Essay

Vajpayee’s ‘insaniyat’

Print edition : September 30, 2016

April 18, 2003: At the public meeting in Srinagar where Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee said that talks would be held within the ambit of “insaniyat”. With him is Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

Vajpayee’s use of the slogan was of a piece with his evasion of specifics and was not informed by any real intent of conciliation.

Shortly after the Gujarat pogrom that began on February 28, 2002, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke at the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) national executive meeting in Goa on April 12 and revealed himself in his true colours, for all time. No Prime Minister in any democracy has ever spoken publicly in disparagement of a section of his own people and of the faith to which they subscribe as Vajpayee did on that day. He defended Narendra Modi, the man responsible for the carnage that had engulfed Gujarat since February 28, and while about one lakh Muslims still lay forlorn in relief camps.

Vajpayee said: “What happened after the Godhra incident is reprehensible, but the issue is, who started it?” Not the identified individuals of Godhra but the entire Muslim community “started it” and bore responsibility for what it had suffered.

Further, the Muslim community was condemned en bloc and globally. “Wherever there are Muslims, they do not want to live with others. Instead of living peacefully, they want to preach and propagate their religion by creating fear and terror in the minds of others.” There were problems even in Indonesia and Malaysia, which had large Muslim populations. He said: “Islamic fundamentalists are spreading terror and intimidation. This is [the] opposite [of] the culture of Hinduism.” Arrest of Al Qaeda activists in Singapore inspired this remark from Vajpayee. “Wherever Muslims live in large numbers, the rulers apprehend that Islam could take an aggressive turn.”

Thirdly, “we” are different from and superior to the “later arrivals”: “We were secular even in the early days when Muslims and Christians were not here. We have allowed them to do their prayers and follow their religion.” The usual Vajpayee “clarification” followed.

As for Modi, when the election campaign began in Gujarat, he poured venom in speech after speech. He told Muslims: “You have missed the bus again and again to improve relations with Hindus and establish your secular credentials… you cannot expect one side to always condone your crimes and still maintain good relations between the two communities. One community alone cannot ensure peace and communal harmony” (Manas Dasgupta, The Hindu, November 12, 2002). This, after a pogrom over which he presided. Vajpayee did not pull him up. It was a Prime Minister’s duty to do so. Vajpayee could not. His own outlook, which he had revealed earlier on April 12, was no different.

Can anyone in his senses believe that a man with such an outlook would extend insaniyat (humanity) to the people of Kashmir, and jamhooriyat (democracy) also, besides respecting their culture— Kashmiriyat? One need not recall his past in the Jana Sangh and the BJP. His record as Prime Minister speaks for itself.

Jammu and Kashmir’s Assembly adopted a resolution on June 26, 2000, endorsing the excellently documented Report of the State Autonomy Committee, and forwarded it to the Centre. It urged restoration of the position as in 1952, before Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest on August 9, 1953. Expansion of the Centre’s powers followed thereafter.Vajpayee’s Cabinet rejected it brusquely and published the full text of its resolution on July 5. 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 tantamount to removal of some of the essential safeguards enshrined in our Constitution. … The government is of the firm conviction that national integration and devolution of powers to State must go together.” (See The Hindu, July 5, 2000, for the full text.)

An even more promising opportunity arose soon thereafter, only to be rejected. On July 24, 2000, Abdul Majid Dar, Commander-in-Chief Operations of the Hizb-ul-Mujahidden, unilaterally proclaimed a ceasefire and offered talks. New Delhi was not taken by surprise. After the coup on October 12, 1999, Pakistan’s leader General Pervez Musharraf wanted to settle the Kashmir dispute so that he could bridle the extremists, have cordial relations with India and build up his country. Vajpayee knew, as he said later, that the Hizb offer was sponsored by Pakistan.

Dar wanted a political approach with Pakistan joining the accord later. The Hizb chief, Syed Salahuddin, was on board as he told Outlook: “Let India and Pakistan start. They can involve Kashmiris later. Alternatively, Kashmiris and Delhi can start the dialogue. It does not matter. But there must be an assurance that the three will meet during the decisive phase of the dialogue” (September 18, 2000).

Evasion of specifics

On August 3, 2000, representatives of the Hizb and of the Government of India met for preliminary talks in Srinagar. The massacre of nearly a hundred persons at Pahalgam on August 2 did not affect the talks. Vajpayee flew to Srinagar the day after the carnage with an all-party delegation. He deftly evaded questions about the scope of the talks by saying that they had to be within the framework of insaniyat—not under the shadow of violence. This was the context in which he used the word. Popular applause prodded him, as we shall see, to repeat it three years later in April 2003 with the same purpose—evasion of specifics coupled with a vague hint of conciliation. But an obliging TV anchor gave the spin that insaniyat went beyond Article 370. Vajpayee was opposed to talks with Pakistan, as the Prime Minister’s Office said ( The Hindu, August 4). The Home Secretary, not a politician, led the Indian team; presented surrender terms (safe passage and all); and ensured the collapse of the ceasefire on August 8. At Agra in July 2001, Vajpayee did talk to Musharraf but ensured that those talks also failed by rejecting the draft settlement in writing agreed between Jaswant Singh and Abdul Sattar. (See the writer’s article ‘The truth about Agra”, Frontline, July 29, 2005. It has a photocopy of the agreed clause on Kashmir in their handwriting.)

