First steps

Published : Sep 24, 2010 00:00 IST

A PROTEST IN curfew-bound Srinagar on August 28, literally under the shadow of guns wielded by paramilitary forces. Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq were placed under house arrest after Geelani called upon Kashmiris to march to a football ground in the city for a rally.-SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AP

A PROTEST IN curfew-bound Srinagar on August 28, literally under the shadow of guns wielded by paramilitary forces. Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq were placed under house arrest after Geelani called upon Kashmiris to march to a football ground in the city for a rally.-SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AP

The situation in Kashmir calls for immediate steps to create conditions conducive to a two-pronged dialogue process.

WHAT happens is that only the shell is there. Article 370, whether you keep it or not, has been completely emptied of its contents. Nothing has been left in it. This is not the bitter reproach of a Kashmiri. It was the proud boast of a Union Home Minister as far back as on December 4, 1964. G.L. Nanda added that Article 370 is a tunnel. It is through this tunnel that a good deal of traffic has already passed and more will. He reeled off the constitutional provisions already applied to Jammu and Kashmir and promised that more would come. The Sadar-e-Riyasat would be replaced by a Governor. Article 356, on President's Rule, would be applied. Since the new government took charge there with Mr G.M. Sadiq as the head of that government this process has been accelerated. Article 370 records a compact. A constitutional provision negotiated between the State of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union, for five months from May to October 1949, designed to preserve and protect autonomy was itself used to destroy it. The 1949 accord was violated.

But Article 370 (2) explicitly limits the power of the State government to concur in any extension of Central power to the period before Jammu and Kashmir's Constituent Assembly was convened. It makes its ratification obligatory. The Constituent Assembly met on October 31, 1951. A formal resolution moved by Mir Qasim on November 17, 1956, said this Assembly resolves that it shall stand dissolved on the 26 {+t} {+h} day of January 1957. Nanda had a ready answer to that. The Constituent Assembly is gone. Therefore, the proviso is otiose and the President has got unfettered powers to act under clause (3). He asked Members of Parliament, why abrogate it when it could be used to enhance Central power?

This is the reality of Kashmir's special status. If a matter in the State List is to be transferred to the Union List, Parliament will have to adopt a Constitution amendment by a two-thirds vote and one-half of the States have to ratify it (Article 368, Section 2). But, in relation to Kashmir the entire State List can be taken over by the Centre by a mere executive order under Article 370, provided a State government (in power notoriously through a rigged or managed election and dependent on Congress support) concurs with it. G.A. Lone, Jammu and Kashmir's Law Secretary, exposed how a Central appointee, Governor Jagmohan, by sheer manipulation got Article 249 (the residuary power of legislation) applied to the State ( Kashmir Times; April 20, 1995). On July 23, 1975, an order (CO101) under Article 370 amended the State Constitution to debar it from restoring the Sadar-e-Riyasat.

Nowhere else in the world can you find such constitutional skulduggery a Constitution amendment by an executive order. President Rajendra Prasad reminded Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as much on September 6, 1952: Nowhere else, as far as I can see, is there any provision authorising the executive governments to make amendments in the Constitution.

In July 1953, Nehru sounded Sheikh Abdullah through Maulana Azad if he would settle up on the basis that Article 370 will be made permanent. The Sheikh replied to the Maulana that he might have earlier, but in 1953 it lacked political support. Only an India-Pakistan accord could bring peace. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's pledge on August 25 to redeem the promises made will have to reckon with a sordid record of broken pledges, including the Delhi Agreement, which guaranteed a Sadar-e-Riyasat elected by Jammu and Kashmir's Assembly.

It is a measure of the prestige which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh enjoys that even those who find nothing substantial in his remarks at the all-party meeting on Kashmir, on August 10, laud his sincerity of purpose.

I recognise that the key to the problem is a political solution that addresses the alienation and emotional needs of the people. This can only be achieved through a sustained internal and external dialogue (emphasis added, throughout). This is probably the first time that a Prime Minister has acknowledged (a) the fact of alienation and (b) the linkage between an internal and external dialogue.

