Saghir panel recommendations

JAMMU; Jan 16: Shadow boxing over the deceptive ‘recommendations’ of the Justice Saghir Ahmed-panel (of Prime Minister’s Working Group), released on December 23, betrays its carefully calculated timing: It runs parallel to the uneven course of proposed ‘dialogue’ between Kashmiri separatist leaders and the Indian government by generating an artificial clash of interest. It precedes the budget session of the state legislature during which the mainstream parties are poised to wrestle over the issue of ‘autonomy/self-rule’, clouding the issues central to the dialogue. The WG recommendations, disowned by a number of ‘anti-autonomy’ forces in the state and outside associated with the panel, are too vague to provide any markers for realising the ostensible objective of setting right the tilted balance of centre-state relationship.

Open ended terminology like ‘autonomy to the possible extent’ and that it is ‘upto the people of the state’ to finally settle the status of Article 370, exposes either the ignorance of the author of the recommendations or his careful carelessness to please someone. Its suggestion that the level of autonomy might be determined ‘in light of Kashmir Accord (of 1975) exposes utter shallowness of mind or compliance to dictation.

In Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in the troubled Valley, the Kashmir Accord is perceived as almost the last nail in autonomy’s coffin. Other things apart, the infamous resolution adopted by the National Conference-dominated state assembly in 2000, thrown into dustbin by the BJP-led NDA government in Delhi, echoed no-confidence in the Kashmir Accord in so many words. NC under Sheikh Abdullah happened to be the single largest beneficiary of the 1975 Accord whose terms and conditions had in fact curtailed the state’s autonomous jurisdiction like that in usurping its authority to alter the composition of the legislative council which is notionally a creature of the J&K Constitution. Saghir panels suggestion that autonomy to the ‘maximum extent’ be determined in light of Kashmir Accord does not leave much to imagination about the end result of his calculation-further erosion; and certainly not the recovery of usurped authority.

As the moderate separatists prepare for long-awaited ‘quiet’ dialogue with New Delhi, the Saghir panel report virtually throws a spanner in their work. The mainstream component of the state’s political spectrum has been firing unguided missile over the autonomy issue. On the one hand it is between the NC and the PDP and on the other it is between them and others (mainly from Jammu and Ladakh regions). The Congress, a major partner in power sharing arrangement with the NC has more to care for in Jammu than in Kashmir. Besides, its leadership in the state or at the centre simply cannot afford to go beyond the confines set by the Kashmir Accord. Way back in 1974-75, Indira Gandhi had got Sheikh Abdullah to swallow his pride and acknowledge that the ‘hands of the clock cannot be turned back (to 1953 constitutional position)’. From 1975 to 1982 while Sheikh remained in power he made no attempt to cross the Rubicon. Can the lesser mortals, at the helm today, afford to do otherwise? To guess the only answer to this question one does not need to stretch one’s imagination.

That being the situation, the Saghir panel’s recommendations would seem to be a smokescreen to protect ‘national interest’ while separatists engage themselves in the dialogue.

Fallacy of the Saghir recommendation on the future status of Art 370 is laughable. The recommendation leaves the fate of Art 370 in the hands of the people of J&K who have absolutely nothing to do with it. It is only the Parliament of India, which has over 800 MPs in its two Houses among whom only 10 from J&K, that is empowered to deal with the issue. It was adopted into the Constitution of India as a ‘temporary’ provision, without the people of J&K having anything to do with it. Till now it has worked only as a one-way tunnel-for importing federal laws to usurp the state’s jurisdiction and materially alter the balance of centre-state relationship. There is no reverse traffic on this route. That much was made clear to the NC in the 1990s when a cabinet committee, comprising late PL Handoo, Mohammad Shafi and Abdul Rahim Rather, pleaded with the (‘sky-is-the-limit’fame) Narasimha Rao’s Congress government to have a presidential notification or order promulgated to ‘restore’ some powers back to the state. They were plainly told that their proposition was not workable. Central laws have been transported to the state from 1950s under Presidential Orders through the Art 370 ‘tunnel’. There is not even one instance of any reciprocal traffic till today. What the Saghir recommendation means by saying it is ‘upto the people of the state’ to finally decide ‘once and for all’ the fate of Art 370 needs to be decoded for ordinary comprehension.

All said and done, the timing of the release of the ‘recommendations’ of the Working Group seems to be serving its intended purpose -of fudging the ‘dialogue’ before it even gets to start.