The contrast could not have been more brazen, more stark.
Right at the moment when New Delhi was unrolling the red carpet to welcome Naga insurgent leaders for peace talks with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Union government announced a one-month suspension of moderate Kashmiri separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq's passport.
To be sure, the Mirwaiz has been under fire -- as well as under serious threat to his life -- from within the separatist camp, for his alleged 'soft line towards India.' He was also considered close to Abdul Ghani Lone who was assassinated last May for advocating the course of dialogue to resolve the conflict in Kashmir. The separatist conglomerate, the Hurriyat Conference, of which the Mirwaiz has been the founding chairman, has also felt uncomfortable with some of his utterances in the country and abroad.
The attitude of discrimination, adopted by New Delhi, in dealing with moderate sections of the separatist movements in Kashmir and the north-east, betrays prejudice and bias against the former. It is not confined to treatment meted out to them but runs right across the mindset evolved to deal with the situation. The Centre's offer of dialogue in Kashmir has been either a half-hearted gesture or only an expedient move to gain some momentary tactical advantage.
On the contrary, successive prime ministers have found it convenient to travel all the way to foreign lands to meet Naga insurgent leaders. But when it came to talking to Kashmiri separatists who were willing to play ball, New Delhi chose far lesser mortals as its representatives giving rise to doubts about its intentions and seriousness in pursuing the dialogue.
Arun Jaitley was nominated to interact with the then Farooq Abdullah government on autonomy only after he had quit the central Cabinet which, ironically, had unanimously and unceremoniously rejected the Farooq government's autonomy proposal.
The Ram Jethmalani-led Kashmir Committee's real status is a big mystery. It is supposed to have L K Advani's 'blessings,' but there is nothing official about it. Yet this very committee happens to be the only entity engaged in some kind of talks in Kashmir. New Delhi is yet to indicate its actual disposition towards the committee headed by Advani's fellow Sindhi maverick.
Nor for that matter has the BJP-led NDA government so far shown any appetite for the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government's sustained attempt at breaking the ice in Kashmir. The most uncharitable construction that could be placed on the political change in Kashmir as a result of last year's election is that the people there have given a mandate for a regime which in their opinion would not make life worse for them even if it could not do better than the discredited Farooq regime.
New Delhi, which does not tire of claiming credit for free, fair polls and which ostensibly swears by the legitimacy of its end product, has no compunction in playing spoilsport beyond the vision of international opinion.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq is not a militant. He has never been involved in any militant activity. His father Mirwaiz Moulvi Farooq was assassinated for his moderate views in May 1990. How does the suspension of the Mirwaiz's passport help India's cause or interests? Extra-constitutional utterances -- whether made inside the country or abroad -- attract nearly similar media coverage, if that is what is worrying the government. If there is tolerance enough to hear them on home soil the heavens will not fall if these are made from some other country.
If only the rulers in New Delhi are willing to reciprocate by showing just half the courage of that demonstrated by the people of Kashmir in braving hazardous odds to walk that extra mile, the country's interests would undoubtedly be served in a far better way than by indulging in brazen discrimination.