The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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What can one say of Ram Jethmalani’s ambitious foray into Kashmir to bring peace to the troubled state' That he collected seven honourable men of action and told them that he could bring them face to face with history by making the Hurriyat give up its stand on Kashmir and make Farooq Abdullah bow to the arguments of one of India’s best-known lawyers' But within two and a half days, he was back in New Delhi a sad and a bitter man.

The situation was not as comic as it would seem to be. Jethmalani went to Kashmir without any preparation. Nor did he seem to know what the All Parties Hurriyat Conference has been asking for. He gave the impression that he did not know who was backing the Hurriyat, or whether the Hurriyat would like to exist without Pakistan’s support. The idea he harboured was that the Hurriyat leaders would give in the moment they cast their eyes on Jethmalani.

The Hurriyat leaders have already made it known that the polls mean nothing to them. If they had any recent doubts about giving up the Pakistani line, they were laid to rest by the Independence Day speech of the Pakistani president, where Pervez Musharraf managed to convey to the pro-Pakistan elements in Kashmir that he would go along with them.

Standing to gain

The relationship between the Pakistan government and the Hurriyat is a symbiotic one: the former has nothing to live for if it gives up the fight for Kashmir, and the latter would crumble like a house of cards if it loses Pakistan’s support. These are facts which most Indians know, but of which Jethmalani seemed to be unaware.

One would have expected, given Jethmalani’s legal acumen, that he would sound out the Hurriyat, probe the minds of its leaders, send signals and prepare the ground he could tread on. But in whatever he did, one could sense a desire to grab the headlines and be catapulted to instant fame.

For once, the Union government played its cards well. It made known that if anyone wanted to talk to the Hurriyat and other Kashmiri leaders, he would be welcome. But the talks would carry no message from the Centre. It is not clear who named the delegation Kashmir committee, but the name suggested that it represented the government or a political party or at least an ideological stance, when it was nothing of that sort.

The National Conference too tread carefully, although the mutual addressing of Jethmalani and Farooq Abdullah as “Rambhai” and “Farooqbhai” betrayed the contempt each had for the other. Abdullah put his finger on the problem in his Independence Day speech, where he asked, “What would Jethmalani tell the Hurriyat'” Jethmalani obviously had not thought of that.

Two faces of folly

He did what Kashmiri leaders are criticized of doing — saying one thing in Srinagar and another in New Delhi. In Srinagar, he favoured the postponement of the forthcoming assembly elections to help more Kashmiri groups participate in the democratic process.

But it was a different Jethmalani in New Delhi who said that the Hurriyat was Pakistan’s stooge and had no strength of its own. He also claimed that this was not his own inference but popular perception. So why didn’t he say this in Srinagar'

The Hurriyat’s abilities to read the people’s mind have always been suspect. But at least it has been true to its word of not fighting the assembly elections. Most of its members either want to fight for an independent Kashmir or take Kashmir to Pakistan. It is easy to see that the Kashmir problem will cease to exist the moment Pakistani support to the militants is withdrawn. Which is unlikely since the Kashmir bogey keeps the Pakistani rulers in power.

Jethmalani should have known these before embarking on his journey. The only ray of hope now is that Shabir Shah has agreed to conditionally favour the elections. Currently, his is the only voice of wisdom in the valley. Jethmalani might like to learn politics from him.

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