At the time when Kashmir is on the boil, Senior Congress leader and former home minister of India P Chidambaram has advocated ‘greater autonomy’ for the strife torn Indian state.
He said that country will have to pay a “heavy price” if the “grand bargain” under which Kashmir had acceded to India by promising a large degree of autonomy is not implemented.
“I think their approach is wrong. We have ignored the grand bargain under which Kashmir acceded to India. I think we broke faith, we broke promises and as a result we have paid a heavy price,” he told media.
He said the best solution, according to him, was that New Delhi should give an assurance to the people of Kashmir that the “grand bargain” promised during the time of Kashmir’s accession “will be honoured fully”.
“I may be wrong, I may be right but what is necessary is to give the assurance that the grand bargain will be fully honoured. Let them (people of Kashmir) frame their own laws as much as possible and as long as it does not conflict with the Constitution”, said Chidambaram.
“We have to assure that we will respect identity, history, culture, religion…”
Citing India’s advice to Sri Lankan on devolution of asymmetric powers to Tamil areas of the north and east, the former minister said implement what we are preaching to Sri Lanka.
Chidambaram said the situation in Kashmir has been mishandled by successive governments in Srinagar and New Delhi.
“We (UPA government) did mishandle. But we corrected ourselves in 2010. Now, both the governments in Delhi and Srinagar mishandled (it) very, very badly,” he said.
Saying that Kashmir “required a unique political solution”, Chidambaram blamed the ruling PDP-BJP alliance for the present crisis saying they (alliance) should have never come to power.
“The alliance itself is a grave provocation for the valley. It is a legitimate government. They have the numbers. The legitimacy of the government has not taken away the fact that these two partners forming government has given a sense of fear among people of Kashmir.”
He said ‘Azadi’ means different things to different people, Chidambaram said what is necessary is to give an assurance that grand bargain will be fully honoured.
“Let them frame their own laws as long as it does not conflict with the Constitution. As much as possible we have to assure that we will respect the identity, history, culture, religion…. and allow them to be part of India.”
Asked if Prime Minister Narendra Modi can implement such a proposal as he is known as a doer, he said “I don’t know what his fundamental beliefs are. If his fundamental belief is that India must be a majoritarian state whatever I said will be a complete waste on him.”
He said that the decision of former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed to allign with the BJP was a “blot” on his political career. “It was a serious mistake,” he said.
Chidambaram rued that for a long time the Corps Commander of the Army was the overall incharge of security of Kashmir and not the chief minister or the director general of Jammu & Kashmir Police.
“… handing over security to defence … making GOC virtually the overall command … these shifts should not have happened … it happened over the period. I found that GoC was overall incharge not CM or DGP … but CM’s writ does not run … We pulled back considerably but there was no follow up,” he said.
Chidambaram said when he was the home minister he wanted to move the Army and paramilitary forces to border areas, abolish the controversial AFSPA or at least amend it and make the state police overall incharge of law and order situation.
Chidambaram admitted that he could not push forward a proposal for withdrawal of AFSPA from parts of the state because of opposition from the defence establishment.
“I could not convince the defence establishment and political leadership. Opinion within the government was sharply divided. Political leadership could not overrule the defence opinion even though paramilitary forces came on board,” he said.
He regretted that no follow up action was taken on the reports of the interlocutors for Kashmir appointed when he was the Home Minister.
“I think the interlocutors reports should have been acted upon. We have not implemented bulk of the recommendationm..,” he said.