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Vajpayee’s brave new statement
By Riyaz Ahmad

Identify mistakes for headway on Kashmir 

Srinagar : The admission by the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, of ‘some mistakes’ vis-a-vis Kashmir has overnight relieved some heaviness over Kashmir. For it has not only imparted some degree of earnestness to the ongoing peace initiative but is also seen as tantamount to public acknowledgment of the existence of a problem on the ground. A far cry from the terrorism-being-the-only-problem-in-the-state attitude. 

But only just. The confession, although made solemnly on independence day from the ramparts of Lal Qila, hardly helps the positive interpretations beyond a point. The deliberate ‘unqualification’ of the statement undoes all the inferences when these have been made and been felt happy about. And a primal question hangs over the whole subject: What are the mistakes prime minister has for once been generous enough to admit? 

As a one more deft stroke of his phraseological felicity, Vajpayee has pulled off a statement that hones itself to everybody’s satisfaction. He deserves kudos for such verbal correctness in an environment where the verbal promises and assurances have created the problem of the scale of Kashmir and left it festering endlessly. That is, if the aim is to keep the problem further lingering on.

But for a real forward movement on Kashmir, the identity of the mistakes has to be revealed. Kashmiris should know whether wrongs mentioned are those in the wisdom of New Dehli and more particularly Sangh Parivar or those which underlie the separatist movement in Kashmir.

For Atal Behari Vajpayee, it has been an arduous trek to Jammu and Kashmir which goes to polls next month. Replay the Kashmir bits of his Independence Day speeches and you will find how this year he broke new ground on Kashmir while on Pakistan, he had to tread the old.

1998 POST-POKHARAN CONFIDENCE: Kashmir still hurts but Vajpayee reassures the world. "We know that the easiest way to win a war is not to let it happen. We are ready to hold talks with Pakistan on any subject, at any level and at anytime…terrorist activities have increased in Jammu Kashmir, they are like a proxy war."
1999 KARGIL GLOW: Kashmir found a one-line mention. "Pakistan crossed the borders of trust and good-will. Today, Punjab is free of terrorism. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are fed up with terrorism."
2000 THE INSANITY BALM: "Our neighbour (Musharraf) must realise that the clock cannot be turned back. The people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh are tired of violence and bloodshed. They are craving for peace. India is prepared to apply the balm for Kashmir’s agony within the framework of Insaniyat. The world knows who has torpedoed these efforts."
2001 AGRA’S SHADOW: "He (Musharraf) wanted us to forget the Shimla Agreement, the Lahore Declaration. I could not have accepted this. Let no one entertain any delusion that Pakistan can succeed in wresting Kashmir. Today I wish to tell the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh that we feel your pain and agony. We have been making all efforts to remove it."
2002 BOLD CONFESSION: "I wish to assure the people of Jammu and Kashmir that if any mistakes have occurred, we shall make amends. For us, Kashmir is not a piece of land; it is a test-case of Sarva Dharma Sambhava secularism. Those who call the forthcoming elections in the State farcical should not give us lectures on democracy. Let them take a look at their track record."

Sangh has always blamed Jawahar Lal Nehru for taking the Kashmir dispute to United Nations and promising a plebiscite to Kashmiris. Parivar also wants annexation of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir. And it also sees the extension of Article-370 to Kashmir as one of the major mistakes and has always been demanding its abrogation. And for that matter even the current political constitution of the J&K is regarded as a problem by RSS which it now seeks to undo through trifurcation or in its terminology the ‘political reorganisation’ of the state. Are these the wrongs, Vajpayee had been referring to in his address?

Or has prime minister for once acknowledged the disputed status of the state as has been the demand of separatists. Hurriyat sees the very instrument of accession with India as the basic mistake that created Kashmir problem. It also regards the unkept promise for plebiscite in Kashmir as a major wrong. Has Vajpayee in his acknowledgment of mistakes come in any sense round to these views? 

Or is there any intermediate point he wishes to make?

These questions have to be answered if the objective in Kashmir this time is not the usual obfuscation of the real point at issue. Otherwise, the vague confessional statements like these can hardly be expected to make a difference at a place where even the accords and far more concrete assurances, promises by the previous prime ministers have failed to materialise. Particularly when statements like “Anything Short of Azadi”, Sky Is The Limit, Maximum Autonomy still ring over the horizon but only as a precaution against their new-fangled version by the new prime minister. 

There is another dimension to the address. Vajpayee has also irresistibly held the ‘comprehensive’ dialogue carrot to the representatives thrown up by the assembly polls. And which is significant enough. Not by the yardstick of its being one more major step in the direction of Kashmir settlement but by its bitter irony. For the prime minister has perhaps unintentionally confirmed the unrepresentative character of the NC dispensation whose autonomy resolution passed by a two-thirds majority is still on the table. Why else did New Dehli shirk talks with this elected government and dismiss its resolution out of hand. Particularly when NC was even ready to be minimalist in the demands. And if now Dehli will talk to the new elected representatives what will be their nature. Will they discuss Azadi? (Greater Kashmir)

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