Kashmir has been a part of me since 1972 but it’s only over the last quarter century that I have tried to delve deeper to study it, particularly to find out about our Kashmir policy. In 2001 when I opted to go back to Kashmir valley as corps commander, I had the opportunity to interact with the political hierarchy in J&K which came as part of my duties. Before broaching the subject with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed sahab, who was then the chief minister, I thought it prudent to check within the Army’s senior leadership. Unfortunately, I got no clear answer on the government’s policy either on that for achieving short term goals or for bringing about a desired end state in Kashmir. Later when Shri LK Advani visited Nadimarg village in South Kashmir valley, where terrorists had carried out a massacre of civilians, I had another opportunity to ask him about it. When I did not get any conclusive response from him, I realised that either there was no Kashmir policy or it was so confidential and closely guarded that, except for a few, others did not ‘need to know’.
Over the last fifteen years I have written and spoken about the dire necessity to have a clearly defined policy towards achieving a desired end state for Kashmir and how important it was that there should be total unanimity of views among all political parties. It was my firm conviction that while individuals and/or political parties may differ on ways and means to get there, there would be total convergence on the ‘ends’. Somehow, consensus was not forthcoming perhaps because of successive coalition governments at the Centre which were the outcome of fractured mandate at the hustings. Fragile coalitions in turn resulted in churning out please-all brand of weak policies and misplaced priorities even on important matters of national security. It was a trend that unfortunately became necessary for political survival of governments that tended to persist with it. A band-aid approach to stop the bleeding was preferred to treating the cause of it to seek lasting solution. After any crisis involving sovereignty and territorial integrity or even major social unrest was brought under control, instead of taking definitive steps to prevent any recurrence, the government of the day often chose to move on and focus on more mundane and less important issues. Such incidents are too many and well known to merit reiteration.
It is against such a backdrop that the action of the present government ought to be viewed. It has come out with a definite plan for the future of Kashmir. Not restricting itself to only dealing with terrorists disturbing peace and order, it has shown its determination to move ahead simultaneously on many fronts towards peace and prosperity in the troubled state. Since the union territory of J&K will have a legislature, there will be no curtailment of political activity; however, narrow party interests will not become impediments in the path of development and progress. I have always been advocating that gram panchayats should be empowered through direct funding. They should become the building blocks to usher in democratic processes at the grassroots level besides serving as nurseries for future political leadership. I am delighted to see that the government intends to do just that.
A few words of caution to set the perspective right. One can only surmise that the government would have studied the possible fallout of its decision. The social and political backlash within the country apart, the timing of the decision may also be seen as an action taken with an eye on forthcoming assembly elections in some states. Some may view it as an attempt to divert attention from the economic slowdown the country is currently facing. There is bound to be diplomatic repercussions on our foreign relations. Pakistan is bound to raise the bogey of abuse of human rights in the only Muslim majority state in India. Some Islamic countries could join the chorus of protest. The government will need to brace for it all.
Political pundits and experts on our constitution would debate on the pros and cons of the historic decision. Rivals and detractors would use every means at their disposal to point out the flaws and failings of the policy initiative of the government for many weeks and months. All that is part and parcel of a functioning democracy and should not be frowned upon. But those whose heart beats for the well being and advancement of our nation and Kashmir in particular, would welcome it. I am all for a firm policy that lends clarity and focus on what is required to be done. A less than perfect policy is better than the meandering and confusion of no policy. Those who will translate that policy into actions can now draw up robust strategies and plans of their own to execute them on the ground. As I used to insist upon my subordinates that I would prefer them to be guilty, if at all, of commission rather than omission.
The Modi government has committed; we have a policy at last!
(The writer is a keen Kashmir watcher and a former Corps Commander in the Valley. Views are personal.)