Faltering half-steps on J&K

Nearly 36 hours after the last session of Parliament and seven months after its submission, the Jammu and Kashmir interlocutors’ report quietly appeared in the public domain. Two years ago, following the state administration’s failure to handle the summer of stone pelting and an all-party meeting in Delhi, the ministry of home affairs appointed a three-member group to assess and report the ground situation.

Notwithstanding the repeated demand by the Opposition parties, the terms of reference were left to the individual members to define and interpret. Even as the group’s work began, continued and ended, so did each of the member’s interpretation of the terms of reference kept coming, bewildering the nation. Titled “A New Compact with the People of Jammu and Kashmir”, the interlocutors assert “the political settlement we propose”. They believe a broad consensus “exists on critical issues” and to build on this consensus they recommend setting up of a constitutional committee to review all Central Acts and Articles of the Constitution of India extended to the state after 1952. 
Great stalwarts who framed our Constitution did not provide any special status to J&K through Article 370 and that this was a transitory provision was specified by the use of the words “for the time being”. We know that J&K has been declared and treated as a constituent of the Indian Union even as per Article 370(1)(d). However, the interlocutors recommend deletion of the word “temporary” and replacing it with “special”. Needless to say, this recommendation implies amending the Constitution and making the much abused Article 370 permanent.
By now, it is understood that Article 370 has been invoked to deprive the people of J&K the benefits of developmental legislations that help provide opportunities to people of the rest of the country. The interlocutors have a penchant to give sweeping and grandiose solutions where simple and perhaps “doable” ones can serve better. This also leads them to contradict themselves. The report stresses the need for participatory self-governance and urges greater devolution of powers for the panchayati raj institutions. The state government, misusing Article 370, has not allowed the 73rd and 74th amendments to our Constitution to come into force in the state. A simpler recommendation would have been to remove Article 370 itself and to fully implement panchayati raj.
On June 23, the nation remembered Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who became a martyr fighting that in India there cannot be two nishan (flags), two pradhan (Prime Ministers) and two samvidhan (Constitutions). The report suggests going back to those days by recommending usage of the terms wazir-e-azam and sadar-e-riyasat. This ingenious suggestion shows that the interlocutors have not applied their mind to think afresh with changing times.
That the group has appropriated more authority for itself than the country was given to believe is evident from their suggestion for an agreement with Pakistan on Kashmir, which they describe as a “win-win” situation. The reference to the sovereignty of Pakistan on the erstwhile princely state are domains that are tenuously brought into the terms of reference; this was unwarranted and avoidable. It disregards the stated Indian position and undermines our sovereignty. And that too after declaring: “...the sovereignty, territorial integrity, security shall not be compromised.” Consistent with their grandiloquence, the interlocutors recommend that the strategic importance of Jammu and Kashmir as a bridge between Central and South Asia should be kept in mind. 
The interlocutors attempt to project the Nehru-Sheikh Abdullah accord (1952) as more sacrosanct than the constitutional provisions. They audaciously comment on the verdicts of the Supreme Court. Courts are guardians of the Constitution. In the absence of well-defined law on a particular matter, the Supreme Court’s verdict serves as law. No accords, albeit between a Prime Minister and a chief minister can be treated as a substitute for the prevailing law. In particular, the Nehru-Abdullah accord does not have any constitutional validity. At best, it can be considered as gentlemen’s agreement that can serve a political purpose.
The report claims that the political settlement they propose takes into account the deep sense of victimhood prevalent in the Valley. Together with this, the language they use when talking about the Army or police such as “brutalisation” forms the undercurrent of this report. However, the Kashmiri Pandits and others, broadly classified as “displaced persons” who are in their own country living in migrant camps and do not have voting rights, seem to have made no impression on the interlocutors. Their recommendations, cultural confidence-building measures and suggestions for building a consensus among key stakeholders — none have any specific suggestions on how the displaced persons will be enabled to return. It seems the interlocutors have ignored the Kashmiri Pandits completely barring one-line reference: “Making the return of all Kashmiris, mainly Pandits (Hindu minority) a part of state policy.”
The lack of development in Ladakh and Kargil areas also seem to be of no concern. It may just be a coincidence that the interlocutors did not hold a round table conference for consultation in the Ladakh region, while they held the same in Jammu and Srinagar.
It is necessary to recall that in February 1994, Parliament had passed a resolution not just stating that Jammu and Kashmir inclusive of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is an integral part of India, but also resolving to retrieve PoK. However, contrary to this resolution, we find the report calling PoK as Pakistan Administered Kashmir and together with other recommendations, nearly conceding this territory to Pakistan.
It can thus be seen that through the proposed “New Compact”, the interlocutors have rejected the idea of greater integration and thrown out everything our Constitution-makers had envisaged.

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