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Between the line

Storm in a teacup
October 20, 2010


TIMING is an important factor for politicians. They should know when to speak. If they do not know what should be said and when, they can land themselves in trouble. India’s first Governor General C Rajagopalachari was correct in supporting the demand for Pakistan in 1942. But since he was a tall leader of the Congress, which was opposed to the demand at that time, he was not only vehemently criticized but also made to feel like a persona non-grata in the party.

Somnath Chatterjee did not obey the order of his party, the CPI (M), to resign from the Speakership because he felt the timing was wrong. He was presiding over the session when India’s nuclear treaty had come under the hammer, to be voted upon. The CPI (M) turned him out of the party. Later, many of its stalwarts regretted the decision and felt that they should have waited till after the voting when he would have resigned as he had indicated.

Similarly, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah’s outburst in the state assembly had come at a wrong time. His statement that the state acceded to India in 1948, without merging with the country, is correct factually and historically. His grandfather Sheikh Abdullah, then the state’s prime minister, joined the Union on the condition that New Delhi would hold only three subjects—defence, foreign affairs and communications—and leave the rest to the state. New Delhi accepted the condition.

Omar Abdullah’s enunciation of that had come at a wrong time. He should have known that the valley is in ferment and the people are asking for azadi. His drawing the line between accession and merger at this time was bound to be misunderstood. The pro-azadi protesters have interpreted it as putting a question mark over India’s claim that Kashmir is its integral part. Hardliner Syed Shah Gillani has already said that Omar Abdullah is “speaking” his language.”

On the other hand, Omar Abdullah has diluted his credentials in India. Even the Congress party has said that Omar Abdullah’s statement in the state assembly looks different from the not-long-ago affirmation in the Lok Sabha that he was an Indian to the applause of the country.

It is understandable that he was under pressure when he made the statement in the assembly. More than 100 people had died in those many days due to a clash between those who were stone pelting and the security forces. But the forbearance and stamina of a person is tested during the stress. As the chief minister, he cannot pass the buck. He looked like making the centre a scapegoat for his troubles. He has to be circumspect in what he says and does. I feel Omar Abdullah lacks maturity, not integrity.

The chief minister’s statement that he is “not a puppet” is another sad commentary on the Indian federal structure. It means that the centre flexes its muscles whenever it wants to make the states to fall in line. The statement also shows Omar Abdullah in a poor light. Why should he give the impression to New Delhi that he is malleable and can be bent through pressure? One has not heard the remark of being “a puppet” from other chief ministers. There must have been something to make him say this.

What is the status of Kashmir when the state has signed the instrument of accession and has not merged can be debated by people who have not taken oath under the Indian constitution. When Omar Abdullah assumed office, he swore by the constitution which says that Kashmir is an integral part of India. True, there is a special status given to Kashmir (Article 370) within India, not outside the Union.

Sheikh Abdullah paid the price of transgressing that Lashman rekha and was under detention for 12 years. He was Jawaharlal Nehru’s best friend who, apparently, felt that the Sheikh had crossed the limits. He returned to power only after avowing allegiance to the Indian constitution and ruled the state as long as he lived.

I do not think that things would come to such a pass again because New Delhi has learnt not to be too sensitive. And I do not see Omar Abdullah becoming a rallying point for the protesters asking for azadi. The whole thing may not turn out to be more than a storm in a tea cup. Except for the BJP, no other political party has made Omar Abdullah’s remarks an issue.

Omar Abdullah’s party, National Conference, has gone over the exercise of pushing New Delhi to the 1953 position when the Sheikh signed an agreement with New Delhi. Farooq Abdullah, Omar’s father, was then the chief minister and New Delhi was ruled by the BJP. There was so much pressure exerted on Faroooq Abdullah that he had to put the resolution passed by the state assembly on autonomy in cold storage.

This does not, however, mean that New Delhi’s encroachment on the power which belongs to the state is justified. Acts which have been passed in the field, other than three subjects—defence, foreign affairs and communications—have to be withdrawn. The centre cannot occupy the territory that goes beyond three subjects.

It is welcome to note that Omar Abdullah said that Pakistan must be associated with the solution of Kashmir. India has itself said many a time, from the Tashkent declaration to the Shimla agreement that Kashmir remained to be solved. Therefore, no solution can be lasting without Islamabad’s agreement.

It is a coincidence. But the interview by Barkha Dutt, a television star, with former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, has brought to the fore the Kashmir solution which both Pakistan and India had found acceptable. It was only to be inked. The formula is reportedly still acceptable to India but not to the Asif Zardari government in Pakistan. New Delhi has to pursue the formula vigorously.

What surprises me is that the Kashmiris have not yet realized, after sacrificing thousands of their men, that India would never accept a position where the state opts for a status outside the country. New Delhi may be willing to go beyond the Indian constitution but not the Indian Union. Understandably, the borders can be irrelevant but not erased.

Some quarters in Pakistan have realized this because, as former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said once, “We cannot take Kashmir from you forcibly, nor can you offer it on a platter.” The two countries would have to find a peaceful solution. One Pakistani political commentator wrote some time back: “What we could not win in the war, we cannot get at the negotiating table.”

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