Policy planning group?

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In the summer of 2017, with a lot of fanfare Congress party 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 the then PDP-BJP coalition government in J&K over its 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 almost certainly 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 this indeed 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 nearly four 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.

This grand old party of Indian politics 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, Manmohan Singh 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 constituted to assess situation 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 suggestions 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 P. Chidambaram, who has of late been very vocal on Kashmir, did nothing 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!

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 time has proven the skeptics right. Congress’ initiative has been another cruel joke on Kashmir. It couldn’t and it hasn’t moved beyond rhetoric. 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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