As Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh embarks on his second visit over the last one month to the troubled Kashmir valley, it is worth pondering over the “political approach” that many Opposition parties, here in Delhi and there in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, are advocating for. The so-called liberal intelligentsia is also for such an approach. However, the fact remains that while the idea of a political approach (some term it as a part of “political solution”) is eminently desirable, the devil lies in the details.
Former Union Home Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram in an interview to Karan Thapar on India Today TV has said, “We have ignored the grand bargain under which Kashmir acceded to India. I think we broke faith, we broke promises and therefore we have paid a heavy price……We look at Kashmir as an issue of land, but it's a problem of people instead. Let the people of Kashmir frame their laws within the ambit of the Constitution. We have to assure that we will respect identity, history, culture, religion.”
In effect, what Chidambaram is suggesting that Kashmiris should have complete autonomy in every respect except in the areas of defence, foreign affairs and communications. However, it is not clear whether these are Chidambaram’s personal views or that of the Congress party as a whole. As a party, the Congress has openly backed the relatively minor points made by Chidambaram that there must be a visit of an all-party delegation to the valley, that there should be no use of the pellet guns against the violent protestors and that Armed Forces Special Act (AFSA) should be selectively withdrawn.
Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, who has emerged as the vocal critic of the government’s handling of the Kashmir issue of late and recently led a delegation of Opposition parties in the state and met President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also talks of a “political solution”, that among others, includes talks with “all the stakeholders”, including the separatist groups like the Hurriyat. Omar does not believe that pro-people administrative measures and economic development will solve the problem in the state. “The tried and tested formulations of dealing with the issue in Kashmir administratively rather than politically have further exacerbated the situation and created an unprecedented sense of disaffection and disenchantment, especially among the youth. We are of the firm opinion that the central government should waste no further time in initiating a credible and meaningful political dialogue with all stakeholders to address the unrest in the state," he argues.
Political dialogue for what that will end the impasse? Will it be for “azadi from India”? Will it be for a referendum to determine the will of the people that the separatists are demanding in the name of self-determination? Omar Abdullah does not provide any clue to these questions, particularly after rejecting the need for economic development and people-oriented good governance.
In the absence of this clarity, what one can argue is that the likes of Omar Abdullah love to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. He is comfortable with Chidambaram’s thesis of the complete autonomy, sans defence, foreign affairs and communications. But, at the same time he wants talks with those who say that they have nothing to do with the Indian constitution but everything for seceding from India to join Pakistan (the so-called third option of remaining independent of both India and Pakistan is no longer the talking point even among the so-called moderate Hurriyat leaders; devout Sunni Muslims that they are, they do not believe in the religious co-existence as propagated through Sufism or the Kashmiriyat. They all now want to join “Muslims”-led Pakistan).
It may be noted that, when in 2010, Omar was the Chief Minister and Chadambaram the Union Home Minister, Kashmir had a similar months-long agitation by the stone throwers that had taken away more than 120 lives, the figure was much higher than what has been the case so far. Following this agitation, the central government had appointed three “eminent individuals” as interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir. Journalist Dilip Padgaonkar was the chairman and the two members were academicians Radha Kumar and MM Ansari. The interlocutors toured 22 districts of Jammu and Kashmir, interacted with 700 delegates and addressed three public meetings. On the basis of their experience, they had prepared a report, which, in essence, recommended a Constitution Committee to examine retention or otherwise of central laws extended to the State since 1953.
The interlocutors were of the opinion that after this examination was completed, Clauses 1 and 3 of Article 371 of the Constitution be deleted so that in future no central law can be extended to Jammu and Kashmir. They also recommended that Article 370 should no longer be “temporary” and be changed to “Special”, thus making it permanent. The report of the interlocutors proved to be very controversial because it also suggested the legitimisation of the areas under Pakistan’s occupation. Significantly, the three interlocutors were boycotted by the separatists of all hue, who at the moment are at the forefront in engaging the youth to fight against the security forces. And equally significantly, neither Chidambaram, who is now talking of the implementation of the recommendation of the three interlocutors nor Omar, who headed the state government till 2014, bothered to implement the report of the Padgaonkar-led committee.
