Storm in a teacup - Kuldip Nayar - October 15, 2010

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TIMING is an important factor for politicians. If they do not know what should be said and when, they can land themselves in trouble.

India`s first governor general, C. Rajagopalachari, was correct in supporting the demand for Pakistan in 1942. But since he was a leader of the Congress, which was opposed to the demand at that time, he was vehemently criticised.

Somnath Chatterjee did not obey the order of his party, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), to resign as speaker because he felt the timing was wrong. He was presiding over the session when India`s nuclear treaty was to be voted upon. The CPI-(M) turned him out. Later, many of its stalwarts regretted the decision and felt that they should have waited until after the voting, when he would have resigned as he had indicated.

Similarly, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah`s outburst came at the wrong time. His statement that Kashmir acceded to India without merging is correct factually and historically. His grandfather Sheikh Abdullah, then Kashmir`s prime minister, joined the union on the condition that New Delhi would hold only three subjects — defence, foreign affairs and communications. New Delhi accepted the condition. azadi

Omar Abdullah`s enunciation of that came at the wrong time. He should have known that the valley is in ferment and people are asking for . azadi

His drawing the line between accession and merger at this time was bound to be misunderstood. The pro- protesters have interpreted it as questioning India`s claim that Kashmir is its integral part. Hardliner Syed Shah Geelani has already said that Omar Abdullah is “speaking his language”.

On the other hand, Omar Abdullah has diluted his credentials in India. Even the Congress has said that his statement appears different from the not-long-ago affirmation in the Lok Sabha that he was an Indian. It is understandable that he was under pressure when he made the statement.

More than 100 people died in clashes with the security forces. But the forbearance and stamina of a person is tested during times of stress.

As Kashmir`s chief minister, he cannot pass the buck. It appears that he was making New Delhi a scapegoat for his troubles.

Omar Abdullah lacks maturity, not integrity. The chief minister`s statement that he is “not a puppet” is another sad commentary on the Indian federal structure. The statement also shows Omar Abdullah in a poor light. Why should he give the impression to New Delhi that he is malleable and can buckle under pressure? One has not heard the remark of being “a puppet” from other chief ministers. There must have been something to make him say this.

Kashmir`s status can be debated by people who have not taken oath under the Indian constitution. When Omar Abdullah assumed office, he swore by the Indian constitution according to which Kashmir is an integral part of India.

Sheikh Abdullah paid the price of transgressing and was in detention for 12 years. He was the best friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, who apparently felt that he had crossed his limits. He returned to power only after avowing allegiance to the Indian constitution. azadi

I do not think that things would come to such a pass again because New Delhi has learnt not to be too sensitive. And I do not see Omar Abdullah becoming a rallying point for the protesters asking for . The matter may not turn out to be more than a storm in a teacup. Except for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), no other political party has made Omar Abdullah`s remarks an issue.

Omar Abdullah`s party, the National Conference, has gone over the exercise of pushing New Delhi to the 1953 position when the Sheikh signed an agreement with New Delhi. Farooq Abdullah, Omar`s father, was then the chief minister and New Delhi was ruled by the BJP. So much pressure was exerted on Farooq Abdullah that he had to put the autonomy resolution in cold storage.

This does not, however, mean that New Delhi`s encroachment on the power which belongs to Kashmir is justified. Acts which have been passed in the field, other than on defence, foreign affairs and communications, have to be withdrawn.

It is welcome to note that Omar Abdullah said that Pakistan must be associated with the solution to Kashmir. India has itself said many a time that Kashmir remains to be solved. Therefore, no solution can be lasting without Islamabad`s agreement.

It is a coincidence, but the television interview with former president Pervez Musharraf has brought to the fore the Kashmir solution which both Pakistan and India had found acceptable. It was only to be inked. The formula is reportedly still acceptable to India but not to the Asif Zardari government. New Delhi has to pursue the formula vigorously.

What surprises me is that Kashmiris have not yet realised that India would never accept a position where the disputed territory opts for a status outside the country. n

The two countries would have to find a peaceful solution. One Pakistani political commentator wrote some time back: “What we could not win in the war, we cannot get at the negotiating table.”

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi.

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