Options for Kashmiri Leaders
A vital question that the separatist leaders must decide is whether they want Azadi or any other status outside India for the whole state or for the Kashmiri speaking community in the Valley. In either case they must consider its implications.
In the former case, (i.e., whole state) they must also decide the question of inter-regional relations and constitutional and institutional arrangements to satisfy the urges of all ethnic diversities in the new arrangement.
I posed this question to Syed Ali Shah Geelani, when he was the president of the United Hurriyat. He assured me "we will treat Jammu and Ladakh much better than the present state government." I said that there are two pre-requisites for this assurance. First that he would remain supreme in the new set up. Second that he would be immortal. He then asked. "do you want to constitutionalise the system." I replied in the affirmative. Needless to say it was never done.
On another occasion, I offered to Hurriyat leaders to organize an all-parties conference on the internal constitutional set up of the state irrespective of their views on its external status. The Hurriyat leaders told me "you are always welcome to discuss the matter with us." I insisted that I want a formal decision of all the parties. After some time Yasin Malik came to Jammu and asked me to revive my proposal. I replied "when I had made the proposal, the Hurriyat was united. I could invite it as the sole representative of Kashmir region. Now it is divided. Moreover an elected government is in power. Whatever be its following, the ruling party cannot be ignored. If you are willing to sit with the other Hurriyat and the National Conference, I can still convene an all parties conference." Obviously Yasin was not willing.
I may invite the attention of separatist leaders to State People's Convention convened by Sheikh Abdullah in 1968 as leader of the Plebiscite Front the most popular secessionist group of the time. It was also attended, inter alia, by Mirwiaz Farooq, father of Mirwaiz Umar, and Jamaat-e-Islami, of which Geelani was a member besides GM Karra's pro-Pakistan People's Conference. It unanimously accepted my draft on internal constitutional set up of the state, irrespective of its status. It provided for regional autonomy and devolution of power to district, block and panchayat levels.
Would Mirwaiz and Geelani, the leaders of the rival Hurriyats accept this proposal, to which Mirwiaz Farooq and Jamat-e-Islami were committed?
The other alternative is to divide the state and be prepared for its consequences. Sajjad Lone, in his manifesto, Achievable Nationhood, has offered to Hindu areas of Jammu and to Buddhists of Ladakh with the option to opt out of the state. The Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council has endorsed the idea and demanded Union Territory status of Ladakh. Balraj Madhok, Dr. Karan Singh and Syed Shahabuddin had supported the idea of division of the state some time back at one stage or the other. New York based Farooq Kathwari, the richest and most influencial Kashmiri, and his Kashmiri Study Group, Salig Harrison, leading American expert on the Indian subcontinent, had also advocated the idea. I had discussed implications of the idea with most of them who modified their stand. Farooq Kathwari, had in a long telephonic talk told me that his Kashmir Study Group, no longer supported the idea of division of the state and the best step should be regional autonomy.
At one stage the BJP led NDA government supported the idea of division of the state. I organized a conference of former Prime Ministers and other leading personalities of the country who opposed the idea. I conveyed the decision to the then Prime Minister Vajpayee and had also detailed discussions with the then Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani. When on the eve of General Musharraf's first visit to India, some voices in BJP parivar were raised in favour of division of the state, I sought an appointment with Advani. He suggested we could meet after Musharraf had returned. I insisted on meeting him before the visit of Pakistan president. He agreed to meet me just a day before the visit.
I told him that the idea of division of the state had been welcomed by Pakistan and asked him why had his party become so generous to Pakistan. He replied that he was convinced after discussion with me that the remedy of the division of the state was worse than the disease but the RSS was not convinced. I offered to discuss the idea with the RSS leaders. Advani arranged my meeting with some RSS representative. After some discussion, he was disarmed and suggested that I should meet the then RSS chief Sudarshan. I agreed but he was out of town then and did not return till my stay in Delhi.
Earlier I had asked Geelani whether he had considered the implications of Advani-Geelani formula for the division of the state. After my explanation, he agreed to reconsider his stand.
Now again RSS ideologue Vaidya has recommended that Kashmir region he granted pre-1953 autonomy but Jammu and Ladakh should be fully merged with Indian Union. This is what Jana Sangh founder Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukerjee had once thought and entered into prolonged correspondence with Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah. The Sheikh quotes him of having said. "If the people of the Kashmir valley think otherwise, there can be special provision for that zone. We would readily agree to treat the valley with Sheikh Abdullah as its head in any special manner for such time as he would like but Jammu and Ladakh must be fully integrated with India."
Commenting in Mukerjee's view, the Sheikh wrote: vide his letter dated February 4, 1953. "You are perhaps not unaware that the attempts are being made to force a decision by disrupting the unity of the state. Once the ranks of the state people are divided any solution can he foisted on them." Eventually Mukerjee accepted Delhi Agreement in toto.
A crucial question in case of division of the state would be the future of Muslim majority districts of Jammu and Muslim majority district of Kargil in Ladakh. As politics of Jammu is no more cherished the ideal of secularism, it is doubtful if Muslim majority areas will like to change their status from a Muslim majority state to a Hindu majority state. Similarly, the movement for Union Territory status in Ladakh led by the BJP and confined to Leh, Kargil is unlikely to join it, though its Muslim majority is not at all happy with what it considered a Kashmiri dominated state. Already by dividing Ladakh into a Buddhists majority Leh and Muslim majority Kargil and denying a regional status in the constitution of the state, which recognizes only Jammu and Kashmir regions, the seeds of religious division of Ladakh have been sown.
If the state is divided on religious lines, no Muslim would be secure in Hindu majority Jammu, nor a Hindu would be secure in Muslim majority part of the region. Sizeable minorities live at present in both parts. Similar insecurities will be created in Leh and Kargil. Any issue can ignite communal clash any where which can lead to chain of communal riots with repercussions in the rest of India. The secular basis of the country would thereby be undermined.
The worst sufferer would in that case be Kashmir region and its thousands of years-old great civilization. Present unitary and centralized system is a perennial source of tension which seeks an anti-India outlet in Kashmir. In Jammu, it encourages ultra-nationalist and even communal sentiments. Both pro-and anti-India parties should therefore first work for a federal and decentralized system, so that a harmonious nature of the state can be built more or less on the model of the People's Convention draft on internal constitution. Any dialogue about the permanent status of the state after that would become much easier.Balraj Puri is the director of the Jammu-based Institute of Jammu and Kashmir affairs. He may be contacted at email@example.com