Kashmir Committee With a Caveat
Ram Jethmalani with Kashmiri leader Shabir Shah
NEW DELHI: Twelve years and the Kashmir committee formed initially in 2002 has resurfaced in new avatars to mediate between the centre and the Kashmiri’s. Noted advocate Ram Jethmalani who has had at best a flirtatious relationship with the Bharatiya Janata Party who first set up the Committee, revived it in April 2011, and has now again got into the news by reviving it for a third time.
Jethmalani has, however, put a rider to the longevity of the revival by saying, “till I am alive, Kashmir Committee will be alive.” He is an active 90 years. It is still not clear whether the revival is more to do with the noted lawyers commitment or has the backing of the current NDA government.
Common to the first two committees were former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, informal patron now of the BJP’s arch adversary the Aam Aadmi Party, journalist and editor MJ Akbar who has jumped the fence to join the BJP as its spokesperson under the Modi government, and former Ambassador V.K.Grover. Passionate supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi Madhu Kishwar, who raised BJP eyebrows with her equally passionate opposition to HRD Minister Smriti Irani, was appointed ‘Convenor’ by Jethmalani in 2011. A journalist from Pulwama district in Kashmir Waheed ur Rehman was also included as the local presence.
Jethmalani has now announced that the Kashmir Committee has been revived, although he has still to disclose its members. He visited Srinagar and met the Kashmiri separatist leaders on his own, without any of the other members. The Committee that was fairly active for a while in its first avatar, emerged in 2011 to fizzle into silence before the year was through, although Jethmalani now insists as the high profile constant, “Kashmir Committee has all along been alive. However, sometimes we do hide as we face criticism of interfering in some peoples work and we do our work without publicity.”
The Kashmiri media that has started buzzing with the usual “back channel talks revived” reportage met Jethmalani who said, “even today I have come here as somebody interested in Kashmir affairs. I am interested in the future of Kashmir. It is my desire to see that the Kashmir issue is resolved. It is such a beautiful nation, the violence should end and love should rule here. We should forget the petty things and love should rule.” It was not clear what he meant by “petty things” but did speak of some “disgruntled voices” that needed to be addressed.
When asked why the central government had not said anything about the Kashmir committee Jethmalani said, “I am not a BJP leader. I have been expelled from the party. However, everyone knows about mine and Modi's path. I came here and talked to separatists first and then to my friends". He also insisted that his visit and the revival had nothing to do with the forthcoming Assembly elections, and insisted that it was all about peace and love.
In a regular column for the Sunday Guardian Jethmalani has written: “The Kashmir Committee was born at about this time. Soon it forged a five points agreement with leaders of Hurriyat, which were:
1. Terrorism and violence are taboo.
2. A lasting and honourable peaceful resolution must and can be found.
3. The resolution must be acceptable to all political elements and regions of the state.
4. Extremist positions held by all for the last five decades have to be and will be abandoned.
5. Kashmiri Pandits will be rehabilitated in security and with honour and equality.
Unfortunately, the exit of the BJP government in the 2004 elections proved a big setback. The new government did not want any interference with their manner of conducting the Indo-Pak dialogue. We knew that they will not succeed on their own, but to give no excuse, the Committee almost suspended the excellent work it was doing. But we kept appealing to the Hurriyat not to backtrack on the agreements achieved.”
The Kashmir committee had tried to revive under the Congress led UPA government but received short shrift. Instead the Congress decided to appoint a team of interlocutors--Dilip Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar, MM Ansari---seen as ‘lightweight’ and virtually rejected by the Kashmiri separatist leaders. The team did make some visits, wrote a report that was not really heard of much later. This was also the period where all talks between the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir were in abeyance, with the working groups set up by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee virtually disbanded.
It remains to be seen in what form the Kashmir Committee has been revived, who are its members, and whether it is again a misadventure of the committee Jethmalani or whether it has the support of the Modi government. The timing of course is right in that the elections are around the corner, talks with Pakistan are beginning, at least the first round is, and Kashmir will remain central to both processes. However, in 2011 also it had seemed that the Kashmir Committee had the support of the government, but clearly this was not the case as subsequent developments revealed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not that trusting of persons he has not worked with in the past, and while Jammu and Kashmir seems to be a high priority item on its agenda, it remains to be seen whether he would like to ‘outsource’ it to a maverick like Jethmalani who has never hesitated to speak his mind, in or outside the BJP.