Giving Away Kashmir?
This article was first published in IDR Apr-Jun 2010 (Vol. 25.2)
For so many years we have concerned ourselves primarily with how Pakistan seeks to take away Jammu and Kashmir. We are perhaps getting too late to intensely involve ourselves with how a section of Indian State and the political class have been, over the years, crafting the giving away of Jammu and Kashmir. The unilateral submission of the report of the Working Group on Centre-State Relations by its Chairman Justice Sagir Ahmad to the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir is only a reflection on the relentless campaign to keep the ‘Muslim Question’ in India alive and transform the vision of secularism into an albatross around the neck of Indian nation, fixing its limbs into inaction, so that the Muslim Power continues to inch eastwards through successive partitions of India.
A Sinister Course Correction
The report submitted by Justice Sagir in the name of Working Group on Centre-State Relations was done without completing the agenda of the Working Group; without taking most of the members of the Working Group into confidence; without seeking the opinion of the members on the draft of the report; and last but not the least without formally winding up the proceedings of the Working Group. It seems that the entire exercise is aimed at some sort of a course correction crafted by those who have prefixed the direction and the outcome of the internal dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir. There are pertinent reasons to think so.
…a section of Indian State and the political class have been, over the years, crafting the giving away of Jammu and Kashmir.
The delay in submission of the report by Justice Sagir was certainly causing worry which found expression once in a while in the public sphere. On March 10, 2008 a prominent local daily reported National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah blaming New Delhi as not being serious towards the resolution of the Kashmir dispute and quoted him making direct and almost indicatory references about the Working Group on Centre-State Relations, “appointment of a Muslim Judge to give report on the contentious issue of centre-state relations reflects their whimsical approach… The report could have catastrophic consequences for Justice Sagir.” As per the report of Kashmir Times, Dr Farooq maintained that reluctance of Justice Sagir in convening another round of meeting of the working group reflects his understanding of “how the contents of the report could impact his career prospects.” KT further quotes Dr Farooq as having said, “…in a country where the minorities are under suspicion all the time, expecting Justice Sagir to give a report which could maintain his image of being a nationalist would be a little irrational.” In his expressions Dr Farooq referred to the population dynamics in the country, “If the centre would have been serious, Justice Sachar would have been the best choice.” He openly confessed about his resentment on the appointment of Justice Sagir at the time when the heads of the working groups were being chosen and frankly said, “I resisted his name, since I knew the repercussions of (his) heading this crucial working group on centre-state relationships…”
The statement clearly brings out that persons of the stature of Dr Farooq Abdullah had a clear cut expectation from the Working Group on Centre-State Relations and an apprehension whether the person of Justice Sagir be able to deliver the same. Dr Farooq had the full realization that the content of this expectation had a ‘catastrophic’ bearing on the secular fabric in rest of the country and hence he nurtured a lack of confidence about the wisdom of having a ‘Muslim Judge’ from outside the State as the head of the Working Group reflecting upon the relationship of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India.
It is relevant to quote what Prof Amitabh Mattoo was saying months before Justice Sagir submitted his report given the fact that he has been one of the more visible backchannel actors in the engagement between Pakistan, India, separatists and the so called moderates in Kashmir. He wrote in early October, “An important working group of the Prime Minister on J&K dealt with centre-state relations but it was unable to arrive at a breakthrough. This doesn’t mean that we have a cul-de-sac. There are many proposals on the table including those on autonomy, self rule, self governance and achievable nationhood… These internal discussions must flow into the backchannel which can then attempt to work out a non-territorial India-Pakistan settlement on J&K based on providing a similar political architecture on both sides of the Line of Control working towards converting the LoC into Line of Peace, that allows free movement of people, goods, services and ideas.”
The way Justice Sagir submitted his report has some resonance in the way National Conference submitted the Greater and Regional Autonomy reports. Like the constitution of Working Group on Centre and State Relations the Farooq government constituted the Committees on Greater Autonomy and Regional Autonomy after coming to power in 1996 giving an impression of adopting a non-partisan and inclusive process. He made Dr Karan Singh the Chairman of the Greater Autonomy Committee and made another non Muslim Balraj Puri to function as Working Chairman of the Regional Autonomy Committee. Sooner than later Dr Karan Singh resigned and Balraj Puri was forced out. The reports of the State Autonomy Committee was suddenly finalized, submitted to the government and then pushed into the State assembly for adoption.
Farooq Kathwari, arrived in India with the full knowledge of Government of India in March 1999 …carrying a series of proposals for the creation of an independent Kashmiri State. At that time both USA and Government of India underplayed his Jihadi connections.
The Regional Autonomy report of National Conference envisaged the division of the State along the same lines as Musharraf did later on. It put the division of Jammu province into Muslim and Hindu majority domains firmly on the agenda for the settlement of the Kashmir issue. Balraj Puri later wrote about the proposed breaking of the existing regions in the State: “Though re-demarcation or creation of a region or a district was not included in the terms of reference of the committee, I still sought a clarification from the chief minister who categorically ruled out consideration of any such demand… I sent my report to all members and the chief minister in all humility for favour of their kind consideration, scrutiny and comments. Despite a reminder, I did not receive any comment… I received a letter from the Chief Secretary on 21 January 1999 that my term had expired on 31 December 1998. Through another order dated 4 March 1999, the term of the Committee minus me was extended in a similar retrospective way w.e.f 31 December 1998 till 31 March… It seems an alternate 28 page report was hastily got drafted and signed by three out of six original members which was tabled in the legislative assembly when it was about to adjourn sine die on 16 April.” What made the then Chief Minister Dr Farooq to suddenly abandon the pretensions of accommodation and legitimate consultation taking everybody on board, and like Justice Sagir did recently, push through the reports having a bearing on the future of the state?
