The Delhi Durbar looks curiouser and curiouser from the fringes of India - like from this overgrown town shyly snuggling amongst the seven hills by the side of the Arabian Sea, Thiruvananthapuram. This part of India never formed part of the Mughal Empire and we have no collective memory of those tragic times when the 1857 revolt erupted, but the Delhi Durbar today leaps out of William Dalrymple’s book on the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar.
This is was the stunning thought that occured to me as I instinctively reached out for morning’s Hindu newspaper
. The daily’s lead story had a cute little box showing the coloured cheeks of 5 handsome gentlemen who are to take the momentous decision as to whether the AFSPA should continue to prevail all over J&K and not.
They cannot apparently make up their mind because one of them needs more time to procrastinate further. To be sure, Defence Minister A.K.Antony’s stance is shocking. At least, he should take a stance like the army chief does (who has a closed mind on the issue). But all that Antony would say is this is a “very, very sensitive issue”, which would need “mature and cool” handling.
This is pure baloney and is an excuse for indecisiveness. What is this AFSPA about? Having held charge of the “Kashmir Unit” in the MEA for a number of years, having rubbed shoulders with colleagues in the MHA and MOD and in the intelligence agencies, I can claim some familiarity with the subject. Do you know, for instance, that there has been a committee called Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy Committee
(which even had an army general sitting as member) that looked into this business of AFSPA and that its report has been gathering dust for the past 6 years and 5 months only because the government thought it a “very very sensitive” report that deserves “mature and cool” handling?
Two, the real issue is that AFSPA gives the Army the powers to kill civilians with immunity. But then, if the security situation has improved palpably - as in many parts of J&K - where is the need to kill civilians at all? Three, Antony is being less than frank by overlooking that Omar Abdullah’s proposal is at least one year old and it is his Ministry that is sitting on it twiddling thumbs and proffering one lame excuse after another to block it.
As far as I can see, strong vested interests have developed. Corporate interests are being affected. This is not a turf battle, it is a veritable war over the “empire” that the army created in J&K through these tragic decades of our current history. Vacating the “empire” means great loss of “comforts”, perks and privileges. It is not like the shady Adarsh Housing Society scam, of course, but it is no less worse when a corporate body appropriates public resources on an epic scale.
My point is that this is simply not a matter for the army to have an opinion at all. This is a matter for the civilian government. The government declared an area as “disturbed” out of its wisdom and the government should decide if it is no longer “disturbed”. There has been a colossal failure of leadership when the government failed to do so even after years of tranquility in a certain area - as pointed out by Abdullah.
The government can always judge if the security situation can be handled without the “expertise” of the army. But it is not for the army to insist that its “expertise” is an imperative need. It is for the civilian government to decide whether Srinagar needs army’s “expertise” or whether Budgam may need army expertise in 2016 (where it hasn’t conducted a single operation for the past 5 years)? In Srinagar, by the way, one cannot recall when the army last operated at all.
Finally, this is a matter that has implications for India’s foreign policy at a juncture when things are looking up in the relations with Pakistan. Any forward movement in the normalization involves to some degree thoughtful initiatives on the Kashmir problem, pending a final solution in the fulness of time when a climate of trust is created.
Antony should not stand in the way. Give way, please, so that the nation can move on. Gandhiji would have advised him to do that. It is plain humaneness that our citizens should be allowed to live in dignity.