Another Kashmir Study More than a study, it needs a will
‘Kashmir has been and is a laboratory for us for testing India’s idea of a State’. This I was told some twenty seven years back in an interview by a Khawaja Ahmed Abbas, a prominent Indian intellectual and a great friend of first Prime Minister Jawharlal Nehru. In mid-fifties he was engaged by Nehru as one of the interlocutors for initiating a dialogue with jailed Sheikh Abdullah. Sheikh had been deposed and was being tried in camera for conspiracy and sedition in a jail near Kud on Jammu- Srinagar higway. Nehru was prompted to send interlocutors to Sheikh after his lieutenant Mirza Muhammad Afzal Beg had launched an organization the Jammu and Kashmir Plebiscite Front. The organization very forcefully articulated the demand for allowing the people of the state their right to self determination as contained in the 1948 and 1949 resolution of the United Nations Security Council on Kashmir. The voice raised by the Plebiscite Front over the validity of the State Constituent Assembly and its right to endorse the accession of the Jammu and Kashmir with India Union had found echoes in the United Nations Security that ultimately caused to the resolution of 1957.
I was reminded of this pithy and impregnated sentence of this socialist ideologue of India when New Delhi appointed three bright minds as interlocutors for talking to not one political leader but a motley of people and politicians. Seen in right historical perspective there has not been much of a change in New Delhi’s Kashmir policy during past six decades. It continues to be a ‘laboratory for testing ideas of different parties and political leaders that are in power. The perpetuation has of this ‘dispute’ has caused immense and intense miseries to the people of the state. Every leaf of the past sixty three years of its history is soaked in blood. It has equally cost heavily to a billion and half people of the sub-continent.
In this column, I am not going to debate and discuss how non-resolution of this dispute led to military buildup in the subcontinent at the cost of development of teeming millions living in tribal and rural areas and how this dispute has contributed to the discontent in poorest of the poor in the region. And, how this dissatisfaction has been finding expression in violence in one or other form. My focus in this column is appointment of a journalist, an academic and an economist as ‘interlocutors’ for ‘holding widest consultations in the state, meet a very large number belonging to different sections of the society, especially political parties, political leaders, political groups, university teachers, students and NGOs. The group has been ‘tasked with a job to gather information from every shade of opinion and to chart a course towards finding a political solution of the problem. The statement made by P. Chidambaram that ‘there were no redlines’ panel suggest that this group is free to meet any section of the society. Many important leaders ‘espousing’ right to self-determination and Independence have gone public that they would not be meeting the team. Syed Ali Geelani has called the appointment as ‘fraud’ against people of the state and the JKLF chief has denounced it as a ‘joke’, similar views have been expressed by APHC chief and by many other political leaders. These leaders largely have their reservations about the composition of the team and are not against the principle of appointment of interlocutors or tasks assigned to them. Many of these leaders would perhaps feel comfortable with the move if the team had a weighty political leader in it and would not have pooh-poohed it.
The expectations of a section of leadership with New Delhi appointing an envoy with a ‘sound political mandate’ that could lead to the resolution were very high. These expectations were raised for their meetings with top most leadership after 2002 for a couple of years at a team when compared to the post 2008 scenario the situation in the state was normal. In New Delhi’s move of appointing a group of non-political interlocutors and asking these leaders to talk to the team along with every ‘tom, dick and harry’ they felt dwarfed. The meetings between Kashmir leaders and New Delhi leadership during both NDA and UPA governments were in fact part of the ongoing peace process and composite dialogue between India and Pakistan. The process had an agenda and the meetings of Kashmir leaders with top India and Pakistan leaders were in the context of that agenda. This process ostensibly had been encouraged by the United States as a part of its policy of meeting challenges in Afghanistan. It was more than once during the peace process that President George Bush asked the two countries to settle the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir to the aspirations of the people of the state. It will be too early to say if the leadership that has so far shown reluctance in meeting the team of interlocutors comes out of its denial mode after a politician of stature is added to it or it prefers to remain part of the boycotting call for meeting the team given by octogenarian leader Syed Ali Geelani.
It is a poser if the group could be at all called in strict sense of the word as team of interlocutors. The tasks assigned to the team suggest it is another study group appointed by New Delhi to look afresh into the factors that have been causing situations that have been recurrently obtaining in the state during past three years. The questions that perhaps need to be understood is how the task assigned to this group is different than ones assigned to earlier group like the six member team appointed in early nineties under the leadership of Prof. A. M. Kherson or one or another member of the CPR from time to time or to individual journalist and human rights activists.
The only difference I see for the study that is being taken by the team of three- a journalist, an academic and an economist is in the methodology. The earlier teams of ‘interlocutors’ in the first place were not appointed with such media hype. They would not attract much of an attention in the state also. They mostly held low key meetings with the APHC and its like minded parties outside the media gaze and reported back to New Delhi with their findings. Some of the groups as back as 1993 talked about proposals like ‘greater autonomy’, ‘porous borders and joint management’. (India Pakistan and Kashmir Tangle by Pran Chopra published by Indus). None other than the National Conference held meetings with Indian Prime Minister as back as 1994 for revisiting the arrangement with New Delhi. The individuals or teams that visited Srinagar on behalf of the central government talked only to political leaders and some militant leaders inside the jails.
The methodology adopted by the new team for the study seems closer to one adopted by Prof. Akbar S Ahmed for his two important studies to reactions of the Muslims around the world to the post 9/11 events and in the United States. These studies have now been published as books titled ‘Journey into Islam- the Crisis of Globalization’ and Journey into America- the Challenges of Islam. For these works that are now counted the best studies, the Professor and his team met Muslims from all walks of life ‘from mosques of Damascus to madrassahs of Karachi and travelled throughout United State and sat insides mosques and talked to Muslims of different races and origin. The team of interlocutors appointed by New Delhi that by training is a group of researchers can perhaps produce as good a study as that by the team of American scholars. They would perhaps come up with one of the finest studies on multiculturalism and diversity of ethnicity of the state. It can also come up with a good work on variability of political perceptions between the majority and major and miniscule minorities in the state for ending political uncertainty in the State. But, the fundamental question is does Kashmir dispute with all its historicity need yet another study for its resolution. It in fact does not need a study but a will to resolve that has been missing in the sub-continent all these years.
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