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Mainstream, VOL L, No 26, June 16, 2012

J&K Interlocutors Uphold Status Quo

Wednesday 20 June 2012, by Kuldip Nayar

It is strange that those who claim to be radicals on Kashmir are found wanting when put at a position to propose a solution. The government-appointed interlocutors, Dilip Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari, are said to be forward-looking persons. But their suggestions have turned out to be pro-status quo. In comparison, the ruling National Conference, despite its over-dependence on New Delhi, has been pursuing a more progressive path and demanding the pre-1952 status when the Centre exercised authority only on three subjects, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Communications.

Indeed, when the princely states merged with India after the lapse of Britain’s authority as a paramount power, the state of Jammu and Kashmir stood apart. It agreed to join the Union of India on the condition that the state would have a special status in the country. Accordingly, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution gave shape to that understanding and carved out Jammu and Kashmir into a State which would have its own Constitution, own flag and several such things. Shiekh Abdullah, the popular Kashmiri leader who negotiated the settlement, made it clear that his State had given New Delhi only three subjects: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Communications.

Things took a bad turn when the Central Government began to encroach upon the subjects which were those of the State. The Shiekh poin-ted out that it was a violation of the agreement. He paid the price for his defiance. He was dis-missed and detained for nearly 12 years at Kodaikanal in the south. Though the Government of India and the New Delhi-appointed successor to the Sheikh, extended many other laws to Jammu and Kashmir, they were illegal and un-constitutional.

The interlocutors are wrong to suggest the establishment of a constitutional body to go over the laws extended to the Kashmir State after the 1952 understanding to see which of them can stay. This is an unnecessary exercise. What the Centre subsequently did was uncons-titutional. The interlocutors should have told New Delhi straightaway to withdraw all the laws which went beyond the three subjects.
It is clear that the State had joined the Union on certain conditions and those conditions cannot be unilaterally changed. Since New Delhi violated them and extended certain Central laws without the sanction of Jammu and Kashmir, they should be cancelled. The fault is that of the Centre, not Srinagar. New Delhi should not have done so in the first instance. The interlocutors, I am afraid, have favoured New Delhi by not pointing out how it has violated the 1952 agreement and how it has been gradually edging out the State Government from the territory which belongs to it.

AS for the report, the interlocutors have not shaken either New Delhi or the political parties which have come to believe that the status quo with a few changes can settle the problem. Therefore, the report has not ruffled any feather. It should have but then the government-appointed bodies do not go beyond a point because it is not expected from them.

The interlocutors’ claim that they have not used in the report words like ‘autonomy’ or ‘self-determination’ does not mean anything. In fact, they should have expressed their opinion, even on the demand for Azadi because this is one slogan which the Kashmiris raise in some form or the other. I do not support the demand because it is neither practical nor feasible. Yet the interlocutors have missed the main point by not discussing it.

The Hurriyat leaders, who refused to meet the interlocutors, have called the report “a farce”. Maybe it is, but their sense of self-right-eousness is taking the State nowhere. They seem oblivious to the ground realities. The Indian opinion, by and large, is against their approach. They have to win it over, not by sitting in the cool Valley but by covering the dusty roads of the country.

True, the Hurriyat has a strong lobby in Pakistan. But that is the problem, not the solution. Islamabad’s participation is necessary because Kashmir is its raison d’etre. Yet if and when the changes in the Constitution are made to accommodate Kashmir’s sentiments they would have to be by the Indian Parliament, which is for a closer integration and does not entertain even the idea of autonomy, much less Azadi. The 1952 agreement may provide the via media.

The BJP Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, used the word, humanity. He was ready to go as far to solve the Kashmir problem as was “within the limits of humanity”. Even the Congress Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, had said that once the solution was within the boundaries of India, the sky was the limit. But then the Hurriyat was obsessed with its own ideas and did not pursue the olive branch offered either by Vajpayee or Narasimha Rao.

I agree with the interlocutors’ roadmap for a dialogue and they have made five suggestions: release all “stone-pelters” and political prisoners, reduce the intrusive presence of the security forces, work for the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley, and establish a judicial commission to look into the unmarked graves. But unfortu-nately, they lost the way in working out the details.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com

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