Negotiating India: Kashmir interlocutors trading national integrity? – Hari Om

Prof. Hari Om“We in Jammu now expect the worst from the interlocutors, as do our friends in Ladakh. Yet, a few niggling doubts remain. If Padgaonkar uses the services of a fairly senior RSS-BJP intermediary to inform Kashmiri Hindu exiles that he will espouse the Hindu civilisational cause as Professor Emeritus, BORI, does this mean that he has unofficially informed the RSS and the BJP (separately or jointly) regarding the substance of his report? Was this what he was actually conveying to them – that they would have no meaningful political support if they were disappointed with his report?” – Prof Hari Om

As the Union Home Ministry-appointed interlocutors for Jammu & Kashmir, namely, Dileep Padgaonkar (head), Radha Kumar, and M.M. Ansari, complete their year-long tenure and prepare to submit their report, there are deep misgivings among various sections, particularly the ravaged and exiled Kashmiri Pandit community, regarding their ultimate solutions.

Even before his appointment on October 13 last year, Dileep Padgaonkar had on umpteen occasions expressed himself in favour a solution that accommodates the demands of the Kashmiri Muslim (Sunni) leadership. And last Saturday (Sept. 24), in a column in The Times of India, he gave Ghulam Nabi Faibroad hints regarding his sympathy for the demand for Azadi and restoration of pre-1953 status for Jammu and Kashmir.

A recent public relations exercise undertaken by Padgaonkar with Kashmiri Hindu exiles in Delhi, using the services of an RSS-BJP intermediary, has aggravated suspicions that the interlocutors may be handsomely rewarded by the Government for their services. In the course of the interaction, Padgaonkar announced that his next appointment would be as Professor Emeritus, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), Pune, where he would work on Hindu culture, as he was conscious of his heritage as a Saraswat Brahmin. Many saw this as an attempt to ‘soften’ them before the report became public.

Dileep Padgaonkar & Radha KumarMotivated or ill-informed as he was about the ground realities in this sensitive border state, its peculiar demographic profile and distinctness of its three regions – Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh – Padgaonkar helped those who had unleashed a no-holds-barred misinformation campaign against New Delhi, the Indian Army and paramilitaries involved in the anti-insurgency operations. Indeed, they fought and are fighting splendidly to defeat the anti-India forces – internal and external. And, given the activities of the militants, secessionists and terrorists in the valley, they cannot in fairness be held responsible for so-called human rights violations in the state.

Of course, Dileep had not vouched for Kashmir’s Azadi before taking up the interlocutor assignment. He was for a solution that treats J&K differently – a practically autonomous Kashmir. We now know he graced the famous US-based Pakistani agent of Kashmir origin Ghulam Nabi Fai’s seminar circuit, which was exposed by the FBI because the Obama Administration has decided to back another horse.

Anyway, going by what he had written on J&K previously, it was obvious that Padgaonkar as interlocutor was likely to create more problems for the nation. After all, he was given this assignment from those who believed that “Kashmir has a unique history, unique geography and Kashmir needs a unique solution”, who made it loud and clear that there would be “no red lines” for the interlocutors.

All right-thinking people in the state and elsewhere had a similar assessment about Radha Kumar. She had been quite vocal in favouring self-rule as advocated and demanded by the Kashmir-based People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It is pertinent to remember that the PDP’s self-rule formulation is a carbon-copy of the National Conference’s autonomy concept/semi-independence doctrine, plus it is also based on former Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s four-point Kashmir solution – shared sovereignty, irrelevant borders, self-governance and demilitarization.

Thus, while Padgaonkar appeared to be a protagonist of those demanding greater autonomy for J&K, Radha, like Madhu Kishwar (member of a special Kashmir committee of the BJP, along with Shanti Bhushan and M.J. Akbar), appeared closer to the PDP leadership, especially Mehbooba Mufti.

Prior to appointment as interlocutor, she had hobnobbed with a number of separatists and fanatics. As just as Padgaonkar was outed by the FBI, so also Radha Kumar was found participating at anti-India seminars on Kashmir in Brussels.

The third interlocutor M.M. Ansari was little known, as were his political leanings. He was non-controversial when he took up the assignment and remains largely non-controversial today. In fact, he was noticed only when he openly questioned the credibility of Padgaonkar and Kumar in the wake of the Fai episode and demanded that they put in their papers as the country could not trust them anymore and their presence would discredit the interlocutors’ report. That both ignored this sage counsel establishes their lust for money and office.

It was clear from day one that Padgaonkar and Kumar would make common cause with the Kashmir-based hate-India, hate-Indian Constitution elements. The interlocutors disgraced themselves by knocking at the doors of the separatists and pro-Pakistani elements during their very first visit to the Valley. It is hardly necessary to catalogue each and every statement they made in the Valley to induce the secessionists to meet and discuss what could satisfy them.

That they were prepared to barter our paramount sovereign interests for so-called peace in the highly prosperous, extraordinarily developed and over-empowered Kashmir became clear when Padgaonkar asked students of Kashmir University to prepare a roadmap for Azadi so that the same could be discussed during their next visit to the Valley. Radha Kumar did not lag behind. She assured the secessionists they would urge the Union Government to amend the Indian Constitution to accommodate the Azadi demand.

