Dividing the conflict

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As governments in Delhi and Srinagar continue to remain in political inertia over Kashmir, an RSS think tank has suggested dividing the state into smaller ethnicities. A Kashmir Life report.

Stone-Pelting-at-NowhattaAfter 110 killings and hundreds others sustaining grave, mostly firearm, injuries during the third consecutive summer crisis which is already in the fourth month, Kashmir is yet to see a concrete political initiative. While the governments in Delhi and Srinagar seem to be working overtime in ensuring the status quo, the only political response came from Rashtriya Sewak Sangh (RSS), a party that has tutored many of India’s veterans into politics, albeit ‘unofficially’.

RSS’s 88-year old ideologue M G Vaidya alias Baburao Vaidya has been writing a regular column in party’s Marathi mouthpiece ‘Tarun Bharat’ that prints from Nagpur. But this time he has written a paper on Kashmir and circulated it in his personal capacity with an avowed objective of “seeking a clean-slate debate on Kashmir within and outside the Sangh parivar”.

Reporting for Kolkata’s Telegraph (October 3, 2010), Sankarshan Thakur, who has reported Kashmir for a long time, said the Sangh’s former spokesperson wants the valley to be sliced out of the state and granted a pre-1953 position, a prime minister (read Wazir-e-Azam) with New Delhi restricting itself to ‘defence, currency, foreign affairs and telecommunications’. However, he does not want restoration of Sadr-e-Reyasat saying that New Delhi should appoint a governor who would act in the same way the British Resident was acting prior to 1947.

Contrary to the official position of the Sangh Parivar (RSS and its affiliate organizations including the BJP) that Article 370 is a “temporary and transitory” provision, Vaidya wants it to become a permanent feature of the Indian Constitution. He wants the ‘autonomous’ Kashmir to enact a separate criminal law. Though he strongly argues for New Delhi retaining extension of Article 356 to Kashmir, he suggests the federal government to go by the Kashmiri opinion on whether Lok Sabha should continue to make laws for the state of Kashmir in accordance with Article 249 of the Constitution and whether central rules of excise, customs, civil aviation, post and telegraph should continue to apply to it.

Vaidya suggests that an all party round table conference comprising all shades of opinion – excluding those who stand for merger with Pakistan, should discuss his idea as a way forward and put in place a new framework ensuring Kashmir remains an integral part of India and its people are not swayed away by the separatists. The conference, he says, should also discuss the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Election Commission over the new state as also appointment of IAS and IPS officers. He wants the new state to rehabilitate all Kashmiri Pandits who have migrated out of the valley.

The former spokesperson who continues to be part of the party’s think tank wants Jammu to emerge as a new state and Ladkah to come up as a Union Territory with its distinct “geographical, religious, linguistic and cultural” identity. He, however, wants New Delhi not to impose ‘autonomy’ on the people of Jammu and Ladakh.

Reactions to the proposal have been on expected lines within and outside J&K. “Anything that becomes a facade for separatism or independence is totally unacceptable. Kashmir is and will remain an integral part of India,” BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad was quoted saying. A few from the BJP termed Vaidya “a freelancer” whose “views are not taken seriously.”

In Kashmir National Conference rejected it. So did the Hurriyat Conference (G) Syed Ali Geelani who is literally heading the ongoing phase of the protests. Both the forces want the territorial integrity of the state to be retained. PDP and JKLF have not reacted to the plan saying there was no point in responding to something that is somebody’s personal view lacking an endorsement by any party.

Though the idea clearly indicates that it is an attempt at reducing the “size of the problem” and aimed at “obstructing a solution”, there are many takers of the idea, even in Kashmir. People, mostly the government employees and officers who are witnessing the rights of Kashmir being usurped by Jammu in development, jobs and policy making, are keen to grab the idea. They however, are unwilling to speak or come out with views publicly. Talking about division of the state of J&K is a crime under law.

