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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 10 New Delhi February 27, 2016

Acid Test for Mulayam / Where’s the Kashmir Policy?

Sunday 28 February 2016

From N.C.’s Writings

Acid Test for Mulayam

Varanasi and Kanpur are the danger signals which Mulayam Singh Yadav can hardly afford to underplay. The significant impact that was made on the Indian political scene by his victory in the December elections along with his allies, ousting the BJP in office from the key State of Uttar Pradesh, would be grievously dissipated if his government is shown up as incompetent to govern.

The very character of the support that Mulayam Singh’s Government has been able to muster tempts its adversaries to indulge in the toppling game. In reality, his majority is largely a negative get-together of those who want to keep the BJP out of power. Apart from this single-point objective, there is very little of common interest or common objecives that bind these parties together. Even Mulayam’s closest ally, Kanshi Ram, has been touring the country harping on the political importance of his own party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, instead of underlining the importance of the coalition as a whole.

The Congress having become so effete is no longer in a position to play a decisive role in the politics of UP. The Janata Dal is in a shambles as a political party since its leaders from V.P. Singh downward have throughout ignored the importance of building a party worth the name.

In this scenario, it is but natural for the BJP leadership to take every possible advantage to bring down the Mulayam Government. Caught within its own ranks by confusion and acute dissonance over the perspective before the party itself—the moderate parliamentary line or the rowdy path of fanatic militancy—there could not have been a better opportunity before the BJP leadership to take the maximum possible advantage of the Mulayam Government’s discomfiture with the caste and communal tensions.

The ramshackle character of the Mualyam Government has also accelerated the tension that has been brewing between the Dalits and the aggressive elements among the Backward Classes, particularly the Kurmis and Yadavs. The conflict of interests between these two camps in the countryside in the Hindi belt can hardly be overlooked. At the same time, the expectations so long were that given the fact that Mulayam Singh’s side could win the elections with the support of the underdogs—the Dalits, the Backwards and the Muslim minority—that at least for sometime to come the rift between the Dalits and the Backwards could be patched up in their common interest to ward off the long-held domination of the upper castes. It is on this point, the Mulayam Government has to do a lot of severe self-introspection.

A ruling establishment so precariously placed has to summon its strength, capacity and wisdom to the utmost limit to ensure a stable and competent government. Mass support spontaneously welled up when the Ministry was formed as it was instantly identified as the champion of the underprivileged. But spont-aneity on its own can hardly sustain a Ministry. If in the election campaign the caste solidarity was effected in a common front against the upper-caste domination, the morrow of the victory saw the assertion of the more powerful among the backward-Dalit combine against the more vulnerable ones. That is how the Yadavs and the Kurmis have been flexing their muscles in UP as they have started persecuting the Dalits who on their part have ceased to be docile as before.

Here lies the real challenge for Mualyam Singh Yadav. He has to understand that it is not enough for him to have won the poll battle, more exacting is to conduct himself as the leader of the entire combine and not just of his own caste and kith and kin. This way alone can he not only weld together the disparate elements that support his government but enlist the respect and authority of the bureaucracy to ensure a stable and efficient administration. Bureaucracy by its very nature responds positively to a firm and stable political leadership; but when it finds the political leadership weak or venal, its attitude becomes nonchalant.

There is another dimension to the UP situation today. The issues at stake there are far-reaching—not just a question of the survival of a Ministry standing as a roadblock to the BJP’s path to power. Nor is it just a question of the collapse of an elected government and the imposition of President’s Rule. If the UP Government cannot sustain itself in power and goes down before the onrush of caste and communal violence, then this would spread like a prairie fire all over the region which is considered as the very heartland of the country. It needs to be noted, therefore, that the serious happenings in Uttar Pradesh today have a profound bearing on the fate of the country as a whole.

(Mainstream, February 19, 1994)

Where’s the Kashmir Policy?

What is the Kashmir policy of the Central Government? The Prime Minister warded off the attacks of his Pakistani counterpart twice abroad in the course of the last two weeks—once at Cartagena by challenging her with the official Indian position that Pakistan itself had been guilty of having occupied a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir through aggression: and then at New York when participating in the golden jubilee celebrations of the UN, he did not respond to her at all by refusing to deal with any bilateral issue on such an occasion.

Returning home, neither of such postures can hold on the part of the Prime Minister. He has committed his government to the promise of an early election to the State Assembly and has more or less persuaded other political parties to comply with it. And the expected timing of the poll, to be finally settled by the Election Commission, is in the high snows of winter, anytime between mid-December and mid-January. While there is substantial misgiving in the public mind about the wisdom of holding any poll in the Kashmir Valley in the midst of the frankly unsettled situation with the Army operations against the armed militants still continuing, the question that faces all parties willing to participate in the election is: what is it that the Centre is prepared to concede for the settlement of the Kashmir crisis?

