NEW DELHI: The last 24 hours had television channels going a little over the top, based on what were reportedly official briefings, spinning a web of falsehoods after the visit of the All Party Delegation to Kashmir. Despite denials from the Opposition MPs, and despite all of them being available for a quote, television news hooked itself on the following un-truths:

  1. The Hurriyat leaders had refused to meet the Opposition MPs, they had in fact insulted them, and closed the door for talks;
  2. The government was moving to crack down on the Hurriyat leaders, would curtail their security and take away their passports in what some sections of the media did not hesitate to then extend into speculation of possible arrests of the separatists;
  3. The Opposition was very upset with the state government, leading again to the possibility of the MPs insisting on Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti stepping down.
  4. And there was no question of a dialogue with all stakeholders at all.
    It is not clear what was the motivation behind planting such reports in the media; and whether some sections of powerful television were riding their own hobby horses at the expense of truth and facts. However, the mix became a dangerous cocktail that went unrestrained for almost 24 hours on 24 hour news television networks, feeding into the anger and the alienation of the people of Kashmir. Instead of thus alleviating the situation the news created insecurities as the impression given out by the media---with or without facts is for these anchors now to tell us----was that the door remained tightly bolted despite the visit of the Opposition MPs, and the effort made by Sitaram Yechury, Sharad Yadav, D.Raja and Jaiprakash Yadav to meet the separatist leaders.

    The falsehoods were plugged effectively this morning when the All Party Delegation met with the Government Ministers. The Left leaders directly asked Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh whether media reports of the crackdown on the Kashmiri separatists were correct. His response was a categorical denial, with the Minister maintaining that no such move was on the anvil. Then who planted this story? This is an important question then for the media, that kept carrying this information, to answer, and to explain why unverified facts were carried as headlines on television news as well as the morning newspapers.

    After the meeting the media was addressed by Minister of State (PMO) Jitendra Singh, and Opposition leaders Mallikarjun Kharge of the Congress party and Sitaram Yechury. In the course of their statements and the ensuing questions it was clear and confirmed:
  1. The government agreed with the Opposition, and included in the joint resolution that emerged from the meeting, the commitment to start a political dialogue with all stakeholders. This includes the separatists, a demand made by all the Opposition parties present in the meeting;
  2. There was no imminent crackdown on Hurriyat leaders with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh distancing himself from the media reports at the meeting. CPI leader D.Raja confirmed this again later to The Citizen maintaining that Singh said he had no information about such a crackdown at all;
  3. Yechury told the media that they had met the Hurriyat leaders knowing fully well that a decision had been taken by all the separatists not to hold talks with the visiting delegation. He said that they knew that Hurriyat’s Syed Ali Shah Geelani would not meet them even before they went there, but they had decided to visit all the leaders to send a message to the people of Kashmir that they were with them in this hour of crisis. He pointed out to the reporters that of the five they had visited, four leaders had met them. And Geelani’s refusal was certainly not seen as an insult by them but a matter of course.
  4. The Opposition is not at all happy with the manner in which Mehbooba Mufti is handling the situation. As Sharad Yadav told The Citizen in an interview yesterday, she is completely out of her depth. However, none of the leaders demanded her removal, as for them the restoration of normalcy is most important at this stage. Besides an alternative to dismissal of her government would be President's rule, that would in effect mean direct BJP rule that the Opposition MPs are in no mood to endorse.
  5. And, under pressure, the government had to include a commitment to speak to all stakeholders that includes the separatists. This despite the running propaganda on some television channels that, of course, has now been rather effectively busted with the joint statement to which the BJP led government is a signatory.

As Yechury said, the resolution was a common minimum denominator centred around talks with all. He said that the government had not said ‘no’ to the demands raised by the Left leaders along with Janata Dal(U) and others, but had not committed to a ‘yes’ either, except to what was contained in the statement. Singh did assure the stoppage of pellet guns, a demand raised vociferously by all MPs. Other demands raised at the meeting included immediate confidence building measures with the Kashmiris to reduce the trust deficit and help restore normalcy. These included : 1. Stop the use of pellet guns; 2. Take immediate measures for the treatment and rehabilitation of those blinded and injured; 3. Removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from civilian areas to begin with; 4. Stop the excesses by the security forces.

In the longer term start and establish a dialogue with Pakistan. As Yechury said, the first step towards this could be taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi if he goes to Pakistan for the Saarc summit later this year.

Incidentally, The Citizen has been consistent in pointing out that the MPs who met the Hurriyat leaders had a warm and friendly meeting, that they were not insulted, and were certainly not for a crackdown as being advocated by sections of the media, but for talks. At the meeting D.Raja red out messages received from Kashmiris about the devastating use of pellet guns. And Yechury made it very clear that the meetings with the four leaders---Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik, Abdul Ghani Bhat and Shabir Shah---were cordial and friendly. There was no hostility of any kind, he asserted yet again at the meeting, to still mischievious rumours being legitimised as news for the past 24 hours.