(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 10, 2010
JAMMU & KASHMIR
Justice Saghir Report Belittles People’s Expectations
THE much awaited recommendatory report submitted by the working group under Justice (Retd) Saghir Ahmad to the Jammu & Kashmir chief minister has evoked censure for its vagueness. Needless to say, this working group was the most important one among the five working groups constituted by the prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh during the second Round Table Conference in May 2006 in Srinagar. Given the scope and mandate of this working group, namely “Strengthening the Centre-State Relations,” it was genuinely expected that it would come up with such a report and make such recommendations as would enthuse the tormented and traumatised people of the state. But when Justice Saghir submitted his report to the Jammu & Kashmir chief minister, a majority of the political and public circles in the state, barring the National Conference (NC), criticised it for varying reasons.
One may disagree with the contentions made by certain political circles regarding the report, but there is no denying the fact that the report has failed to come up to the expectations of the people. It is not that one could have expected this report to be a panacea for all the troubles the state is facing. But the contents of the report should (and could) have certainly been more encouraging. Instead of coming up with unambiguous recommendations on its terms of reference, the report not only generated a heated political debate across Jammu and Kashmir; political analysts here also believe that the “dismally prepared report” by Justice Saghir Ahmad has rendered the prime minister’s key working group insignificant.
For example, the recommendations regarding abolition of the Legislative Council in the state, regarding the human rights situation in the state, and about scrapping the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) have been left inconclusive. Moreover, one gets the impression that these extremely important issues have been dealt with a lackadaisical approach. However, it is the subject of autonomy and article 370 which grabbed the attention of and evoked reactions from the political and public circles in the state.
We may well recall here that different political parties, whose representatives participated in this particular working group’s meetings, had proposed their respective solutions as to how the relationship between the centre and the state could be strengthened. For example, the National Conference asked for autonomy for the state, including more decentralisation of powers and more authority to the state government. The Congress wanted the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 197 to be made the final basis for a solution to the Kashmir problem. It means maintaining the status quo, more or less. If the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) suggested self-rule for the state, not much different from the concept of autonomy, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) favoured maximum autonomy to the state and regional autonomy for all the three regions, viz Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
On the other hand, as expected, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) laid stress on the abrogation of article 370 of the constitution and annulling the special status which the state of Jammu and Kashmir enjoys. One notes that by virtue of article 370, the state has its own constitution, its own state emblem and flag, and also that a non-resident cannot buy property in the state. Kashmiri right-wing Pandit leaders wanted a separate homeland for the Pandits who left the valley fearing for their lives, while some leaders from Leh sought a union territory status.
In this context, therefore, it is not only that the contents of Justice Saghir Ahmad’s report are debatable; the gentleman also made his report public quite shabbily. People were under the impression that given the expectations, credibility and the respect attached with this key working group, the report would somehow help in restoration of normalcy in the state. At the time he announced the formation of the various working groups in Srinagar, the prime minister had assured the people of the state that these working groups would undoubtedly help in redressing their political and economic grievances. He had also made a particular reference to the working group under discussion here, saying that all shades of opinion in the state and the country would deliberate on its platform and come up with certain recommendations which the prime minister had promised would be implemented without any delay. But one fails to understand why the working group and its recommendations have been trivialised by submitting the report to the state government. This gesture has enraged the conscientious people who term it as belittling the genuine political aspirations of Jammu and Kashmir.
To repeat, this particular group was formed with the aim of building consensus among various shades of social and political opinion so that a forward movement could be made in solving the Kashmir issue. Still more importantly, this group was expected to address the genuine concerns of the people of Jammu & Kashmir regarding the state’s special status in the Indian Union. On top of that, the ruling National Conference rejoiced on Justice Saghir Ahmad’s report, claiming that the idea of autonomy, their solution to the Kashmir issue, had been accepted while all other proposals offered by various other political parties and groups had been rejected. Amid much fanfare, NC leaders ridiculed their arch rival PDP, saying that their self-rule proposal had been dismissed by the group.
But even a cursory glance at the report submitted by Justice Saghir Ahmad reveals that, as against what the NC leaders have inferred, the group has made no clear cut acceptance or rejection of the proposal coming from any political party. Hence the NC’s jubilations and also the incensed reactions from the PDP, BJP and Kashmiri right-wing Pandit groups are equally out of place. On the demand of autonomy put forward by the NC, the working group report says that the question of “autonomy” and its demand can be examined in the light of the “Kashmir accord” or in some other manner or on the basis of some other formula which the prime minister may deem appropriate so as to restore the state’s “autonomy” to the extent possible. Therefore one cannot but wonder what reasons the NC has got to celebrate. The sort of “autonomy” which has been mentioned by the Justice Saghir Ahmad report is in no way the autonomy which can satisfy the aspirations of the alienated people.
On the other hand, the CPI(M) has all along been advocating and actively fighting for the restoration of autonomy to the state in its original form. The party believes that for a lasting and just solution to the Kashmir problem, the autonomy and the special status which Jammu & Kashmir was given by the Indian constitution must be restored without any delay. The CPI(M) state secretary, Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, has been unambiguously stating that maximum autonomy is the step forward needed to resolve the Kashmir issue. Besides, keeping in view the diversity of the state, he has been suggesting the formation of regional councils for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. He has also been a staunch supporter of the formation of sub-regional councils to address the distinct and diverse religious, linguistic and cultural aspirations, so that a pluralistic, federal entity emerges at the regional level. This arrangement will strengthen the integrity of the state and will, at the same time, be an excellent model of unity in diversity.
Saying that Justice Saghir Ahmad’s report has been submitted in haste, Tarigami pointed out that its recommendations were submitted to the chief minister without any elaborate debate within the group. The CPI(M)’s viewpoint regarding the restoration of eroded autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir is getting support from many other credible political voices and intelligentsia. The party has expressed resentment on the half-baked recommendations of the group but at the same time it has expressed the hope that the government of India would gauge the sensitivity of the issue and ensure that the purpose with which the prime minister had formed the working group, would not get wasted. Here it needs a mention that outright rejection of the report by the right-wing political parties, particularly the BJP, is out and out ridiculous. Extensive autonomy is a right of the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir and the CPI(M) believes that autonomy is the key to strengthening the state’s relationship with the Indian Union. This position is expected to get support from all the sensible sections of political and social opinion in the country.