The poll-time argy-bargy over the autonomy question in Jammu and Kashmir isn’t a wee bit amusing. It’s worrisome, in fact from the standpoint of the dialogue the Centre has announced with stakeholders in the troubled State.
Much of what’s said about autonomy is politically expedient. Kashmir centric parties root for it to consolidate base in the Valley; national parties are circumspect because of the likely divisive backlash in mainland India. But autonomy–that’ll give mainstream parties an alternative plank to propagate among people– is the only option that can eject Pakistan over time from the Kashmir equation.
Having said that, one must emphasize that autonomy — the way it is understood by the NC and the PDP—too isn’t an easy option. It’s nevertheless the most doable despite challenge from freedom-seeking maximalists, or separatists who’ve never proved their popularity on the ground.
Another wheel within the wheel is the BJP’s historical opposition to Article 370. Diametrically opposite to it are NC and PDP’s demands for autonomy and ‘self-rule’ predicated on original separation of powers (since diluted) under the special status the disputed Article conferred on Kashmir. Reverting to status quo ante would mean Srinagar’s writ will be final in areas other than those in the Centre’s domain: Defense, External Affairs and Currency.
The latest BJP-Congress spat has to be understood in this context as also P Chidambaram’s suggestion that autonomy could be the way out of the cul-de-sac: “My interactions in J&K led me to the conclusion that when they ask for azadi, most people, I am not saying all (but) an overwhelming majority, want autonomy.”
One can accuse Chidambaram of flaunting retrospective wisdom on the issue he did not push as Home Minister. But it’s unfair to interpret his comments as being supportive of Pakistan-backed azadi seekers.
The matter actually was placed in perspective by Omar Abdullah after his National Conference re-affirmed its autonomy resolution in Srinagar. “We don’t have to get autonomy from Pakistan…. We’ve to get it from the Indian Constitution in which it’s already mentioned,” he said.
A typical case it is of nuances getting lost in the din and bustle of elections. The Congress that distanced itself from Chidambaram’s remarks and the BJP that twisted them for electoral advantage in Himachal and Gujarat– are being expedient on a serious national security issue. If not put to a stop, the unseemly faceoff can queer the pitch for the Centre’s interlocutor, Dineshwar Sharma, even before he takes guard.
Closer to polling dates, the mercury could go further up, leaving in ashes the olive branch home minister Rajnath Singh held out with the assurance of not unsettling the status quo–including provisions of Article 35A. Rooted in a presidential order drawing strength from Article 370, the said article is under challenge (by private petitioners) in the Supreme Court for its definition of the state subject.
The J&K government of which the BJP is part has opposed the challenge to the provision. But the Centre hasn’t revealed its hand, instead telling the court the matter required a bigger debate.
Yes, indeed! There’s need for a debate that’s bigger—and better informed.