Kashmir's autonomy

Myths and falsehoods

Print edition : May 26, 2017

Srinagar, April 18, 2003: The rally that followed a joint statement by the U.S. and U.K. Foreign Ministers urging dialogue. It was in this rally that Vajpayee made his often-quoted statement on “insaniyaat, jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat” as the guiding principle for talks. With him is Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. Photo: Nissar Ahmad

Farooq Abdullah. Vajpayee’s government rejected the report of the Committee on the State’s Autonomy that he had set up as Chief Minister. Photo: VIJAYA BHASKAR

A.B. Vajpayee, often thought to have genuinely attempted to resolve the Kashmir impasse, hawkishly derailed dialogue and made sure that the dilution of Article 370 could not be reversed.

FROM 1951, when the Jana Sangh was set up, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was committed to abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, as was the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which he called “my soul”. Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti’s chant of “Vajapyee, Vajpayee” is understandable. As Prime Minister, Vajpayee, fed up with the antics of the National Conference’s (N.C.) Farooq Abdullah, planted the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Kashmir to be led by her father, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

That was a tactical manoeuvre. It did not weaken one bit his resolve to keep Kashmir’s autonomy, diluted by repeated abuse of Article 370, just where it was—Article 370 maintained as a mere husk, denuded of all content, and the State’s autonomy a teasing illusion. From defence, foreign affairs and communications in the years between 1947 and 1964, the Union List was extended to 94 out of its 97 topics; 26 out of the 47 in the Concurrent List and 260 Articles out of the 395 Articles of the Constitution. All by executive orders by the President.

On his return to power as Chief Minister in 1996, admittedly with the help of renegade militants for which he thanked them publicly on August 11, 1996, Farooq Abdullah set up a committee on the State’s autonomy. Its report, an able document, was unanimously endorsed by the State’s Assembly on June 26, 2000 (see Cover Story, ‘The Autonomy Demand”, Frontline, July 21, 2000). It demanded no more than that Kashmir’s autonomy be restored to what it was in 1953 before its Premier, Sheikh Abdullah, was ousted from office and imprisoned for 11 years. It was brusquely rejected by Vajpayee’s Cabinet, and its long resolution was published to put the Kashmiris in their place. It said: “The Cabinet finds the resolution passed by the State Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir endorsing the Report of the State Autonomy Committee unacceptable. The Cabinet feels that the acceptance of this resolution would set the clock back and reverse the natural process of harmonising the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with the integrity of the nation.

“Most of the recommendations contained in the report of the State Autonomy Committee seek to reverse the application of constitutional provisions to the State of Jammu and Kashmir which may not only adversely affect the interests of the people of the State but would also be tantamount to removal of some of the essential safeguards enshrined in our Constitution.…

“The Cabinet urges the people and the Government of Jammu and Kashmir to join hands in the endeavour to address the real problems facing the State to root out insurgency and cross-border terrorism and to ensure accelerated development. The Centre will continue to provide all possible assistance for attaining these objectives.

“The Cabinet, therefore, decides not to accept the resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly on the report of the State Autonomy Committee. The government is of the firm conviction that national integration and devolution of power to States must go together.” (See The Hindu, July 5, 2000, for the full text.)

On July 16, 2001, Vajpayee wrecked the Agra summit over the wording of Article 1 of the draft declaration, which was purely procedural, after Foreign Ministers Jaswant Singh and Abdul Sattar agreed on the text in their own handwriting. This writer published the document in Frontline since Vajpayee & Co. had falsely denied the accord (”The truth about Agra”, Frontline, July 29, 2005). At the end of 2001, troops were massed on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir and on the international border, to no gain.

The impasse was broken, as ever, by the United States and the United Kingdom— not by Vajpayee’s magnanimity. A Joint Statement issued on March 27, 2003, by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, following the Bush-Blair summit in Washington, D.C., prescribed the steps which India and Pakistan were to follow. Obviously, it followed extensive diplomatic efforts in New Delhi and Islamabad. The road map read: “Both sides should consider immediately implementing a ceasefire and taking other active steps to reduce tension including by moves within the SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] context. The differences between India and Pakistan can only be resolved through peaceful means and engagement. The United States and the United Kingdom stand ready to help both countries to start a process aimed at building confidence, normalising bilateral relations and resolving outstanding differences, including Kashmir.”

