The protests in the Kashmir valley continue for the third week, There is curfew in many parts of the Valley. Fresh incidents occur in the Valley every day. That is why I have decided to stay with the subject and write a follow-up column to my previous column (The Indian Express, July, 17, 2016).
During the debate in Parliament last week, many members acknowledged that Kashmir is more than land, it is people. We have, therefore, a good starting point, but we must not walk on the road that we took over the last 40 years.
The State of Jammu & Kashmir acceded to India in 1947 under a ‘grand bargain’. The fundamental premise of the Instrument of Accession dated October 26, 1947, was that J&K will accede to the Dominion of India (and later the Union of India under a new Constitution) on the basis of a special dispensation regarding distribution of powers between the Union and the State of J&K. Article 370 of the Constitution, adopted in 1950, embodied that grand bargain.
In a federal system, it is not unprecedented to have an asymmetric distribution of powers between the Union on the one hand and different states on the other. One state may enjoy special or additional powers. It is precisely this principle that India has advocated in respect of devolution of powers to the Tamil-dominated North and East provinces of Sri Lanka. It is this principle that will be pressed into service while concluding an agreement on the Nagaland issue.
The overwhelming opinion in the Kashmir valley is that Article 370 was honoured in the breach and that the autonomy promised to J&K has been chipped away from time to time. The cry of azaadi is a response to this perception. Militancy is another. We unequivocally reject militancy and vow to put it down with the power of the State. But is that a reason to equate the cry of azaadi with militancy? Is that a reason to label every young man or woman who raises the slogan as an anti-national? Is that a reason to regard every speech as seditious?
Honour the grand bargain
No one is demanding or advocating a rollback to 1947. Not all events and changes of the last 65 years need to be reversed. Not all the laws that were extended to J&K need to be withdrawn. Many of the changes will be acceptable to the people of J&K as beneficial to them. Many of the laws will be acceptable to them because they are based on universal principles and the replacement laws will not be different.
Besides, the technology-driven changes are irreversible and no one in his right mind will demand a reversal. Take telecommunications. The people of J&K will welcome the fact that they are connected to the rest of India and the world. Other examples are the Railways, aviation, power grid, tertiary healthcare, the immunisation programme and skill development, and the laws applicable to the implementation of these schemes and programmes.
As long as J&K remains an integral part of the Union of India, there is ample political and legal space to try out new ideas that will reassure the people of J&K that the Government of India will honour the grand bargain of the accession.
There are other steps that can be taken to retrieve the ground that has been lost since the advent of the PDP-BJP government, but this requires courage — the kind of courage demonstrated by Dr Manmohan Singh when he negotiated with General Musharraf and by Mr A B Vajpayee when he proclaimed that talks can be held under the principle of ‘insaaniyat’.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a huge popular mandate in 2014. His government enjoys an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. He has the capacity to take independent decisions without being constrained by his party or his cabinet. Here is a list of things he can do:
1. Withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from a number of areas immediately.
2. Amend AFSPA in the current session of Parliament. A draft Bill is ready. Start work on repealing AFSPA and replacing it with a reasonable law that will give limited immunity to the Armed Forces.
3. Send an all-parties delegation to J&K to meet with all sections of the people and listen to their views. Keep the ‘majoritarians’ out of the delegation.
4. Direct the Ministry of Defence to draw up a plan (within 15 days) to withdraw as many troops as possible from civilian areas and redeploy the troops closer to the border. Direct them to draw up another plan (within 30 days) for gradually thinning the presence of the Army in the interior (inhabited) areas of J&K.
5. Hand over primary responsibility for maintaining law and order to the state government and the J&K police.
6. Revisit the Standard Operating Procedures for deployment of the security forces, correct the deviations and plug all loopholes.
7. Resurrect the report of the group of interlocutors. Ask Mr Dileep Padgaonkar to update it within 30 days. Set up an empowered group to implement the recommendations.
8. Anything else that appeals to the imagination of the Prime Minister as a step that will not only defend the land but also win over the people of J&K.
We have to travel on a long road and we must begin the journey today.