J&K: Facts and general errors
It is with a deep sense of malaise that I respond to Gen. S.K. Sinha’s article (J&K: New Compact goes nowhere, June 20) on the report of the group of interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir. The general was generous with his time when he shared his insights with us about the complexities of the issues confronting the state.
And he did so with exemplary courtesy. To cross swords with a gentleman-soldier of his eminence is, believe me, a most embarrassing exercise.
But it needs to be undertaken to ensure that efforts to find a durable solution to the protracted problems in Jammu and Kashmir are not stymied on account of a disregard for facts. That, alas, is the case in paragraph after paragraph of the general’s article. He states that “there is a marked tilt towards the Valley” in the report and cites its reference to “victimhood” in Kashmir. But the report speaks about the sense of victimhood prevalent in all the three regions of the state — Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh — and explains the distinctive reasons in each instance. (See pages 35-36). Time and again the report insists that the diverse concerns, interests, grievances and aspirations of all regions and sub-regions and of all communities must be addressed in the search of a solution. (One entire chapter of the report focuses on the need for a devolution of powers at all levels of governance.)
The general gives the impression that the report asks for a return to the pre-1953 situation. In fact, it categorically states that the “clock cannot be turned back” and that any such return would create a dangerous constitutional and political vacuum. What we recommend is a review of all Central acts and articles of the Constitution to determine what additional powers the state needs to cater to the welfare of the people of the state. And this, keeping in view India’s security interests in a swiftly changing geo-strategic environment.
“Amazingly” writes the general “there is no reference (in the report) to the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 1975.” It is very much there and quite explicitly so on page 41. Further, he says that “changing Article 370 from temporary to permanent... is uncalled for.” But the report makes no such recommendation. It calls for substituting the word “temporary” with the word “special”. Under Article 371, several states of the Union (Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam, Manipur, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa) enjoy a “special” status. Article 370 need not be either weakened or strengthened but finessed to accommodate contemporary strategic and economic realities.
Gen. Sinha is also quite wrong to assert that the report does not ask for the opening of the Kargil-Skandu road. All he needs to do is to look up page 116 of the report. Elsewhere he will also find a reference to how much the people of Kargil long for a hassle-free flow of persons and goods across the LoC to Gilgit-Baltistan.
He further charges that the report ignores one lakh homeless and stateless persons in the state — those who sought refuge in Jammu after 1947 and after later wars. That is not the case. On pages 97 and 138 their problems are discussed threadbare and recommendations are made to alleviate them at the earliest.
The report, argues Gen. Sinha, does not spell out concrete or viable measures to address the plight of Kashmiri Pandits who had to flee the Valley on account of the heinous violence aimed at them. That is incorrect. The report recommends that the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley and their security and rehabilitation must be made a part of state policy. Several concrete proposals to this end are listed on pages 96 and 137 of the report.
Finally, the general states that report’s recommendation “to provide pensions for the families of the terrorists killed in encounters with security forces is bizarre.” The report makes no such recommendation. Here is what it says: “Though the state government’s ministry of social welfare is anxious to work on better relief and rehabilitation for victims of violence, widows and orphans of militants are still relatively neglected. As they cannot be included in pension schemes — since their relatives could hardly be called government dependents — the employment and vocational schemes that are currently being prepared should include them.” What is “bizarre” about this humanitarian approach?
The general is quite right when he says that the report has “evoked a negative response from almost all stakeholders”. But was this not to be expected? The report proposes a new narrative on Jammu and Kashmir which threatens entrenched mindsets and vested interests. That is why some have denounced it as a document that promotes the agenda of the Indian establishment and — hold your breath — of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh while some others have rubbished it as pro-Valley, pro-separatist, even anti-national. Be that as it may, Gen. Sinha has to my great regret sacrificed facts about the report at the altar of some higher truth that I am unable to grasp. Now that I have set the factual record straight, I rest my case.