Autonomy for the Valley : Dilemma or Debate

Autonomy for the Valley : Dilemma or Debate

The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah appears to cherish ‘to be the last full stop in everything.’ This is apparent from his dispositions on Kashmir and the issue of autonomy in the valley. There seems to be little or no concern for years of political seismicity, volumes of diplomatic skullduggery, tons of military equipment on stand by and heightened media blasting continuing between two most sensitive products of withered British empire in post world war – II era, i.e. India and Pakistan over this piece of territory on both sides of the Line of Control.In the present days of objectivity-ruled-democratically sensitised socio-political mould, Farooq found his governance not enough for the common man of Kashmir who has his life already obfuscated and juxtaposed amidst the sectarian nuisance of Islamic fundamentalists, cross border terrorism and an overdose of military controlled administration. His frustration ( i.e : he could have been the Prime Minister of Pakistan ) got expression in a stance that betrayed escapism. The Chief Minister stirred up hornets’ nest by throwing up an issue which is nothing but a sort of populist intellectualism.

The passage of the Autonomy Bill in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly raises certain questions for the policy makers and intelligentsia to ponder : –

Does the intended ‘autonomy’ makes Article 370 of the Indian Constitution redundant ?

Whether the demand for autonomy is shadowed by the ‘Ajad Kashmir’ concept of Pak-Occupied Kashmir ?

What shall be the geo-political and diplomatic status of the Line of control ?

The issues for the hushed debate in the intellectual circuit in India are : –

Echo of ‘more autonomy’ in the Kashmir pattern from other parts in India. ( The Sikhs were prompt to seize this opportunity)

The historical treatment of sacrifices of the Indian army ( for Kashmir ) and people over the last five decades,

The way the autonomous Kashmir shall treat the people of Jammu and Ladakh regions where the inhabitants do not have any sociological homogeneity with the people of Kashmir who constitute the cream of economic as well as political power.

Two of the major political parties in India – BJP and Congress have their opposition to an autonomous Kashmir on different ideological platforms. Congress takes accession of Kashmir as a logical conclusion. BJP has its views superstructured on Dr. S.P. Mukherjee and Golwalkar’s vision of one India-one nation theory. Surprisingly however, BJP’s opposition to autonomy lacks spontaneity and is more or less in hushed manner, where as Congress appears to be totally clueless about it. Except for Bal Thackrey of Shiv Sena, no other political leader or party including those in the NDA government has come out directly against such proposals. Even Prime Minister Vajpayee and Home Minister Advani have made impromptu (and perhaps incalculative) statements in favor of considering it. Defence Minister and self appointed Kashmir expert George Fernades is conspicuously silent about it and foreign Minister Jaswant Singh appear to be completely bewildered.

Kargil was a snub as well as a setback for Prime Minister Vajpayee’s efforts towards normalcy in Indo-Pak relations. BJP moreover has always been in demand for repeal of Article 370 and the end to the special status given to Kashmir in the Constitution. In this background and especially since one of the ruling partners in the coalition government is the Akali Dal from Punjab that had an innings in the separatist game earlier makes autonomy issue a very difficult policy matter for the government.

That Farooq’s proposal is the outcome of his frustration in having been left out when NDA government took concrete steps to restore normalcy in the Valley no body is in any doubt. This started with the release of Hurriyat leaders by the Indian government and its offer for talks. But any formal acquiescence to Farooq’s sensitive yet populist political move may send wrong signals to separatist outfits else where like Khalistani’s in Punjab, Bodos, Kerbi-Anglong and ULFAs in Assam, NSCN in Nagaland, LTTE in Sri Lanka etc. This not only will put the Indian government in a spot, domestically but shall take out the essence of expectation of any international support in ongoing Kashmir related feud with Pakistan. With Ladakhi’s opposing such a move and people of Jammu already starting to feel uncomfortable any acceptance tacit or conditional of Farooq’s proposal shall in effect put the Indian government in a no win situation. Lack of any definite and suggestive response on the face of similar demands falling in line from Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra is certainly not going to bale it out of the mess. India’s self created diplomatic confusion has in the past put it in a spot in world forum particularly on the Kashmir issue. The need now is for the entire political spectrum along with the government to come out and specify their respective positions in a comprehensive straight jacket manner before the situation spills out of bounds putting the government’s initiatives and credibility in a sham.

Tarun Kanti Mohanty

Research Coordinator