In March 1990, when an all-party delegation headed by the then Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal visited Kashmir, the Valley was up in revolt. Srinagar was curfew-bound. Militancy which had just begun had caught on like wildfire. The delegation could hardly find anybody to meet. The separatists boycotted them as did the civil society.
But the delegation which included Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee did get a taste of Kashmir’s fury. According to the former Principal Information Officer to Government of India, Inna Ramamohan Rao, who accompanied the delegation, hardly anyone was willing to travel to Centaur hotel where the leaders were staying.
“The mood was so hostile that when we went to our respective rooms, the bearers when asked about the time gave us the Pakistan Standard Time,” Rao wrote in 2010, according to a report in Kashmir daily Greater Kashmir.
What is more, as the delegation was waiting to meet the people, a flotilla of shikarahs carrying people moved up the Dal lake outside their hotel and raised Azadi slogans.
The delegation was horrified at the state of affairs in Kashmir and promised to make some concrete suggestions to the government. But nothing was done. The leaders made no significant recommendations, and the government didn’t act upon even their routine suggestions.
One more all party delegation visited the state in 2008, following the outbreak of a three-month long strike in Kashmir Valley and Jammu province over the land transfer to Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board. While Kashmir opposed the transfer, Jammu supported it. This delegation visited Jammu but the Kashmiri leaders like Dr Farooq Abdullah, Saif-u-Din Soz, and Mehbooba Mufti were kept out of it after Shri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti which spearheaded the agitation in Jammu objected to their presence. But the delegation made little redeeming difference to the situation.
In August 2010, an all party delegation visited Kashmir during the five-month long unrest. It created huge expectations. More so, when the members of the delegation visited the houses of the top separatist leadership including that of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik. To their credit, the delegation conducted themselves with seriousness and as far as possible tried to listen the various shades of Kashmiri opinion, particularly separatists. It was a bold gesture on their part to visit Geelani who on his part put across his point of view clearly to them.
The visit of the delegation set the stage for a bigger political initiative which however was soon belied in the eight-point initiative announced by the home minister P Chidambaram. But for an assurance to constitute a group of imminent interlocutors, the package dealt largely with the administrative matters like the review of the Public Safety Act cases, release of the prisoners and of course review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act by the Unified Command in J&K. However, the only hope to salvage the centre’s initiative, the soon to be appointed three interlocutors on Kashmir, ended in a showdown with the three apolitical personalities comprising Dilip Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M M Ansari – being appointed to do the job.
This unhelpful past cast its long shadow over the latest visit of the all-party delegation headed by Rajnath Singh. The delegation faced a sweeping boycott with all separatist and civil society groups following the hardline Hurriyat chairman’s suggestion that no “stakeholder” should meet the visiting leaders.
“The Indian parliamentary delegation is coming to Kashmir after passing a resolution that Kashmir an integral part of India. Therefore this delegation neither has the mandate nor the intention to resolve the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir,” Geelani said in a statement a day ahead of the delegation’s visit “We suggest to all stakeholders to refrain from engaging in this meaningless exercise of meeting this delegation.”
This drastically reduced the prospects of the visiting delegation to do anything meaningful in Kashmir. The members were reduced to meeting the anonymous and insignificant organizations and individuals which hardly made any difference.