Friday, September 17, 2010
A moral and leadership failure in Kashmir
Wars are won and insurrections defeated by leaders, not committees, especially of the all-party kind. The Manmohan Singh government seems to be bent on defying this logic. Instead of providing coherent and decisive action to quench the fires that are raging in the Valley of Kashmir, the UPA Cabinet decided to call an all-party meeting. Predictably, all the meeting has done is to produce a lot of hot air, and little else.
There should be no need really to repeat the civic lesson that in a parliamentary democracy we elect our representatives, whose majority group constitutes a government, whose job is to run the affairs of the state. The government gets enormous powers and privileges of office, has huge staffs and ministries and can levy taxes to raise the moneys to do their job. There is little point if, when things get tough, their first instinct is to summon an all-party meeting. There is already an institutionalised provision for seeking the views of the parties, and it is called a parliament. An all party meeting is a way of delaying action and shirking responsibility, rather than facilitating it.
The all party meeting has now decided to send an all-party delegation to the Valley. The mind goes back to February 1990 when another prime minister, who ruled by symbols rather than substance, sent an all-party team to Srinagar. Led by Deputy Prime Minister Devi Lal and comprising among others, the leader of the opposition Rajiv Gandhi, the delegation’s visit was a tragicomic farce that created more problems, rather than solving them.
Jammu & Kashmir is on fire. The need of the hour is decisive and bold leadership to douse it, not a committee to decide how to do so.
Simultaneously, there is need for political action to ensure that the inflammable conditions that set the state on fire are removed.
There are two requirements here. First, the need to end the violence that involves two parties—the stone throwing mobs bent on provoking reaction from the police, and the police, ill-trained and poorly led and equipped, and probably short in numbers. The Prime Minister has spoken of the need for peace as a pre-condition for dialogue. He is right. But as the Chief Executive, it is his job to create the conditions, rather than shed them off to the ineffectual Chief Minister of the State.
We need a prime minister or a home minister who will first read out the riot act to the police force and demand disciplined and decisive action to quell the stone-throwing mobs.
Then he will do some blunt speaking to those who are organising and participating in the stone throwing attacks. They are not indulging in peaceful protest. Stones are not lethal, but they are not flowers either. They can, and they do, cause grievous injury. To throw them at the police day in day out is to invite retaliation. The government needs to be upfront in warning those involved that they alone are responsible for the consequences should they persist, especially since the political aim of those who have organised the stone throwers is not democratic protest but to secede from India.
Second, we need a government that is bold enough to confront the key issue in a political settlement—that of autonomy. Fifteen years after Prime Minister Narasimha Rao promised that “the sky is the limit” for autonomy in Kashmir, no government in New Delhi has had the courage to define even the broad parameters of what this could constitute. It is not as though benchmarks do not exist.
The original instrument of accession which gave defence, foreign affairs and communications to the Union government is one. The other is the Delhi Agreement signed between Sheikh Abdullah and Prime Minister Nehru in July 1952 which enshrined the unique relationship between J&K and the Indian Union and the exceptional powers its legislature had as compared to the other states of the Union. The third is the report of the state autonomy committee of 2000. The fourth is the report of Justice Saghir Ahmed’s working group on autonomy and the fifth is the self-rule document prepared by the People’s Democratic Party
Instead of a general all-party meeting— the equivalent of handing the Opposition a blank slate and asking them to write what they want— the Prime Minister could well have come up with a specific agenda of discussing the issue of the state’s unique status and the need to address the sentiment of the people for autonomy. What prevented Prime Minister Singh from actually taking up this issue at the all party meeting and seeking to build consensus?
The obvious is the fear that the BJP would play the spoiler. But it would do so under every circumstance. There is little or no chance that the BJP would come around to any additional autonomy for the state. Indeed, the removal of Article 370 has for long been one of the core issues for the party. Mr Advani’s sorry handling of the initial autonomy proposal in 2000 is a case in point. Without even a discussion in the cabinet and without ascribing any reason, the NC’s autonomy proposal was summarily rejected.
The Congress seems to argue that they will tackle these issues when they have a majority of their own in Parliament. But we know from experience— whether in the battlefield or politics— it is not the numbers that matter, but the manner in which a good general marshals his forces, maneuvers and then destroys the adversary. What really counts is leadership. So the issue is neither the “trust deficit” or the “governance deficit” that the Cabinet spoke of, but a leadership deficit and a moral deficit.
To understand this, you need to look at the actions of Abraham Lincoln who insisted that there could be no secession from the American Union even though six of the southern states had voted to secede in the referendums held along with the presidential election of 1860.
Had Lincoln chosen to let the South go, we may have had slavery in the United States till the beginning of the 20th century. But he did not and insisted on a war, the bloodiest the Americans have fought in their history.
The problem in Kashmir is not just about self-determination. That question is now entangled with that of religious fundamentalism. Two decades of fundamentalist propaganda and organisation now overlay the sub-national movement.
Independent Kashmir will last for about 48 hours before it is overwhelmed, not necessarily by Pakistan, but domestic Islamists with the firepower of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba.
This is what happened in Iran. The 1979 overthrow of the Shah was brought about by a coalition of forces which ranged from the extreme Left to the mullahs owing allegiance to Ayatollah Khomeini. But within months of its victory, the Khomeinists allied themselves to the centrists and wiped out the Left, and then the centrists themselves were eliminated. Now, even the convoluted democracy that the Vilayat-e-faqih system created is being dismantled, to be replaced by an autocracy which rules in the name of
What the country expects from the UPA government is not a discussion on what we should do about Kashmir, but actual action to resolve the Kashmir crisis. As an elected government, they have the legal power and moral duty to act, not the Opposition. It is one thing to consult all political parties, quite another to cite their opposition as a basis for doing nothing. If the government does not want to act, then in a democratic system, at least, the best option for it is to go, and allow someone else to take up the task.
This article appeared in Mail Today September 16, 2010