Advani was right to question Manmohan, rejecting Vajpayee line
by Hari Om on 08 Mar 2010 4 Comments

The March 3 Lok Sabha spat between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and BJP stalwart and former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani over the resumption of India-Pakistan talks and “secret” parleys between the two countries over the future status of Jammu & Kashmir was significant for at least four reasons.


One, Advani directly accused the Prime Minister of re-engaging the belligerent Pakistan under American pressure. Advani’s unambiguous charge was that the Prime Minister had buckled under American pressure and changed Indian foreign policy. He substantiated his charge saying that US President Barack Hussain Obama in his election campaign had pledged to solve the Kashmir problem, if elected. “I will put full force behind solving the Kashmir issue”, Obama asserted umpteen times in his election speeches.


Advani also cited an article published in Newsweek last year that suggested that “secret back-channel are on once again between India and Pakistan, and that the road to Kabul runs through Kashmir;” he demanded an explanation from Dr Manmohan Singh. The upshot of his argument was that “nothing should be done to undermine our national interests.” This was coupled with a strong warning: “The Congress-led UPA Government will have to face ‘dire consequences if any secret agreement is in the offing’ on the status of Jammu & Kashmir”.   


Advani further held the Prime Minister responsible for the change in US policy towards India and Pakistan and for the “subtle shift in the US stance over the issue” of Kashmir. His said that hitherto the US stand was that it would not intervene until India and Pakistan both ask for it. He was right.


The most significant aspect of the whole development as it unfolded and in the manner in which it unfolded, was that for the first time the BJP through Advani used the floor of the Lok Sabha to inform the nation that the Indian establishment and the White House are working in unison to accommodate Pakistan while also addressing American concerns in the region, particularly in Taliban-Al-Qaeda-infested Afghanistan and Pakistan’s turbulent tribal areas adjoining Afghanistan. His statements were candid and unambiguous.


No one ever thought the BJP would talk of American pressure in such a manner and at such a forum, given the exceptionally cordial relations between the US and the BJP. Advani may argue his was not an attack on the US; in fact he said so a day later while addressing BJP MPs in New Delhi: “Our complaints are not against the US but against our own government’s tendency to bow under international pressure”. But the fact remains that he attributed the change in American foreign policy towards India and Pakistan to the hobnobbing between our Prime Minister and the US President.


What is startling is that what Advani said was not consistent with the policy pursued by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The bottom-line of Advani’s speech was: No hobnobbing with the American administration, be firm while dealing with Pakistan, no concession to Pakistan, no deviation from the unanimous February 1994 Parliamentary Resolution, and no concession to Kashmir. That was not the Vajpayee line.


It was Vajpayee who started the peace process overlooking the terrorist attacks on the Indian Parliament, Red Fort, Akshardham (Ahmedabad), Jammu & Kashmir Assembly, Raghunath Temple, to mention only a few. The memory of what he said in Kashmir in 2003 while extending his hand of friendship to Pakistan is too fresh to be forgotten. Again, it was Vajpayee who overruled suggestions against Lahore trip following the Pakistani-sponsored carnage in the Rajouri area. Mr Vajpayee’s stand was that such incidents should not be allowed to hamper the peace process with Pakistan. Talks must go on was his pat reply.


Similarly, it was during the Vajpayee regime that Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh met his Pakistani counterpart Sartaj Aziz at Colombo in March 1999 and reached an agreement that was basically a replica of the Farooq Kathwari plan: Establish Greater Kashmir, give Kashmir and adjoining Muslim-majority areas in Jammu province and Ladakh region “maximum possible autonomy”, divide Jammu province on communal lines along the Chenab river, integrate the left-over Hindu and Buddhist-majority areas of Jammu province and Ladakh region into India; porous Line of control; and so on. Jaswant Singh agreed despite the fact that the 1994 Parliamentary Resolution had urged the Government of India to annex from Pakistan all those areas of J&K under its illegal occupation since 1947-1948.


It bears recalling that both Foreign Ministers had agreed to meet again after one month to give a concrete shape to the agreement about the political future of Jammu & Kashmir, which agreement was to be implemented within a period of four/five years. Happily, nothing could materialize because of the Pakistani intrusion in Kargil in 1999 and the resultant anger in India, as also because the BJP-led NDA Government was voted out of power in 2004.


The tone and tenor used by Advani while taking on the Prime Minister is highly significant, in the sense that Advani completely dissociated himself and the BJP with the Vajpayee line. This augurs well for the country. However it is difficult to predict if Advani and the BJP would resist American pressure which is likely to mount on them.


Most significant was the manner in which the Prime Minister repeatedly interrupted Advani. That the Prime Minister would get up from his seat and repeatedly interrupt the senior most opposition leader was truly extraordinary. Perhaps this happened for the first time.


The Prime Minister’s body language indicated he had not taken kindly to the Advani line on Pakistan and J&K, and that what Advani said and asked had practically rattled Manmohan Singh. The anger with which he sought to counter Advani, and the kind of counter questions he posed, clearly demonstrated his desperation and controversial resolve not to deviate from his line on Pakistan and J&K. Besides, Dr Singh’s senseless and unwarranted interventions indicated that he was not prepared to take Parliament into confidence on an issue that has a direct bearing on the political future of the Indian State itself.


