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Stuck in uncanny valley




The time has come for the J&K interlocutors' report to be discussed at the political level. A consensus is possible on its main recommendations, says Dileep Padgaonkar.

The report of the Group of Interlocutors for Jammu & Kashmir was submitted to the government in October last year and placed in the public domain at the end of May this year. Our mandate was to reach out to the broadest spectrum of opinion to elicit its views on the contours of a permanent political settlement in the state. Accordingly, we visited all the 22 districts of the state, conferred with more than 700 delegations representing political parties, community and professional organisations, students and professors, religious heads, human rights groups, civil society activists and heads of the military, para-military and police forces.

Much of what we heard - close to 80 per cent - was in the nature of grievances about poor governance, lack of jobs and quality educational and public health facilities, retarded development of infrastructure, corruption, the ham-handed approach of the security forces, alleged human rights violations by terrorists and security forces alike, the widening chasm between the three regions of the state and so forth. The political views were not just diverse but also widely divergent. We therefore had to steer our ship through choppy waters.

Throughout the report we thus endeavoured to avoid using adversarial or self-serving rhetoric. To refer to the portions of the erstwhile princely state on the Pakistani side, we had to choose between several options. In scholarly writings, reference is made to Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) with or without single quotation marks around the word 'Azad. ' Some referred to it as 'so-called Azad Kashmir. ' Some distinguished writers like J N Dixit, B G Verghese and more recently Luv Puri have preferred the term 'Pakistanadministered J & K. ' That expression also occurs in the writings of two eminent American diplomats and scholars Teresita and Howard Schaefer.

We were of course aware of the 1994 Parliamentary resolution which speaks of 'Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. ' But we did not come across this term in any statement issued after bilateral official talks between India and Pakistan on the J & K issue. When we refer to 'Pakistan-administered Kashmir' we mean just that. Pakistan has been administering portions of the erstwhile princely state for more than six decades after it refused to vacate them as per the resolutions of the UN Security Council. So to administer does not automatically confer legitimate ownership.

For that very reason we have not referred to 'Indian-Administered Jammu & Kashmir' because on moral and political grounds J & K has been and will remain an integral part of the Indian Union. Whether we will be able to get the Pakistan-administered J & K back into India's fold is, to say the least, debatable. Just as Pakistan's attempts through violent means to grab our Jammu & Kashmir is a classic example of chasing a chimera. That, in fact, is the pith and substance of the Shimla Agreement, the Vajpayee-Musharraf joint statement and Gen Musharraf's formula for resolving the contentious issue.

Of significance in this regard are accounts of the discussions between Strobe Talbot and Jaswant Singh as narrated by the former in his book Engaging India. On page 94, Talbot writes the following about his meeting with Singh at the Frankfurt meeting on 9-10 July 1998: 'He mentioned that his government might consider converting the Line of Control, which was based on the 1949 cease-fire line between the Pakistani and Indian portions of the territory, into an international border - a significant departure from the long-established BJP position that India should persist in seeking the integration of Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. '

Until this happens, it stands to reason that the definition of Jammu and Kashmir in the First Schedule under Article 1 and Article 4 of our Constitution will hold good viz 'territory which immediately before the commencement of this Constitution was comprised in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. ' However, as the remarks of L K Advani, Jaswant Singh and Manmohan Singh show, in diplomatic negotiations this definition has remained unsaid.

Indeed, the report also takes care not to endorse words and expressions that are loaded with partisan intent. These include autonomy, self-governance, nation-hood, core issue, Kashmiri sentiment etc. Our intention has been to change the narrative on Jammu and Kashmir. In this regard, hardly any commentator has discussed a lengthy chapter in the report devoted to the economic and social development in the state or to specific suggestions concerning the cultural interests of various sections of the population. One commentator has even called the latter 'frivolous' while others have asserted that our efforts to focus on issues of governance and development are meant to detract attention away from the political issue when half the main report is precisely devoted to political and constitutional matters.

Allegations have been made that the report is partial to the Kashmiri separatists and to the Kashmir Valley in general. This is far, far from the truth. Three paras in the report (page 34) refer to the 'sense of victimhood' prevalent in the Valley and list the reasons for it. Four paras discuss the sense of victimhood in Jammu and Ladakh and list the reasons for it. Jammu in particular, as we note in the report, has longstanding grievances about the imbalanced delimitation of constituencies in the state as well as about a raw deal the region has allegedly received at the hands of the political elites in the Valley as regards allocation of development funds and representation in the civil services and the police.

