The much awaited report by a three-member interlocutors’ panel on Jammu and Kashmir - appointed by the Union Home Ministry - is out in the public domain. The report titled ‘A New Compact with the People of Jammu and Kashmir’ claims to have suggested a “roadmap” to address the vexed Kashmir issue.
The interlocutors’ panel - journalist Dilip Padgaonkar, academic Radha Kumar and former civil servant MM Ansari - in its 176-page-long report has recommended reviewing of all central Acts and Articles of Indian Constitution, extended to Jammu and Kashmir after the 1952 Delhi agreement. This has once again brought the complex web of Kashmir issue to the fore.
Before commenting on the interlocutors’ report, let us flip through the pages of history.
Jammu and Kashmir was a princely state, which was acceded to India by the virtue of a constitutional document called Instrument of Accession under the Indian Independence Act, 1947.
Maharaja Hari Singh, then supreme ruler of Jammu and Kashmir and the sole designated authority of the state signed the Instrument of Succession on October 26, 1947.
It reads, “I Sri Hari Singh, ruler of Jammu and Kashmir state in the exercise of my sovereignty in and over my said state do hereby execute this my Instrument of Accession....The terms of this Instrument of Accession shall not be varied by any amendment of the Act or of Indian Independence Act, 1947...I hereby declare that I execute this instrument on behalf of the state and that any reference in this instrument to me or the ruler of the state is to be considered as including reference to my heirs and successors.”
The Instrument of Accession made it clear that there was no dispute in acceding Jammu and Kashmir into India. But, historic blunders were committed by the then interim government.
Though the format of Instrument of Accession applied to Jammu and Kashmir was the same as was executed for other princely states, then interim Indian government led by Jawaharlal Nehru agreed that “final decision” with regard to the accession would be ratified by the Constituent Assembly of Jammu & Kashmir. In the intervening period “a temporary provision” was made in the Constitution of India.
Article 370 was created in the Indian Constitution to give a “special status” to Jammu and Kashmir. As per that status, except for three subjects - Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications - the Centre needs the concurrence of Jammu and Kashmir govt to apply all other laws.
Separate constitution and separate flag for Jammu and Kashmir are the by-products of Article 370. The article which was introduced in the Indian Constitution as a “temporary statute” has become a permanent problem. It stands as a stumbling block between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India. The article gave birth to the idea of autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir.
The interlocutors’ report advocates further strengthening of Article 370 to ensure "meaningful autonomy" for the state. It suggests upgrading the article from a “temporary provision” to a “special provision”.
I see a glaring blunder in the report – it weakens India’s position on Kashmir by repeatedly referring to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) as Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK).
It may be recalled that soon after the division of India, newly formed Pakistan intruded into Kashmir and illegally occupied a large stretch of area - known as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). PoK belongs to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and as per the Instrument of Succession it is very much a part of India. The 1994 resolution of the Indian Parliament acknowledges PoK as an integral part of India. However, the interlocutors failed to recognise these historic realities.
The report also offers no solution to the ongoing insurgency in J&K. Instead, it suggests a dilution of anti-terrorism steps.
The report recommends a review of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) imposed in Kashmir. It suggests amending the Public Safety Act (PSA). Both the acts give sweeping powers to the armed forces for ensuring security and fighting the terrorists. In addition, the interlocutors’ report advocates decreasing the presence of security forces from the state.
They have gone on to suggest the recreating of the offices of "Wazir-e-Azam"(Prime Minister of the Province) and "Sadar-e-Riyasat (President of the Province)" in place of Chief Minister and Governor respectively, something which will be unacceptable to most people in India.
The report is, thus, filled with controversial fault lines. Besides, the interlocutors have abysmally failed to offer any solution to the vexed Kashmir issue - the very purpose for which it was set up.