Building bridges in air
When Rahul Gandhi visited Kashmir this time, he took with him a group of top industry leaders. The aim was to hold an interaction with students at the Kashmir University, answer their questions and thus "build bridges of trust". Also, at a university where campus placements are rare, the visit of the corporate czars was a suggestion to the possibilities that awaited Kashmiri students if they stopped throwing stones and sit through the national anthem.
Rahul even tried to strike an emotional chord when he announced that he too was Kashmiri and understood the pain of Kashmir. "My aim is to develop trust with the youth of Kashmir," he said. The gesture was grand but unfortunately cosmetic. And though the visit was purely political, politics was kept out of bounds.
How can trust be built when the students were handpicked for the interaction after a rigorous background check to ensure they didn't ask the "inconvenient" questions and focus only on jobs. Those inconvenient questions need to be answered to lay the foundations of the bridges of trust. The "rabble rousers" who were kept away meant the majority of the student community.
Rahul may have not known about this elaborate bandobast to prevent a political question to sneak into the interaction, but it is clear that he himself set this apolitical tone for his politics of Kashmir engagement. And this paradigm to set aside politics and look for remedy through sops of employment and business opportunity is not a new political mantra. Whenever Kashmir witnessed an upheaval, New Delhi's response has been to react to the centrality of the political issue only to temper the public anger, appoint interlocutors with a promise to resolve the conflict. But as soon as calm sets in, the political initiative is conveniently forgotten, replaced by an apolitical push with a hope that economic bridges would connect the deep fractures created by ignoring the people's political demands.