Divergent stands

Published : Aug 19, 2000 00:00 IST

The responses to the developments on the Kashmir front indicate a lack of coordination within the government and among the Opposition parties.


THE recent developments on the Kashmir front clearly pointed to the absence of a cohesive approach both within the parties of government and among the parties of the Opposition. The confusion within the government over whom to blame for the massacre of A marnath pilgrims in Pahalgam was galling. The Congress(I)'s high-decibel tactics in Parliament in this respect were viewed by the Left parties and the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) as irresponsible.

Parliamentary business suffered for almost a week as a result of pandemonium, first over the Hizbul's ceasefire offer, and then over the August 1 killings. The manner in which the government conducted the peace process also came into question, although a ll parties including the Congress(I) supported the initiative. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and the S.P. were firm in their support to the peace moves. However, they called for greater transparency with regard to t he Kashmir initiative.

Noticeably, the NDA government, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is its main constituent, and the various Sangh Parivar outfits, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), spoke in different voices. The divergence were evident with Prime Minister A.B. Vaj payee's shifting stance on the parameters of the peace talks, Defence Minister George Fernandes' not-so-veiled accusation about the inefficiency of the Home Ministry in providing security to the pilgrims, and the VHP's open criticism of the Home Ministry . Initially Vajpayee maintained that the talks would be held only within the framework of the Indian Constitution. He later argued that carrying on the dialogue was more important, even if certain issues outside the constitutional framework cropped up du ring the parleys. Responding to members' queries in the Rajya Sabha, he said: "If certain issues arise outside that framework, as has been happening in the case of Nagaland, would we stop talking?... No conditions have been attached to the talks."

Vajpayee also said that the government's approach was essentially humanitarian. He sought to dispel alarm over the "humanitarian approach" and asserted that the government was "prepared to push forward the initiative". "If the other side does not accept it, then we would consider the next step," he added.

The divergent versions given by the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and the Home Minister on the massacre of Amarnath pilgrims once again underlined the lack of coordination within the government and the NDA. Vajpayee held Pakistan responsible for t he attack, pointing out that every time India tried to begin a peace process Pakistan responded with a fresh terrorist offensive. The intelligence agencies had warned about fresh attacks in the context of the peace talks, but the security establishment h ad not expected an attack on pilgrims, he said.

Fernandes admitted to the media that there was indeed a "security lapse". In the Rajya Sabha, Home Minister L.K. Advani was forced to own up his Ministry's responsibility for the security lapses. He promised that the lapses "will be plugged". The absence of Advani in the all-party delegation led by the Prime Minister which visited Pahalgam on August 3 also served to highlight the discord.

The Sangh Parivar added its bit to the prevailing confusion. VHP president Vishnu Hari Dalmiya wrote a a letter to Advani demanding that his Ministry review and strengthen the security arrangements for Amarnath pilgrims.

As the events unfolded, the Congress(I) made desperate attempts to make political capital out of them. The commotion in Parliament was almost single-handedly contributed by the Congress(I). Relentlessly demanding a judicial probe into the massacre, the p arty's MPs virtually stalled the proceedings from August 7, the day Parliament met for the first time after the killings. The furore acquired greater intensity after a report in The Hindustan Times suggested that some of the Amarnath pilgrims were killed by bullets fired by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. The Congress(I)'s contention was that the killings were avoidable. Its repeated demand for a judicial probe forced the adjournment of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

The Left parties and the S.P. said that the Congress(I)'s demand would serve no purpose. They agreed with the government that the institution of a judicial probe would demoralise the security forces, who are fighting a proxy war with Pakistan. These part ies sought a full-fledged discussion on the killings and the fixing of responsibility.

Ultimately, it was lack of support from other Opposition parties and the pressure it brought on itself that forced the Congress(I) to climb down. Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, the party's chief whip in the Lok Sabha, moved a motion on August 9 seeking a discu ssion on the party's demand for the appointment of an inquiry commission. With the virtual collapse of the peace talks with the Hizbul, the debate in Parliament on August 17 could mark the unravelling of the government's new plans on the Kashmir front.

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