The people of Kashmir demand not only self-rule but also an India-Pakistan settlement that will end the uncertainty and ensure peace. An economist of repute, Manmohan Singh decided consciously to break from the past in the nation's own interest and proclaimed the resolve publicly even before taking the oath of office. On May 20, 2004, The Statesman published his interview at breakfast to Jonathan Power a few months ago. Neither the guest nor the host imagined that the host would become India's Prime Minister before long. In a tour d'horizon, Pakistan loomed large. His remarks bear quotation in extenso for they reveal a sound blend of enlightened self-interest and idealism: Then, we have to find a way to stop talking of war with Pakistan. This is stopping us realising our potential. Two nuclear-armed powers living in such close proximity is a big problem. We have an obligation to ourselves to solve this problem.

Jonathan Power reported: I pushed him on how far he himself would accept compromise with Pakistan over Kashmir. This is crucial. Manmohan Singh's reply was candid and positive. Short of secession, short of redrawing boundaries, the Indian establishment can live with anything. Meanwhile, we need soft borders then borders are not so important. A year later, he said they would become irrelevant.

What of a plebiscite? No government in India could survive that. Autonomy, we are prepared to consider. All these things are negotiable. In the negotiations in the back channel, India accepted grant of self-rule to both parts of Kashmir, demilitarisation, redundancy of the Line of Control, and a joint mechanism. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi declared, in Islamabad on July 15, that progress made in talks in the past would not be set at naught. This was widely hailed in India. In 2007 we were close to an India-Pakistan accord on Kashmir. Idealism, doubtless, motivated the Prime Minister's policy. But so did a sensible, mature appraisal of the nation's interest in settling the Kashmir dispute.

Self-rule was an integral part of the four-point formula on which India and Pakistan worked from 2004 to 2007. A totally revised Article 370, with guarantees against abuse, fits the formula like a glove (see the author's draft of Article 370 in Frontline; December 18, 2009).

However, the situation calls for immediate ameliorative steps to create conditions conducive to a two-pronged dialogue. One is reform of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA), which the Army has obstructed long to the detriment of the national interest. It is a revolting obscenity.

But even before that, it is urgently imperative that New Delhi shed its opposition even to peaceful expressions of the people's sentiments. How touchy it can be was graphically demonstrated in a circular issued by Yogesh Gupta, Joint Secretary (Coord) of the Ministry of External Affairs, dated August 25, 2006, addressed to Dr George Mathew, Director, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi. It said: Reference to your letter to seek political clearance for holding a conference on Indian Federalism at work' at Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre, Srinagar, from August 25-27, 2006. Approval for holding of this conference is given subject to the following conditions: (i) Institute of Social Sciences (ISS) will not accept any foreign funding to hold this conference; (ii) There will be no official endorsement or official funding from the Government of India (GOI) to this conference; (iii) The association of Shri N.N. Vohra with this initiative is at a personal level and has no connection with his role as the Special Representative on J&K Dialogue; (vi) Participation would be limited to those who have proven track record on issues relating to federalism the theme of the conference; (vii) Participation of those espousing violence and militancy to change the status quo should be absolutely avoided; (viii) Preferably the choice of the venue should be other than Srinagar. This issues with the approval of Prime Minister's Office (that is, M.K. Narayanan, then the National Security Adviser).

CPI(M)'s bold views

The letter was issued with the foresight and efficiency characteristic of New Delhi, for which it is famed the world over, on the very day that the conference met. Students and teachers from Kashmir University were delighted to interact with the participants. It was a huge success, as this writer can testify. We need more of such meetings and in Srinagar itself. In the same spirit, Prakast Karat, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and Mohammad Salim, central committee member, deserve praise for visiting Srinagar on August 23. One wishes they had done so much earlier. This was the first visit by a leader of a national party to the State in the nearly three months of the latest crisis. By the way, whatever happened to the national parties which, without any presence in the State, mushroomed there on the eve of the 2008 elections? Their presence was attributed to the very forces which delivered the eight Srinagar seats to Omar Abdullah to enable him to form a government.