The point that one is making that restoration of the pre-1953 status is easier said than done. As it is, thanks to the Article 370, Jammu and Kashmir has a separate constitution of its own. The sum and substance of this Article is that with regard to Jammu and Kashmir, the Union parliament cannot make any laws in the central and concurrent lists. Apart from in the areas of defence, foreign affairs and communications. Laws passed by it will be applicable to the State only if the State government concurs with them. Thus there are many significant central laws that are not applicable in Jammu and Kashmir. These include the anti-defection laws (in the state ligilslator can be unseated by the party-President, not the Assembly Speaker), equal rights of sons and daughters in the matters of property and citizenships etc. Article 360 that empowers the President to impose financial emergency in the country does not extend to Jammu and Kashmir. The only significant central laws that have been extended after 1953 to cover Jammu and Kashmir are Article 356 (imposition of the central rule, called Governor’s rule in the state) and the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Now, if one goes by the likes of Chiudambaram, Omar Abdullah and Dileep Padgaonkar, all these central powers, acquitted after 1953, need to be withdrawn from Jammu and Kashmir for a political solution of the ongoing impasse. But can any central government afford to do that? Let us see the consequences. Suppose, for the sake of “defence”, the Army needs base there in the state but the state government refuses to give the required land, as it knows pretty well that in the absence of the Article 356, it cannot be dismissed by the Governor.
Similarly, in the absence of the writs of the Supreme Court and Election Commission, imagine what will happen when it is well established that the Kashmir valley dominates in resources, powers and representations over Jammu and Ladakh? People of Jammu and Ladakh have legitimate grievances when they point out that over the years the power-structure in the state has permanently tilted in favour of the valley-elites. For instance, Jammu is 70 percent larger in are than Kashmir and has 45 percent of the state’s population. But Jammu has only 32 seats in the state Assembly, while Kashmir has 42. In fact, if one adds the areas of Jammu and Ladakh together, and here the people have no quarrels with Delhi-establishment, and leave the Shias living in the Kashmir valley, the valley-based agitators turn out to be the least-representatives of the people of the state as a whole.
Likewise, given the quantum of the central funds that goes to Jammu and Kashmir every year, imagine what will happen to the concept of accountability and probity if the CAG has no job in the state. According to a recent analysis by the Hindu newspaper, Jammu and Kashmir has received 10 per cent of all Central grants given to states over the 2000-2016 period, despite having only one per cent of the country’s population. In contrast, Uttar Pradesh makes up about 13 percent of the country’s population but received only 8.2 percent of Central grants in 2000-16. “That means Jammu and Kashmir, with a population of 12.55 million according to the 2011 Census, received Rs 91,300 per person over the last sixteen years while Uttar Pradesh only received Rs 4,300 per person over the same period,” said the paper, adding, “ Even among the special category states, Jammu and Kashmir receives a disproportionate amount of Central assistance. The state received Rs 1.14 lakh crore in grants over the sixteen years under review, according to the Union Finance Ministry’s data, which is more than a quarter of the Central funds disbursed to the 11 special category states in that period.” Broadly speaking, nearly 75 percent Jammu and Kashmir’s revenue comes by way of the transfers from the central government in some form or the other year after year. But the valley-based elites will not like a single question from Delhi as to how the money is being spent.
And that brings me to the final point of talking to the “separatists” as stakeholders in the state. As pointed out, they all now want to join Pakistan under the veneer of self-determination or plebiscite. Let me quote an article that appeared in The Economist which wrote as far back as 1 November, 1947, “Would he (the UN Plebiscite Administrator) be able to prevent communal massacres and fresh fighting after a plebiscite – for whichever side wins will tend to take drastic action to settle account with losers?” All told, as Sir Owen Dixon, who wrote a report on Kashmir for the UN, observed, “Jammu and Kashmir is not really a unit geographically, demographically or economically. It is an agglomeration of territories brought under the political power of one Maharaja.” Let me quote yet another UN official Josef Korbel, who has authored a book titled Danger in Kashmir. Based on “discouraging experiences in Europe and elsewhere, he was of the opinion that plebiscites did not solve a problem anywhere as these “had turned into mere instruments of propaganda, pressures and falsification”.
What we are witnessing today in the valley is the result of such propaganda and falsifications by the elites of the Valley and their myriad supporters in Delhi.