Interlocutors report on JK- An attempt to turn the clock back? : Tejaswi Surya
By Tejaswi Surya, Banhalore
“ On behalf of the People of India, (The Parliament) Firmly declares that-
(a) The State of Jammu & Kashmir has been, is and shall be an integral part of India and any attempts to separate it from the rest of the country will be resisted by all necessary means;
(b) India has the will and capacity to firmly counter all designs against its unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity; and demands that –
(c) Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression; and resolves that –
(d) all attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of India will be met resolutely.
Mr. Speaker: The Resolution is unanimously passed. February 22, 1994.”
Following increased terrorist violence and Pakistan’s attempts to highlight the Kashmir dispute, both houses of the Indian Parliament unanimously adopted this resolution emphasizing that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India, and that Pakistan must vacate parts of the State under its occupation.
Deplorably, the recent report of the government appointed interlocutors on Jammu and Kashmir runs against the very spirit of this unanimous parliamentary resolution.
The Central government appointed the J&K interlocutors group on October 13, 2010 to study the conditions in the trouble-hit valley state and propose recommendations to better the situation. Ever since their appointment the group has found itself mired in one controversy or the other – with even the Chairperson accused of attending a conference organized by exposed ISI agent, Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai. The interlocutors report was made public last week, seven months after it was submitted to the Home Ministry and curiously, two days after the Parliament was adjourned sine die, thereby avoiding immediate parliamentary accountability. A cursory reading of the report is enough to conclude that the recommendations are patently unconstitutional, blatantly illegal and shockingly anti-national. The report, if implemented, will only aid in pushing the state farther in the direction of secessionism and complete autonomy – something that the separatists have always demanded.
A glance at some of the major recommendations of the report will drive home this point.
One of the major recommendations revolves around Article 370 of the Constitution, speaking on which the interlocutors suggest –
“The State’s distinctive status guaranteed by Article 370 must be upheld. Its ‘erosion’ over the decades must be re-appraised to vest it with such powers as the State needs to promote the welfare of the people on its own terms”.
They also recommend reviewing of all Central Acts and Articles of the Constitution of India, enacted after 1952 Nehru- Sheik accord, which they claim has ‘dented Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and abridged the State government’s powers to cater to the welfare of its people’. Further, the report not only suggests the replacement of the word ‘temporary’ from the heading of Article 370 with the word ‘special, but also recommends the deletion of the 1st and 3rd clauses of Article 370, which empowers the President of India to revoke the said article by a public notification.
These recommendations not only run counter to the sovereignty and integrity of the country, but are also against the vision of our constitutional makers.
This is evident from the words of Jawarharlal Nehru, spoken during a debate on article 370 in the Loksabha on 27-11-1963 –
“Our view is that article 370, as is written in the Constitution, is a transitional, in other words a temporary provision. And it is so…. I do not regard it as permanent.
As a matter of fact, as the Home Minister has pointed out, it has been eroded, if I may use the word, and many things have been done in the last few years which have made the relationship of Kashmir with the Union of India very close. There is no doubt that Kashmir is fully integrated…”
While our constitution makers wanted the gradual ‘erosion’ of article 370, thereby ensuring complete integration of the state with the rest of the country, the interlocutors are suggesting the exact opposite – to check the ‘erosion’ and consequently ensure the distinctive nature of the state for eternity! The damage done by article 370 to Jammu and Kashmir is inexplicable – it has not only been a great impediment for the state to enjoy the benefits of India’s economic growth but has also been a major obstacle in the complete integration of the state – both administratively and psychologically, with the mainstream Indian Union.
It is evident that these recommendations, if implemented, would permanently and perpetually terminate the writ of the Government of India on the state – something that our founding fathers never envisioned.
The report is also a blatant assault on the established federal structure under our constitution. On the appointment of the Governor, the interlocutors suggest that the State Government, after consultations with Opposition parties shall submit a list of three names to the President from which the President has to choose the Governor – a recommendation that will reduce the power of the Central government over the state in a great way. The interlocutors do not stop there. They suggest amending Article 312 of the Constitution to enable the reduction of the proportion of officers from the All India Services in favour of officers from the state of J&K. As on today, in relation to other states in the country, the proportion of All India Service officers to the officers from the State of J&K stands reduced heavily. This recommendation would further reduce the already dangerously disproportionate ratio.
These recommendations, in essence, immensely reduce the control of the central government over the state which would naturally push the state further in the direction of separatism.
The other suggestions the interlocutors make is the amendment of the Public Safety Act, review of Disturbed Area Act and Armed Forces Special Powers Act and recommend rationalization of security installations through reducing their spread to a few strategic locations and creating mobile units for rapid response. In short, they are suggesting complete demilitarization in the turbulent state, which would make it more vulnerable to terrorist aggression. Moreover, this would negate all the progress that the army has accomplished in the state from decades by paying a heavy price. Contrary to the conclusions of the interlocutors that the removal of the army would enhance the confidence of the people, the presence of the army has, in fact, made people in the region feel much safer. It must also be noted that the demand for review of AFSPA is only from a few districts of the Kashmir region, which are still facing both internal and external aggression. The Army has reported recently of a new trend called ‘agitational terrorism’, which in the form of aggressive street demonstrations in the last few months have resulted in injuries to more than 1500 CRPF personnel while around 400 attacks have taken place on army vehicles. Even to this day, large caches of arms and ammunition are uncovered by the army from militant hideouts. With terrorist organizations like the Hizbul Mujahideen Kashmir, openly declaring that ‘peace in the region would not be possible until the Kasmir dispute is resolved…’ it would be foolish on our part to repeal legislations with give more teeth to our army. A purely military and strategic decision should not be left to the opportunism of a few political parties with vested interests.
