Council Makes History

“Omar is playing to the galleries ahead of the Assembly elections. He knows his report card on the performance front is zero. He is indulging to gain sympathy.” This is how the BJP’s Kashmir spokesman, Khalid Jahangir, parroted his master’s voice, warning Omar Abdullah not to meddle in foreign policy issues. Read this with the already announced policy of the Modi Government to call off talks with Islamabad “unless Pakistan stops terrorism and violence.” Union Home Minister and RSS hardliner Rajnath Singh has declared that he has no plans to meet his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of the SAARC conference to be held in Nepal later this month. New Delhi has already called off foreign secretary-level talks that were scheduled for August 25 in Islamabad – it had taken offence at the Pak High Commissioner meeting some Hurriyat leaders from Kashmir.

New Delhi’s hard stance vis -a -vis negotiations on the Kashmir issue with Pakistan may be partly because of upcoming Assembly elections in some states, but it is in consonance with RSS ideology.

Islamabad too hardened its position, saying that Kashmir was not part of India, and that was why the two sides had been negotiating for so long, and that it was justified in talking to the stake holders, primarily the Kashmiris.

Recounting these developments is meant only to emphasize the historic importance of the resolution passed unanimously by Jammu and Kashmir’s Legislative Council, something that went almost unnoticed in political statements and commentary. But that does not detract from its historic import.

First, the resolution itself:

“The house resolves that the state government must urge the central government to resume the process of Indo-Pak dialogue to ensure peace and stability in the subcontinent in general and the state of Jammu and Kashmir in particular.”

Three points now: One, for the first time in the history of Jammu and Kashmir, a resolution was moved by the chairman of the upper house. Two, it was passed with the support of the National Conference, the PDP and the Congress. Three, the BJP termed it “highly dangerous” and warned that the parties supporting it would have to pay a heavy price for this pro-Pakistan line.

Normally, a state legislature has no locus standi on foreign policy issues, particularly when dialogue between India and Pakistan implicitly and explicitly refers to the Kashmir issue.

Thus, the Legislative Council resolution has accepted the dispute and the need to resolve it through dialogue with Pakistan as the people of the state are the primary sufferers.

This resolution has implicitly challenged so-called national policy which would emphasize that the state of Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India, and its status was not negotiable with Islamabad.

PDP legislator Naeem Akhtar said that Kashmiris must raise their voice as the primary stake-holders in Indo-Pak dialogue. It seems to be a solid step by the so-called pro-India political groups to become partners in the so called resolution of the Kashmir issue. It could make so-called separatist groups, as well as New Delhi, uncomfortable. But the fact remains that the Legislative Council passing a resolution to resume dialogue with Pakistan is a historic and noteworthy step.

It negates New Delhi’s official line that by voting for pro-India parties, Kashmiris repose trust in the Indian Union and support the integral part theory. Now, all major political in Kashmir are asking the central government to resume dialogue with Pakistan, and not harping on the integral part and non-negotiable tune. The resolution says Kashmir is negotiable and that pro-India political parties are stake holders. The resolution tacitly conveys that the state’s political parties are not anti-Pakistan by political genes.

There has been a marked change in the political posturing of pro-India groups since 1996-2002. They no longer wear atoot ang hearts on their sleeves. This has made them more “acceptable” in the turmoil-hit society that wants a way out through resolution.

Since 2002, all political parties, notably the NC and the PDP, have been aligning their policies with pro-settlement politics. Negotiations may or may not resume, and the real settlement may come in some distant future, but it cannot be overstated that democracy and elections have not won the final word in favour of New Delhi. Omar Abdullah and Mufti Sayeed, with varying arguments, have been saying that Kashmir needs a negotiated settlement with Pakistan and cannot be termed as a closed chapter or merely an issue of terrorism and violence which might be termed as unwanted manifestations of the issue.

Islamabad is in a deep mess, so the upper house resolution may not have made a mark. Similarly, Hurriyat groups seem less likely to understand the profundity of the resolution. But historians, political commentators and civil society need to take its significance into account because it can provide some vital elements of unity, and contribute to a culture of tolerance and coherence.