UPA’s interlocutors pursuing dangerous line in Jammu & Kashmir
by Hari Om on 26 Feb 2011 7 Comments

On Feb. 22, the Congress-led UPA’s interlocutors, Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari, met with refugees (all Hindus and Sikhs) from Pakistan-occupied-Jammu & Kashmir (POJK) at Ward No. 1 of Bhour Camp on the outskirts of Jammu city, winter capital of the state.


A representative of the refugees asked them two specific questions: “Can the Government of India ever retrieve Mirpur back from Pakistan, or can it ever take us back to our homes which once existed in Mirpur, that is now part of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir? Then why have we been kept in limbo for the past over 60 years with the false hopes, and forced to live in ghetto-like situation?” The number of such refugees is approximately 1.2 million and they are living in as many as 39 camps across Jammu province.


The interlocutors have visited the state five times since October 2010, but this was their maiden visit to any of the refugee camps. They spent almost two and a half hours there, had a round of the camp and interacted with the refugees -- men, women and children. The refugees narrated the heartrending story of the wretched life they have led since 1947, when they migrated to Jammu to escape the wrath of the votaries of two-nations. The interlocutors appeared visibly moved after personally seeing the miserable plight of these refugees living in the camp consisting of clusters of unlivable, dilapidated houses. A report said they were “bowled out by their (refugees’) unnerving queries, which certainly had no answers.” The same report said, “the miserable condition of PoK refugees and their pitiable living conditions made her (Radha Kumar) teary-eyed.”


Radha Kumar candidly acknowledged that the grievances of the refugees are genuine and bemoaned the indifferent attitude of the state government towards them. She said: “The government should have addressed their problems by now.” Ansari also felt aghast and expressed unhappiness over the treatment meted out to them by successive state governments. He held out a categorical assurance that he and his colleagues would do all they could to mitigate their hardships so that they could lead a dignified life as Indian nationals. He said the “benefits of centrally-sponsored schemes are not permeating down to the deserving people” and asked them to give them the “list of needy,” saying “he would take up their case with the concerned authorities.” “We need to draw a comparison between the conditions of different sets of migrants so as to ensure that there’s no discrimination. We’ll talk to the policy makers that they should be provided with the ration, employment, education and civic amenities etc.”


Padgaonkar said: “When we set out for our mission, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi had asked us to focus more on youth and women. Certainly the youth cannot live in such a situation in camps”. He added: “Though their scale of grievances is grave, yet they should not feel disappointed. This is unfortunate that those who left their ‘Matribhumi’ and came here have been lining in such a miserable condition in their ‘Karambhoomi’ for the past over 60 years. We’ll talk to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister and try to accommodate as many grievances in our report as possible.”


Padgaonkar held out these assurances in response to the 17-point charter of demands submitted to him by SOS International, Organisation for POJK Refugees. Some of the demands included the constitution of a POJK Refugees’ Development Board, the extension of “Displaced Persons Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 1954” to Jammu & Kashmir, grant of refugee status and reservation in Assembly seats. The most significant comment Padgaonkar made was, “there could be no solution to Kashmir problem if it does not address the problems of Displaced Persons (DPs).” 


The reaction of the interlocutors to what they saw during their visit to the refugee camp raised the hope that they would modify their whole approach towards the issues, including the ones raked up by the Kashmiri separatists, the so-called mainstream Kashmiri leaders belonging to the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) included, and abandon the line they had been pursuing since their appointment on October 13.


The hope had also stemmed from the positive reaction of the refugee leaders, victims of an extreme form of fanatics’-sponsored genocide. The representatives of these abandoned and left-to-the-care-of-god-and-anarchy-refugees had expressed happiness at their interaction with the interlocutors. They had created an impression that their night of discontent and despair would soon draw to a close and a new day of rational hopes and just aspirations was about to dawn. They had publicly stated after their meeting with the interlocutors that they had carried conviction with the latter, and the latter had shared their woes and perceptions.


Not only the interaction between the interlocutors and the refugees, but even the interaction between the interlocutors and others from Jammu who met them a day earlier, had created a similar impression. Indeed, an impression gained ground that the interlocutors had taken cognizance of the ground realities in the state, including the fact that those carrying on the secessionist movement in Kashmir represented only a microscopic minority and worst form of communalism, and that they would not make controversial and pro-separatist statements anymore.


But this was not to be. On Feb. 24, when the interlocutors completed their Jammu visit and left for Kashmir Valley, they shocked everyone in Jammu in general and the hapless refugees in particular. That day, they held a press conference and reiterated their earlier stand: “Jammu & Kashmir is a political problem that needs to be resolved politically”; that “nothing should be done to erode the special status the state enjoys in the Union”; and that the “unity and integrity of the state has to be maintained at any cost.”


There was no reference to the plight of the refugees; no reference to the views of others who had met them for three consecutive days. They made one general, nay vague, statement regarding the diversity and complexities in the state, but made it abundantly clear that their solution would be essentially based on the documents submitted by the NC, PDP and Awami National Conference (ANC), as also the Justice Sageer Ahmed Report on Centre-State relations. This report recommends retention of Article 370 and autonomy for the state.


Thus, the interlocutors indicated their preference for proposals ranging from greater autonomy to self-rule to virtual independence of the state. They declared that their “initial” report would contain all that the NC, PDP and ANC suggested as solutions to the “Kashmir problem.”


Not only this, the interlocutors left none in any doubt that they would also take into consideration the demands put forth from time to time by separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Yasin Malik, Shabir Ahmed Shah and Sajjad Lone.

