Yet another futile exercise

In the immediate aftermath of, and in fact spurred by, the Kashmiris’ stone pelting intifada of summer 2010 the centre appointed a group of interlocutors headed by the well-known journalist Dileep Padgaonkar. The other two persons in that committee were Dr. Radha Kumar of the Department of Conflict Resolution of the Jamia Millia, and MA Ansari, a former bureaucrat. They were expected to meet and to explore the views of the cross section of the politically aware population of Kashmir and to suggest on that basis their recommendations for a satisfactory settlement of the burning issue of its future. Although there were occasional leakages in the press, but it was only on May 24 that the 121 page was published in full. I do not mean to play down the effort and ability of the interlocutors, but one has little option but to admit that seldom has any report succeeded in disappointing, if not irritating, so many in so many regions and so many political groups of this state.

While the interlocutors have repeatedly emphasized the need for dialogue with all the stakeholders in the so-called Kashmir dispute they themselves had been denied it virtually by all who matter in discussing the future of the Valley, including both the moderates and extremists among the Hurriyat, despite their long stay in the Valley and repeated requests for a dialogue. With their unquestioned sincerity they have, despite their sad experience, recommended resumption of talks with the moderates among the Hurriyat. But, what can the centre or the state do when even the moderates refuse to sit across the same table with people carrying an agenda for discussion, like those of these interlocutors?

Far from meeting the political aspirations of the Kashmiris even halfway the report has, in fact, annoyed them by suggesting the creation of separate regional councils for Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh with full powers, both administrative and financial, to address their regional aspirations. Besides, while many in the recent past had recommended total withdrawal of the AFSPA, this report has merely suggested a review of the hated laws, like this one, the Public Safety Act, and the Disturbed Area Act.

While the suggestions that an expert committee should be set up to review all central acts suspected to have eroded the provisions of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, that the governor and CM of this state be named Sadr-e-Riyasat and Wazir-e-Azam, respectively, and that a judicial commission be instituted to inquire into Kashmir’s unmarked graves and allegations of gross acts of human rights violation by the security forces are expected to act as palliatives, albeit very mild ones, these have already enraged the BJP and other chauvinist groups both within the state and across the country. They see in these token concessions nothing short of a shameful surrender of the concept that "Kashmir is ours".

With a few state assembly elections to take place within a year and the Lok Sabha election only two years away the UPA-II government at the centre, now visibly on the back-foot over multiple charges of mega scams and indecisiveness, is not likely to be bold enough to implement these recommendations. This means that, while Kashmiri psyche remains hurt over some earlier suggestions, it will in effect miss the expected healing touch.

The only recommendation that is welcome to most Kashmiris is the one favouring uninterruptible dialogue with both Pakistan and PAK for a resolution of the Kashmir problem. It will, indeed, be very difficult for New Delhi to implement this recommendation. First, Pakistan will start with the premise that she too has a say in settling the future of this state, at least of the Valley. They pure and simple jurisdicial approach of ours that the Maharaja had acceded to India-though an AICC resolution of 11 July 1947 denied the rulers the sole authority to decide on the issue of accession-is not acceptable to Islamabad, nor will they accept the endorsement of the Maharaja’s decision by Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah as the approval by the people. So, we shall have to be more accommodative of the Pak point of view. Besides, there is always the danger of a Pak-sponsored terroristic attack anywhere in India, and that-as in the case of the Mumbai mayhem of 26/11-is likely to provoke a knee-jerk reaction on our part putting a stop to all discussions.

In fact, where the interlocutors have erred is in treating the problems and aspirations of all the three regions as belonging to the same category, and in believing like our authorities that development is the cure of all discontent. People of Jammu and Ladakh-though they are aware of the financial benefits of being parts of the J&K State-resent the visible dominance of the Kashmiris in almost every walk of public life. So, they seek more autonomy and certainly more funds for further development. But these are non-issues for Kashmiris. The have every reason to detest the concept of regional autonomy which means in effect a curtailment of their collective authority. Nor is lack of development an issue with them.

With the possible exception of a few tiny specks in our north-east J&K has the lowest percentage of BPL-it was 3.5% in 2007-and it is lower in Kashmir than in Jammu or Ladakh. Every one there has a roof over his head, and the average consumption of non-vegetarian diet there is the highest in India. Already they have a fair number of colleges, universities, medical colleges, engineering colleges and good hospitals. Their demand is political. They have a grouse that the commitment made by our first prime minister, not once but thrice, that their future would be decided by them alone has not been honoured. Of course, elections have been held regularly, but-as many of them point out-they have never been allowed to give their views on the relationship of their choice with New Delhi and Islamabad. It is not true that they prefer Pakistan to India. If often they appear friendlier to Pakistan it is because of the help and hope they usually receive from across the LoC. Netaji befriended Hitler’s Germany and Tojo’s Japan not because he was attracted by their racialism, but because they were the enemies of his enemies. Kashmiris are too clever to opt for a failing state like Pakistan for whose culture or public life they have nothing but contempt for. They, like most people, want the right of self-determination, and believe with Campbell Bannerman that "Good government is no substitute of self-government". I wonder why we still suffer from an emotional blockage while discussing the Kashmiri demand for self-determination. As long as we fight shy to discuss this question with an open mind all our efforts at seeking a solution to the so-called Kashmir problem will end in futile exercise. The centre too is not in the dark about it, but was apparently keen primarily on buying time after the stone-pelting intifada of two years ago.