Nobody can deny that the alienation of the Kashmir people has gone so deep that there could be no end to the crisis without a measurable degree of concession on the part of the Centre. It is precisely on this point that there has so far been no response at all on the part of the government. In fact, in the Centre’s handling of the Kashmir crisis, there has been a streak of the cavalier which is both unwarranted and highly dangerous. For over a year, the Prime Minister took no notice of the ugly demonstration of disunity and petty squabbling between his Home Minister and his Minister of State in the same Ministry until they earned the dubious distinction of having washed their dirty linen on the international media, when the Cabinet Minister was saved by the Prime Minister who shunted off the junior to look after the portfolio of Environment. There were other reports of disagreements at the official level which cast their shadow in the handling of such crisis-points as the Hazratbal siege and the destruction of Charar-e-Sharief.

Finally, it was given out that the Prime Minister himself would look after Kashmir affairs. What this amounted to was that another Minister of State was entrusted with it without having been given any clear perspective about the quantum of autonomy that the government would be prepared to offer. Meanwhile, the preparations were announced for the elections.

The only important development to signify the Centre’s initiative was to permit the US Ambassador, Frank Wisner, to roam about and talk to the Hurriyat leaders and others in the Valley. It is understood that his assessment and advice have spurred the Centre to undertake the risky venture of holding the elections. It is also being given out that the government had been “assured” that the Pakistan authorities would be persuaded to hold back the militants’ activity to enable the elections to take place. Although nobody in New Delhi would like to give out who could possibly have given such an assurance, few have doubts that such an assurance could come possibly only from the US authorities. After the setback over the Hank-Brown resoution in the Capitol Hill, one wounders how much can the Prime Minister depend on US assurances.

For quite sometime, Dr Farooq Abdullah was insistent upon the government announcing the Kashmir “package“ first before going in for the election, while the government position, as one could make out at that stage, was that only when an elected Ministry was formed in the State then alone could it discuss with it the question of reforms or the quantum of autonomy to be given to Kashmir. It almost became the chicken-and-egg dilemma. To any demand that the government should talk to the militant leaders, the official response was, how could one talk to so many of them, and even if one does with some of them, what’s the guarantee that these militant groups and their leaders had any following among the people, and if so, who and how much?

In the recent talks that the Home Minister had with the leaders of the Opposition parties, there was no way of getting the government commit to any specific line of concession. The result has been that instead of struggling towards a common stand, the parties have fallen apart so widely that it would be practically impossible to bridge the gap later and thereby claim that to be the common Indian stand.

Meanwhile, Dr Farooq Abdullah has made it amply clear that in his considered view a settlement could be feasible only if the Government of India agreed to the position prevailing before 1953, that is, before the Delhi Accord was signed by his father. There is no comment, not to speak of commitment, on the part of the government whether it was prepared to consider Dr Farooq’s suggestion. At the other end, the BJP has opposed this tooth and nail and has threatened to launch a campaign against any going back to the pre-1953 status for Kashmir. As it is well known, the BJP has been demanding the scrapping of Article 370 which is itself an offspring of the 1953 Delhi Accord. Where does the Congress stand in this polalrised situation—with Dr Farooq’s pre-1953 or with the BJP’s anti-370 position? There is really no way of evading the issue any longer. Dr Farooq Abdullah’s stand takes into accound not only the changes that have been brought about since 1953, but also the change in the mood and consciousness of the people in the Valley. The BJP, on its part, is keeping up a forty-year old no-change stance, and proposes to budge not an inch from the position that the late Dr Shyama Prakash Mukherji has taken.

To a large measure, Dr Farooq’s present stand is born out of the recognition of the existing ground reality in the Valley. If the alienation of the majority of the people is an undoubted reality—which indeed is what the militancy in the Valley has so long thrived upon—then something substantially more than the 1953 accord needs to be conceded if a fresh initiative towards settlement is to succeed. Dr Farooq knows that without such a stand there could be no winning over the people of the Valley nor can the moderates among the militants be won over or neutralised.

Keeping up a sphinx-like posture on this crucial issue can fetch no dividends for the government. Rather, this way the Prime Minister’s silence would create distrust even among those who have decided to take the risk of facing the poll battle under the most difficult conditions. And the public in general may very well come to the cynical conclusion that the Centre really has no Kashmir policy at all—it’s only waiting for others to act so that it has only to react.

Is it then the fabled Laddoo of Delhi—those who have eaten it shall come to grief as much as those who have not?

(Mainstream, November 4, 1995)

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