by SANKARSHAN THAKUR
New Delhi, Oct. 2: A leading RSS ideologue has turned the stated position of the Sangh and the BJP on Kashmir on its head by floating radical corrective proposals that could trigger a new debate on the way forward in the troubled Valley.
In what’s a plunge against the tide, former RSS spokesperson M.G. Vaidya has recommended that Kashmir be cleaved from Jammu and Ladakh and granted pre-1953 levels of autonomy with a prime minister (Wazir-e-Azam) as head of government with powers over all subjects other than defence, currency, foreign affairs and telecommunications.
But unlike the pre-1953 status, there should be no separate president (Sadr-e-Riyasat) for the state because “we have only one President for the whole country”.
Insisting that the office of the governor appointed by the Centre be retained, Vaidya says: “During the British regime, there were many princely states that enjoyed complete autonomy on internal matters. But a British Resident used to be there to look after the interests of the empire and the geographic unity and integrity of the state was not damaged. So will it happen in the case of the new state. Our governor, like the British Resident, will have to be vigilant about the whole nation’s interest.”
He has also suggested that powers to impose governor’s rule under Article 356 should be retained in the interests of national integrity.
Jammu, according to the Vaidya plan, should become a separate state and Ladakh a Union territory in accordance with its distinct “geographical, religious, linguistic and cultural” identity.
In addition, he has said that in order to contain Kashmir’s drift towards separatism, Article 370, which grants special status to the state, be strengthened by making it a permanent feature of the Constitution rather than the “temporary and transitory” status it currently has. He has suggested that once Kashmir becomes a separate state, it should also be allowed to enact a separate criminal law.
The Centre should call a roundtable conference comprising all shades of opinion in the Valley to put in place the minutiae of the new framework to ensure that Kashmir remains an integral part of India, Vaidya has suggested.
Among the other issues the conference should discuss are the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Election Commission over Kashmir as well as census operations and the appointment of IAS and IPS officers in the state.
He also believes that Kashmiri opinion should be sought on whether Parliament should continue to make laws for the state in accordance with Article 249 of the Constitution and whether central rules of excise, customs, civil aviation and post and telegraph should continue to apply to the new state of Kashmir.
The RSS senior has attached a few critical caveats, though. All Kashmiri Pandits forced into exile by a militant insurgency in the early 1990s should be rehabilitated in the Valley and elements that seek a merger with Pakistan should have no role in consultations over the new arrangement.
Vaidya’s sweeping and contentious reforms are part of a paper he circulated to scant notice following an all-party delegation’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir last month. His prescription not merely represents a drastic departure from the Sangh’s position, it also vastly exceeds what parties like the Congress are willing to concede at the moment.
The BJP rejects outright the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir on regional lines, rejects autonomy, and remains theoretically committed to the abrogation of Article 370.
The Congress, which has been more accepting of Kashmiri demands than the BJP, too has pointedly ignored the autonomy resolution f the Assembly which is being foregrounded as a key demand by chief minister Omar Abdullah.
The autonomy proposals, Vaidya says, should not be “imposed” on the people of Jammu or Ladakh.
Speaking to The Telegraph from Nagpur, the 88-year-old Vaidya was keen to stress that the views were personal and did not represent the “official position” of the RSS. But that he has gone public with his note suggests that he is seeking a clean-slate debate on Kashmir within and outside the Sangh parivar.
The BJP, unsurprisingly, rejected the Vaidya remedy out of hand.
“The BJP has a clear, well-meditated position on Jammu and Kashmir,” chief party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said, reacting to the points made by Vaidya.
“Anything that becomes a facade for separatism or independence is totally unacceptable. Kashmir is and will remain an integral part of India.”
Without engaging with the specifics of Vaidya’s suggestions, Prasad said: “We must reach out to the people of the Valley, provide them relief and confidence and differentiate between them and separatists who only become important when there is violence. The current cycle of violence is the consequence of Omar Abdullah’s misrule; we believe his removal has to be the starting point of turning the Valley around.”
Another senior BJP leader sounded more dismissive of Vaidya and his Kashmir proposals. “Vaidya has always been a bit of a freelancer,” he said. “Often, even within the RSS and the Sangh parivar, his views are not taken seriously.”
Vaidya sounded unperturbed by either criticism or indifference from colleagues.
“Of course, these are ideas that many will find difficult to accept or even discuss,” he said. “Many of my friends have told me that the medicine I am prescribing is more dangerous than the disease. But I believe this should be debated…. In muddon par charcha honi chahiye kyonki Kashmir bahut mahatvapurna maamla hai (there should be a discussion on these matters because Kashmir is a very important issue).”