Prakash Karat's words were as bold as they were timely: There can be no justification for the deaths. To meet the stone-throwing protesters with firing shouldn't be condoned or even thought of in a democratic country like India. He called for an amendment to the AFSPA. Given the significant decrease in militancy, the DAA [Disturbed Areas Act] should be withdrawn from Srinagar and other civilian areas. This will make the use of the AFSPA redundant in those areas.

Another point he made was about cases of children less than 18 years put in jail. These young people must not be kept in jail and there has to be a strict no-firing policy to face stone-throwing crowds. Other measures are to be resorted to in such confrontations.

Prakash Karat had no hesitation in naming the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). We're appalled and shocked at the deaths of 62 young boys and girls in the past few weeks due to firing by the Central paramilitary and police forces.

On August 20, an officer of the State police accused the CRPF of causing the death of Mudassir Ahmad, aged 18, in Sopore. We have lodged an FIR under S. 302 Ranbir Penal Code (murder) for killing the boy. There were no protests in the area and the firing was unprovoked ( The Telegraph; August 21). This was by no means the first instance of the local police lodging an FIR against the CRPF. On August 13, the State police protested to the CRPF.

Prakash Karat added: We are of the view that the dialogue with Pakistan must be resumed and should cover all issues. There should be a sustained political dialogue with all sections in Jammu and Kashmir to reach a political settlement. The process of dialogue should be open-ended and without preconditions ( The Hindu; Indian Express; and Asian Age; August 24).

If there is one thing that more than any other calls for an immediate decision it is on the right to march peacefully. On August 4, the highly respected leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani disclosed that Devender Singh Rana, political adviser to Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, had met him in the Chashma Shahi sub-jail. He came to me on July 22 at 8 p.m. without any prior appointment or my consent, and told me that they were ready to give me space for my cause but it should be peaceful. Geelani Saheb added that Rana asked whether I was against the NC-led government. I told him that it was irrelevant for me as to who would rule the state. It was the resolution of the Kashmir dispute that he sought ( The Hindu; August 5).

But, of course, the assurance was broken. Peaceful marches are disrupted. The sordid attempt to compromise Geelani failed miserably. The episode reveals the style of functioning of Omar Abdullah and his factotum. Which other Chief Minister can boast of such a genius in so high a place? All of which shows that Omar Abdullah has stumbled as he has, not because of the circumstances but because of his own inherent flaws that render him totally unfit to be Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. There is little hope for improvement while he holds that office. The Centre will not remove him because he serves as a buffer, little realising that his removal would itself be a resounding confidence-building measure (CBM).

The Centre can and must immediately and fundamentally abandon its policy in peaceful marches. In 2008, M.K. Narayanan imposed a crackdown in Kashmir on the eve of a peaceful March. Jammu protesters were handled with kid gloves. One must grasp realistically the fears that have gripped Indian leaders and inspire their outrageous conduct. The fear is that if the people are allowed to come out on the streets and the cries of azadi rent the air, what will happen to our atoot ang (integral part)?

The fear is too puerile for words. It is destructive of the very aim the leaders have in mind. Amusingly, in recent years, some of our columnists and TV anchors and analysts have begun to question what azadi means. As if they do not know. Evidently, they do not wish to know that in the Kashmiri context, it means secession from the Union, pure and simple. And in this the pro-Pakistanis and the supporters of independence are united. No one cares to think of a constructive response which will spell out azadi within the Indian Union by an accord with Pakistan which covers West Kashmir as well. The only response New Delhi can think of is suppression of the march, if need be, by killing the young, the women and the unarmed protester. What has it achieved?

Already memories are scarred. The Chief Minister on whose watch all this has happened is damaged goods; the shelf life of his father, the flamboyant Farooq Abdullah, expired long ago. Neither can deliver the people to the Union, still less the use of force.

People throw stones because their peaceful march is obstructed, because they resent the onerous presence of the forces and hate their men who harass them daily and behave rudely. Suppression only aggravates the resentment. As Massarat Alam told Muzamil Zaleel of The Indian Express (August 29): We want peaceful protests. The problem is that they (the security forces) don't let people protest. They impose curfew and restrictions. They open fire straight at people. Then it becomes difficult to control passions and people rebel by throwing stones. If the (government) allows protests I can vouch for the fact that nobody will throw stones.