The entire peace engagement internal as well as external has a pre-fixed objective for a well entrenched lobby and every process employed by GoI is being judged on the yardstick of this objective. When PDP released its Self Rule document, not in front of the Working Group on Centre-State Relations, but in Pakistan, National Conference president Omar Abdullah openly blamed the Indian High Commission in Pakistan of having facilitated the entire process. The Foreign Ministry chose not to contradict the allegation. There are many analysts who privately believe that the Self Rule document is the creation of some section of PMO. In the recent past, we have many instances which we come across, where GoI acted almost in tandem with the Muslim leadership of Kashmir Valley, mainstream and the separatist.
During the Vajpayee regime a USA based Kashmiri secessionist leader, lobbyist and fund raiser, Farooq Kathwari, arrived in India with the full knowledge of Government of India in March 1999 ‘carrying a series of proposals for the creation of an independent Kashmiri State’. At that time both USA and Government of India underplayed his Jihadi connections. His son had died in Chechnya while fighting Russians. He met very important persons belonging to Indian intelligence service and the ruling BJP. On March 8, Kathwari had a closed door meeting with Dr Farooq Abdullah and his top cabinet colleagues on the premises of the Secretariat in Jammu. This meeting induced the urgency into the Farooq Government to come out with its reports on greater and regional autonomy in the State. During his visit Kathwari seemed ‘encouraged enough to push ahead with a new version of his blueprint for the solution of Kashmir’.
By accepting independence or quasi independence options as possible concepts for clinching a deal with Pakistan, India has virtually checkmated itself.
The blueprint – Kashmir: A Way Forward – later became commonly known as Kathwari Proposals. The National Conference reports had ’striking similarities’ with Kathwari proposals as the later had with Dixon’s proposals. Noted columnist Parveen Swami while commenting about this convergence wrote, “As significant, Abdullah’s maximalist demands for autonomy dovetail with the KSG’s (Kashmir Study Group) formulations of a quasi Sovereign State.”
It was not a coincidence that almost simultaneously the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers met in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo in March 1999 and reached an agreement envisaging ‘plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir on regional/district basis’, ‘maximum possible autonomy to Kashmir and its adjoining areas’, division of Jammu province along the Chenab River and so on. Significantly, the BJP lead NDA was in power at that time.
The Regional autonomy report of National Conference advocated dividing the State into its Muslim and non-Muslim domains exactly the same way Kathwari envisaged. Pushing Balraj Puri, the Working Chairman of the Regional Autonomy Committee, out of the decision making loop was a course correction applied to see the endorsement of the Greater Muslim Kashmir to which he probably would not have agreed.
It is highly improbable to conceive that Dr Farooq Abdullah, who was also the Chief Minister, was not adequately briefed by Government of India about the purpose and purport of Kathwari’s visit to India. Even if he was not, it is more improbable to think that Americans didn’t educate him. Kathwari’s closeness to US State Department and his presence in India with his ‘Way Forward’ proposals on Jammu and Kashmir was more than a hint for National Conference to move fast enough to finalize the reports of his government on greater and regional autonomy and push it through the state assembly where National Conference had a two-third majority.
When none other than Omar Abdullah said in the very first RTC that, “we have signed only instrument of accession and not instrument of merger,” it begged for a proper and strong response from the highest levels in the central government
To be fair to Justice Sagir, he refused to take into consideration definite signals from the interested quarters in the Government of India to fall in line and took his time. He in fact took undue time, in the view of those, who are in a haste to strike a deal with the separatists and Pakistan. In the very first meeting of the Working Group, to the clarification of a query posed by this author as to whether decisions will be taken in the Working Group by a majority vote or total consensus, Justice Sagir had assured that report of the Working Group will be finalized only if there was a total consensus. During the deliberations of the Working Group, this author, while making his expositions on the Greater Autonomy report of National Conference attracted the intense attention of the Chairman while making the following comment, “Sir, while coming to participate in this Working Group, I was acutely conscious of the fact that I have the responsibility of the very survival of my community on my shoulders, during the deliberations which have taken place here, I have come to realize that I have the responsibility of the minorities of the State on my shoulders. After listening to the expositions of NC, PDP and even Congress, I feel I have the responsibility of the minorities of the entire country on my shoulders. Sir, I am sure that you will agree with me that you also have the responsibility of the minorities of this nation on your shoulders while conducting this Working Group.”
Justice Sagir could not have submitted the report, which he eventually did, if he would have followed the due process of first completing the remaining agenda of the Working Group, then submitting the draft report for acceptance by the members, seeking a total consensus on it as he had promised and then duly winding up the proceedings of the Working Group. When he changed midway the agenda for the fourth meeting of the Working Group and incorporated the presentation of Wajahat Habibullah, he left no one in doubt about his helplessness by offering no answers when the members asked him the reasons for doing so. He looked with embarrassment towards his secretary in the Group, Sh Ajit Kumar, perhaps telling us that someone else had taken this decision. Justice Sagir could not have submitted the report if he would have listened to his conscience, which he did for sometime. He eventually neither disappointed Dr Farooq Abdullah nor that section in Government of India for whom the unfinished work of the Working Group was becoming a major hurdle. Submission of a report which at least will not come in the way of the prefixed objectives of the so called search for peace with Pakistan had perhaps become an imperative necessity.