December 5, 2000


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Arvind Lavakare

The blanks beyond the Ramzan roulette

Assuming that Vajpayee's Ramzan roulette hits the jackpot, what next? Assuming that Musharraf then agrees to talk to us beyond the K-word, what next? Will "next" be a marathon 15 rounds of heavyweight meetings? Will then come another sterile Simla agreement or another limp Lahore accord? And then another Rann of Kutch or Kargil to swing all of it back to square one? No one knows or seems to know or cares to know.

A "Ceasefire" cannot cease aversions and allergies; it cannot freeze the hate and hurt of half a century. But no one it would seem wants to see into the future beyond the ceasefire.

Just what has the Vajpayee government got up its sleeve after the end of the ceasefire? It just hasn't charted out the possible contours of a lasting solution to the J&K problem -- neither openly nor in private. It has never known to pick the brains of its parliamentarians or past PMs on the possible ways out of the nation's most sensitive issue. Nor has it encouraged its intellectuals to debate and come to conclusion on the options available.

Nehru committed the original blunder in 1948 of taking J&K to the UN Security Council instead of permitting our Army just a few days more to wipe out the invaders from Pak and take full control of what was legally ours. Indira Gandhi blundered by not capitalising upon the enemy's abject surrender at Dhaka in 1971. Everyone else dithered to make a statement of intent till Narasimha Rao got our Parliament to resolve in 1994 that the only unfinished task in J&K was to take back what we had lost in October 1947. What does Vajpayee want? He doesn't say, but merely blinks his eyes, mutters insaniyat and, like Pilate, does not stay for an answer.

The answer, in all likelihood, is going to be a churning the nation just isn't prepared for.

Musharraf or anyone else in Pakistan will never ever part with POK at the negotiating table. Is our nation ready then to suffer the pain and humiliation of rescinding its Parliament's resolution of 1994? Is Vajpayee prepared to officially cede forever a big chunk of our territory? Has he even attempted to prepare the country for that eventuality?

It is undoubtedly futile to go on believing that the whole state of J&K as it was at the time of its accession on October 26, 1947 is and shall be an integral part of India. That unalterable part of J&K's Constitution, 1956, is and shall be a joke unless Pakistan itself fails and withers away from the world map. Can the latter -- believed to be already happening by some American analysts -- be hastened by a ceasefire? No strategy for that appears to have been charted though the Pak-hating Hindus may well be eager to bring that about as a retribution for the Muslims' karma of jihad.

The alternative solution to the J&K impasse loudly talked about by some is the recognition of the present LOC as an international border between India and Pakistan. Provided a handsome compensation in US dollars is given to us for accepting:

  • The loss of our territory in agreeing to that new border and
  • The inevitable abrogation of the entire J&K Constitution, that alternative is the most practical course. It is so considering:

    i. Pak's obduracy about POK
    ii. the possession by China of a chunk of original J&K territory and
    iii. India's utter unwillingness all these years to challenge the validity of UN's audacity in determining the future status of J&K when, in fact, the Security Council should have merely stuck to redressing India's complaint in December 1948 of Pak's invasive aggression on sovereign territory that had legally acceded to Dominion of India as per British Parliament's Indian Independence Act, 1947.

However, even the pragmatic means of resolving the J&K mess through recognising the LOC as an international border (with or without compensation) has not got a reaction from our politicians, past and present, with the sole exception of Farooq Abdullah. Vajpayee keeps mum on it even as his external affairs minister talks his typical diplomatese about the need to stop drawing more lines on the map. The result is that our billion people are in the dark as to whether a ceasefire now is intended as the road map for a new international border.

Pakistan has in the past rejected that as a solution. In the context of the current world pressure on it, Musharraf could, just could, consider it seriously enough. However, as he has said twice in recent weeks, he may well add the rider that the proposal will be acceptable to him only if it conforms to the wishes of the people of Kashmir -- using the word "Kashmir" wrongly, like hundreds of others, when he means "Jammu & Kashmir".