Everyone is aware of the demands of these extremists and separatists. Suffice it to say that their demands range from merger with Pakistan, to Musharaf’s four-point formula to complete independence, to independence of all Muslim-majority areas of the state, and merger of the Hindu-majority areas of Jammu with India. It is pertinent to mention here that two things common to all separatists are their pre-condition that they would become part of the dialogue process only if New Delhi first accepts J&K as a “disputed territory” and that their demands are based on the fact that they are Muslims, who cannot live with others.


It is important to note that these biased and motivated interlocutors indicated their intention to include in their “initial” report the viewpoints and demands of Geelani, Mirwaiz, Malik, Shah and Lone, despite the fact that all of them had rejected out of hand the invitation for a meeting. So generous and accommodating were these interlocutors.


The interlocutors, in short, made it loud and clear that they would recommend a solution consistent with the regressive ideology of Kashmiri separatists; that would negate the very integrity of India as a secular and democratic state; and would force the unwilling people of Jammu and Ladakh and refugees, including the Hindu refugees from Kashmir, to throw in their lot with the Kashmiri leadership.


The UPA Government is playing with fire and the interlocutors’ job is only to add more fuel to the fire. This is what they have been doing ever since their appointment. And now, at a time when India is in advantageous position because the separatist movement in Kashmir is in complete disarray; Pakistan is passing through a critical situation; the bulk of the Muslim world is in turmoil; the United States is not in a position to dictate terms to India considering its own crisis in Muslim countries like Egypt, Libya and Afghanistan; and China is witnessing upsurge in several parts (inspired by developments in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Sudan, Libya and so on) - at a time when it can set things right in Kashmir - New Delhi is thinking in terms of giving a major concessions to Kashmiri separatists and communalists!


New Delhi is overlooking the fact that any attempt on its part to pander to Kashmiri separatism would provoke widespread nationalist protests in Jammu and elsewhere. New Delhi must abandon the suicidal path and behave like a mature and responsible state.                               



Prof Hari Om letter to interlocutors during meeting of Feb. 21, 2011


Dear interlocutors,


I fully appreciate your willingness to engage me in the dialogue process which you are spearheading on behalf of the Government of India. This appreciation is more so because I have been openly contesting the motivation of Government of India, which forced them to start the dialogue process. I have also openly questioned the very architecture of the peace process, which the Government of India has been carrying on in the state for quite some time now.


To be frank, I have also raised serious questions publicly about your functioning and criticized many of your statements. For example, I have taken a serious exception to your statements like “there are no red lines”; “Kashmir is a political problem that needs a political settlement”; “prepare a roadmap for Azadi for discussion”; and “Indian Constitution could be amended to accommodate the Azadi demand.”


As a matter of fact, I am fully aware of the position that you have been holding on the issue of problem in Kashmir even before you were appointed as interlocutors. And knowing that you have a perspective on Jammu and Kashmir which is in public knowledge, I am not that sure how much your personal views will prejudice your functioning as the interlocutors on behalf of Government of India


I want you to appreciate my dilemma in offering my views to you as representatives of Government of India. This dilemma rises fundamentally from the impression that the Government of India has created about itself amongst those citizens in the state who hold Indian integrity and sovereignty as sacrosanct and inviolable. The Government of India has over the years presented itself as a neutral party in the entire crisis which has gripped the state. It has presented itself as an arbitrator of dispute between the nationalists in the state and the separatists. In fact, the Government of India has gradually painted itself or allowed it to be painted as a colonial power which is desperately trying to retreat from its colonial territory.


If the whole dialogue process is about how to effect retreat from the state of Jammu and Kashmir beguiling the people of India that it has actually protected the national interests in the state, then I have no comments or views to offer to you. In such a situation you are no more than an alien whose aim is to bring about second partition of India on communal basis. In case it is not so, then there is a clear-cut task for you which you have not even started as yet. And that task is to convince people like me that your views about the nation conform to the spirit of the Constitution of India and that you have a commitment to protect the indivisible unity of India in the state as well as protect the nation-building vision of India.


I have one thing clearly to state even in a situation of dilemma which I have tried to put forth in front of you and that is that a clear-cut circumstantial evidence is available in the public domain which points to the fact that the recent public mobilizations in the Kashmir Valley and the unrest got also encouraged by the perspectives which government India created about Jammu and Kashmir from time to time in recent years. If the Prime Minister of India publicly affirms that a solution had almost been arrived at between India and Pakistan on the vexed issue of Jammu and Kashmir, then it does not need anybody else to prompt further the separatists to rise and exert pressures to push forward the process which got derailed because of the dethronement of Pervez Musharraf and subsequently by the horrific 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Prime Minister has taken a position that neighbours cannot be changed is a recipe for a surrender. Are we actually witnessing unfolding of this surrender and is your appointment a continuity of the same policy of surrender? In such a situation do you expect anybody in the state to come forward and express views and give suggestions, which can salvage the national interests in the State?


In the end, I would want to say that there is no problem of Jammu and Kashmir. It’s problem in Kashmir. The problem is neither constitutional nor a political one. It is basically a problem of uncontested communalism of the leadership of Kashmiri Muslims. So far, the Government of India has tried to address it by incremental surrenders or by creating a process of circumventing it. The Government of India has failed squarely if at all it ever had the intention of defeating separatism. The path of retrieval is, however, clear enough for all of us to see and traverse with determination. Patriotic citizens in Jammu and Kashmir will not allow second partition of India and surrender to separatists operating from within the Government and outside. What the Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan are demanding is utterly unacceptable.


However, there are several issues which need a serious discussion but these could be discussed only after you convince persons like me that there would be no surrender and no move to pander to communalism and separatism.    


With regards,

Yours Sincerely,


(Prof. Hari Om)


The author is former Chair Professor, Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair, University of Jammu, Jammu, & former member Indian Council of Historical Research

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