As Edmund Burke said in the House of Commons on April 19, 1774: First, Sir, permit me to observe that the use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again; and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered.

My next objection is its uncertainty. Terror is not always the effect of force; and an armament is not a victory. If you do not succeed, you are without resources; for, conciliation failing, force remains; but, force failing, no further hope of reconciliation is left. Power and authority are sometimes bought by kindness; but they can never be begged as alms by an impoverished and defeated violence.

A further objection to force is, that you impair the object by your very endeavours to preserve it. The thing you fought for is not the thing which you recover; but depreciated, sunk, wasted, and consumed in the contest.

In 2010, secession of Jammu and Kashmir is not a proposition canvassed in practical politics anywhere. The alternative to the suppression of peaceful marches is to allow them while offering to hold a dialogue in earnest. There will be some uneasiness initially, but if the Centre persists in decent conduct, a serious dialogue will ensure peace and confidence.

Few things cheer Kashmiris more than the reality of serious dialogue between India and Kashmir, which is why the Manmohan Singh-Pervez Musharraf dialogue was lauded by Kashmiris across the political divide. The Prime Minister must restart this process.

Domestically, the hard-pressed Home Minister P. Chidambaram might consider appointment on the quiet of an interlocutor, with the Minister's full confidence and authority, to prepare the ground for serious talks. Governor N.N. Vohra is well suited for this, following the precedent of Punjab Governor Arjun Singh's efforts to prepare for Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's decisive intervention later.

For a healing touch

More steps will improve the atmosphere by providing a healing touch release of all prisoners against whom there are no serious charges; facilities for reunion of divided families; restoration of lands occupied by the Army and the paramilitary far beyond actual needs, including tourist spots, orchards and the university campus; freedom of movement across the LoC replacing the onerous bus travel conditions with the rahdari permit of old; promotion of cultural and academic exchanges across the LoC; replacement of the barter trade between East and West Kashmir with facilities for banking and communication, besides others as suggested by Haseeb A. Drabu, Chairman & CEO of J&K Bank.

Time was when Kashmir University was the hub of academic life and commanded respect all over the country. Nothing will raise the morale and the spirits of the Kashmiri young, within and outside the university, more than the replacement of Riyaz Punjabi, a quintessentially Establishment man with slender academic credentials, by an academic who commands the respect of his students and their teachers.

Prakash Karat said, The situation here is extremely serious. We will go back and make people of India understand the need for a political solution to the Kashmir problem.

Will he indeed keep this promise? In 1953, after the upheaval following Sheikh Abdullah's arrest, the Praja Socialist Party sent Madhu Limaye and Sadiq Ali to the State to study the situation. Their Report on Kashmir, published by the PSP, is a neglected classic which is relevant still. It would help a lot if Prakash Karat would set up a small group of academics and public figures who would visit the State and report to the nation.

As Ashok Mitra, who was Finance Minister in Jyoti Basu's Cabinet, aptly remarked, India also seems alienated from Kashmir ( The Telegraph; August 27). His censures bear quotation in extenso: Behind the faade of the constitutional apparatus rests the nitty-gritty of rude fact: the valley is an occupied territory; remove for a day India's army and security forces and it is impossible to gauge what might transpire at the next instant. Some of the stone-pelters may nurse illusions about Pakistan, some may think in terms of a sovereign, self-governing Kashmir, but they certainly do not want to be any part of India. The great Indian nation, with its load of civilisation stretching 5,000 years, is extraordinarily mum.

The media can afford to be full of narratives of sickeningly shady deals linked to the preparatory arrangements for the impending Commonwealth Games. But the debauching of civilisation in Kashmir, no matter what its underlying reason, creates no ripples. One is suddenly hit by a fearsome realisation: Indians by and large do not perhaps feel at all, this way or that, about the valley's people; in other words, the Indian nation is alienated from Kashmir.

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