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Round table merry-go-round

By Arvind Lavakare
June 02, 2006 16:36 IST
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Among the agenda for the five groups set up by our prime minister at his recent round table meet in Srinagar with the avowed intention of institutionalising New Delhi's Kashmir peace process, one task of the 'Governance Group' is positively amusing.

That task is 'strengthening the right to information'. And that one is almost hilarious because Section 1(2) of 'The Right To Information Act, 2005' (that's before me at the moment) says that the Act 'extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir'. Now how, dear prime minister, can you 'strengthen' a thing that doesn't exist? The J&K government has decided under the freedom it has under Article 370 to refuse applicability of our Parliament's laws to the state. How then does our PM expect to strengthen what's missing? How do you strengthen a gall bladder that has been removed?

Similar is the condition of one task assigned to the 'Politics Group'. The PM/PMO expects that group to evolve methods to 'strengthen democracy, secularism... in the state' (of J&K.)

Oh, gosh, Mr Prime Minister, didn't you know that for decades now, there are at least 100,000 citizens of India living in J&K who are eligible to vote in the Lok Sabha elections but are debarred from voting in the state assembly polls? And these 100,000 and more have all along been denied that fundamental right of a democracy only because they have not been recognised by J&K as 'Permanent Residents' aka 'State Subjects' under the separate, independent J&K State Constitution. A citizen for Parliament polls but not for state polls -- that's democracy in J&K. Once again, therefore, how does any Group or even a PM 'strengthen' something that just isn't there?

Why do we tolerate the Hurriyat?

Ditto with 'secularism' which, too, our PM wants strengthened in J&K. Sonia Gandhi's prime minister doesn't seem to know that 30 years ago, the then reigning J&K government refused to declare itself as a 'secular' state. That happened when the clause in the 42nd Constitutional Amendment, 1976, incorporating the word 'secular' in the Preamble of the Constitution of India did not get J&K's concurrence as required by Article 370. Accordingly, the J&K State Constitution's Preamble does not proclaim the state as 'secular' despite Indira Gandhi's Emergency being in existence.

The fact that no Hindu or Buddhist has ever been J&K's chief minister, that Hindu majority Jammu and Buddhist Ladakh have largely been ignored in the state's overall scheme of things, and that the state has all along been ruled by leaders from the Muslim dominant Kashmir valley clearly prove that J&K is hardly 'secular' in theory or in practice. That the massive ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits beginning in 1989-1990 never met with any sympathy from the state's rulers is only an additional proof of it.

So how does our dear prime minister expect 'secularism' in J&K to be strengthened?

Hardly amusing but seriously disconcerting is the prime minister's expectation that the Governance Group will, inter alia, 'institutionalise steps to ensure zero tolerance of human rights violations.' Violation by whom, Mr PM? Did he mean violations by the political rulers of J&K who have denied more than 100,000 non-Permanent Residents of the state the human right to vote in state assembly elections, the human right to contest at least a village panchayat seat, the human right to secure a government job and the human right to procure a government scholarship for their children in school?

Now there's a basic flaw in any demand for zero tolerance in the role of our jawans and officers who are constantly under tremendous pressure to tackle attacks from terrorists who spring up in crowded buses, roads, bazaars, by-lanes and buildings without uniforms, without ID placards. They simply cannot do their extremely stressful and high-risk job in a completely sanitised way all the time. Errors and excesses there are bound to be in that highly demanding job; collateral damage cannot be avoided altogether. Nor can any effort to pre-empt a terrorist attack be made to conform to the principle of  'Maximum security with minimum disruption' -- the PM's new and natty motto ordained at the round table meet. He might as well have asked every citizen to literally keep his chin down and head up.

Worse was that the demand for zero tolerance of human rights violations implied the PM's contempt for our Army's existing record in this regard. Following is that record expounded by the J&K governor in a report in The Times of India dated March 30, 2006 on a two-day conference at Jammu University. Following are excerpts from that report:

"In a strong offensive against propaganda that Indian troops had committed huge violations in Kashmir and remain unpunished, state governor Lt Gen (retd) S K Sinha quoted official figures saying there was more noise than facts in the campaign, against the armed forces.

"During the last 16 years of militancy; the Indian Army has convicted 134 personnel and officers found guilty of committing human rights abuses against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir. Out of the 134 army personnel, two were, given life imprisonment, 83 dismissed and sentenced to jail for one to 11 years, five simply dismissed from services and 44 given lesser punishment. We don't do justice to our forces who are constantly being vilified in a hostile and false propaganda atmosphere," he said. "The Indian Army", he said, "has a much better record than any other army in the world."

If the above record is not zero tolerance of human rights violations by our Army, then what else is Mr Prime Minister?

All in all, the recent round table in Srinagar was largely a waste of time. By not making even an inch of progress towards drawing up New Delhi's solution to the eternal K problem, and by sending several old issues on a merry-go-round of committees, it left one wondering whether the PM/PMO had done their homework on some ground realities -- constitutional and otherwise. And at the end, the Centre got sucked into offering relief packages to families of killed local terrorists on the plea that the slain terrorist does not take permission of his wife when taking to arms. Such largesse must give hope to all slain Naxalites, convicted murderers and rapists of this land who surely do not do what they do with their family's consent.

It seemed so apt therefore that after the round table meet concluded, there occurred a stinging irony. The PM cut short his stay in Srinagar because of the massive inconvenience caused to the citizenry by the utterly sanitised security for miles around the venue of the meet. His freshly painted motto of  'Maximum security with minimum disruption' had got wiped off before its last brush of coat could dry.

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Arvind Lavakare