Towards a deal at last

By K.N. Pandita

Two-month long skulduggery for hammering a deal for J&K coalition government stands in contrast to just a couple of days of negotiations for similar purpose in Maharashtra. Despite perceived defreeze, the void in Kashmir remains fundamental and ideological.

The deal exposes BJP’s inability to induct any new initiative in the process of unlocking Kashmir logjam. The way it handled the deal is photocopy of Congress’ policy.

Assertion of Haribhai Parathibhal Choudhary, Minister of State for Home in the Rajya Sabha in connection with Article 370 is not only U-turn of party’s decades-long stand on the subject as well as Kashmir issue, but has also made BJP’s Kashmir discourse critically fragile.

Before and during parliamentary election campaigns, Modi stirred hornet’s nest by raising the question whether or not Article 370 was beneficial to the State. The inference is if it was not, then it had to go. Making a U-turn, the MOS now stated there was no proposal to repeal the Article. He said no word about its merits or demerits. This means he finds only merits in its continuance.

Article 370 was never the basis of State’s accession to the Union. It came into force three years after the Instrument of Accession was signed. The basis of accession, as claimed by the then Congress leadership, was the commonality of political ideology. Does that commonality exist between PDP and BJP?

MOS says that ”Article 370 is the device to continue existing relationship of the State with the India Union”. The inference is that non-existence of Article 370 means discontinuance of J&K as part of the Indian Union. Presuming that the masses of people in Kashmir, and the majority of members in the legislature demand repeal of Article 370 at any given time, does it not, in the light of the interpretation of MOS, mean cessation of the State from the Union? Will the Indian State stonewall people’s demand of abrogation of Article 370?

Again, the argument that “the Article gives jurisdiction to the Parliament to enact laws on matters specified either in the Instrument of Accession or by later addition…” is severely flawed. J&K has four seats in the Indian Parliament. Two questions arise: First, why should a bill, passed by the parliament, need concurrence of J&K State Legislature if there is endorsement of all the four J&K MPs at the time of passing the bill by the Parliament? No such concurrence is needed in the case of other States.

Second, if all the four J&K MPs oppose a certain bill in the parliament and either abstain from voting or march out of the parliament session, and the House passes it with majority vote, will the bill be deemed applicable to J&K and will it be sent for the concurrence of J&K Assembly or not? If it is deemed to be applicable and sent for concurrence, what will happen to juridical and constitutional issues involved including the status of Article 370?

The argument of the MOS that the Article gives the parliament the jurisdiction to enact laws on matters specified either in the Instrument of Accession or by later addition by concurrence of the Government of the State” is also flawed. What does the Minister mean by “later addition”? If he means subjects other than the identified three of them, viz. defence, foreign and communication, this is not the factual position. Instrument of Accession strictly restricts accession to three subjects only. The Parliament, showing respect to the Instrument of Accession cannot legislate on any item outside the three notified items. But if “later addition” refers to adding more subjects to the list of three, this means tampering with the Instrument of Accession because nobody except the signing authority of the instrument has the powers to add new subjects to it, and incidentally the authority that had signed it was deposed soon after he signed it and no more exists now.

Coming to the scenario of PDP and BJP forming a coalition government, it is only a myth to call it a “broadly representative government bridging many of its differences”. The term “representative government” is both erroneous and misleading in this case: the precise nomenclature has to be “regionally and communally representative government”. If one side succumbs to conditions imposed for coalition, it is not bridging the differences, it is only begging to be accommodated for power sharing and readying to eat the crumbs. The differences are ideological not tactical that can be bridged over.

What are the intentions of PDP in a prospect of tying up at the Centre and becoming partner in the NDA government? Will PDP’s representative in the Union Cabinet dig in for national or regional interests? Will he play the middleman to broker some sort of understanding with Pakistan? Will he be a broker in tripartite talks among the GOI, separatists-secessionists and the State government? Whatever be the case, it is certain that this sort of arrangement will be dangerously effective in eroding status quo which is the sheet anchor of present level of stability in the State.

According to some commentators the ‘Agenda of the Alliance’ lays down the framework for “consensus on contentious issues”. This is contradiction in terms. What is the nature and implication of “contentious issues”? It is not a matter of contention, it is conflict and confrontation. Here sovereignty and universalism are pitted against exclusiveness and sub-regionalism. Does PDP leadership go by Modi’s slogan of “India first?”

Have ideological positions been really nuanced? BJP has agreed to the withdrawal of AFSPA in phases. Has PDP agreed to give an open call to the militants and separatists to shun violence and lay down their arms? Has it agreed not to provide security cover to its ministers, their families? Withdrawing of security cover from Ministers and VIPs will generate reduction of Indian presence in the valley— long cherished by the Kashmiris— and will also save huge but unnecessary expenditure to the state exchequer.

BJP has acceded to PDP’s demand of reconciliation with Pakistan and dialogue with Hurriyat and separatists. Has BJP obtained from PDP any blue print of a roadmap of talks with Pakistan? What are its contours and outlines and what are the concessions which Mufti Saeed wants India to make to Pakistan in return for no infiltration and no LoC firing? Modi often says that he wants to adhere to the policy of transparency. Will his interlocutors come out with answer to these questions?

Now that BJP has agreed to talk to Hurriyatis, it means they are part of the process and PDP has got their legitimacy accepted by BJP. The question is why then did Modi government make the Hurriyat-Pak High Commissioner meeting the pretext for stalling foreign secretary level talks? Why this belated realization of hard facts of Kashmir situation?

The two sides are reported to have discussed and arrived at a mechanism of addressing the issue of refugees from PoK. We know that during its long tenure Congress had left this issue untouched despite protests by the refugees. It was BJP which infused spirit into the subject. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, there is no mention of a probe into the exodus of the entire Hindu minority from the valley in 1990, the treatment meted out to them in their exile and the unresolved question of their return and rehabilitation. This reflects the fragility of Indian secularism and the ease with which it can be rendered unimportant where vested interests reign supreme.

Coalition governments in our country have left behind very unimpressive record. PDP-BJP embrace will not be an exception. Under the rubric of “tolerance” BJP will gradually become impotent once it is catapulted into the seat of power. It will meet censure not only from the opposition benches on anything and everything, but also from its coalition partner when any matter of sub-regional significance comes up. The beginning has been made by NC chief Omar Abdullah by saying that the capital of J&K has shifted to Nagpur. Understand the implications of statements like these with extraordinarily forceful communal undertones.

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