07 July 2000

RSS forced Cabinet's hand on autonomy

7 July 2000
The Times of India

News Analysis
RSS forced Cabinet's hand on autonomy

By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service

NEW DELHI: Though it hasn't ended the autonomy debate, the Cabinet's
rejection of the Kashmir assembly resolution has at least scotched an
improbable cocktail circuit rumour: That the autonomy demand was a
ploy devised by Farooq Abdullah and Prime Minister Vajpayee to
undermine the pull of azadi.

Had it really been a ploy, Vajpayee would at least have kept the
charade going longer. By shooting the proposal down, Farooq's standing
has been undermined and the Hurriyat and Pakistan have been given the
opportunity to tell the world, ``We told you so''.

According to a ministerial source, the government chose to reject the
resolution because it had received ``intelligence assessments'' that
other assemblies such as Mizoram and Assam would pass resolutions
making similar demands, and that matters could easily have got out of

But apart from rejection, the government had other options:
  • It could have ignored the resolution, like Indira Gandhi ignored the
    Tamil Nadu assembly's 1974 autonomy resolution.
  • It could have launched a comprehensive review of Centre-state
    relations, parrying Kashmir's demands into the broader project of
    renewing Indian federalism.
  • It could have resorted to `death by committee'. After all, it's been
    12 years since the Sarkaria report. The government could have promised
    to think about a fresh commission to look into Centre-state issues.
The third seems to have been the preferred option of a section of the
bureaucracy and of those dealing with internal security. The feeling
in these circles is that Abdullah's initiative should have been kept
alive, if only to provide another window for a political solution.

We also know that not all NDA constituents favoured a pointed
rejection of the Kashmir resolution. The DMK did not attend the
crucial cabinet meeting. Officially, its ministers were in Chennai
preparing for the PM's visit. Unofficially, as strong proponents of
autonomy, they could hardly be expected to come out against Farooq's

What seems to have forced the Vajpayee government's hands were two
factors: The pressure from the RSS, which warned of a ``second
partition'', and the BJP's visceral aversion to any radical
renegotiation of Centre-state relations. To that extent, its fear of
copy-cat resolutions in other assemblies was a genuine one.

And yet, if it believes other states want the kind of autonomy Kashmir
wants, the BJP will have to confront this question head-on.

Economic reforms further complicate matters. Liberalisation is
generating uneven growth with some regions stagnating and others
surging ahead. This will generate political strains which are bound to
affect Centre-state relations. Another potential source of tension is
population. The reapportioning of Lok Sabha seats on the basis of
population cannot be postponed indefinitely; eventually, the Rajya
Sabha will have to be drastically redefined to protect the interests
of states with lower populations, such as in the south.

As a coalition, the Vajpayee government was well placed to use
Kashmir's autonomy demand to prepare the country to deal with these
strains. Rather than outright rejection, it could have engaged in a
process of dialogue that might have satisfied the aspirations of
Kashmiris and generated proposals to strengthen the Union. That
opportunity has now been closed. Unless the Centre comes up with
another initiative, this week's cabinet decision might well be
remembered more for the problems it generates than for the illusion of
stability it provides.

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