Set up by the Manmohan Singh government in 2010, the Kashmir panel comprising M M Ansari, formerly with the Central Information Commission, Radha Kumar, an academic with interest in conflict resolution, and journalist Dileep Padgaonkar, submitted its report about a fortnight back. Predictably, it satisfied nobody. The Hurriyat with its one-point agenda of assimilating Jammu & Kashmir into Pakistan had early on damned the panel as insufficiently high-level and as lacking in political clout. The rest of the country cared little — just another committee to flog a dead horse. Those who were interested didn’t know what to make of the panel tasked with soliciting the range of views within J&K and to come up with guidelines for a solution acceptable to all parties. This was tantamount to asking a dog’s tail to be straightened — it can’t be done.
The panellists are liberal intellectuals but the orientation they brought to their job can be gleaned about only one of them — Kumar, who edited a book of case studies containing ‘simulations’ of various conflicts — Northern Ireland, J&K, Nagaland, an imaginary African country in a civil war situation, etc., written up by various people. In the introduction to the book, she wrote that in the context of Centre-State relations, ‘the crux of the problem’ is ‘Kashmir’s political status’ and, unexceptionably, that any solution would require the separatists and independence-seekers to be drawn ‘into the consensus-building process’ which, she deemed, ‘the key issue’.
In the event, the separatists did not meet with the panel. Even so, it is clear Kumar’s views prevailed, with the panel recommending in the main the establishment of a Constitutional Commission to consider afresh J&K’s position within the Indian Union in terms of the applicability of Indian laws to Kashmir with a view to strengthening its separate status.
Helpfully, Padgaonkar has weighed in with a newspaper article on the subject, with a good portion of it devoted to the reasons why he believes the panellists and their report are relevant to such solution-seeking as the government may pursue in the months ahead. However, with the general elections looming and the ruling coalition’s prospects dimming by the day, it is unlikely that the Kashmir issue is going to be raked up any time soon. The report by Messrs Ansari, Kumar and Padgaonkar, for all intents and purposes, has been interred in the shelves of the Parliament library as its principal promoters are preoccupied — Union home minister P Chidambaram with saving, not Kashmir, but his Lok Sabha seat, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, overwhelmed by his own irrelevance in government, contemplating inconsequence as president of the country.
Now, Ghulam Nabi Fai — the Kashmiri activist jailed in Washington for illegal lobbying in the US Congress, has jumped into the fray. In an article, he has voiced the aspirations of Kashmiris directly derived from the quixotic belief of Maharaja Hari Singh’s about an independent Kashmir. In the troubled times immediately following the lapse of British paramountcy in the subcontinent, the maharaja held back on his decision about which dominion to join in the hope that in the extant confusion and disorder, he’d get his ‘Switzerland in Asia’. The circumstances of the invasion by Pakistani raiders compelled him to accede to India. The enduring problem was, however, created by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who instead of pushing to militarily recover all of the presently Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, including the Northern Areas (Hunza, Gilgit and Baltistan), which the Indian Army was poised to do at the time of the 1948 ceasefire, took the dispute disastrously for this country, to the United Nations. There it instantly became a pawn in big power politics. Having made this horrible mistake, Nehru compounded it by agreeing to the right of self-determination based on nothing more than his conceit that, offered the choice, Kashmiris would join India rather than the rump state of Pakistan.
A still graver internal problem Nehru created for the country was to accord J&K separate constitutional status (Article 370) within the Union. The question remains: What is so unique about Kashmir that it should enjoy such status? If one were to go by legal documents and the accords signed by the various princely states, the British Raj accepted a differential scale of sovereign functioning. Meaning, some kingdoms within the colonial architecture functioned more freely than others. By this criterion, Travancore and Manipur, for example, deserved special status far more than did Kashmir.
If, on the other hand, the issue boils down to Nehru’s promises to Sheikh Abdullah, these have even less sanctity than the constitutionally mandated privy purses Indira Gandhi abolished. Signed accords and paper deeds have been routinely abrogated by newly founded countries in the process of consolidating themselves as nation-states. Consider, for instance, the innumerable treaties the US government signed with the native American-Indian tribes and consigned to the dustbin once they became obstacles to territorial expansion and nation-building.
It is, however, Nehru’s faulty premise that has seeped into the thinking of Indian liberals, that nation-building is a morality tale, an exercise in ethical norms. Actually, as history shows, nations are sewn together, often from disparate parts, by craft, graft, and bloodletting. It is dirty, usually violent business in which people who would otherwise have remained separate were dragged kicking and screaming into the national fold, and no nonsense about it. Again, ask the American Indians who, because they resisted, were exterminated. By reinforcing the notion of their distinctness, Article 370 has perennially fuelled discontent and insurgency, stoked dreams of independence in Kashmir, ill-served India, and should be done away with. It is best that the Kashmiris be told that once however in, there’s no out. If the Hurriyat and that ilk don’t accept it; they can go take a hike. Better still, they should be placed in a tub alongside Arundhati Roy — who seceded from the Indian republic (remember, she threatened to do that?), towed out to sea, and there left to contemplate their virtuous selves outside the 12-mile territorial limit.