This is a three-part series on how successive recent Indian governments have plotted to give away Kashmir. It is written by Dr. Ajay Chrungoo, Chairman of the Panun Kashmir, a frontline organization of Kashmiri Pandits. Dr. Chrungoo is a guest writer with Canary Trap.
BY DR. AJAY CHRUNGOO
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.
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 in Jammu and Kashmir reported National Conference (NC) patron Dr Farooq Abdullah blaming New Delhi for 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. He said, “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 Abdullah 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.” The newspaper further quotes Dr Abdullah 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 Abdullah 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 a person 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 like Justice Sagir would be able to deliver the same.
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 Dr Abdullah 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.
The Regional Autonomy report of NC envisaged the division of the state along the same lines as former Pakistan President Pervez Musharaff 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 March1999, 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 Abdullah to suddenly abandon the pretensions of accommodation and legitimate consultation, 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 the Government of India 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, NC President Omar Abdullah openly blamed the Indian High Commission in Pakistan of having facilitated the entire process. The Indian foreign ministry chose not to contradict the allegation. There are many Kashmiri 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 where the Indian government acted almost in tandem with the Muslim leadership of the Kashmir Valley (mainstream and the separatist).
During former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime, a USA based Kashmiri secessionist leader, lobbyist and fund-raiser, Farooq Kathwari, arrived in India. He came with the full knowledge of the Indian government in March 1999, carrying a series of proposals for the creation of an independent Kashmiri State. At that time, both USA and the Indian government underplayed his jihadi connections. His son had died in Chechnya while fighting the 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 a group of his top Cabinet colleagues on the premises of Secretariat in Jammu. This meeting induced the urgency into the Dr Abdullah 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 blue print for the solution of Kashmir’. The blue print — 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 Praveen 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 would meet in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo in March 1999 and reach 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 NC 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 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 the US State Department and his presence in India with his “way forward’ proposals on Jammu and Kashmir was more than a hint for NC to move fast enough to finalize the reports of his government on greater and regional autonomy and push it through the state assembly where NC had a two third majority.
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 WG 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 NC 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 pre-fixed objectives of the so called search for peace with Pakistan, had perhaps become an imperative necessity.