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29 Apr 2017

Between a rock and a hard place - Centre rejects talks plan mooted by Mehbooba

R. Balaji and our Delhi Bureau,  TT, New Delhi, April 28: The spectre of a violent and unmoving political deadlock is hanging heavy over Kashmir after the Centre told the Supreme Court today that talks could not be held with separatists outside the constitutional framework.

The Supreme Court offered to direct the suspension of the use of pellet guns by the security forces in the Valley for two weeks if an assurance was given that there would be no violence and stone-pelting. The court described as "most worrisome" the involvement of students, children and women in the protests.
In the top court, attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi, representing the Centre, rejected an appeal by the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association for a unilateral ceasefire and resumption of talks with separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
"He (the petitioner) is saying we should hold talks with... Syed Geelani and other leaders.... The court cannot direct the government to meet separatist leaders. What is going on? What kind of dialogue is he talking about with these separatist leaders? I can't have a dialogue. If he has to talk, he has to talk under the rules (laid down in the Constitution)," the attorney-general told a bench headed by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar.
At another point, Rohatgi asked: "Is he (the petitioner) saying we should have dialogue with Pakistan?"
Justice Khehar, sitting with Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Sanjay Kishan Kaul, immediately asked: "Did we say we will direct you? Did we agree?"
The Centre's stand is being seen as a rebuff to not just separatists of all hues but also to chief minister and ally Mehbooba Mufti who only last week had pleaded to pick up from where Atal Bihari Vajpayee had left off and open talks with all sections of opinion in the Valley, including the Hurriyat separatists.
The line has been drawn for Mehbooba - no expansion of dialogue, concentrate on hitting militants and stone-throwers hard. Such a stand will queer the pitch for Mehbooba, who needs some political room to attempt regaining space.
But it is not as if the separatists themselves are ready for a dialogue. Most of them have shut their doors even on independent interlocutors, saying there is no point talking as long as the condition exists that negotiations will be within the framework of the Constitution.
Some observers feel the government itself made the Kashmir street realise its potential to interfere with the constitutional process when the Anantnag Lok Sabha bypoll was postponed earlier this month after violence in the first round of by-elections.
Till now, protesters had not succeeded in pushing back elections and the democratic process, one of the chief ways through which India justifies its presence in Kashmir to the world. In the past, once elections had been announced, the government pressed ahead and completed the process, even if that required saturation security presence and even if there was threat of violence or boycott, or both.
Anantnag has changed that and probably set a dangerous precedent.
The Centre's stand is that it will go to the negotiation table only if "legally recognised stakeholders participate in the dialogue". This is a euphemism for mainstream parties that participate in elections and recognise the Indian state and Constitution.

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