On May 22, 2007 Peoples Conference leader Sajjad Gani Lone called for J&K’s re-organisation in wake of allegations of discrimination by sections from Jammu and Ladakh. “Almost everybody stands for Azadi (independence) in Kashmir. It is our moral responsibility that if some people are not happy to live with us, they should get independence from us,” the younger Lone told a rally in Srinagar.

“Regional aspirations and discriminations have become a new weapon.” J&K state`, Lone said, has nothing common in most of the districts – different faiths, ethnicities, languages and culture. “What we call a sacrifice in Kashmir is terrorism for many of them so why should not we respect their feelings and give them the right to secede?” he asked, insisting that he does not mean trifurcation. “Some mechanism – even a district wise referendum – could be held to see which area wants to stay with Kashmir and which belts are uncomfortable (with the present political dispensation).”

But Vaidya’s “personal views” are neither new nor his personal. Dr Karan Singh in November 1965 termed J&K an “administrative monstrosity” while arguing for Jammu joining Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh taken as UT and Kashmir being declared autonomous. In August 24, 1996 the then Home Minister Indrajit Gupta stated in Kolkata that New Delhi was considering trifurcating J&K on geo-cultural basis. As scathing criticism poured in, the radical leftist denied the whole thing.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad on June 22, 2002 at Haridwar called for a division of the state. The plan was followed by RSS at Kurushetra on June 30 when after a 2-day session of its ABKM, it adopted a 5-point resolution seeking, among other things, a UT status for Ladakh and a separate state for Jammu. The issue, according to RSS spokesman M G Vaidya, was raised in RSS’s general council meeting in March 2001 following which a committee led by former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana J V Gupta was set up that recommended the split.

Trifurcation of J&K has remained a debate throughout. Quite a few people have suggested the division of the state as a way out of resolving Kashmir. Sir Owen Dixon’s plan is perhaps the only major instance. He visited the state from July 7 to July 12, 1950 on a UN mission and suggested trifurcating of the state on geo-religious grounds. New Delhi as well as Islamabad turned down the proposal. Even after the 1965 war, US and UK was suggesting India to divide the state. The 1960’s plan, according to declassified British Foreign Office files fell through as UK thought USSR and PRC will influence an Independent Kashmir suggested by USA while Moscow thought the new entity might be US base.

The post-partition discourse has remained embroiled in conflicting regional aspirations and allegations of discrimination against and “political domination” of Ladakh and Jammu by a Muslim Kashmir. Political gulf between Kashmir and Jammu and later in Ladakh has remained as wide as their culture and geography and politicians all along stoked the fire to extend it further.

The Praja Parishad (Jana Sangh in its earlier avatar) launched a stir against incorporating Article 370 in the Indian constitution. A seven-month agitation against Nehru-Abdullah accord of 1952 later resulted in the constitution of a cabinet committee to recommend substantial measures of autonomy for each region of the state with powers of taxation and legislature. Though the committee did not take off, it soon followed another movement about “regional imbalances” in development and recruitment.

These developments in 1967 prompted G M Sadiq, the then chief minister to appoint P B Gajendragadker (former Chief Justice) Commission. In 1979, Sheikh Abdullah was also compelled to appoint S M Sikri (another former Chief Justice) Commission. These commissions viewed things differently and differed diagonally in their recommendations. Gajendragadker suggested a Deputy Chief Minister for Jammu, and a cabinet minister for Ladakh, besides, advising government to decide when and how the state must fully integrate with the union (as demanded by Jana Sangh). Sikri turned down Jammu demand for amendments in the state constitution to safeguard their interests, and instead suggested the government not to discriminate Kargil over Leh.

Most of these movements, however, were spearheaded by the right-wing groups and sooner or latter these led to massive polarization among various communities. The Ladakh Buddhist Association managed to get the Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) in 1995 only after massive communal violence in 1989 that included social boycott of Muslim population for over a year. The same dispensation was given to Kargil in 2000 though they had initially rejected the idea.

