It is strange that those who claim to be radicals on the Kashmir issue are found wanting when given the opportunity to propose a solution for the problems of that state. The government-appointed interlocutors, Dilip Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and MM Ansari, are said to be progressive people. However, their suggestions have turned out to be pro-status quo. In comparison, the ruling National Conference, with all its dependence on New Delhi, has been pursuing a more progressive path and has demanded the restoration of the pre-1952 status for Kashmir, when the centre exercised authority over only three subjects i.e., foreign affairs, defence and communications.
Indeed, when the princely states merged with India after the lapse of Britain’s authority, the state of Jammu and Kashmir stood apart from the other states. It agreed to join the Union of India on the condition that the state would have a special status in the country. Accordingly, Article 370 of the Indian constitution gave shape to that understanding and carved out Jammu and Kashmir into a state, which would have its own constitution, flag and several other similar privileges. Shiekh Abdullah, the popular Kashmir leader who negotiated the settlement, made it clear that his state had given New Delhi power over foreign affairs, defence and communications only.
Things took a turn for the worse when the central government began to encroach upon subjects other than the above-mentioned ones. Abdullah pointed out that it was a violation of the agreement and paid the price for his defiance. He was dismissed and detained for nearly 12 years. Though the government of India and the New Delhi-appointed successors of Sheikh Abdullah extended many other laws to Jammu and Kashmir, all these were illegal and unconstitutional. The interlocutors are wrong to suggest that a constitutional body should go over the laws extended to the state of Kashmir after the 1952 agreement to see which of them can stay. This is an unnecessary exercise because what the centre did subsequent to the 1952 agreement was unconstitutional. The interlocutors should have told New Delhi to withdraw all those laws that went beyond the above-mentioned three subjects.
It is clear that Kashmir had joined the Union on certain conditions and those conditions cannot be changed unilaterally. Since New Delhi violated them and extended certain central laws without the sanction of Jammu and Kashmir, those laws should be cancelled. The interlocutors, I am afraid, have favoured New Delhi by not pointing out how it violated the 1952 agreement and how it has been gradually edging out the state government from the territory which belongs to it.
As for the report prepared by the interlocutors, it has not shaken either New Delhi or the political parties’ belief that the status quo, with a few changes, can resolve the problem. Therefore, the report has not ruffled any feathers as it should have, but then government-appointed bodies do not dare to go beyond a certain point because that is not what is expected of them.
The interlocutors have not used terms like ‘autonomy’ or ‘self-determination’ in their report. They should have expressed their opinion on these issues. In fact, they should have expressed their opinion even on the demand for azadi because this is one slogan, which the Kashmiris always raise in some form or the other. I do not support this demand because it is neither practical nor feasible. Yet, the interlocutors have missed the main point by not discussing it.
The Hurriyat leaders, who refused to meet the interlocutors, have called the report “a farce.” Maybe, it is, but their sense of self-righteousness is not taking the state anywhere either. They seem oblivious to the ground realities. The Indian opinion, by and large, is against their approach. They have to win it over, not by sitting in the cool valley, but by covering the dusty roads of the country. If and when the changes in the constitution are made to accommodate the sentiments of the Kashmiris, they would have to be instituted by the Indian parliament, which does not even entertain the idea of autonomy, much less azadi.
Former India prime minister PV Narasimha Rao had once said that once the solution to the Kashmir problem came within the boundaries of India, then the sky will be the limit for the people of Kashmir. But back then, the Hurriyat was obsessed with its own ideas and did not accept the olive branch that was offered by Rao or later by Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 20th, 2012.