The Government of India is playing with fire in bringing up Kashmir in a flagrantly partisan manner in a state poll campaign.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cynical and partisan attack on former Union home minister P. Chidambaram — for saying in response to a reporter’s question that “autonomy” for Kashmir, which flows from Article 370 of the Constitution, is what most Kashmiris mean when they demand “azaadi” — puts paid to the idea of talks with all stakeholders in J&K, and neutralises any efforts the newly-appointed interlocutor may undertake.
This strengthens suspicions that the Modi government has no real interest in dialogue, and has named a pointsman for J&K only to head off possible American lecturing to start a political process through dialogue after unremitting year-long violence. The so-called interlocutor was named on the eve of US secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s visit last week.
The PM’s evidently well-planned broadside in Bengaluru on Sunday is quite clearly intended to put the Congress on the mat on an important national security matter in the context of the ongoing aggressive BJP campaign for the Gujarat Assembly election. Because of the Valley’s Muslim-majority demographics, the Kashmir issue also subserves a communal aim at election time.
The Government of India is playing with fire in bringing up Kashmir in a flagrantly partisan manner in a state poll campaign. It is a false claim made by the BJP and the government that Mr Chidambaram has batted for Kashmir’s “azaadi”, or secession, or that he has spoken the language of Pakistan. He has done no such thing.
He has only underlined the urgent need to adhere to Article 370, the provision crafted for J&K’s accession to India under specific conditions. As National Conference working president Omar Abdullah reminded us on Sunday, Maharaja Hari Singh didn’t “merge” his state with newly-independent India; he “acceded” to it, laying out his conditions. These were accepted by Sardar Vallabhbahi Patel, then home minister (the lone Congress leader of that generation that the RSS-BJP exalt) and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The RSS and BJP want Article 370 to be scrapped, but their government has yet to summon the nerve to do so. So long as the provision remains, Mr Chidambaram will be right in law, and in political spirit as well. His stand, in fact, emphasises the consensus of the Indian political system. The Congress has been pusillanimous in not pointing this out in a forthright way and hiding behind the narrow technicality that the party has recently appointed a committee under former PM Manmohan Singh to flesh out its position on the Kashmir issue.
As for “autonomy”, late PM P.V. Narasimha Rao had said that within the ambit of the Constitution “the sky is the limit”. Former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee said he would hold talks “in the spirit of insaniyat (humanity)”, which in this context means nothing less than “autonomy”.