On Saturday, October 27, 2018, there was a graveyard silence outside, and everything was in mourning over spurt of killings during the autumn- fifty youth killed in a month. In this weird scenario the moment I sat on my desk to write a weekly column I spotted an old book titled ‘The Governor Sage or Saboteur’ on a shelf in my small study. The book published in 1985, by Roli Books International with its glossy white dustcover with age having turned brownish yellow in the context of contemporary politics in New Delhi may be still relevant. It is a compilation of eight papers by eminent people like Soli J Sorabjee, Govind Narian and Namboodripad on the place of governors in the Constitution of India and their role in the states.
It is not my cup of tea, to discuss and debate the points raised in the book about the ‘ambiguity in gubernatorial powers and functions of the governors in various Indian states that have raised disputes in the past. The book carries some case-studies about how governor’s office has become a device to curb the constitutionally prescribed autonomy of the states in Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, and Jammu, and Kashmir. Despite, these studies the debate about abolishing and not abolishing of the institution of the governor or restricting it to ceremonial functions as argued in the book is not a concern of this column. In the context of the statements by the newly appointed governor and tweets by former home minister P. Chidambaram, it was the title of the book that inspired this column.
For past fifty-two years, since New Delhi started appointing its governors in Jammu and Kashmir, at no point of time has a governor, or the institution of the governor found a mention in the popular Kashmir discourse. And it has not been part of the popular narrative. Equally, the governors are not consulted, when there are bilateral talks between and Islamabad and New Delhi on Kashmir. Their consent is not taken for starting track two dialogue on Kashmir, at least there is no evidence to that effect. They are rarely kept in the loop when non-papers are exchanged for giving final shape to solutions like four-point formula. But there is a history on occasion taking some “leaders” across the divide were on board. The institution of the governor is not seen as an entity with an independent political mandate but an extension of New Delhi in the state. Even, for that matter, the Sadre-e-Riyast, (1952- 1964) who was not nominated by President of India but “elected representative of the people” in the international or popular discourse about the future of Kashmir was not reckoned of any significance. He found a mention in international media only when at the behest of Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru he deposed and caged Prime Minister, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and appointed his lieutenant in his place. Most of the governors appointed by New Delhi in the state recognizing these facts have chosen not to make any significant statements about the political status of the state that could whip up controversies with the potential of complicating the situation further. Mostly, these governors have worked as facilitators for New Delhi to open a dialogue with the leaders of the state.
The present governor who has been in office for past two months during past couple of days made statements that caused reaction across the political divide in the state:
On Wednesday, Mr. Malik, referring to the NC and the PDP, said, “These [political parties] have no right to talk about India-Pakistan peace talks. It is between governments of the two nations, as being neighbors makes it obvious that talks will happen for sure. But political parties bringing up the issue of Pakistan into dialogue process was neither acceptable to us then, nor will it be now.”
On Thursday he said: I’ve been meeting people from all shades of opinion. I meet everyone. As far as Hurriyat (conference) is concerned they without asking Pakistan don’t go even to the toilet. There will be no talks with them till they keep Pakistan out of it,”
Former Home Minister, P. Chidambaram reacting to Governor’s statement in his tweets said:
“J&K Governor says political parties have no right to talk about India-Pakistan talks. He is probably a votary of ‘partyless democracy’ or ‘no democracy’ at all.”
In a sarcastic comment, Chidambaram said, “We were told that the last governor was Lord Mountbatten. Wrong. Appointed Governors and Lieutenant Governors are the new Viceroys”.
Chidambaram has a point, but there seems some logic in the statement of the governor also about the National Conference and the PDP. Furthermore, it is in synchronization with the popular discourse that has been questioning these parties’ claim to be stakeholders in Kashmir problem for endorsing “finality of accession.” India strengthened its complaint dated 1 January 1948 against Pakistan in the UNSC on the basis an appeal it had received from the National Conference for sending troops to the state and it supporting the accession of the State with India. Thus, vesting its authority with GOI, and forfeiting the right to be a stakeholder in the resolution of the dispute. So far it has not changed its stand on the finality of accession, same holds true about the other party. Nevertheless, that does not means these parties have surrendered the right of asking New Delhi to work for lasting peace in the region.
The case of the resistance organizations including the JRL demanding the resolution of the Kashmir problem according to the UNSC resolution and pledges made out by the Indian leadership is different in as much since 1993; New Delhi has been directly and indirectly engaging with them at various levels. Moreover, in the nineties, the Hurriyat leaders were meeting Pakistan leaders in New Delhi. Apparently, this was within the knowledge of the GOI. The top leadership of both the NDA and UPA government had meetings with a group of Hurriyat leadership and other resistance leaders. L.K. Advani had found Hurriyat leaders “genuine,” and he admits that GOI had dropped them hints that talks with them would be outside the Constitution. Advani also tells us had not NDA lost elections there would have been talks on “substantive issues”- what could be the substantive issue other the final settlement. So holds about the UPA government, when talks on the four-point formula were at a high pitch the Hurriyat was not only kept in the loop, but travel of a good contingent of resistance leaders and opinion writers to Pakistan for talks with Pakistan leadership was facilitated.
The way forward lies in recognizing in harsh realities about Kashmir.