A section of the media described the Prime Minister’s interventions as manifestations of his combative mood, which was not the case. His interventions were signs of nervousness. The extent of his nervousness and frustration could be gauged from his statement that “I have had a number of discussions with President Obama. He has said unambiguously that there has been no change in the American stance on the status of Jammu & Kashmir”.


Was he representing the Government of India which he heads, or acting as the Americans’ spokesperson? It would be no exaggeration to say he acted as the US spokesperson and defended American foreign policy which suits both Pakistan and the US. Dr Singh crossed the line by not giving a direct reply to Advani’s suggestion that clandestine moves are afoot to work out an agreement on J&K without taking Parliament on board and keeping the nation in the loop.


Not content with all this, the Prime Minister went to the extent of reminding LK Advani of the “secrecy” surrounding the negotiations between Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and US Under Secretary of State Strobe Talbott when the NDA was in power. “How many times did Mr Jaswant Singh have talks with Mr Talbott. Was Parliament taken into confidence even once? Why do you want me to answer a hypothetical question?” the Prime Minister retorted to counter the persisting Advani.


Perhaps the cornered Prime Minister was reminding the opposition that Congress never questioned the BJP line on Pakistan and J&K, to make BJP reciprocate the Congress’ gesture and allow him to hammer out an agreement with Pakistan, with US exercising behind-the-scenes influence.


That Congress did not oppose the BJP line then is both startling and disturbing. It shows that Congress had no problem with BJP’s controversial line on Pakistan and J&K, and that there perhaps existed a consensus between the two main national parties on the issues now under scrutiny. How else should one interpret Dr Singh’s version on the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks, his unwillingness to share relevant information with Parliament, and his virtual suggestion to Advani not to speak on the issue on which the Congress extended unqualified support to the BJP-led NDA government?         


There was nothing wrong in what Advani said and asked. It was his fundamental duty as an opposition leader to seek clarification from the Prime Minister on issues of great national import and all his observations and suggestions were based on some very credible reports.


For example, the February 27, 2010 report on the issues Advani referred to emanated from Islamabad; it was based on the statement made by former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday, February 23, during the course of his strategic lecture in the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.


The report inter alia read: “The former President of Pakistan had disclosed that ‘he and Dr Manmohan Singh had agreed on according independence to both parts of Jammu & Kashmir’ as a solution. Elaborating the ‘near-solution’ to Kashmir dispute, he asserted that (his 2007) “4-point…Kashmir proposal was the basis” -- identification of regions in Jammu & Kashmir, demilitarization of identified regions, introduction of self-governance in those regions and joint mechanism.


The report from Islamabad further read: “We were not far from resolving Kashmir problem with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the basis of a four-point parameters, which would demilitarize Kashmir and make the Line of Control irrelevant…Reports quote Musharraf paying compliments to India’s Prime Minister for ‘his vision, flexibility and his sincerity’ shown in bilateral talks. “Siachin and Sir Creek can be solved tomorrow…”


The Newsweek article, based on credible inputs from the US and New Delhi, and the latest revelations by former Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, constitutes clinching evidence that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had been treading a dangerous path under some baneful international pressure. Had LK Advani or some other BJP leader not raked up this issue in Parliament, the main opposition BJP would have failed the Indian nation and Indian state and been party to assisting the Prime Minister to take the nation for a ride. The UPA is obviously working on an agenda designed to dilute India’s position in J&K.


The Prime Minister should have listened patiently what LK Advani was saying on the crucial issue and then explained his position. After all, he was to conclude the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address. By interrupting Advani repeatedly, he not only committed a constitutional impropriety, but vindicated the stand of those who had come to believe that an insidious influence is at work to undermine the unity and integrity of India by an unholy alliance between him and the US and Pakistan.


It is a matter of grave concern that the Prime Minister, instead of allaying the fears and apprehensions expressed by Advani, chose to stick to his line. His March 5 reply to the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address indicates as much. Dr Singh once again spoke on behalf of the US and insisted on talks with Pakistan: “our policy is consistent, cautious and realistic”; “the decision to hold the Foreign Secretary-level talks was a calculated one”; the opposition was spreading “disinformation in sensitive matters”; and talks with Pakistan the only way to avoid the possibility of any “miscalculation”.


What Manmohan Singh said on March 5 on the floor of the Lok Sabha was not altogether unexpected considering the manner in which he has been tackling Pakistan, the menace of terrorism in J&K, and the shameless manner in which he has been defending the likes of Shashi Tharoor who openly ask countries like Saudi Arabia to “act as an interlocutor between India and Pakistan” and make fools of themselves by saying ‘interlocutor’ is different from ‘mediator’.


But most significant, the crossing of swords between the Prime Minister and senior most opposition leader in the Lok Sabha on issues relating to India’s unity, integrity and sovereignty, was a good omen. The spat sent a signal that the nearly 12-year-old dangerous and unsettling consensus between the Congress and BJP on the issues under scrutiny has been broken to an extent, whatever the reasons.


The author is Chair Professor, Gulab Singh Chair, Jammu University, Jammu

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