcy to the state”.

In the face of it, there was nothing wrong in the move. But the people of Kashmir were certainly not enthused or amused. Reason being that there has always existed a huge trust-deficit between Srinagar and New Delhi. People here are always skeptic about any initiatives originating from New Delhi – which are seen as nothing more than time-buying tactics, and which end up producing nothing worthwhile for the people! And unfortunately, the Congress party also desperately lacked (and still lacks) a template which could invest the so-called ‘policy-planning group’ with some seriousness and sincerity of purpose.

That this panel was headed by Dr. Manmohan Singh made it look very attractive and was its USP. Still nobody was sure if that alone could do the trick. And today the skeptics have been proven right. It has been over two years and nobody has heard anything about that ‘policy-planning group’ since. Nor has anybody been told a thing about that group ever having met leave aside it having studied the situation in the Valley and suggesting any policy initiatives.

Like this grand old party of Indian politics, Dr. Singh himself has a huge burden of unfulfilled commitments and wasted opportunities on Kashmir. As Prime Minister, when he actually had the stature and the power to do something for the Valley, he squarely squandered every single opportunity that was there for taking. He is the one who, as Prime Minister had announced so many initiatives for Kashmir – be it the PM’s working groups that were constituted to assess situation in Kashmir and suggest measures for bringing peace to the Valley after much-hyped roundtable conferences that were held prior to that, or for that matter the group of interlocutors that was set up in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 summer unrest. But absolutely nothing was done to implement the suggestion that were put forth both by the working groups and the interlocutors. And mind it all these recommendations were virtually consigned to dust-bins at a time when Singh himself was the Prime Minister.

Similarly, former Home minister P. Chidambaram, who has of late been very vocal on Kashmir, did nothing as when he headed the Home Ministry. Ghulam Nabi Azad was the J&K Chief Minister during the 2008 unrest triggered by the Amarnath land row, and that G A Mir, Ambika Soni, Rigzin Jora and other members of the panel too have all along enjoyed enough power to make some difference to Kashmir, but none of them have done a thing thus far!

So it was problematic for the ordinary Kashmiris to believe that all these people, who couldn’t do much for Kashmir when they were in power and could actually have done a lot, would be able to do much beyond the regular run-of-the-mill kind of politics. But then some would argue that it is also not necessary that those who have faltered or erred in the past, should not be given a chance to correct their course, and should be summarily dismissed on hindsight. But the Congress’ initiative proved yet another half-hearted effort and a cruel joke on Kashmir. It couldn’t move beyond rhetoric. Indeed it was, as the time has proved, not even worth the paper which newspapers wasted for running the news about the so-called policy planning group. It will be interesting to know if the Congress bosses in New Delhi or its state-level functionaries here have any information on that initiative!

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