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Mainstream, VOL LV No 22 New Delhi May 20, 2017

Bankruptcy at Policy Level

Saturday 20 May 2017

From N.C.’s Writings

With all the excitement generated over the Ramaswami impeachement, the Narasimha Rao Government has good reason to thank the Opposition for letting the Budget pass with only a token show of dissent.

This marks a major headway for the government which had to pass quite a few anxious moments when it was reported that the BJP would not hesitate to support the cut motions due to be moved by the National Front-Left combine. The fact of having escaped defeat in the Lok Sabha voting on the Budget has no doubt brought a sense of relief for the Narasimha Rao Government which has been carrying on without commanding majority support in Parliament.

But to win battles is not the same thing as winning the war. The battle is thus won by Narasimha Rao in the parliamentary confrontation with the Opposition, but there is as yet no sign of the government’s capacity to win the war, to ward off or overpower the challenges that face it on the national plane. It is precisely in this area that the weakness of the present government is palpable.

We seem to have reached a blind alley in Kashmir. The Minister for Internal Security, Rajesh Pilot, may be spending a lot of physical energy rushing about the place, holding earnest consultations with officials, both civil and military, high and low. But in terms of a policy perspective, all this is as bleak as an arid desert in dealing with the turbulence in the Valley. The new Governor is, after all, not so new as he has had extensive experience of dealing with Kashmir, both on the defence and political sides. But the Governor on his own initiative can only help marginally. What is needed is a clear policy approach on the part of the Centre. To talk about restoring normalcy before elections can take place—as has been done by the Union Home Minister—is really begging the question. For everybody knows from the Hizbul militant in the Valley to the Pandit refugee in Jammu that there could be no election anywhere until normalcy is restored.

The point to raise here is what the plans of the Centre are to bring back normalcy. It is admitted in responsible circles within the government—and not merely by the Human Rights lobbies—that the two items which have been responsible for antagonising the people in the Valley are the combing operations and the custodial deaths. On both these counts, it is important for the authorities to decide how to put an end to them so that the present embittered environment in the Valley could be changed and a certain amount of trust and confidence of the people towards the government is restored. What is involved here is the battle for the mind of the people in the Valley—to enable them to judge for themselves the advantages of remaining within the Indian Union in contrast to the negative consequence of going out of it.

The crux of the present crisis in Kashmir is to be found in the handling of this problem. This is not just a psychological issue but a very real political problem with a historical background. This has to be squarely faced. And it cannot be squarely faced unless and until the government is clear in its mind how far it is prepared to go to win over the Kashmiri psyche, if one may call it. With the BJP clamour for the removal of Article 370, it is but natural for an average Kashmiri to be concerned about the special status of Jammu and Kashmir as specifically ensured by the Indian Constitution. The implied edge of the BJP propaganda is that the people in the Kashmir Valley being overwhelmingly Muslim cannot be trusted, and so they should no longer enjoy the immunity so long granted to them.

What is held back in this propaganda is that Article 370 provides the State of Jammu and Kashmir to have a Constitution of its own, and that Constitution enjoins the inviolability of the State’s accession to the Indian Union, a provision which cannot be amended, as laid down in that very Constitution. Secondly, why so much fuss about Article 370, when one finds no attack by the BJP and Co on Article 370 which grants similar elements of autonomy to the North-Eastern States?

No doubt the government has repeatedly made it clear that it would not permit the scrapping or any modification of Article 370. But one gets the impression that any gesture which may help to win over the people of the Valley—at least to lower their antipathy towards the Centre—is being held back by the government for fear of antagonising the leading Opposition party in Parliament. And those in the ruling establishment who measure every move by the criterion of vote-gathering, would certainly be holding on to the position that if the government stood up for the Kashmiri people, it might have an adverse impact on the Hindu voter. This assumption itself is incorrect for the simple reason that there is a very large body of Hindu opinion which refuses to thrive on Muslim-baiting in some form or other.

Kashmir, however, is not the only theatre where the government’s bankrutptcy at the policy level is shown up. It is facing problems of regional unrest all the way from Bodoland to Jharkhand via Darjeeling. More such issues are bound to come up and unless the government comes out with a clear policy perspective on this burning question of growing regional assertion, it will not only be unable to tackle them, but reduce these to a mere law-and-order question which will make these worse. In this context one is at a loss to understand why the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission are not being taken up in right earnest.

The Sarkaria Report is not a revolutionary document at all. Its recommendations are really meant to strengthen the Constitution and not weaken it. This is a report which commands wide support and there is no earthly reason why the government should fight shy of implementing its recommendations. There is no doubt whatsoever that if the Sarkaria Report is taken up with a sense of urgency then the right signal will go to all militant groups—whether in Kashmir or Punjab, in Jharkhand or the North-East—that this government can be trusted to take up their demands and grievances in right earnest. Needless to add, it will also bring down the mounting tension that prevails between the Centre and the States.

The perspective is missing in the government’s approach to the communal question also. Leave alone its pathetic record in handling the developments on December 6 and afterwards, one notices a strange tendency to surrender whenever faced with the communal bully and blackmail. The latitude that has been systematically extended to the Shiv Sena is now sought to be made up by the latest move in Kerala to declare a weekly holiday on Friday instead of Sunday to placate Muslim communalism. Rather even-handed one may claim—yielding to both Hindu and Muslim fanaticism. In other words, promote communalism to ensure vote-banks.

Here is a case of petty electoral politics prevailing over the national imperative of fighting communalism.

(Mainstream, May 15, 1993)

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