Given the stiff party positions, it is unlikely that anybody would throw its weight behind Vaidya’s proposals that would look akin to reviving the two nation theory. This is despite the fact that people in Delhi and Srinagar are not totally averse to the idea, across ideological divides. But what is possible in given situation is to consider implementing the regional autonomy. It will mark an end to the allegations of discrimination in development and part of the government jobs, political domination and sub-regional crises besides offering people at sub-regional levels to decide about their priorities in a homogenous atmosphere. This obviously can prove a prelude to any kind of division of J&K in future.

Sources informed Kashmir Life that BJP is actually discussing the idea of regional autonomy for J&K in which they see themselves always fighting but doing nothing in practical terms,” a source privy to the initiation of internal discussion said. “They say if there is regional autonomy, they will actually have a stake in a council comprising Jammu, Udhampur, Kathua besides a good share in policy making in other two regions.” Sources refer to the RSS statement that was made in July 2002 suggesting that Vajpayee government was willing to consider “the creation of a regional council for Jammu”.

The statement came within days after the then Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani met RSS leader Madan Das Devi and Jammu State Morcha Chairman Shrikumar along with BJP President Venkiah Naidu and Arun Jaitley on July 18.
Restoration of autonomy to the state and granting a part of it to the diverse regions of J&K was part of the electoral campaign by NC in 1996. “Authority and resources will be divided in such a way that all three regions feel fully satisfied and are not apprehensive of each other’s domination,” NC’s poll manifesto read, adding, “We will see to (it) that they live in democratic polity as equal partners free from the fear of exploitation and hegemony.”

NC tabled the 25-page report of the Regional Autonomy Committee (RAC) in state legislature on April 13, 1999. It offered two models. One is the concept of elected regional or provincial councils that will have limited execution and taxation powers. It has proposed eight such councils across (then) 14 (now 22) district state – Chenab valley (comprising Doda district and Mahore area of Udhampur), Jammu (Jammu and Udhampur), Pir Panchal (Poonch and Rajouri districts), Leh, Kargil besides Kamraz, Maraz and Nundabad having two districts each of Kashmir valley. It isolated the Dogra heartland of Jammu and Udhampur from the Muslims area which were given two separate councils – Chenab and Pir Panchal. The other model was that of district councils in all the 14 districts which will function in tandem with the various tiers of the Panchayat Raj. These councils will be elected entities with limited executive and taxation powers.

Not many people know that there is a huge movement going on in Doda-Kishtwar-Ramban-Reasi belt for creation of Chenab Valley. In fact the legislators of the belt do refer to their area as Chenab Valley in the state legislature. It reached a point in the ongoing session when BJP’s Ashok Khajuria interrupted the proceedings asking the speaker M Akbar Lone to see why they are referring to a non-existing entity called Chenab Valley. In the recent past some legislators from the area moved private member resolutions for creating the council.

In the twin Rajouri and Poonch districts, at least one election was fought over the demand of a separate autonomous region. They are openly accusing Jammu’s provincial administration of bias.

Interestingly, Jammu has only two Lok Sabha seats. One comprises of Jammu, Kathua, Samba with Poonch and Rajouri and another is Udhampur, Doda, Kishtwar, Reasi and Ramban. Though Muslims are in huge numbers they are getting overwhelmed by the non-Muslim electorate.

Tabling the RAC report fetched the initiative a last news item after a series of controversies. Constituted on November 29, 1996 to work out modalities for suggesting measures for removing “imbalances” between the three regions of a multi-ethnic pluralist state – Kashmir Valley, Ladakh and Jammu, the RAC was headed by writer activist Balraj Puri. After 25 months, the government “ousted” Puri from his job. Puri had suggested a five-tier pattern in the state.

These included the village, the block, the district, the region and the state. First three tiers are part of the Panchayat Raj and the only change he has made in this regard was that the District Development Committee must be elected instead of appointed under the Panchayat Raj Act. While the top fifth tier exists by way of a government, the only “discovery” of Puri was the introduction of Regional set-ups in the three regions – Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir. Puri’s ouster saw the RAC becoming an all-NC affair that tabled the report after a series of sittings.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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