Veteran Congress leader Karan Singh — son of Maharaja Hari Singh, the last ruler of Jammu and Kashmir who signed the Instrument of Accession in 1947 — took a divergent view from that of his party on Thursday. He said he did not agree with a “blanket condemnation” of the government’s decision on J&K, and said it has “several positive points”.
Singh, however, did not comment on the revocation of J&K’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution.
Decrying the arrests of senior PDP and NC leaders, Singh, in his statement, said these two parties cannot be dismissed as “anti-national”. Demanding their release, he said the government should initiate a “broad-based political dialogue” with them as well as with civil society.
“I must admit that the unusually fast decisions in Parliament caught all of us completely by surprise, they will obviously have far-reaching implications at many levels. The drastic measure appears to enjoy overwhelming support of Parliament as well as around the country, including Jammu and Ladakh. I have been pondering deeply over the situation. Personally, I do not agree with the blanket condemnation of these developments. There are several positive points,” he said.
Singh, a former member of the Congress Working Committee, welcomed the government’s decision to make Ladakh a Union Territory, signalling that he was in favour of the bifurcation of J&K, although the Congress has criticised the move. “In fact, I had suggested this as far back as 1965, when I was still Sadr-i-Riyasat of J&K, when I had publicly proposed reorganisation of the state,” he said.
Singh hoped the hill councils of Leh and Kargil would “continue to function, so that in the absence of the Legislature, the grassroots opinion of the people of Ladakh are duly represented.”
Singh also appeared supportive of the decision to scrap Article 35 A and the government’s plan to initiate an exercise to redraw the contours of the Assembly constituencies. “The gender discrimination in Article 35 A needed to be addressed as also the long-awaited and enfranchisement of lakhs of West Pakistan refugees and reservations for Scheduled Tribes which will be welcomed. There will also be a fresh delimitation which, for the first time, will ensure a division of political power between the Jammu and Kashmir regions,” he said.
Saying that a broad spectrum of people in the Valley may be feeling mortified, he said, “I feel that it is important for political dialogue to continue.”
“It is unfair to dismiss the two main regional parties as being anti-national… I would, therefore, urge that leaders of legitimate political parties in Kashmir should be released as soon as possible and a broad-based political dialogue initiated with them and with civil society in view of the drastically changed situation,” he said.
Singh said communal harmony must be maintained and violence eschewed at all costs. “The effort should be that J&K attains full statehood as soon as possible so that its people can at least enjoy the political rights available to the rest of the country,” he said.
Singh’s statement, which is at variance with the Congress’s stand, assumes significance as he has been a member of the CWC and worked with four generations of the Nehru-Gandhi family. He was a union minister in the Indira Gandhi Cabinet in 1967 and is considered close to the family.
Last week, he had addressed a press conference with Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and senior party leader P Chidambaram, targeting the government for creating a sense of uncertainty and tension in the Valley.
Singh has also been one of the towering voices on J&K. The state, in his words, was “founded” by his ancestors. He was in the room when the Instrument of Accession was signed.