HOME Minister Rajnath Singh has met around 300 people at Srinagar. Pakistan, too, has offered to have talks on Kashmir. Both steps, however laudable, are late by two to three years. The Kashmiris then wanted a settlement through a dialogue. Leaders like Yasin Malik and Shabbir Shah did take part in the conclaves held at Srinagar and New Delhi. The topic at that time was to make New Delhi realize that the state had acceded to the Union of India only three subjects: Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications. But overzealous Jagmohan and governors like N N Vohra and his predecessors spread themselves all over. They did not keep in mind that accession was limited to only three subjects. The Kashmiri leaders were unhappy but felt helpless.
Today, the young generation has gone beyond what their elders had promised. The youth now want independence, with freedom to chalk out their foreign policy. In fact, their concept of sovereignty is like the freedom, which any country in the world enjoys. Their representatives invited me to Srinagar last month. I found them really agitated but quite clear about what they want. To call them fundamentalists or anti-India will not be fair. True, they want Srinagar to be like Washington or London and they do no links with Islamabad. They argue that their foreign policy will be decided by the elected members of the State assembly and not dictated by New Delhi or, for that matter, Islamabad.
I told them that I believed their demand was understandable but how could India create another Islamic country on its border when it already has a bad experience of having Pakistan. They shrugged their shoulders when I argued with them that the Lok Sabha, with a majority behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would not concede their demand. This was your problem they said. The quantum of autonomy can be a matter of debate but certainly not the accession. By going back to the very raison d’être of Pakistan, we would start another kind of a debate and might disturb the equanimity which Hindus and Muslims have achieved despite an unequal situation.
Those who pelted stones in Srinagar may be the misguided youth in one way. But they represent the aspirations for independence in the other way. They have gone far ahead of Yasin Malik and Shabbir Shah, who are in jail. The youth resent the very accession to India. But they are equally indignant against Pakistan, although some extremists are trying to cloud. I think that till a couple of years ago, the matter could have been settled between the governments at New Delhi and Srinagar but today the Kashmiris would have to be part of any dialogue on the future of the state. UN resolution for a plebiscite in Kashmir or the Shimla Agreement between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has lost relevance. The situation today is different.
It is regrettable that neither India nor Pakistan realizes this or, at least, gives that impression. It is now a triangular and all the three points will have to be touched for an amicable settlement. Another delegation to Srinagar may be a futile exercise because the Kashmiris feel that promises made earlier have not been made good. Former chief minister Omar Farooq Abdullah, who now leads the National Conference, is quite right when he says that he finds no utility in delegations visiting Srinagar when the reports prepared by the earlier ones are accumulating dust in the Home Ministry corridors. New Delhi will have to prove its bona fides first before the thread can be picked up from where it was left off earlier.
After all, what was the demand of Sheikh Abdullah who had to spend some 12 years at Kodaikanal in the south? He wanted New Delhi to recognise that the state had joined the Union by concede of only three subjects. It was not for the Union to usurp more powers without consulting the unit that had acceded to it. Maybe, much water has flowed down the Jehlum since. But the situation can be retrieved by rolling back all laws which go beyond the scope of the three subjects. The youth in Kashmir may not feel happy but this is one possibility, although a remote one, to bring back the state on its tracks. During my talks with the students at Srinagar, I told them that it was not possible to meet the demand of full independence.
India is already suffering from the pinpricks of Pakistan. By granting full independence to Kashmir, New Delhi will only be increasingly its problems. I also argued with the students that the land-locked valley would have to depend either on India or Pakistan for business. In reply, they said that they would be like Switzerland, a tourist resort and would earn money from visitors of different lands. They would not have a standing army, the upkeep of which costs a huge amount. They would still have problem of finding a market for their men and material but they are oblivious to this fact at present.
New Delhi is quite right in demanding a discussion on terrorism before discussing Kashmir. The dialogue which Pakistan has offered can start with terrorism and also embrace Kashmir because they are the two sides of the same coin. The army which calls the shot in Pakistan may have its own agenda but cannot be opposed to a dialogue for normalizing the border bristling with armies of the two countries. India should sort out the problem in Kashmir first before sitting with Pakistan. This can be done by accepting what Sheikh Abdullah, friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, demands. The Sheikh said that India should withdraw all laws that went beyond the scope of the three subjects originally acceded to the Union of India.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.