For Kashmir, Clarity First

For Kashmir, Clarity First

24 June 2012
The Indian Express
Dileep Padgaonkar

New Delhi: A certain number of words and phrases that pop up all too often in the speeches and writings of the separatists and their sympathisers in Kashmir consist largely of “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness”. The quote is taken from George Orwell’s seminal essay on politics and the English language. When the atmosphere is bad, he argues in substance, language suffers, for it is then used to “make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”. In his article in this paper (‘Another missed opportunity’, IE, June 14, goo.gl-dylai) on the report of the interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir, Muzamil Jaleel does not go that far. Still, when he berates the Government of India and the interlocutors for their failure to heed “the fundamentals about Kashmir”, “the basic reason for the political dispute”, “the fundamental political issue” and so forth he does not state the obvious. The phrases are a euphemism for a secessionist agenda. This is obvious from a paragraph later in the article. The report needs to be rubbished, he says, because it has “not even seriously acknowledged that the demand for secessionism exists”. But the report does state that influential sections of opinion in Kashmir do not accept the accession of J&K to the Indian Union and that the cry for “azadi” is indeed heard in the Valley. For Jaleel, this is not good enough. Indeed, he is outraged that the report refers to “azadi” as a dirge. But in the absence of clarity about what the word stands for, how else is one to describe it other than a lament? The euphemism too begs the question: is the demand for secessionism rooted in legality, moral rectitude and political wisdom? Except for those who regard wishful thinking as a substitute for ideas that are clear and oriented towards finding a solution to the intractable issues in Kashmir, the answer is loud and clear: No. A section of the Hurriyat itself believes that secessionism is no longer on the cards. But this does not convince Jaleel. To chastise the interlocutors for not heeding the “sentiment” in favour of secessionism, he quotes P.V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. According to him, the two PMs “ambiguously offered unconditional talks with an aim to provide separatists an opportunity to engage” whereas the interlocutors have preferred “straight talk”. He hauls them over the coals for insisting that a “dialogue on Kashmir can be held strictly within the ambit of the Constitution and there is no room even for an ambiguous interpretation”. Does Jaleel believe that the two PMs he cites would have conceded anything that challenged Indian sovereignty in J&K? And why does he think that the separatists - who make no bones about their hostility to Indian rule - would settle for an engagement with New Delhi on the basis of an ambiguous offer? Jaleel then resorts to a bizarre extrapolation. Not only have the interlocutors “mocked at Kashmir’s entire political struggle”, he argues, they have even given short shrift to the agendas of J&K’s two mainstream, pro-India parties - the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party. Why? Because “even the restoration of the pre-1953 status is not on the table”. What does your correspondent have in mind when he uses the word “restoration”? Does he not know that this issue has been discussed threadbare twice in the past and that the reviews of whether the Central laws and articles of the Constitution were valid or not - much like three rulings of the Supreme Court - reached contradictory conclusions? That is why our report recommends that a constitutional committee settles this issue once and for all. But Jaleel has made up his mind that it will never be able to do so, partly because it will not be possible to find individuals to be part of this committee who will be acceptable to all stakeholders and partly because “there is no way its recommendations will ever be accepted”. So what does he suggest to carry forward the process leading to a political resolution of the political issue at stake in the state? Our recommendation for a comprehensive review by a constitutional commission has two objectives. The first is to settle the issue of the validity of the Central acts and articles of the Constitution to the state to leave no room for pointless debates about J&K’s accession to the Indian Union. The other is to ensure that the exercise is future-oriented, that it is one that takes into full account the changes in the strategic and economic environment of the state and indeed of the South Asian region as a whole. The purpose is neither to dilute nor thicken the substance of Article 370 but to update the special status of J&K to suit contemporary reality. The most disturbing comments in Jaleel’s article pertain to the recommendation in the interlocutors’ report to devolve political, economic and administrative powers to the three regions in the state. He claims that such devolution will “balkanise the state into three pieces along Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist lines”. Why? Because the interlocutors have “totally disregarded the communal divide, especially within Jammu and Ladakh”. The interlocutors have done no such thing. They have first noted that people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds inhabit all three regions of the state. (This is not quite the case of the Valley after the forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits.) They then drew attention to the fact that in Jammu and Ladakh, there is a strong sentiment against the political establishment in the Valley for real or perceived discrimination against them. But they have also remarked that the Muslims of Kargil do not want a UT status for Ladakh (a demand of the Buddhists in Leh) and the Muslim-majority districts in Jammu do not want Jammu to become a separate state (a demand of a section of opinion in Jammu city and its environs). But both want that people at the regional, sub-regional and panchayat levels of governance should be vested with effective powers to realise their aspirations. Jaleel is free to consult the documentation that the interlocutors received from various groups during their visits to all 22 districts of the state to get to know their stand on this issue and, indeed, to reckon with their feelings for India. These are listed in an annexe to the report. He may also like to read the documentation regarding the report’s recommendations about AFSPA and other draconian acts. Finally, he must say where our report states that the recommendation to turn the Line of Control into a Line of Concord and Cooperation is in consonance with the 1994 parliamentary resolution. What the report does is to list a number of pragmatic ways and means to promote a hassle-free movement of people and goods across the LoC. Has he not taken note of the fact that separatist opinion in Kashmir has rubbished the report of the interlocutors as a ploy to promote the agenda of the RSS, and that a section of opinion in Jammu has termed it as a ploy to promote the agenda of the Pakistani-backed separatists in the Valley? Moreover, both extremes have ignored our recommendations concerning confidence-building measures and the economic and social regeneration of J&K. We have insisted that these are not a substitute for a political resolution. But they can clear the path towards it. My appeal to him is simple: mind your language for that is the only way that you can stop chasing a chimera. As Orwell says, if thought corrupts language, language also corrupts thought. Use it to win over hearts and minds of all regions and communities in J&K. That should bring some clarity into thinking. And clarity in turn could lead to peace in a state that so desperately needs it - peace rooted in the principles of justice, dignity, security, progress and, above all, freedom from all forms of intimidation and violence. The writer is former chairman of the group of interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir.