Modi should settle Kashmir

Intelligence reports about the crowd estimate at public meetings in Srinagar were never optimistic. Therefore, the criticism that Prime Minister Narendra Modi drew only four thousand people is not fair. He wanted to make a point that as an Indian, he could visit the state at will.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had chided Modi that he would never dare visit the valley. He did so and made even the Lal Chowk, the city-centre of Srinagar, without being challenged by the so-called separatists and some others like them.

That the people in the valley feel distant from New Delhi is nothing new. Initially they were not and India could have won the plebiscite hands down. They began to go far when the unthinking government in New Delhi started to water down even the limited powers that the state enjoyed under the Instrument of Accession Act, following its integration with India.

Sheikh Abdullah was the state’s most popular leader who had undergone untold privations while raising the standard of independence. When the British paramountcy lapsed, it was left to the state to accede to either India or Pakistan or stay independent. J&K ruler Maharaja Hari Singh preferred to be independent. But when Pakistan’s irregular troops invaded the state, the Maharaja sought India’s support.

Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said ‘no’ to the plea that he did not recognise the independent status. When the Maharaja finally acceded to India, Nehru still did not accept his request until the Sheikh was put at the helm of affairs.

Modi should reach out to Omar Abdullah because he is the elected leader of the people in the state. The BJP has a different agenda. Even Modi is not taken in good light.

It is unfortunate that during the election campaign, Modi avoided mentioning Pakistan. Was he trying to ignore it? No long-term solution is possible without its concurrence. True, Islamabad wants to have the whole of Kashmir, even the part which is under New Delhi. But that is neither feasible nor possible.

For all practical purposes, the Kashmir has got divided with the Line of Control as the border. Nonetheless, the Kashmiris have come to assert their identity and want to have the valley as an independent country.

The problem is intractable in the present circumstances. Yet, it cannot be left hanging. Things can take a turn for the worse. Since both the countries have nuclear weapons, the downward escalation in relations between India and Pakistan can prove to be disastrous not only for the two countries but the entire world.

The proposal I want to place will save the face of both and may solve the problem. A solution to the liking of Pakistan may not be acceptable to India and vice-versa. And what happens to the Kashmiris?

My proposal is that the entire Kashmir, the one under India and the other with Pakistan should be united, with New Delhi retaining Defence and Foreign Affairs of the part under it and Pakistan doing the same thing about its part. Then, the ceasefire line would become redundant.

The Kashmiris on both sides should exercise the subjects other than Defence and Foreign Affairs.

Even otherwise, it is difficult for a small state to take care of Defence
and Foreign Affairs because the betterment of society should be its priority. In fact, the new state of Kashmir should spend money on development, not
on weapons.

The Kashmiris should realise that the Hindu-majority Jammu and the Buddhist-majority Ladakh would not like to be under the valley which has more than 95 per cent Muslim population.

Many years ago, when military dictator Pervez Musharraf was at the helm of affairs in Pakistan, a formula had been found at the Agra summit. Musharraf, making his first statement on the soil of India on Kashmir during his meeting with the intellectuals in Delhi on the eve of the summit, had said the LoC was not acceptable as the border and if any Pakistani leader agreed to it, he could not return to his country.

Had Jammu and Kashmir gone to Pakistan at the time of Partition in August 1947, it would have evoked a bit of disappointment, nothing more. People would have taken the state's integration with Pakistan in their stride.

But after 67 years, how does India change its borders and the constitution without causing a great harm to its polity? This might reopen certain issues, which India has more or less settled after a long period of blood and sacrifice.

The change in the LoC means an adjustment in J&K territory. The composition of the state is such that it has three regions: the Muslim-majority Valley, the Hindu-majority Jammu and the Buddhist-majority Ladakh.

The partition has aggravated the relations between Hindus and Muslims. Another partition may play havoc. The question can be left as it is in the interest of the people in the subcontinent.

Undoing it may create more problems. Unfortunately, there are no visionaries among the political parties on both sides. For them, power and personal interests take the front seat as they have left the smoking gun without even trying to sit across the table to solve the issue.

Let New Delhi and Islamabad refurbish that Agra formula and build upon it if it has got out of shape in the past few years. It is not fair to the people of Kashmir. Modi will go down in history if he finds an amicable solution. What his party, the BJP, decides may be acceptable by the majority in the country. He should act now.

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