Revisiting February 25, 2006 to understand Manmohan Singh’s J&K policy

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Prof Hari Om

Did former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh convene round-table conference on J&K at 7 Race Course on February 25, 2006 to neutralise believers in the concept of national unity and integrity, or to dilute pro-India and accord respectability to the votaries of self-rule? Did he organise it to ascertain views of all ‘stakeholders’ in the erstwhile State on so-called Kashmir problem and seek their help so that he could finalise a framework that was acceptable to a wide spectrum of population as far as possible and advance further the paramount national interests in J&K ? A careful scrutiny of what he said, while concluding seven-hour long session in which State-based pro-integrationists, separatists and champions of self-rule participated, suggests that purpose of the whole exercise was to neutralise pro-India voice and send a clear message that Congress-led UPA Government was not averse to the idea of the separatists getting veto power and the State going outside the purview of what laid embodied in the Constitution.
How else should one interpret his concluding remarks to effect that ‘there is a need to evolve a common understanding on autonomy and self-rule for J&K’ and that, ‘I am confident that working together with all groups, both within and outside mainstream, we can arrive at arrangements within the vast flexibilities provided by the constitution’.
Again, how else should one describe conspicuous absence in his remarks of any reference to those from Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh who talked of dignity of India, denounced the ideology of hatred, advocated ‘free flow of Indian Constitution, minus Article 370’ and reorganisation of state polity?
What should be made out of his regret over non-participation of separatists in the round table conference and his suggestion that his Government would continue to persuade them to participate in such conferences to be held in the days to come? Singh’s suggestion of evolving a consensus and ‘common understanding on autonomy and self-rule’ in such conferences should also mean nothing but dilution of pro-India position and an attempt at throwing in the lot of the State with those who hated India and its ethos.
The round table conference was virtually the show of Congress and its allies in the state, including People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Panther Party (PP), People’s Democratic Forum (PDF), CPI and CPIM. Congress was represented by no less than 12 leaders, four of PDP, five of PP, two of PDF and one each from CPI and CPIM.
The champions of greater autonomy, bordering on virtual sovereignty, were also there in strength: National Conference (NC) and those who had all advocated the need of limiting the jurisdiction of India over the State to just three subjects – defence, foreign affairs and communication.
The votaries of total independence from both India and Pakistan, including chairman of Democratic Liberation Party (DLP) Hashim Qureshi, were also present.
The advocates of ‘free flow of Indian Constitution barring Article 370’, were also present, but they were in a miniscule minority. There number was just ten, to be precise. Two each belonged to BJP, including the writer, Panun Kashmir (PK), Congress (one belonged to Jammu and other to Leh), and one to the Jammu Bar Association.
Even a cursory look at the composition and complexion of the round table conference convened by the former Prime Minister would reveal two things: One, it was virtually a truncated conference in which reactionary elements and those who stood for the dilution of the Indian sovereignty over J&K reigned supreme.
It would be extremely difficult to avoid this conclusion if one goes by what the Congress, PDP, PP, CPI, CPIM, PDF, NC and those representing Ladakh’s Kargil said before and after lunch sessions.
Two members, who were deemed inconvenient as far as issues of national dignity and interest were concerned, were excluded from the whole exercise. Of course, this was expected.
It must be noted that the organisers of the round table conference had not only ensured a massive presence of the reactionary elements, they had also made it a point to see that those deemed inconvenient could not get time to speak or explain their point of view. It may sound ridiculous but it is a fact that only seven of the ten integrationists were given opportunity to speak. The remaining three too wanted to share their views, but could not.
One of the senior officials even approached the then National Security Advisor M K Narayanan to allow this writer to express his views, but nothing came out of his sincere effort.
However, we did meet the Prime Minister and handed over our papers containing our views on the grave ills that would erupt if what Pakistan and the Valley-based votaries of self-rule and autonomy had been advocating everywhere was accepted.
As for the reactionary elements, each one of them was given more than enough time to express his or her views on such divisive and communal ideas as self-rule and autonomy and paint the integrationists in a poor light or condemn them unheard.
They spoke and virtually criticised the Indian State for more than five hours in the presence of none other the Prime Minister and he listened patiently to the heap of calumnies.
A few words on the mode of discussion in the round table conference will be in order. The NSA would seek approval of then Union Minister of Water Resources (read Saif-ud-Din Soz) and announce name of the Speaker. The Speaker would thereafter express his views and that was all.
There was no discussion at all. And, that was all on expected lines. The invitation letter had clearly stated that the aim of the round table conference was to enable all the ‘stakeholders’ in the state to share their views with the Prime Minister. It was nowhere mentioned in the letter that the purpose of the round table conference was to arrive at some solution to the issues confronting the state then and there and that the Prime Minister would listen to both sides and give his judgment.
It is clear that the round table conference and the concluding remarks of the Prime Minister had only served to embolden further the reactionary elements. What an irony? Towards which direction was the Indian nation heading? What had 7 Race Course in mind? Had it planned to make common cause with the United States and its terrorist friend Pakistan and compromise our position in J&K? If one goes by the remarks of the Prime Minister on self-rule and autonomy and what his advisors told the media after the round table conference was over, one would be left with no other option but to conclude that his Government had finally decided to play with dangerous tools.