The plight of the Kashmiri Pandits evicted from the Valley is discussed on several pages, especially pages 94 and 96. We entirely agree with what L K Advani writes on this subject in his autobiography: 'I cannot consider any solution honourable and durable which does not result in the return of all the Kashmiri Pandits and also of all Muslim residents of Kashmir who have had to flee their native land because of violence. That is an important touch-stone for judging the return of normalcy in the Valley. '

Our recommendations regarding the Pandit community is very much in line with this statement. We have also discussed the plight of Sikhs and Pandits who chose to remain behind. And we have made recommendations to address the harrowing difficulties faced by them as well as by migrants from Pakistan who are denied their most elementary civic rights.

Moreover, we have drawn attention to the grievances of nomadic communities such as the Gujjars, Bakerwals, Pahadis, Gaddis and Sippis, not to forget the Kargilis and other communities staying in remote and hilly areas. These people have stood by India with a degree of dedication and enthusiasm that commands instant respect.

It is for all the above reasons that an entire chapter of the report has been devoted to the devolution of legislative, economic, administrative powers to the three regions and further down to the level of districts and panchayats. Sheikh Abdullah had spoken about devolution. So did three commissions set up by the Union government: Justice Gajendragadkar, Justice Sikri and Justice Wazir. But there has been no movement forward in this regard. That is why we have again and again emphasised that a political resolution in the state cannot be seen from the prism of any one region or any one community.

Much disinformation has been spread about our recommendation that a Constitutional Commission be set up to review all central acts and all articles of the Constitution extended to J & K after 1952. We have spelt out the reasons in considerable detail. Two Commissions - one established by Sheikh Abdullah and headed by D D Thakur and the other by his successor G M Shah and headed by Ghulam Nabi Kochak - reached contrary conclusions. D D Thakur concluded that all the central acts and all the articles of the Constitution were legally and constitutionally valid and that they helped to promote the welfare of the people of the state. G N Kochak argued otherwise. Neither of these two reports were tabled on the floor of the state assembly.

Similarly, two of the three rulings of the Supreme Court on this issue upheld the first version but one did not. The Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 1975 had no follow-up either. Finally, under the chief ministership of Farooq Abdullah the state assembly passed a resolution asking for a pure and simple return to the pre-1953 situation. The then NDA government paid no heed, quite appropriately, to this resolution.

In his autobiography, Advani has the following to say on this subject (Page 678): 'There is a clear case for devolution of more financial and administrative powers from the Centre to the state. NDA favoured this for all states, not for J&K alone. ' He elaborates on this subject on page 690: 'I explained to them why the Vajpayee government had rejected granting the pre-1953 status to J&K. At the same time, I said the government was willing to consider realistic ideas about certain special powers for the state which would help the political process to move towards the goal of permanent peace, normalcy, development and integration with the national mainstream. '

Our report's recommendation regarding the Constitutional Commission reflects these very sentiments and ideas. We want the Commission to review all the central acts and articles of the Constitution extended to the state since 1952 not with a view to turning the clock back but in order to decide once and for all whether they have prevented the state from addressing the diverse interests, concerns, grievances and aspirations of all the regions and all the communities in the state. We have stressed that most of the acts and articles of the Constitution extended to J&K are not the least bit controversial. But certain issues - like the election or nomination of the governor, the governor's powers to dismiss an elected government, the nomenclatures of the governor and the chief minister, the representation of officers of central civil services and the state civil services - can be debated. We have listed the options and we have indicated our own choice. But none of this is cast in stone. Any change in the status quo has to happen after developing a broad consensus in the state and in Parliament.

Our recommendation to remove the word 'temporary' before Article 370 and replace it with the word 'Special' was made keeping in mind certain precedents. Under Article 371 (A) several states in the Indian Union enjoy a 'Special' status. It is our belief that it can also be given to J&K since our Constitution is flexible enough to address the unique situation that prevails in that state.

There has been criticism about our alleged failure to speak about the violence perpetrated by terrorists/ militants. A reference to them can be found on pages 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28 and 100 of our report. The report indeed makes it clear that the peace process cannot move forward unless terrorist activity in J&K and in other parts of India instigated from across the LoC ceases altogether. Only then can the LoC become, as prime minister Manmohan Singh has said, irrelevant.

The time has now come for the report to be taken up at the political level. This is where publicly stated positions of the stake-holders will yield ground to realism. They might not get all that they want nor want all that they get. But the alternative - a debilitating status quo - can only harm the people of the state, of our nation and of South Asia as a whole.


The writer was chairman of the Group of Interlocutors for Jammu & Kashmir.

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