The statement envisaged a ceasefire and talks “within the SAARC context”. Both followed. The contrived appearance of Vajpayee’s spontaneity could not conceal the orchestration. Soon thereafter, on April 18, 2003, as Prime Minister, Vajpayee addressed a public rally in Srinagar, where he said: “The issue of home and outside issues, all need to be resolved through dialogue. The dialogue should take place on the basis of justice and in the framework [ daira] of insaniyat [humanity]” ( The Indian Express, April 19, 2003). In the Lok Sabha, Vajpayee elaborated on April 23: “I assured the people of Jammu and Kashmir that we wish to resolve all issues, both domestic and external, through talks. I stressed that the gun can solve no problem, brotherhood can. Issues can be resolved if we move forward guided by three principles of insaniyat, jamhooriyat [democracy] and Kashmiryat.”

Not a few put the spin that “insaniyat” went beyond Article 370. The text and the context of this famous talk of “insaniyat” reveal it to be mere rhetoric. Vajpayee was offering a ceasefire and talks to reinforce it. “I am willing to talk on any issue, including Jammu and Kashmir. And I hope to get a favourable response from Pakistan” ( The Indian Express, April 20, 2003). Sure enough, on April 28, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Mir Zafarulla Khan Jamali, called Vajpayee to discuss how a dialogue could begin. On November 23, Pakistan announced a ceasefire. Two days later, both sides agreed to a ceasefire along the International Border, the LoC and the Actual Ground Position Line in the Siachen area. Vajapyee duly went to Islamabad to attend the SAARC summit. A Joint Statement he issued with President Musharraf on January 6, 2004, initiated the dialogue process.

Meanwhile, on January 22 and March 27, 2004, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani met a delegation of the Hurriyat. It was a cynical charade, for successive Annual Reports of the Home Ministry during the BJP regime poured scorn on the Hurriyat. The 2003-04 Annual Report stated that “None of the factions enjoys popular support” (Ministry of Home Affairs 2004: 17) and asserted that “the State of J&K already enjoys autonomy” ( ibid.: 20). The Report for the year 2002-03 was even more strident. The BJP regime never had anything to offer to the people of Kashmir, still less to Pakistan.

Against peace process

After its loss of power in 2004, the BJP began opposing the peace process at every turn, while at the same time asking Pakistan’s representatives not to conclude a deal with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)—the BJP would offer better terms. On March 14, 2004, during the election campaign, Advani, then Deputy Prime Minister, communalised the issue: “The BJP alone can find a solution to our problems with Pakistan because Hindus will never think whatever we have done is a sellout” ( The Indian Express, March 15, 2004).

While at home the refrain of “sellout” was kept up, Pakistan was asked not to settle with the UPA government. In New Delhi on February 20, 2007, Advani advised Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri against “any haste” in the peace process Vajpayee repeated the line the next day. Sotto voce Kasuri was told, “wait till we return to power”—implying, “you will get better terms from us”. The opposition never censured the BJP regime for the zigzags in its policies: parleying with the Hizbul Mujahideen in August 2000 after its ceasefire on July 24; inviting Musharraf for a summit in July 2001, which it wrecked wantonly; launching Operation Parakrama on December 18, 2001, and calling it off on October 16, 2002, all at a cost of Rs.8,000 crore, and complying with the Colin Powell-Jack Straw road map of March 27, 2003, to attend the Islamabad summit in January 2004.

Sangh Parivar’s opportunism

On Kashmir, the Sangh Parivar has a lot to answer for. For half a century it has played with the national interest opportunistically and fecklessly. Sheikh Abdullah sharply reminded Syama Prasad Mookerjee on February 4, 1953: “This arrangement [Article 370] has not been arrived at now but as early as 1949 when you happened to be a part of the government” (Bharatiya Jan Sangh 1953: 37). He was very much privy to the Constituent Assembly’s enactment of Article 370 in October 1949.

The PDP came to power in 2002 and led the coalition with the Congress until 2005 when Ghulam Nabi Azad took over until 2008. The promised healing touch was not evident, though there was a decline in tension.

