Art of the deal
The political process must commence in Jammu and Kashmir.
New Delhi: There are two conversations from this writer’s reporting assignments in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s which deserve resurrection because they could be of benefit to the Central government in retrieving the situation in the state. The conversations occurred in the early days of the insurgency. The interlocutors in these two instances were non-Kashmiris but men of considerable perspicacity and intelligence. It is eminently worth recounting what they said.
The first conversation took place with a visiting official of the German embassy in New Delhi. The conversation having occurred decades prior, this writer does not recall his name. The venue of the meeting was the Ahdoos Hotel which was then frequented by diplomats and journalists. The German diplomat was hostile at the start of the conversation but mellowed towards the end because he had a patient listener. What he said in conclusion holds some significance for New Delhi.
The diplomat was dismissive of the Kashmir separatist leaders. He said they were not politicians in the real sense that could make political deals. On the other hand, he showed grudging admiration for Delhi politicians. Since the conversation occurred during the Congress era, he displayed appreciation for Congress politicians. But it could equally apply to non-Congress political leaders as well.
The diplomat said that Indian politicians were masters in political deal-making. You could engage them over days, months and years, but they would be affably inflexible about certain constitutional questions without causing offence to their interlocutors. They could wear down opponents with sheer grit and endurance.
This quality of deal-making is missing today. The bottom-line on Jammu and Kashmir is clear. It has been clear since the time Pakistan occupied a portion of Kashmir. Jammu and Kashmir is inalienably Indian. All talks have to be held within that constitutional ambit.
Everyone in Kashmir knows this position. The might of Indian arms is not hidden there. What can lower temperatures are conversations between the Centre and Kashmir leaders. The Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, was camped in Srinagar for some days but failed to enthuse conversations. No matter. The Centre cannot give up. You never give up speaking to your own people.
The dialogue between the Centre and Kashmir should never get interrupted. The bottom-line is well established. Politics is the art of the possible. The coming together of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mufti-Mehbooba Sayeed was historic. That process should continue. Indian politicians are wise and deep. Despite their many faults and venality, they have kept this country together. The Indian political genius should be reapplied to Jammu and Kashmir. This was implicit in the conversation with the German diplomat.
The second notable conversation that this writer had was with General (Retired) S. Padmanabhan when he was XV corps commander during the Hazratbal crisis. Padmanabhan was the quintessential thinking general with a superb grasp of the political and military situations of the Valley. The Prime Minister of the day, P. V. Narasimha Rao, reposed considerable trust in him, and it was he who immeasurably contributed to bringing peace to Kashmir to enable the trouble-free conduct of elections.
In one singular conversation with this writer which extended over the better part of the day, the General made several points, but one stands out after an interval of decades. Padmanabhan said that the army could lower the threshold of violence to create conditions for a political solution, but politics had to take the upper hand. Beyond a point, there was no military solution to the troubles of Jammu and Kashmir. Politics had to take precedence, and this was the responsibility of politicians.
It is unfair to the military to deploy it in situations where it has to conduct itself as a police force. The army is trained to fight and win wars. Its reflex is to use maximum force. Ideally, it should never be requisitioned for internal security duties, and given a free hand when deployed in an emergency. It is because the political process is missing in the Valley that you have a situation today where the army is compelled to adopt an extraordinary and controversial tactic to neutralize a hostile crowd. The army is not to blame.
It is still not late. Prime Minister Modi’s political instincts are without parallel today. While this writer would hesitate to second-guess his political plans for Jammu and Kashmir, he would still urge for New Delhi to extend the olive branch to citizens of the Valley. The Prime Minister has to do no more than follow in the footsteps of A. B. Vajpayee. The Indian state can be hard and soft as the situation demands. The youth of Kashmir need to see the benign side of this great country. Civic politics must come to the fore in the Valley.