Narendra Modi has a Historic Opportunity to Settle the Kashmir Question Once and for All

The prime minister would do well to ponder over the Constitutional relationship between the Union of India and Kashmir and use that a starting point

The idea of India is very dear to the overwhelming majority of Indians, including to people like me. India is known all over the world as a vibrant democracy, a secular and pluralistic society, a country whose social harmony is born out of its vast diversity. This value system constitutes the inner vitality of India–it is a cause for celebration. It is very unfortunate that this idea of India has come under great strain in recent times.

But, I feel confident that this strain will peter out in the course of time.

We have seen how India’s civil society has reacted rather vociferously to any challenges to this idea of India. In my opinion, even Prime minister Narendra Modi seems to be realizing — with pleasure, I hope, the dimensions of the ‘Idea of India’.

Let us now come to Kashmir.

The unrest in Kashmir, which is certainly not a law and order situation, got, at long last, a little attention recently when Modi said that each death in Kashmir is a loss for India. And later, he also said that some way has to be found out. I must be one of millions in India to have expected something in the PM’s recent ‘Man Ki Baat’ that would reflect a concern and compassion for the people of Kashmir, particularly, the families that lost their dear ones and the ones whose sons and daughters are struggling for life in the hospitals. That was not to be.

I still however believe that the prime minister will finally make up his mind to say and do something that will show that he understands the agony of Kashmir and the cause for widespread unrest. Let us see how he reacts in the days to come to the grim situation unfolding in Kashmir.

It is essentially a question of PM Modi making up his mind to act as he should. The current situation in Kashmir is that once he  decides to respond to the situation in a pragmatic manner, he will see things moving and he will himself feel relieved. I am also optimistic that he will receive lot of support from various quarters, but the condition is that he must express his determination to solve the problem.

Narendra Modi himself has to catch the bull by the horns. If he is prepared for that, then he should delve a little deeper and see for himself how and why things have gone so wrong.

First of all he should realize, in full measure, that although he is the most prominent leader of the RSS/BJP combine, he will be acting, as far as Kashmir is concerned, as the Prime Minister of India and therefore, as the leader of the nation.

Without going into the long history of the Kashmir problem, I would suggest that Modi could start his journey by pondering over the Constitutional relationship of Kashmir and Union of India with what Jawaharlal Nehru had said in the Lok Sabha in 1948. Nehru, widely accepted as the builder of modern India, also happened to be the architect of the Constitutional relationship between the Union and Kashmir.

The Late Ajit Bhattacharjea, an eminent writer and columnist quotes Nehru in his book Kashmir – The Wounded Valley as saying in the Lok Sabha on 7th September, 1948:

“I was so exercised over Kashmir that if anything had happened or was likely to happen in Kashmir which, according to me might have been disastrous for Kashmir, I would have been heartbroken. I was intensely interested, apart from the larger reasons that government has, for emotional and personal reasons – I do not want to hide this – I am interested in Kashmir.”

One may or may not want to give Nehru any credit for this, but this is how India began to have a relationship with the only Muslim majority state in India.

This time round, my case is that at this critical juncture, we should not lose sight of the fact that it is prime minister Modi who has the wherewithal to change the course of Kashmir from its current situation of unrest to a situation of calm. So, I would suggest that Modi could draw some inspiration from certain milestones in the Union’s Constitutional relationship with Kashmir.

Having made the reference to Jawaharlal Nehru, I would now like to suggest that Modi may make the Lahore declaration as the starting point to proceed further at this current moment in India’s history.

The Lahore declaration signed by PM Vajpayee at Lahore with PM Nawaz Sharif on the 21st of February, 1999 had made absolutely clear for the stakeholders to move forward. The crux of the declaration was the reiteration of both countries to implement the Simla-Agreement in letter and spirit. The declaration had also taken note of the nuclear dimension of the security environment of the two countries and the spirit of the declaration was to enable both countries to devote their energies for a better future for their people. I do not want to raise any needless controversy, but I am essentially intending to make things simpler for Narendra Modi to act in the right direction.

Today’s Kashmir is crying for a system of equity and justice which has so far been misled through false statements and assurances like ‘Sky is the limit within the constitution’, ‘the Kashmir dispute will be settled within the frame work of Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat’ etc. If the prime minister studies the Union’s Constitutional relationship with Kashmir minutely and dispassionately, he will realize that people of Kashmir have remained steadfast with secular India, but it is the Union that has gone wrong. This is borne out by history.

Dr. Karan Singh, the former Sadre-Riyasat once aptly said in an interview to a weekly that, “the Centre’s only consistent policy has been to erode Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy”.

Prime minister Modi should also realize – and it will be to his own advantage — as to why is it necessary to lay down conditions for a dialogue in Kashmir. Hasn’t the Union of India talked to secessionist and hostile groups in the North-East? Why was it that the All Party Delegation led by the Home Minister of India, didn’t invite the Hurriyat, which in my opinion, constitutes most important segment of the stakeholders in Kashmir, to meet them? I am sure that it is they (the Hurriyat) who represent the anger in Kashmir and they should get an opportunity to explain their perspective on Kashmir.

No doubt Modi knows that in a democracy it is always possible to talk to the opposite camp that might express the most extreme views and ultimately it is always possible for parties to come to an ‘ ‘Acceptable Mean’ through dialogue and discussion. So, unfettered dialogue is the answer.

About Kashmir’s history, I cannot say anything more than what Kashmir’s greatest chronicler Kalhan Pandit recorded in Rajatarangni, roughly 1200 years ago:

Kashmir… By the power of the spirit….yes

By the power of the sword, never!.

Coming back to PM Modi’s opportunity in Kashmir, I imagine he will get a lot of support if he really means business.

I do not know whether the RSS/BJP combine wants to continue to be part of the problem or not, but I am sure of one thing, that the national opposition, the Congress Party, the Left Parties and all others seem to be dead-set to be part of the solution. This constitutes a rare opportunity for Prime minister Narendra Modi to settle the Kashmir question forever. It is a historic moment for him and history does not give opportunity again and again!

Saifuddin Soz is a Kashmiri politician and former Union minister

Read Comments