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Deliver the truth, not poetry
April 29, 2003
On Friday, April 18, 2003, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a stunning somersault at Srinagar: in a speech which newspapers described as poetic, he offered talks and a hand of friendship to Pakistan without at all mentioning the months-old pre-condition that the neighbour stop its cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.
The very next day, he performed another somersault: he said that on the very morrow of the day Pakistan announced a halt to its violence, he would send a foreign ministry official to Rawalpindi.
Two policy somersaults in just about 24 hours must be a record for any prime minister or president of any country. It certainly makes one wonder whether Vajpayee has become too forgetful if not exactly senile and whether the poetic licence that sympathisers confer on him carries the right, in cricketing terms, to bowl a no-ball and yet expect a favourable lbw verdict.
So dramatic was Vajpayee's latest peace pipe offer that two senior print journalists offered totally contradictory explanations for it. Shekhar Gupta of The Indian Express wrote on April 26, 'Vajpayee has made this move from a position of strength unprecedented in the past decade...' On that very day, Seema Mustafa's article in The Asian Age said, 'Vajpayee's hand of friendship has not been extended from a position of strength. He knows... that Kashmir is high on the US agenda and the two countries will be forced to talk before the year is out.' (Cited in evidence was Vajpayee's sentence in Srinagar that 'Iraq should be a lesson to all of us.')
What then is the truth here? Probably even the prosaic Advani, Vajpayee's right hand, hasn't comprehended the poet's metre. But anyone who has grasped the psyche of Pakistan's 56-year hatred for India could safely wager that the Indian nation is headed for yet another frustrating dead-end -- unless, of course, the sheer fright of Pax Americana's Iraqi display compels the ever-tolerant Hindu spirit to make 'magnanimous' gestures to its 'younger civilisational brother.' As usual, time will tell.
Meanwhile, in response to the Mufti government's repeated demand, New Delhi's new interlocutor, N N Vohra, has been holding talks in J&K regarding 'ways and means to bring normalcy in the state.' Though Vajpayee stated at Srinagar that Vohra will give everyone an envelope that will not be empty but contain an invitation for talks with him, the Hurriyat Conference quickly cried off saying its leaders will participate only in 'purposeful' dialogue -- how a dialogue can, in advance, be dubbed as 'purposeful' or not is a matter of perverse prescience that only the Hurriyat seems to possess.
What is the nature of these dialogues? Are they within the framework of the Constitution of India or are they freewheeling? The Vajpayee-Advani duo has, in the recent past, pronounced on the subject in the somersault-speak that has now become the characteristic of the BJP. The latest pronouncement is from the 'poet' no less. Talks, he said, must be guided by the three rhyming principles of insaniyat (humanism), jambhooriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat (of which more anon).
Now what is insaniyat in the J&K context? Does humanism mean that we should bow to the Pak lackeys called the Hurriyat and to the 'separatist' groups? Should we do that though all of them have done next to nothing for the state and for the thousands of Kashmiri Pandits who were permanently haemorrhaged out of J&K by fanatical Islamists? Does humanism mean we should embrace the Sheikhs of the National Conference who bled Jammu and Ladakh and much else in the state for personal pelf and power? Does humanism mean we should hug the Mufti's party of 'the healing touch' label though, in the six months of its reign, it has not put resolving the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits as its top most priority? Does humanism mean that we should go on doling out favours and millions of taxpayers' money to the people and political groups of J&K though none of them has, despite the ceaseless 14-year-old terrorism from across the border, cared to hold a single protest march to the Pak establishments in Delhi and elsewhere in the world? Is it humanism or masochism or Gandhism to bear the butcher's blade and yet respect as well as reward the butcher?
Come now to democracy as our 'poet's' second guiding principle for 'talks' with all and sundry in J&K. Is it democracy that despite J&K being the most autonomous and the most pampered state in India, the first demand that the National Conference of the Abdullah sheikhdom put before Vohra the other day was for pre-1953 autonomy? Is it democracy that the Sonia Congress promises a chief minister from Jammu, wins the largest number of electoral seats and then lets the Kashmir valley have its own man in that seat? Is it democracy that the Hurriyat refuses to contest elections and yet wants to be heard as the people's representative? Is it democracy that Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, having formed an elected government, leaves the onus of bringing 'normalcy and peace in the state' entirely to New Delhi?
You don't believe that J&K is the most pampered state of India? Look at the following stats from V Shankkar Aiyar's report in India Today of October 14, 2002:
Is it audacity or stupidity --- or poetic fantasy --- that despite the story of the above stats the Hurriyat Conference, the Shabbir Shahs, the Abdullahs and, possibly, the Sayeeds themselves, secretly harbour the dream of ruling over an independent sovereign entity? So what are they really pining for from the bottom of their hearts? The highest bidder between Deobandi Riyadh and neo-colonial Washington DC?
Finally, there's Kashmiriyat as our 'poet's' last guiding principle for dialogues with J&K lobbies or groups or whatever as a means to bring normalcy and peace to the state. A scathing attack on this nebulous concept of Kashmiriyat was written by one Sanjay Kaul in January this year and can be made electronically available by this columnist to readers who request it through rediff. The following is the essence of Kaul's exposition:
It is this humbug Kashmiriyat type of approach that has long characterised the Government of India's 'utterly butterly' approach to the sheikhs and sultans of the Muslim majority Kashmir valley. It is this kid-gloves dogma that has prevented the abrogation of 'temporary' Article 370 under the grossly mistaken belief that it protects Muslim interests. In reality, that abrogation alone can prick the puffed-up arrogance of the valley which, for over half a century, has behaved as if Srinagar's rulers and subjects were doing India a favour by living on its alms even as Jammu and Ladakh regions have, right from the inception of the Indian Constitution in 1950 wanted to be the emotional part and parcel of the Union of India without the yoke of Article 370. Even the Pandits want their Panun Kashmir without that Article.
Time has come for New Delhi to confront the valley with facts and figure. Time has come for the valley's subjects to be told that what all they enjoy in India is in stark contrast to the plight and abject subjugation of people living in the so-called 'Azad Kashmir' as well as the Northern Regions comprising Gilgit and Balwaristan. Details of this contrast are easily available; all that is required is that New Delhi collate those facts and propagate them cogently and repeatedly, from Srinagar to Washington DC. No poetic licence would be needed to dress the facts before being put on stage. The billion-dollar doubt is whether our 'poet' has the stomach and the spine and the knees to stand up in Srinagar first and deliver that truth.