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Handcuffed to history

india Updated: May 21, 2011 16:44 IST
Balraj Puri

Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram observed, in an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, that there was a need to look into the promises made in the Delhi Agreement in the 1952, Indira-Sheikh Accord in 1972, and in the understanding of 1986 (between Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah).

In the present context, the understanding of 1986 is most relevant. Commenting on it then, I had written in an article "net effect of the Accord would be that Kashmir will go Punjab way (when it was in the grip of terrorism) and Farooq (the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir) would go the Barnala (the dismissed and isolated Chief Minister of Punjab) way."

Farooq Abdullah met me the same day when the article was published and asked me how I could compare him with Barnala, who used to live in a fortress whereas he was roaming freely. I replied that it took Barnala two months to destroy himself politically, whereas Farooq's father had left such rich assets that even if he squandered it with both hands, it could last for another two years. It was a friendly warning. If he listened to it, he might be saved. Almost after two years, the first incident of militancy occurred when the president of a block committee of the ruling National Conference was killed in Srinagar by a militant.

My argument was that before the accord the National Conference provided an outlet to anti-Centre sentiments, whereas the Congress had become an effective outlet for anti-state government sentiments. The accord destroyed both outlets, making a secessionist vent inevitable.

Rajiv Gandhi is reported to have realised that "the accord was the single biggest mistake he made while in office". He told Vir Sanghvi, the then editor of Sunday, that he thought "it was important that the Congress and the National Conference remained at opposite ends of the political spectrum." Otherwise, he said, "protest votes would end up going to the extremists." (Hindustan Times, November 2, 2005).

Earlier, the Farooq government was dismissed in 1984 after he had hosted a conclave of India's opposition parties, which were no less patriotic than the ruling party. The moral in both cases (1984 and 1986) was that Kashmir, unlike other states of India, could not elect a government which was not loyal to the party in power at the Centre.

The Indira-Abdullah Accord of 1975 had received massive popular applause. In the first election to the assembly in 1977, the Janata Party, the ruling party at the Centre, mobilised all the anti-Abdullah elements. Some of them had become anti-India or pro-Pakistan for want of a pro-India outlet. This was made available in the form of the Janata Party. They joined it, even though it included the Jana Sangh.

In the fairest election so far, the National Conference swept the poll, the Janata party won only two out of 42 seats in the Kashmir valley. The rout of the ruling party at the Centre by the regional party was a unique, and thrilling experience for the people. It made them realise, for the first time, the potentialities of being a citizen of India, and marked a momentous step towards the emotional integration of Kashmir with the rest of India, as it established that loyalty to India and to the Government of India were not synonymous. The Sheikh, who remained in power in the state from 1975 to 1982, could make the people of the Valley proud Kashmiris as well as proud Indians.

The Sheikh's son and successor switched loyalty to any party that came to power, including the BJP-led NDA government in which Omar was a minister of state for external affairs. The Centre, too, got used to this pattern. This is evident in the latest eight-point package for J&K announced by the Centre on September 25. Seven points of the package were within the jurisdiction of the state government. Any diktat from the Centre on them was uncalled for. The Congress could, at the most, advise the chief minister through its coalition partner on these points.

The first step for a rational Kashmir policy should be that the State government gets at least as much autonomy as other state governments in federal India have got. The state government be persuaded to adopt a federal and decentralised set-up so that urges of its three regions and all ethnic identities are reconciled.

Balraj Puri is Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs , Jammu. The views expressed by the author are personal.