Saner Indian voices for resolving Kashmir dispute

Iqbal Khan

Indian Congress party, which virtually segregated Jammu and Kashmir from the political and constitutional organization of India— first in October 1949 and then in May 1954— now appears revisiting its stance, the person in forefront is the former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, very close to Gandhi clan. Chidambaram’s is the new emerging saner voice from within Indian political elite, supportive of a political settlement of Kashmir dispute according to wishes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Current situation in IoK is that New Delhi has totally lost the battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim-majority state. First the Governor’s rule was imposed by dismissing a government of which BJP itself was a part, and then moving the IoK under Presidential rule, at least for six months.

Chidambaram is becoming increasingly vocal since the commencement of BJP’s rule in India. Congress party has not yet officially owned his point of view, however it has not deterred Chidambaram to articulate, yet once again, what he means, just short of upcoming general elections in India. Now he has almost moved to a stance where he is supporting Pakistan’s view point on Kashmir issue, by endorsing that “Jammu and Kashmir has a unique geographical location and history, which needs a solution in line with the demand of the majority population”.

Daily Early Times attributed to him the comments:  “We have to find a solution that may turn out to be unique. The whole effort should be quiet until the contours of a political solution to the problem are found. This is essential to take the process forward”.  He added: “Once the broad contours of a political solution are arrived at, it should be made public at an appropriate time. We must find a solution that is honourable, equitable and acceptable to the vast majority, overwhelming majority, of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Chidambaram is against any suggestion that sets “preconditions for the talks”. Besides, he has also declined to elaborate on specifics. When asked whether the dialogue would include talks on the status of J&K as an integral part of India, Chidambaram stonewalled the question by saying he would not get into “verbal gymnastics”.

Hardliners are trying to give their own nationalist interpretation to Chidambaram’s concept that “solution has to be such that considers J&K as an integral part of India and fully appreciates the needs, urges, compulsions and aspirations of the minorities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and Jains, besides the refugees from Pakistan”.  But an accomplished politician like Chidambaram would not venture into such a discussion if he was to take the beaten line of Jammu and Kashmir being an integral part of India.

Earlier also Chidambaram has been taking occasional digs at the BJP government for its failure to restore peace in occupied Kashmir, describing the Kashmir issue a long pending dispute concerning accession. Congress may for the time being disassociate itself from the statement of its leader but it is fact that the people of Kashmir have never accepted the illegal Indian occupation of the Valley despite facing decades of persecution and atrocities at the hands of Indian forces. It is only a matter of time that Congress would officially adopt Chidambaram’s views as party’s position.

Saner elements within Indian society are cognizant of the fact that the people of Kashmir cannot be silenced by sheer use of force. Voices are also being raised in India that no purpose will be served by pretending that there is no issue or there is no dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

The very statement of Chidambaram as well as by some others from cross section of Indian society is reflective of the fact that there is growing realisation within India now that solution of the lingering dispute lies only in negotiations and political means.

Indian Supreme Court is currently hearing petitions over the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution. Kashmiris reject this legal process which they term as nefarious BJP design to fast track envisaged change in the state’s demographic character. In 1949, Jawaharlal Nehru struck a deal with Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, an influential political figure in Kashmir, and inserted Article 370 into the Indian constitution.

This article defines Kashmir’s political relationship with New Delhi by granting special status to J&K. It restricts New Delhi’s legislative jurisdiction to defence, foreign affairs, and communications. In 1954, through a presidential order, Article 35A was passed under Article 370 (1) (d) of the Indian constitution. The article accords special rights and privileges of the permanent residents of Kashmir in government jobs, land acquisition and other public projects. Indian Supreme Court is to resume on petitions challenging the validity of Article 35A of the constitution in January.

It is pertinent to note that when the Indian government went back on its commitments and declared that the question of accession of Kashmir had been settled by the constituent assembly of Kashmir and the consequent adoption of the state constitution—upon which India started claiming Kashmir as its integral part— the UN through its resolutions 91 and 122 repudiated the Indian claims by maintaining that the question of accession of the state could not be determined by any method other than the plebiscite held under the auspices of the UN.

It is high time for United Nations (UN) secretary-general to take a step forward and appoint a special representative to explore a viable solution to the Kashmir conflict and to ensure peace and stability in the region. UN and world powers need to intervene in setting a stage for the resolution of Kashmir issue.

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