August 14, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Ram Jethmalani

J&K Votes

Former Union law minister and leading Supreme Court advocate Ram Jethmalani feels that there is nothing wrong in inviting international observers to oversee the election in Jammu & Kashmir.

Jethmalani, who floated a citizens' committee on Kashmir recently, also approves of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's proposal to break up Jammu & Kashmir into three parts and says Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah is the one stumbling block in the path of peace returning to the valley.

In an exclusive interview with Sheela Bhatt and Onkar Singh, Jethmalani also said openly there was no sense in saying that Kashmir was not an international issue. Excerpts:

You have constituted a citizens' committee to talk to some of the separatist parties in Kashmir. Do you believe an initiative of this sort is required?

During my last visit to Kashmir I talked to most of the hard-core elements. At the end of our long parleys they suggested [that] why didn't I have a committee of people who thought like me. They wanted only those persons as members of the committee who would be free from old, rigid positions, people who were determined to solve the Kashmir problem.

They suggested that we have a small group and they in turn would announce a small group of their own. The two groups so formed could continue the dialogue.

Did you speak to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee before announcing the formation of your core group?

Yes, I had a talk with the prime minister on this issue and told him that I would be announcing my own core group comprising eminent citizens in pursuance of what took place in Srinagar during my visit to Kashmir.

Do you feel such an initiative would have the government's backing or the backing of the people of India?

I am not holding a plebiscite to find out what is acceptable to the people and what is not. But I can tell you that I have no blessings from the government and that is my strength.

Why do you say that?

The blessings of the government would immediately identify me as an agent of the Government of India. I am not an agent of the government. I have to persuade the Government of India to think on the same lines as I do. Surely I have no mandate from the government or even an implied promise on this count. I had spoken in the Rajya Sabha the other day and put across my point of view on how to go about solving the Kashmir problem.

In his speech Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani appreciated the work I have undertaken. You may call that blessings, I don't mind that. On the contrary, I would say I would bless them rather than get blessings from them.

How did you select the members of your core group?

I adopted a simple procedure. I was reading about where these people stand on the Kashmir issue. In my private or social conversations with them, I probed how they think on this issue. One basic factor that helped me in selecting them is the fact that they are not rigid about their stand on Kashmir. I can see intellectual and political flexibility in their approach.

I firmly believe that unless you abandon the positions of the past you cannot solve this problem. A solution can be found only if there is a compromise -- which means give and take. Today those elements in Kashmir who were considered hostile to India and who were allergic to the concept of holding elections in Jammu & Kashmir want a dialogue to arrive at a compromise. This means they are willing to accept something, which is mid-way or halfway between the two extreme positions.

The redeeming feature of this promise of a compromise is that the extreme positions are abandoned. On the one hand, we have the extreme position of the BJP that you scrap Article 370, which gives special status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir, and bring the state at par with other states of the Indian Union. On the other, we have secession. The solution has to be somewhere in between. Only then can we have a compromise.

Would it be correct to say that the terrorists operating in Kashmir have realised the futility of fighting the government in view of the fact that NSCN insurgents, after fighting a 50-year-long battle with the Indian Army, have decided to come to the negotiating table?

I am loathe to draw this kind of comparisons. I cannot say that someone who was thinking wrongly until yesterday has suddenly started thinking right. To my mind the basic thing that has forced people to change their perception is the fact that war and violence are no solution to the problem. Retaining Kashmir is certainly not the kind of price you would like to pay for this kind of war.

If there is a war, it will be a nuclear war. It will destroy Pakistan, part of India and virtually finish the entire Kashmir. The place, which could have been a paradise, is now a destroyed place where people are not willing to go. Nobody can go and live there. Even lovers and newly married people cannot go there to enjoy themselves.

How did you get involved with this problem?

No sensible person can turn his back on a tragic problem like Kashmir. This is a festering sore, a sore that can turn out to be fatal. I became involved when I was a minister in the Union government.

Nobody can say that Kashmir is not an international problem. An international dispute is a dispute between two or more countries. Kashmir is a dispute between India and Pakistan. So what is the sense in saying that Kashmir is not an international issue?