In October 2008, on the eve of the Assembly elections, the PDP published a 40-page document entitled “The Self-Rule Framework for Resolution”. It was the PDP’s boast that its “self-rule” not only went beyond the N.C.’s “autonomy” but covered links with Pakistan as well. Paragraph 132 was a virtual endorsement of the Manmohan Singh-Musharraf Four Point Formula.

The PDP lost the election. Mufti decided in 2014 that life without power was meaningless, an echo of the Abdullahs’ cry (Farooq and Omar). It put forth a manifesto entitled “An Aspirational Agenda” which solemnly and explicitly promised to “use Article 370 itself to restore the original special status of the State”. More, “the Self Rule document will be the guiding framework…closer ties across the Line of Control; complete connectivity.” On self-rule, it promised to “restore powers of the State Assembly”.

Within days, Mufti deployed Haseeb A. Drabu to negotiate a deal with the BJP’s general secretary, Ram Madhav, of the RSS. Mufti had decided to join hands with the BJP rather than the Congress, even during the election campaign and before the results were out. Now Drabu drew up the “Agenda of the Alliance” in March 2015, which Madhav could accept.

It was a total reversal of the manifesto. Rather than restore Article 370, it sanctified the status quo. “While recognising the different positions and appreciating the perceptions the BJP and the PDP have on the constitutional status of J&K, considering the political and legislative realities, the present position will be maintained on all the constitutional provisions pertaining to J&K, including the special status in the Constitution of India.” The last sentence is deceptive.

The much vaunted pledge of dialogue with all is also deceptively worded. “The earlier NDA government led by Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee had initiated a dialogue process with all political groups, including the Hurriyat Conference, in the spirit of ‘Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat aur Jamhooriyat’.

“Following the same principles, the coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections. This dialogue will seek to build a broad-based consensus on resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K.” The Hurriyat figured in paragraph 1 on history; it was replaced by “all internal stakeholders” in the concrete pledge in paragraph 2.

All three documents were drafted by one and the same man, Haseeb A. Drabu— Self-Rule (2008); Aspirational Agenda (2014) and the Agenda of the Alliance—in his quaint idiom. A Minister from the PDP, Altaf Bukhari, said on May 1 that the PDP faced “public rage” as the election promises were not kept. That is only partly true. Basically, the people voted in droves to keep the BJP out of the Valley, helping the PDP in the process. The PDP treacherously allied itself with the BJP, flouting the mandate. Now its Chief Minister and Ministers are repeatedly snubbed by the Centre on pellet guns, the AFSPA and everything else.

The Modi government has flatly ruled out talks with Kashmiris and is indifferent to human rights violations. On April 20, Ram Madhav, a rank upstart, justified the Army’s tying a man to a jeep as a human shield: “In a war and love, everything is fair.” The Modi regime is at war with the people of Kashmir. They feel cheated, helpless and desperate. Schoolgirls in uniform pelt the police and security forces with stones. Kashmir is in revolt.

Nehru’s warning

Call them “terrorists” or “Pakistanis”? Even TV anchors will not stoop to that. Twice, on New Year’s Day, 1952, and in a letter to B.C. Roy, Chief Minister of West Bengal, on July 29, 1953, Jawaharlal Nehru warned of the consequences of an RSS raj at the Centre. The warnings have come true. This is what he wrote in the letter: “Undoubtedly, a major reason for this [upheaval] has been the Praja Parishad and Jana Sangh agitation and its reaction in the Valley of Kashmir. Whatever its justification might have been in Jammu itself, the reactions in the Valley of that agitation in Jammu and various parts of India had the most harmful results. The inhabitants of Kashmir, and they are 90 per cent Muslims, saw the communal face of India and were frightened by it. Their desire for remaining with India weakened and in fact many thought that they would be suppressed in many ways if they were completely merged with India. It was difficult to face this growing feeling in the minds and hearts of many people. One cannot deal easily with imponderable sentiments.… It is clear that we cannot, in the ultimate analysis, hold Kashmir or the Valley by force of arms alone. If it is patent that the people there do not want us to remain, then we have no case left and we cannot continue for long." This is the Sangh Parivar’s contribution to the Kashmir issue.

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