It is also clear that the report has concentrated only on the Kashmir region of the state while completely neglecting the other two regions- Jammu and Ladakh. While Ladakh constitutes 69.60 % of the state’s total land area, Kashmir valley, the most turbulent and vocal one is just 11.48 % and Jammu 18.92 %. This highly Kashmir centric report completely forgets the needs and aspirations of a sizeable section of the state and therefore cannot be considered objective and all inclusive. One finds no mention of the great amount of problems the people from these regions are facing. No recommendations whatsoever, to improve the conditions of the people of these regions and to ensure their safety, security and prosperity has been made.
It is a matter of great regret that the report, besides making only a passing reference to the Kashmiri Pandits, has not dealt with this burning but deliberately sidelined issue. Even while speaking on the cultural recommendations, the group chooses not to make any reference to the return of Kashmiri Pandits. It is hard to imagine the return of the Kashmiri Pandits, at a time when fundamentalist Islamist militancy has increased in the state. Sadly, there is no road map proposed by the interlocutors to ensure the return, safety and security of the Pandits. How can a pluralist Kashmiri society exist, without the return of the Kashmiri Pandits, who are an integral and inalienable part of the Kashmiri society?
Further, it causes great dismay that the 179 page verbose report does not mention any measures on getting back the Kashmiri territory that has been illegally occupied by Pakistan. Instead, the report refers to the ‘Pak-Occupied- Kashmir’ area as ‘Pakistan-administered-Kashmir’. This, in a way, not only legitimizes the illegal occupation of Kashmir, but also greatly damages India’s long standing line of argument in all international platforms. While the Pakistan government has boldly declared its illegally occupied part of Gilgit-Baltistan as its fifth province, the interlocutors report does not even raise a semblance of a protest against it. Instead, they suggest ‘harmonization of relations’ with ‘constitutional institutions across the Line of Control’, by ‘necessitating wide-ranging constitutional changes in Pakistan –administered Jammu & Kashmir’. What in the world makes the interlocutors arrive at the conclusion that Pakistan-administered- (not occupied!) Kashmir has a ‘constitutional’ government in place, when the central state of Pakistan is itself engulfed in a deep political crisis?! On the 7th of August 1952, while speaking in the Lok Sabha, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee had asked about these illegally occupied parts of Kashmir, “Is there any possibility of our getting back this territory? We shall not get it through the efforts of the United Nations: we shall not get it through peaceful methods, by negotiating with Pakistan. That means we lose it unless we use force and the Prime Minister is unwilling to do so. Let us face facts-are we prepared to lose it?”
Today, 60 years down the line, instead of getting back lost Kashmir, we are proposing to lose even the parts of Kashmir that we have with us.
The other recommendations that raise serious doubts on the nationalistic credibility of the interlocutors are the ones on ‘Speeding up Human Rights and Rule of Law Reforms’, which according to them would be achieved by the ‘release of all remaining “stone-pelters” and political prisoners against whom there are no serious charges, withdrawal of FIRs against those of them that are first-timers or minor offenders, amnesty for militants who renounce violence and their rehabilitation, the rehabilitation of all victims of violence, reduction of the intrusive presence of security forces and constant review of the implementation of various Acts meant to counter militancy…”. They also suggest facilitation of free movement of people and trade across the LoC and also the return of Kashmiris stranded across the LoC, many of whom had crossed over for arms training but now wish to return peacefully.
“But how do you determine who is coming inside for peaceful purposes and who is not?” – “Won’t this also facilitate the entry of terrorists waiting across the border, for a ripe moment to enter Indian territories?”, “What filtering mechanism can be put in place?” – On these points, the interlocutors report remains conspicuously silent. It makes one wonder, if it is the Indian government appointed interlocutors speaking or the leaders of the Kashmiri separatist movement? These are the long standing demands of separatist and militant outfit leaders. By giving heed to these unscrupulous demands in the name of Human Rights and Rule of Law, we would only be jeopardizing the lives of thousands of other innocent Kashmiri civilians.
It would be wrong on my part if I do not commend the interlocutors for the well- meaning suggestions that they have made on the need to improve the economic conditions of the state. Some of their recommendations on economic measures are worth implementing. But what they fail to recognize is that all these dreams for development and prosperity cannot materialize unless the obstacles – administrative, legislative and psychological- challenging the complete integration of the valley state with the mainstream of the country are abolished.
To sum up, it is widely felt that the report of the interlocutors is an insipid document which does not inspire any confidence for both the people of the valley and the rest of the country. Most of its recommendations, if implemented, will weaken our position both internally and internationally. In a way, Ms Radha Kumar, one of the interlocutors, was not wholly wrong when she wrote in a leading daily on their report – “When we wrote the report, it was evident to us it would please none in whole, but might please many in part.”
Whom the report has pleased in part is the question. It certainly has not pleased the nationalists.