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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 1, December 25, 2010 (Annual 2010)

Central Interlocutors and Task Forces against the Ground Realities in J&K

Friday 31 December 2010, by Balraj Puri

The Government of India appointed three interlocutors to “start dialogue with all groups in Kashmir” and appointed two Task Forces—one for Jammu and the other for Ladakh—“to examine their development needs with particular reference to deficiencies in infrastructure and make suitable recommendations”.

Whatever may be merit of the interlocutors—Dileep Padgoankar, M.M. Ansari and Radha Kumar—their appointment was widely criticised for being light weight and the non-inclusion of a heavyweight political leader among them. But more important than the composition of the interlocutors is to define their task. As far as dialogue with the separatists is concerned, all of them outrightly rejected it asserting that it was a futile exercise though the interlocutors stressed their key role in resolving the Kashmir issue.

When senior political leaders of India, as part of the all-party delegation, had visited Kashmir and called on the separatist leaders, it was a gesture of goodwill. But even they could not offer any solution of the Kashmir problem beyond the limits of the Indian Constitution. What more could the interlocutors offer to the separatists?

As far as the mainstream parties are concerned, their views are well known and were reiterated at the All-Party Conference held in New Delhi. Their representatives had also participated in five Round Table Conferences convened by the Prime Minister.

Positive Side of the Visit of Interlocutors

ON the positive side, the Central team met some youth leaders in jail as per the advice of the Prime Minister and Mrs Sonia Gandhi. I had been campaigning for recognition of the fact that the current movement in Kashmir was started by teenagers and their leaders should be contacted to know the causes of their discontent and disillusionment. I had briefed the Prime Minister and Congress President about my views. Had some initiative been taken in June when the movement started, it would not have assumed the present dimension. But it is not known whether the Central team could identify the leaders of the youth and what it was able to get from them.

The visit of the team to the house of Shakeel, the husband and brother of the two young women who were raped and murdered in Shopian, was also a positive gesture. So was the visit to the office of Parveena Ahngar, the President of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons.

During their first visit to the State, two members of the team—Padgaonkar and Radha—visited Jammu for a day. The Jammu-based parties like the BJP and Panthers’ Party boycotted them for their “pro-Kashmir and “anti-national” statements in Kashmir. But a number of groups of refugees of 1947, 1965 and 1971, Gujjars, Paharis and Muslims could not get appointment with them for lack of time. There was some protest in Ladakh as they did not visit the region.

Second Visit

IN their second visit two members—M.M. Ansari and Radha—came. They visited Ladakh and Kashmir but not Jammu. In Buddhist-majority Leh district, the demand for separation from the State and for Union Territory status was raised. But delegation from the other district, which is Muslim-majority, opposed it. They, however, complained of discrimination against the region and their district.

In the Kashmir region, the two interlocutors are not reported to have made any new contact. One of them, however, urged the State Govern-ment to release political prisoners on the occasion of Eid. The government, on the other hand, arrested more persons and put senior separatist leaders under house arrest. In any case, the interlocutors had no authority to order or advise the State Government to take this step, however right it might have been. In their third visit, starting from December 17, the interlocutors will visit only the Jammu region and its districts other than Jammu.

The lesson that the interlocutors must have learnt in their work so far is to listen to all views and avoid expressing their own. Secondly, they must have learnt by now the fact that regional tensions constitute the foremost problem of the State. Any dialogue on resolving the Kashmir issue would be facilitated if regional harmony is restored.

Visit of Task Forces

AS far as the Task Forces are concerned, their composition cannot be faulted. For each is headed by a member of the Planning Commission and includes many well-known academicians. Nor were they supposed to be heavyweight politicians. They are required to examine the development needs of Jammu and Ladakh to redress their regional grievances. Firstly, it would have been better if the State Government had appointed them as the issue is, after all, a State subject as was done in the case of the Gajandragadkar Commission and Sikri Commission, both appointed by the State Government to look into regional grievances. Secondly, their grievance is against the alleged discrimination in the development and employment policies of the State Government and not development as such. A comparison with Kashmir would have been possible for this purpose if that region had also been included in the proposed study of the development needs of the other two regions. Otherwise Kashmir would have a reason to feel neglected.

Moreover, development is no substitute for political aspirations including a share in political power. Since for the last 63 years the Chief Minister has always belonged to Kashmir except for two-and-a-half years when this post was occupied by Ghulam Nabi Azad of Jammu, the other two regions perceive that Kashmir has dominated them. Recently a Jammu Congress leader demanded that the chief ministership should rotate between the two regions. Another Congress Minister demanded a separate Jammu State and a Union Territory status for Ladakh as a way out of what he described as discrimi-nation against these regions.

Ladakh has an additional grievance—that it is not recognised as a region in the Constitution of the State and unlike Jammu and Kashmir. It is administered by the Srinagar-based adminis-tration from which it remains cut off for more than half-a-year. Thus the Task Force for Jammu includes its Divisional Commissioner whereas that for Ladakh includes the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir. The frustration of the people of Ladakh has led to the demand for the Union Territory status, which is mainly raised by the Buddhists of Leh. Though the Muslims of Kargil are opposed to this demand, they equally complain of discrimination. As Ladakh lacks a common regional identity and it has been divided into two districts of Buddhist-majority Leh and Muslim-majority Kargil, the common regional and ethnic identity has been replaced by religious identities giving rise to communal tensions.

No Alternative to Regional Autonomy

NO fresh exercise is, in fact, needed to satisfy the regional aspirations. As far back as in 1952, the Delhi Agreement between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah provided for autonomy of the State within India and, at my suggestion, autonomy for regions within the State. Whatever the BJP might say today, the founder President of its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, Dr Shyama Prasad Mukerjee, after a protonged correspondence with Nehru had, in his letter dated February 17, 1952, agreed to support that Agreement. The Jammu-affiliate of the Jana Sangh, the Praja Parishad, which had started the agitation for full integration of the State, withdrew it after Nehru’s assurance of regional autonomy.

Again, when the Sheikh was leading the Plebiscite Front, the J&K State People’s Conference, attended by all the separatist groups of Kashmir, including the present Mirwaiz’s father Farooq, the pro-Pakistan People’s Conference and Jamaat-e-Islami, unanimously approved my draft for an internal Constitution of the State—whatever be its final status. It provided for regional autonomy and devolution of power to districts, blocks and panchayats.

Regional autonomy was also an unwritten part of the Indira-Abdullah Agreement of 1975. Sheikh Abdullah at a conference of representatives of Jammu and Ladakh reiterated his commitment to implement regional autonomy. This was also included in the National Conference manifesto called New Kashmir.

In my report, as head of the Regional Autonomy Committee, appointed by the State Government, submitted to the government in 1998, I had elaborated the proposal for constitutional, political, cultural and economic aspects of the concept, after consulting the best experts on them in the country. I had recommended delegation of legislative and administrative powers to the elected regional councils on some specific subjects and further devolution of power to elected bodies at district, block and panchayat levels.

I had, inter alia, suggested an eight-point objective and equitable formula for allocation of funds which included population, area, road connectivity, share in State services and admission in higher and technical education, infant mortality, female literacy in each area and its contribution to the State exchequer.

The formula or its modified form, after public discussion, can be computed to determine the share of funds at every level instead of deciding it, as at present, on political and subjective considerations. After the funds are thus allocated, the priorities of development and other sectors should be decided by the elected authorities at the State, regional and district levels.

The interlocutors and Task Forces or any other initiative by the Government of India can serve a useful purpose only if the ground realities are kept in view.

The author is the Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, Jammu.

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