And that's where the problems will come, in an avalanche, judging by the "wishes" expressed by numerous outfits in the original J&K territory.

The Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front has long wanted independence for the state -- with or without POK is not known. The All Parties Hurriyat Conference has at least two factions: one wanting plebiscite as per the UN Resolution while another wants to join Pakistan. What the people of POK want or "wish" is not clear though an outfit called National Republican Party, United States of Kashmir (sic), wants an independent, secular USK!

The Jammu Kashmir National Front believes that Jammu Muslims are ethnically and culturally different from Kashmiri Muslims, and that Jammu Muslims have been used as "cannon fodder" in the name of Islam; the JKNF therefore demands the state's trifurcation. The Hindus of Jammu and the Buddhists of Ladakh also want a trifurcation. Pannun Kashmir, an organisation of Kashmiri Pandits, wants a separate territory carved out exclusively for them. And Farooq Abdullah's ruling National Conference Party wants an autonomy "short of azaadi" within the Indian Union while agreeing to LOC as the international boundary.

As though this "wish" list is not itself a gigantic chakravyuh leading nowhere, there are idealistic Indians who back an American think-tank's plan for an independent J&K with porous borders and with defence, external affairs and communications being managed jointly by India and Pakistan.

With such a self-centred idiocy being open ended in J&K, how will Musharraf grasp what is acceptable to the people of "Kashmir"? "Simple," he will say, "go for plebiscite."

What, pray, does Vajpayee, his government and the 13th Lok Sabha wish as they crow about their unilateral ceasefire during the Ramzan month? One billion Indians minus them wait for an answer with bated breath.

Meanwhile, the same Parliament of ours that is so very keen to end cross-border terrorism with a clueless ceasefire has remained totally muted about the mother of all embezzlements detected two months ago by the state vigilance organisation of J&K. According to a six-column report in The Indian Express of November 4, 2000, the J&K state vigilance commissioner's estimate is that, if the corruption cases pending before the SVO for the last six years are taken into account, the aggregate amount equals the state's annual allocation.

Just what is J&K's financial budgetary position? According to a Reserve Bank of India publication of January 2000, the 1998-99 revised estimates for the state show its own tax revenue as Rs 4.2 billion, its non-tax revenue as Rs 2.2 billion, and central government grants to it as Rs 28 billion -- a total revenue of Rs 34.4 billion. Revised estimates for the state's Plan and non-Plan expenditure for that year aggregate Rs 44.8 billion. The result is a gross fiscal deficit of Rs 10.4 billion or more than 1.6 times its self-generated revenue! For 1999-2000 Budget estimates, Farooq Abdullah's government slashed that doomsday ratio of "gross fiscal deficit" to "own revenue" -- brought it down to 49 per cent! He did so by visualising a state revenue increase of… 280 per cent! Nowhere near that leap was envisaged for the year by any of the remaining 24 states and the national capital territory of Delhi.

The above statistics have been used to show how poor J&K's economy is and how very dependent it is on the central exchequer. But nobody who discusses the future of J&K's ceasefire discusses its economy. Nobody talks of J&K's economic integration with the rest of India's people who have helped the state subsist all these years. Nobody thinks of cutting that gargantuan Gordian knot created by Article 370 of our Constitution.

Pranawa Deshmukh, a professor of physics at IIT, Chennai, has just finished the manuscript of a book where he propounds the hypothesis that abrogating Article 370 is the pre-requisite for alleviating the various woes of the J&K we have with us. However, the Sangh Parivar's Sita Ram Goel doesn't support him because the professor pleads for Muslim co-operation in the abrogation exercise. The Muslims don't support him because he seeks rationalisation of the J&K population through that exercise. And, of course, the "secularists" don't support him because Article 370's abrogation is a "Hindu fascist" exercise.

Nobody seems to have the vision to look beyond the peace of a ceasefire during Ramzan. Nobody that is save Vajpayee who, a wag says, is looking way beyond it… towards the Nobel Peace prize! Now is that being wicked or is that true?

Arvind Lavakare

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