Saifuddin Soz launches book on Kashmir: Congress' boycott of event reflects communication lag within party

The eve of the 43rd anniversary of The Emergency wasn't an ordinary summer day in Central Delhi. A professor from Kashmir, Saifuddin Soz, who was inducted into the ministry of the then prime minister Manmohan Singh as Minister of Water Resources in 2006, launched his book Kashmir Glimpses of History and the Story of Struggle at the India International Centre. Days ahead of the launch, media reports quoted Soz as saying, "Musharraf said Kashmiris don't want to merge with Pakistan, their first choice is independence," and that azadi is what the people of Kashmir want but it is not possible.

One of the invitees to the book release was senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, but the former Union finance minister never arrived. Manmohan, who had reportedly confirmed his presence, also gave the event a starkly-conspicuous miss.

When the Musharraf comment of Soz made it to headlines, Congress rejected the contention and spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and that this was an incontrovertible and unquestionable truth. I am pained in my heart and mind, Soz said, while quoting Ghalib and asserting multiple times about his expertise on situation in Kashmir. "It is my book. I have narrated facts," said a hysterical Soz, profusely thanking former Union Minister Arun Shourie, former High Commissioner of India to the UK Kuldeep Nayar and other former Chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities Wajahat Habibullah for supporting his book.

"Congress is a very heartening idea in the realm of my mind but since this is my book, my ideas, my party should have no difficulty," said Soz, as he invited a hall full of people to leave the extremes and adopt a middle course where dialogue and discussion can take place. He described Kashmir as the laboratory of what is happening to the idea of India currently, and added that it symbolising lynchings, deep intolerance and hatred among brotherhoods.

 Saifuddin Soz launches book on Kashmir: Congress boycott of event reflects communication lag within party

(From left to right) Journalist Suhasini Haidar with former diplomat Kuldeep Nayar, author Saifuddin Soz, former Union Minister Arun Shourie and former Chairperson of the National Commission for Minorities Wajahat Habibullah. Image by: Pallavi Rebbapragada

In the book, Soz has said that there are three main stakeholders to the solution in Kashmir: the people of Jammu and Kashmir, India and Pakistan. In his view, because the Hurriyat Conference has been a representative of the fury among Kashmiris, the Union of India must initiate dialogue with its leaders. Distancing themselves from senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar over his meeting with Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the party last year year said that it never recognised those who are ‘unelectable’ and ‘unrepresentative’. And, as per the Shimla Agreement of 1972, the Kashmir issue is to be resolved bilaterally between India and Pakistan and there is no scope for a third party to intervene in this bilateral process.

According the Hurriyat special status, will elevate them to the position of representing the will of the people of the Valley, which the Indian government is wary of. It is another matter that the Hurriyat itself does not portray a monolithic thought process and has visible harsh and soft elements within it.

In the introduction of the book, Soz said that the opposition led by the Congress has given an indication that it will be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. This is easier said than done, as the requirement on ground is for a clear and cogent road map that stages the process of resolution inclusive of all interests —what that roadmap is, who will walk along and have centrality in deciding issues would need to be clearly stated and commonly understood. Otherwise, the waxing and waning of political standpoints with the pressures of present-day events will continue as hitherto.

In Chapter 31, titled The Armed Militancy and its Aftermath, Soz is critical in hindsight of the pre-poll alliance of the Congress and the National Conference in March 1987 because it didn’t go down well with the people of Kashmir. The alleged rigging was to deny the Muslim United Front (MUF) a victory in the elections. Soz estimates that MUF could have won 10 to 12 seats. The rigging resulted in rising public antipathy towards the government both in the state and at the Centre. In his book, Soz mentioned that Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah had come closer before the elections despite his advice to the latter that an alliance can be formed later and that Gandhi would have still won the way he did in June 1983 when he fought elections to the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly. Many Congress members, including Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Arun Nehru were also opposed to the accord especially because they feared that Abdullah’s victory would side-line them. These doubts were to an extent justified as Sayeed moved to the Centre as a minister in the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet.

Soz faults the Congress-National Conference alliance as being inconsistent with the will of people and what followed from the alliance was a downslide in the law and order situation that was fanned by elements from across the border eventually leading to a situation of public unrest and even insurgency. Now, the Congress' objection to the book could have more rationally rested on these observances rather than in reaction to the so called azadi remark.

Former Union Ministers Jairam Ramesh and Arun Shourie at the launch that was boycotted by majority of senior leaders of the Congress. Image by: Pallavi Rebbapragada

Former Union Ministers Jairam Ramesh and Arun Shourie at the launch that was boycotted by majority of senior leaders of the Congress. Image by: Pallavi Rebbapragada

While Soz said that workable solutions are more important than getting too involved in history at this stage, he conceded that some understanding of history is necessary. Without wasting too much time, he jumped to The Partition and placed his own version of the Patel-Nehru dynamic to it. The octogenarian narrated a story of the day when the Indian Army arrived in Srinagar (27 October, 1947), Lord Mountbatten had a conversation with Liaquat Ali Khan (the governor general of Pakistan after Mohammad Ali Jinnah) and said that 'the Iron Man has sent me to you….to take Kashmir and not talk of Hyderabad-Deccan.'

In Chapter 29 titled JK Constituent Assembly, Soz has written about the said period in India’s modern history and has quoted Ajit Bhattacharjea’s book Kashmir: The Wounded Valley, which references to another book The Great Divide: Britian-India-Pakistan by HV Hodson. "On 1 November, 1947, Lord Mountbatten left for Pakistan to begin talks between the governor general of India and the governor general of Pakistan over the issue of Kashmir. The talks lasted for three-and-a-half-years where Mountbatten offered to Jinnah that India would hold a plebiscite in the state of Jammu and Kashmir provided that Pakistan withdrew its military support for the Azad Kashmir Forces and their allies."

Soz further quoted Bhattacharjea who is ‘of the definite opinion that by this time differences between Nehru and Mountbatten had sharpened and that no amount of argument would convince Nehru on the correctness of the course of action that Mountbatten had adopted’.

Soz has chosen to rest his case only based on the observations and statements of other authors whereas the expectation from a leader of his stature would not merely be a validation of these quotes but more importantly, the gist of his own view on how these impacted the political situation as also the interplay between personages. Soz has written that Nehru was "not satisfied with the outcome of India’s complaint before the Security Council and through his personal monitoring of the proceedings at the United Nations, he came to believe that the Anglo-American block neither had understanding nor any sympathy for the cause that India was fighting."

How far this opinion deviates from the generally known and accepted Congress’ position on India’s decision to approach the United Nations has been relatively untouched. On his part, Soz has received support from historian and columnist Ramachandra Guha, who tweeted:

It is insights from accounts that enable understanding of history partially through the human experience of critical decision-making, a large party like the Congress could have taken the seeming criticism of Soz in its stride but also shown magnanimity towards one of its long-standing members by attending the event.

Updated Date: Jun 26, 2018 11:53:27 IST