Saturday, September 17, 2011

Will, not bill, needed for Kashmir

Nizam-ud-Din Bhat’s statement is ill-timed, ill-conceived and amounts to no more than empty rhetoric


The recent bill proposed by the People’s Democratic Party legislator, Nizam-ud-Din Bhat, seeking the deletion of Article 3 of the J&K constitution which links the state with the Indian Union is ill-timed, ill-conceived and amounts to no more than empty rhetoric, to say the least. While the PDP has distanced itself from its legislator’s attention-seeking behaviour, one wonders how a responsible political Party’s legislator is allowed by the party leadership to engage in such irresponsible politics. Either the Party has lost its grip among its second-rung leaders or it is trying to test waters in Srinagar, and by extension in New Delhi, to see how proposals such as these will be responded to. PDP’s self-rule document is a visionary proposal for conflict resolution in J&K but ill-conceived proposals from the likes of Bhat will only erode the credibility of such a well though-out official proposal.

National Conference (NC) leader and state Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, argued in the state assembly in October 2010 that the state did not merge with the Indian Union but has only acceded to the country. Since it has acceded and not merged with India, there are certain special provisions, as enshrined in the Article 370 of the Indian constitution that the J&K state enjoys today. Unlike Nizam-ud-Din Bhat’s misguided argument, Omar’s argument is sound, logical and accurate. Omar’s argument focusing on accession as opposed to merger is even more significant in today’s context when there seems to be an effort to find a political solution to the Kashmir conflict, rather than a military one. Unlike in the case of the erstwhile Princely states, the state of Jammu and Kashmir never gave up their special status at the time of acceding to India. More so, it is important to remember as well-known Kashmir expert Balraj Puri wrote in his book Kashmir: Insurgency and After “The special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir was not granted by the Government of India, but was sanctioned by the relevant provisions of the Government of India Act of 1935, the India Independence Act of 1947, the India (Provisional Constitution) Order of 1947 and the Instrument of Accession.” The point is that J&K is different from other Indian states wherein it is legally empowered to retain a level of distance from the Indian Union.

That said, I find arguments by both Abdullah and Bhat to be nothing but empty rhetoric bereft of political will or a sense of direction, though for different reasons. While Bhat’s argument is illogical, Omar’s argument suffers from a sense of purpose and clarity of vision. Why does the Chief Minister of J&K, who is a coalition partner in the Union government in New Delhi and with the influence he wields in Delhi, especially with the Gandhi family, choose to limit his vision regarding a political solution in Kashmir to his speeches alone? Why can’t the Chief Minister prevail over New Delhi to do for Kashmir what he and his party think should be done? Why wouldn’t he make it a prestige issue for himself and his party? Why can’t the NC and Abdullah insist New Delhi to deliver on what they think should be done for Kashmir? And more so, if New Delhi doesn’t agree to his proposals, why wouldn’t he show the courage and conviction to walk out of the coalition arrangement? Don’t the NC and its leader understand the virtues of coalition politics which enable every coalition partner to wield considerable amount of influence on the federal government especially in matters concerning the state that the coalition partner represents? PDP and its visionary leader, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, not only understood the bargaining power of coalition politics but also had managed to elicit certain benefits from New Delhi in the form of crucial intra-Kashmir CBMs.

In politics, talk is cheap, and actions are rare! The dissident leaders in Kashmir have always talked about the various contours of a political solution for the Kashmir conflict; but they have never delivered anything. They do not have the ability to do what the mainstream parties can do in terms of engaging in concrete political action. But the least they can do is to get their act together in terms of generating a popular debate about what is achievable (a la what Sajad Lone has talked about), what their long term and short term goals are, and identify a common strategy to achieve their goal in a realistic manner within the ambit of the prevailing political and geo-strategic conditions. Instead, all they are able to do is to revel in empty rhetoric.

Political leadership in New Delhi also engages in this empty rhetoric from time to time. Narasimha Rao famously talked about sky being the limit when it comes to conflict resolution in Kashmir, A. B. Vajpayee talked about addressing the conflict in Kashmir within the framework of humanity and Manmohan Singh talked about making borders in Kashmir irrelevant. And yet, Kashmir conflict continuous to exist and no political solution has been found. In the meantime we keep hearing about more and more unmarked graves in Kashmir when thousands of Kashmiris are buried, unsung and unidentified.

The Kashmir ‘hands’ in Sringar and New Delhi, including Srinagar’s mainstream and dissident political parties, are now gearing up for another round of Kashmir talk which will begin with the submission of the final report of the Centre’s interlocutors on Kashmir. While we do not yet know the contents of the report, not many people are convinced that the report will generate anymore than neatly choreographed talk-shows and smartly-written newspaper columns in New Delhi and Srinagar.

(Source: 19 September 2011. Greater Kashmir. URL: )

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