We are members of the United Nations. There is a Security Council whose main task is to preserve international peace and security. It is concerned with war wherever it breaks out. So how is it that Kashmir is not an international problem? I cannot comprehend this logic.

We are wasting our time over stupid controversies. When Colin Powell says it is on the international agenda we take it as an affront. This is childish. This is almost insane. Only ignorant and uneducated people can talk like that.

But this is the official position of the Congress and BJP.

That is why I am talking on Kashmir as an independent person. People in Kashmir listen to me because I talk sense and I don't speak like the hard-core Congress and BJP people.

Our Constitution says India will solve all its international problems through arbitration. They don't even want mediation! A mediator does not impose a solution on you, but gives good, friendly advice. I think it very stupid in a matter like this to say that we will not accept mediation.

The only reason for not accepting some mediation is that we are so wise that the two of us will talk and be able to hammer out a solution. This is what the people of Kashmir want. They want a dialogue that promises that we will abandon those postures of the past and find a solution that is consistent with the good of the inhabitants of the state, good from the point of view of the Indian nation of which the inhabitants of Jammu & Kashmir are an integral part. And which ultimately avoids war and violence between India and Pakistan.

Which separatist leaders have you spoken to during your last visit to Kashmir?

One of the reasons why diplomacy does not succeed is because it has given up its old method of being conducted behind doors. Now it is being conducted under the glare of television and media publicity. Abdul Gani Lone was a reasonable man. But his reasonableness cost him his life. I would not like to reply to this kind of questions because I do not want more murders to take place.

What do you propose to do now that elections have been announced in Jammu & Kashmir?

We are not happy with the manner in which the elections to the Jammu & Kashmir assembly were called. The dialogue should have come first. The All-Parties Hurriyat Conference has said that it cannot participate. They told us that even if they forgot everything else they [would] have to time out their logistics. The National Conference is sitting in the saddle. Nothing has gone wrong with them, but they have been away from the elections for so long.

"You have left us no time and you have left us no choice. You have not left us an honourable escape route," they say. Who does not want an escape route? They have a constituency. They would have to tell them what they have achieved for a change of attitude.

How do you look at the RSS proposal for trifurcation of the state?

I see nothing wrong in this. The threat of trifurcation has to be held out to the secessionists. They have to be told that we would integrate Jammu and Ladakh with the Indian Union by reorganising the state of Jammu & Kashmir and if they ever manage to get the valley they would be taking only a small piece of land with them.

How can we forget the Kashmiri Pandits, the poor fellows are sitting in refugee camps in their own country? All these problems will have to be looked into. They [the secessionists] have to be told that if they go with Pakistan they will be falling into their trap where there is no freedom or democracy and if they are to be hanged they will be the first ones. We have a precedent. In 1947 we did not give away the whole of Punjab and Bengal to Pakistan. We subdivided both states. This should be pointed out during the course of the dialogue.

Is Musharraf trying to corner India by consolidating his ties with Bangladesh and expressing regret over the 1971 killings?

He is consolidating his position. Why wouldn't he try to corner India? That is what he is there for. He is trying to strengthen his position in the world of Islam. It is a legitimate desire from his point of view to carry the Islamic countries behind him.

Do you think the elections will be free and fair in J&K?

Elections can be free and fair if nobody participates. The question is not whether the elections are free and fair, but whether all those who should participate are there to contest the elections. A fair election means ensuring a level playing field for all contestants. In 1987 there was only one voter in a particular booth. This was the first rigged election, which led to the start of militancy in the state. The Congress party and the National Conference joined hands to contest the elections against the Muslim United Front.

The announcement of the election need not necessarily mean that they are going to be held on schedule. They could be called off any time if the separatists are willing to participate in them.

Does the NDA government have a policy on Kashmir?

The National Democratic Alliance has no Kashmir policy, let me tell you that, except for the fact that the repealing of Article 370 has been kept on the back burner. It is negative policy. There is no positive policy.

What is the biggest stumbling block in bringing peace to Jammu & Kashmir?

The chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Dr Farooq Abdullah, is a dear friend of mine, but I have no hesitation in saying that if there is one stumbling block between violence and the return of peace to the valley, it is Dr Abdullah. In my opinion he is the root of the problem. If you jettison him, you will get more friends.

Design: Dominic Xavier

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