That Padgaonkar & co continue to cling to the suggestion (Azadi) they made in Kashmir in October 2010 became evident with Padgaonkar’s Sept. 24 column, “A sliver of hope on Kashmir’s horizon”. In this outrageous and provocative piece, he unequivocally shared the views of the Kashmiri separatists and asserted, “Kashmiris, who have borne the brunt of the violence of the past two decades, seek a political settlement rooted in ‘insaniyat’ (humanity), ‘insaf’ (justice) and ‘izzat’ (honour)” and “this is a perfectly legitimate demand”.

This vindicates all those who held from the outset that Padgaonkar & co could not be trusted, notwithstanding some statements made in Jammu to assuage its hurt nationalist sentiment. It bears recalling that the activities of the duo in Kashmir had caused a furore in Jammu and elsewhere in last October, with the integrationists denouncing them outright and demanding their immediate dismissal.

Padgaonkar did state in his column that, “the phantom of the two-nation theory must not be allowed to bare its fangs”. But any objective reader of his nasty political essay would at once conclude that Padgaonkar actually vouched for the two-nation theory that resulted in the communal partition of India. In fact, what he wrote in this regard was a negation of what he pretended to stand for.

Kashmir interlocutors & Awami National Conference President Begum Khalida Shah.Take, for example, his view on a special status for Kashmir. According to him, “It was the ‘erosion of the special status of the state guaranteed under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution’ that culminated in ‘a state of despair’ forcing ‘several hundred youth (read young Kashmiri Muslims) to cross over to Pakistan where they received training and arms to engage in terrorist actions in the state and beyond… Small wonder, then, that the blame for just about everything that goes wrong in Kashmir is placed at New Delhi’s door even today. And the remedy to set things right, articulated by the separatist outfits and their sympathisers in the media and the intelligentsia, is ‘azadi’. To ask them to define the word is to invite a contemptuous snigger”.

This view on Article 370 clearly suggests that Padgaonkar, like the Kashmiri Muslim leadership, holds the central laws, institutions and Indian Constitution responsible for the so-called alienation of Kashmiri Muslims from the national mainstream. This was the line Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and ardent believers in the concept of two-nation advocated to get a Muslim Pakistan, courtesy Congress and the British Government. The Muslim League consistently maintained that Muslims could not live with Hindus under one unified political system as they belonged to two different civilizations and cultures.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Padgaonkar & co is biased in favour of the Kashmiri separatists and communalists, and against a vast majority in the state that abhors those demanding withdrawal of Central laws and central institutions from the state. That Padgaonkar favours accommodation of separatist urges could also be seen from his suggestion: We “require a political settlement in the state – one that upholds its special status in full measure… They must be persuaded that the national… Constitution (is) flexible enough to accommodate it”.

Similarly, Padgaonkar’s disregard for the aspirations, urges and needs of the people of Jammu and Ladakh and other neglected and marginalized sections of the population was evident. These were dismissed in one line suggesting that Jammu and Ladakh have to groan under Kashmiri yoke and their demands for Statehood / Union Territory cannot be considered as this would mean disintegration of the state.

All Kashmiri leaders, without exception, are vehemently opposed to the demands in Jammu and Ladakh for Statehood and Union Territory, respectively. They aver that separation of Jammu and Ladakh would divide the state on communal lines and “hurt the Kashmiri psyche”. Padgaonkar has not said so, but he appears to be in complete accord with them. And, why not?

Jammu & Kashmir & LadakhHow could he and his colleagues suggest a roadmap to end the over six decade old Kashmiri hegemony and domination over Jammu and Ladakh and enable the Dogras and Ladakhis to become masters in their own houses, shaping their political and economic destiny themselves within India and under the Indian Constitution? After all, he, like the Muslim Leaguers, vouches for an independent dispensation for the Kashmiri Muslim leadership that, like the Muslim Pakistan, cleanses the State of Jammu & Kashmir of all non-Muslims.

Moreover, Padgaonkar & co know full well that the Kashmiri leadership and Kashmir would turn pauper the moment the state is trifurcated. This will happen anyway, and there should be no doubt on this score. For, the contradictions between the people of Jammu and Ladakh and Kashmir are irreconcilable.

We in Jammu now expect the worst from the interlocutors, as do our friends in Ladakh. Yet, a few niggling doubts remain. If Padgaonkar uses the services of a fairly senior RSS-BJP intermediary to inform Kashmiri Hindu exiles that he will espouse the Hindu civilisational cause as Professor Emeritus, BORI, does this mean that he has unofficially informed the RSS and the BJP (separately or jointly) regarding the substance of his report? Was this what he was actually conveying to them – that they would have no meaningful political support if they were disappointed with his report?

Only time will tell. – Vijayvaani, New Delhi, Sept. 26, 2011

» Prof Hari Om is former Chair Professor, Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair, University of Jammu, Jammu, & former member Indian Council of Historical Research.

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