August 03, 2020
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A Classic Botch-Up

RSS has got the better of BJP on J&K’s autonomy resolution

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A Classic Botch-Up

It’s the best of times for the RSS and its votaries within the ruling BJP, as they indulge in a bout of back-patting. Reason: they have rejected outright the autonomy proposal passed by Jammu and Kashmir’s National Conference-led state assembly. And in so doing, not only has their government at the Centre put paid to Kashmiri aspirations, but has also sent the "right signals" to other states which clamour for autonomy-the Centre will not tolerate such demands beyond a point. Effectively, the BJP has exhibited its reluctance to take up the larger issue of re-negotiating India’s federal structure.

But what is being ignored in the process is how the Vajpayee regime has mismanaged the issue, with the PM too tying himself up in knots on various occasions. To not even agree to discuss the autonomy report in Parliament after piously declaring that the demands of the Kashmiri people-if they are within the bounds of the Constitution-be taken into account, has evoked widespread criticism and has left a section of the population in the Valley feeling cheated. This has had a knock-on effect and has made states like Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Assam and others in the Northeast-which have also been demanding autonomy for some time now-apprehensive. To compound its credibility problem further, the government faces international opinion against "such a blatant disregard of the recommendations of an elected state government". A look at their past record brings into relief their confused stand.

  • In March the government releases APHC leaders from prison and says: "The Centre is willing to talk to any group in J&K."
  • The home ministry directs the J&K government to come out with concrete autonomy recommendations.
  • Back channel diplomacy activated with Vajpayee’s blessings.
  • The Centre dusts up the autonomy report; says it will set up a committee to go into it.
  • The RSS and BJP demand immediate rejection of resolution; say if Article 370 had been scrapped, the situation wouldn’t have arisen.

    And then, abruptly on July 4, the cabinet met at South Block under Vajpayee’s stewardship. He obliged his party and categorically dismissed the state assembly’s resolution. Forget further discussions in Parliament, the resolution didn’t even get a decent burial by a cabinet committee. Sources pointed out that the BJP and the Shiv Sena leaders were so vociferously rigid in their opposition to the resolution that even the "differing shades of opinion"-Paswan, Fernandes and the Akali representative who said they disagreed with the quantum of autonomy being asked for while being all for devolution of more powers-fell in line.

    So, when Advani, after he was personally asked by the PM to announce the cabinet decision, stated emphatically that there was no question of this government agreeing to "set the clock back", its meaning was lost on nobody. The myth, of ‘liberal’ Vajpayee and his ‘friend’ Farooq being in broad agreement that autonomy was the only way to undermine ‘azadi’, lay shattered. And confirmation was provided that there are some issues on which a BJP prime minister can never, ever, cross the line.

    As BJP general secretary Narendra Modi told Outlook: "From the days of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyay to Atalji and Advaniji, the leadership has been in agreement on Kashmir which is a very emotional issue for us. It’s a question of the BJP’s basic ideology of patriotism. The solution lies in Kashmir’s integration with India and taking back PoK."

    The only other "incidents" considered "emotional" by him are Kargil and the Kandahar hijack. That all three would foster Hindu consolidation is an obvious conclusion.

    Why the resolution couldn’t have been sent to Parliament or couldn’t have been examined by a committee after the cabinet registered its opposition, the government can’t say. At least, these moves would have kept the discussion going. Especially because it was an open secret that the more controversial of the recommendations-scrapping the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court/ Election Commission-were obvious face-savers for Farooq.

    All a senior PMO official would say is that "there was national consensus among major political parties." But the real nervousness stems from the fear of regional allies voicing some support for the resolution. While it was pretty obvious to most observers that Farooq brought about the resolution for various political reasons, it’s now clear that the Centre’s decision has been equally driven by political-ideological calculations rather than looking for a solution to the Kashmir tangle. After all, the Kashmir-is-like-any-other-state political machismo displayed by the Vajpayee regime is likely to go down well with the BJP’s cadre and votebank. This is also the reason why allies who have been demanding autonomy for long are squirming.

    But rather than putting the fear of a ‘tough’ Centre in their hearts and by nipping the demands for a more federal structure in the bud, the rejection may just be setting the stage for a gang-up.

    For, even though Vajpayee declared after the cabinet decision that he is in favour of more powers to the state, the government has come out with no devolution plans for the country in general and no package for Kashmir in particular. The only message going out is that the BJP’s much-touted slogan of "cooperative federalism", which was in vogue when the NDA had to be firmed up, apparently means nothing more than cooperate with us and we’ll call India a federal country in return!

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