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Mainstream, VOL XLVIII, No 50, December 4, 2010

Beginning of the Present Phase of Alienation in Kashmir

When Loyalty To India And Government Of India Became Synonymous

Sunday 12 December 2010, by Balraj Puri

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram observed, in a an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, that there was a need to look into the promises made in the Delhi Agreement in 1952, Indira-Sheikh Accord in 1972 and in the understanding of 1986 (between Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah).

In the present context, the understanding of 1986 is most relevant. Commenting on it then, I had written in an article: “The net effect of the accord would be that Kashmir will go the Punjab way (when it was in the grip of terrorism) and Farooq (then the Chief Minister of J&K State) would go the Barnala (the dismissed and isolated Chief Minister of Punjab) way.”

Farooq met me the same day when the article was published and asked me how I could compare him with Barnala, who used to live in a fortress whereas he was roaming about freely. I replied that it took Barnala two months to destroy himself politically whereas his (Farooq’s) father had left such rich assets that even if he squandered them with both hands, those would last for two years. In any case, it was a friendly warning. If he listened to it, he might be saved, I said. Almost after two years, the first incident of militancy occurred when the president of a block committee of the ruling National Conference, Yusuf Habvi, was killed in Srinagar by a militant.

My argument was that before the accord the National Conference provided an outlet to anti-Centre sentiments whereas the Congress had become an effective outlet for anti-State govern-ment sentiments. The accord destroyed both outlets resulting in the emergence of the secessionist outlet.

Rajiv Gandhi is reported to have realised that “the accord was the single biggest mistake he made while in office”. He told Vir Singhvi, then editor of the Sunday weekly, that he thought “it was important that the Congress and the National Conference remained at opposite ends of the political spectrum”. Otherwise, he said, the “protest vote would end up going to the extremists”. (Hindustan Times, November 2, 2005)

Earlier the Farooq Government was dismissed in 1984, after he had hosted a conclave of Opposition parties, which were no less patriotic than the ruling party. The moral in both cases (1984 and 1986) was that Kashmir, unlike other States of India, could not elect a government which was not loyal to the party in power at the Centre.

THE Indira-Abdullah accord of 1975 had received massive popular endorsement. In the first election to the State Assembly in 1977, the Janata Party, the ruling party at the Centre, mobilised all anti-Abdullah elements. Some of them had become anti-India or pro-Pakistan for want of a pro-India outlet. This was made available in the form of the Janata Party; they joined it, though it included the Jana Sangh in Jammu while in the Kashmir Valley, it was a joint front of Mirwiaz Farooq’s Awami Action Committee, Jamat-e-Islami and G. M. Karra’s pro-Pakistan Political Conference, besides other disgruntled groups.

In the fairest election so far, the National Conference swept the poll, the Janata Party won only two out of 42 seats in the Kashmir Valley. The rout of the ruling party at the Centre by the regional party was a unique and thrilling experience for the people. It made them realise, for the first time, the potentialities of being a citizen of India and marked a momentous step towards the emotional integration of Kashmir with the rest of India as it established that loyalty to India and to the Government of India were not synonymous. The Sheikh, who remained in power in the State from 1975 to 1982, could make the people of the Valley proud Kashmiris as well as proud Indians.

His son and successor Farooq had also won a resounding victory in the election to the Assembly in 1983 defeating the main Opposition, which was now the Congress, the ruling party at the Centre. Within a year he was dismissed for what Indira Gandhi called “hobnobbing with the Opposition parties” of India. He had the Oudacity of convening and Opposition conclave. When B.K. Nehru, the then Governor of the State, was reluctant to do so, he was transferred to Gujarat and replaced by Jagmohan who dutifully carried out the instructions of Delhi. Meanwhile 12 MLAs of the National Conference were purchased to reduce the NC strength and Ghulam Mohammad Shah, the brother-in-law of Farooq, formed the new government supported by the Congress. But it did not last long; with curfews being imposed frequently the Shah Government was nicknamed the curfew sircar. It collapsed soon and Farooq again returned to power. But he was so shaken by the experience that he welcomed Rajiv’s offer of an accord in 1986, as discussed above.

Later he switched his loyalty to any party that came to power at the Centre, including the BJP-led NDA Government in which Omar was a Minister of State for External Affairs. The Centre, too, got used to this pattern. It is evident in the latest eight-point package for J&K announced by the Union Home Minister on September 25, seven points of the package were within the jurisdiction of the State Government. Any dictation from the Centre on them was uncalled for. The Congress party could, at the most, advise the Chief Minister through its coalition partner, the State branch of the party, on these points or even directly to the Chief Minister.

The first step for a rational Kashmir policy should be that the State Government gets, at least, as much autonomy as other State governments in federal India have got and the State Government should be persuaded to adopt a federal and decentralised set-up so that the urges of its three regions and all ethnic identities are reconciled.

The author is the Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, Jammu.

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