There followed 9/11 when the United States turned down Jaswant Singh’s offer of bases and opted for Pakistan, to New Delhi’s chagrin. Terrorists struck at the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly building on October 1. The attack on Parliament building came on December 13. Vajpayee decided on a military solution: troops were massed along the Line of Control (LoC) and the border with Pakistan—Operation Parakram. Lt Gen. (Retd.) V.K. Sood, former Vice-Chief of Army Staff and Pravin Sawhney, editor of Force, provide in their able study Operation Parakram: The War Unfinished (SAGE, 2003) a wealth of information. It was designed to pressurise the U.S. to press Pakistan.

The U.S. did so while it suited its interests. In June it issued an advisory to its citizens to avoid travel to India. The United Kingdom did likewise. Government of India had fixed June 15, 2002, as “the date for action” (page 82). It now backed down. The National Security Advisory Board’s cover was used to withdraw the forces, at a cost of Rs.8,000 crore.

This brings us to the threshold of the second version of insaniyat after its trailer in 2000. What after the fiasco? The U.S. was after India as well as Pakistan to resume the dialogue. Since India rejected overt mediation, who would take the first steps? Not Pakistan because it was India that had aborted the Agra summit. But how could India, without losing face? To be hoist on one’s own petard is not comfortable; but the climbdown is painful.

Vajpayee is an accomplished orator and a crafty demagogue. He used the 2000 year cry of insaniyat to a make a graceful climbdown. The U.S. and the U.K., mediators since December 2001, redoubled their efforts after mid-2002 and produced a formula which was published on March 27, 2003, as a Joint Statement by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, as finalised by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Here is its full text: “The United States and the United Kingdom strongly condemn the massacre of innocent civilians in Kashmir on March 23. Nothing can justify such a vicious and cowardly act. The United States and the United Kingdom condemn all terrorism wherever it occurs and whatever its purported justification. We will continue to work with our partners to eliminate this scourge. Violence will not solve Kashmir’s problems. Pending the resolution of these problems, the LoC should be strictly respected and Pakistan should fulfil its commitments to stop infiltration across it. Pakistan should also do its utmost to discourage any acts of violence by militants in Kashmir. Both sides should consider immediately implementing a ceasefire and taking other active steps to reduce tension including by moves within the SAARC 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.” This document has been overlooked in all the chant over insaniyat.

The steps were precisely indicated: a ceasefire and its aftermath plus “moves within the SAARC context”. They knew a summit of SAARC was due in Pakistan. Note what followed. On April 18, 2003, Vajpayee landed in Srinagar and addressed a public meeting, where he said: “We are again extending hand of friendship but hands should be extended from both sides. Both sides should decide to live together.” He added: “ This was the time to change the map, we are busy in Delhi towards that and we need to work together” and then meaningfully added: “The entire world is prepared to give us advice and we listen.” Ram Madhav, then a spokesman for the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, said “we are studying it” (the speech) because Vajpayee now said that the talks would be within the ambit of insaniyat. He promised development, employment, and so on.

A former editor, who boasted of his proximity to Vajpayee, said that he looked into the eyes of the people and spontaneously made the offer. This is what the press reduces itself to. The next day, Vajpayee said that the new interlocutor, N.N. Vohra, would not be “coming empty-handed. He will be carrying with him invitation letters for all” (unlike Rajnath Singh’s tweets). Asked about the Hurriyat leader’s queries on his talks with the Nagas, he replied, as ever too clever by half: “They [Hurriyat leaders] enjoy a much higher stature. Why are they trying to steep low to step in where Nagas stand?” ( Asian Age, April 20).

In the Lok Sabha, Vajpayee amplified on April 23, 2003: “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 and Kashmiriyat.”

Spin and rhetoric

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 favourable response from Pakistan.” He knew he would. It had all been arranged ( 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. Vajpayee 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 “None of the factions enjoys popular support” (Ministry of Home Affairs 2004: 17) and asserted that “the State of J&K already enjoys autonomy” (page 20). The Report for the year 2002-03 was even more strident. Vajpayee had nothing to offer to the people of Kashmir; still less to Pakistan.

It suits Mehbooba Mufti to chant “Vajpayee, Vajpayee”. He it was who planted the People’s Democratic Party in the State since he was fed up with Farooq Abdullah’s antics.

Two interlocutors in the past—K.C. Pant in 2001 and N.N. Vohra in April 2003—failed conspicuously but worked on the quiet. Incredibly, on July 22, 2002, the egregiously illiberal Arun Jaitley was nominated as “Representative” of the Government of India for holding talks with the “nominees” of the State government and others, on the issue of devolution of powers, not autonomy (Ministry of Home Affairs; 2003: 20). Both nephews, India and Pakistan, performed on the script which their uncles had written in their joint statement on March 27, 2003. Vajpayee’s ruse was reflected in his sly reference to the Nagas.

The Director of the Nagaland Peace Centre, Dr M. Aram, recorded in his book Peace in Nagaland (1974) that the proud Indira Gandhi herself had several meetings with the underground Naga leaders. “The Prime Minister was willing to consider new constitutional arrangements to bring satisfaction to the underground leaders. It was reported that she went to the extent of suggesting that the solution could be within the Indian Union, not necessarily within the Constitution. This distinction between ‘the Constitution’ and ‘the Union’ was an interesting suggestion.” The Nagas overplayed their hand and lost the offer.

Article 2 of the Constitution of India says: “Parliament may by law admit into the Union, or establish, new States on such terms and conditions as it thinks fit.” They can be negotiated with secessionists and then given legal sanction.

Vajpayee did not stop at his tamasha in 2003. He wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opposing his efforts to resolve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, on June 15, 2005. Some insaniyat, this.

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