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A decision on J&K now

The greatest test for the UPA government has come up during its fifth year in office. The explosive situation in Jammu and Kashmir has all the ingredients of becoming a major national issue, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Aug 12, 2008 17:08 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The greatest test for the UPA government has come up during its fifth year in office. The explosive situation in Jammu and Kashmir has all the ingredients of becoming a major national issue. Those in power seem totally clueless on how to deal with the sharp divide cutting through the two regions of this sensitive border state. Things can take a turn for the worse unless the PM acts with firmness and takes to task all those elements responsible for precipitating matters. Pakistan is never short of an agenda as far as Kashmir goes and the present situation could help that country to create more mischief in order to alienate the people of Kashmir from the rest of India.

With elections round the corner and the two regions divided on communal lines, the government will have to use all its resources and tact to ensure that Kashmir does not drift away from India. The sanctity of both the Constitution of Kashmir and the provisions in the Indian Constitution related to Kashmir have to be safeguarded at any cost. The way things stand at the moment, Jammu and Kashmir are headed for a kind of division that has not been witnessed in the state.

At the centre of the present political storm are several major players including former Governor SKSinha, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and some elements within the PDP. All these eminent persons may have something to say in their own defence or may want to explain the circumstances under which certain decisions were taken. But there is no denying of their role in some way or the other.

The BJP that has been short of a political agenda has jumped into the fray to cash in on the crisis. Some Congress leaders and activists of the movement have been demanding the removal of Governor NN Vohra who took over barely a month-and-a-half ago. But clearly, the solution does not lie in his sacking. The solution has to be found through political means and after a dialogue with various sections involved in the agitation on both sides — in Jammu and in Kashmir.

Things took a turn for the worse when the state government decided to allot land for Amarnath yatris who visit the holy shrine each year. The decision was apparently taken without proper application of mind and without going into the reasons why governments prior to the one headed by a Congress CM had not taken such a decision.

Obviously, the Congress alone is not the repository of all wisdom. If the National Conference, that has been power in the state for so many years, and the PDP headed by veteran leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed did not take such a decision, there may have been compelling reasons for that. Every political party wants to take advantage of certain decisions. The fact that neither Farooq Abdullah nor the Mufti ever thought of allotting land was because they knew that it could have wide-ranging ramifications in the state. But the people of Kashmir continued to provide all assistance to the Yatris and looked after them despite the grave threat of militancy. Azad should have realised this as should have the Governor.

Once the intention of the state government became known, violence erupted in the Valley. The PDP, whose ministers were party to the decision-making, withdrew support from the Congress and the Azad government collapsed. However, before he faced the House, the CM decided to revoke the order. This led to a huge agitation in Jammu. It was astonishing that a politically astute politician like Azad had committed not one, but two mistakes, and that too one after the other that totally alienated his party from the people of both Jammu and Kashmir. If allotment led to resentment among the (largely Muslims) people of Kashmir, the cancellation resulted in anger from the (largely Hindu) people in Jammu. The end product is that while the Jammu agitation could spread to the rest of the country, Kashmir could drift away from India.

The role of the previous Governor has been under a lot of scrutiny. There were elements and senior leaders within the Congress who had been urging Shivraj Patil to replace Sinha soon after the UPA came to power in 2004. But the Home Minister did not listen to them despite repeated reminders. Sinha, according to his critics, had his own agenda for Kashmir. He was also allowed to continue beyond his term for a few more days till Vohra took over.

Vohra has had an excellent record as an administrator and has served in several important positions at the Centre before being appointed as an interlocutor on Kashmir by the previous government. He is a bureaucrat par excellence. But the way things stand today, the situation has to be found through political means. The way an engineer can’t do a doctor’s job, a bureaucrat is not able to do a politician’s. Therefore, Vohra has his limitations. But his removal is certainly not a solution.

What the Prime Minister, however, has as to understand is that an overemphasis on the bureaucracy to solve problems is not a good sign. Before initiating a political dialogue with representatives from Jammu and Kashmir, Manmohan Singh should first send the right signal and create a climate for the talks by taking some actions -- actions directed at people like Azad and Patil who are responsible for creating this mess.

It is said that even a correct decision is wrong if it is taken too late. The PM must rise above party interests and take a decision in the interest of the country in general and the people of Jammu and Kashmir in particular. Otherwise, the point of no return is not too far way. Between us.