Much expected report of fifth working group headed by retired Justice Saghir Ahmad on centre -state relations was unveiled in a dramatic situation at the end of 2009 on 23rd of December. The imprecise report came as an expected New Year gift for the ruling collation partner National Conference and Chief minister Mr. Omar Abdullah, giving a new lease of life to their worn-out concept of ‘Autonomy’. Out of the total five working groups regarding Kashmir, set up by the previous congress government under the leadership of Dr. Manmohan Singh the present report was surprisingly passed on to Omar Abdullah contrary to other working groups reports, which were earlier directly submitted to Prime minister of India in third round table conference. There were many other political surprises regarding Kashmir in recent past. National conference replaced PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) as collation partner; Omar Abdullah was preferred over his father as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir; a section of Hurriyat was lured to secret (behind the veil) talks and at the end of the year autonomy was favored over self-rule (only literally) and assured a fair assessment even after earlier ill-treatment. During the year 2009 congress lead central government not only reviewed its policy related to Kashmir affairs but also took U-turn in deciding about the collation partner. From PDP back to its old ally National conference, shift surprised the common man on the street but not the political analysts. Congress and its government in the centre exhausted the potential of PDP and its leadership for its own interests during their political honeymoon and then ventured into the political wedlock with exhausted National conference which had diminished to its size during the period it was out of power. National conference being desperate to re-establish itself and regain its lost ground considers it’s old and tired horse of autonomy to be the best bet. How far it will succeed in winning the hearts of Kashmiri people by mounting the autonomy, only time will tell? By managing Saghir report to visit its ‘dewan khana’ before leaving for ‘Deli darbar’ it tried to go for some damage control exercise and at the same time brow beat the PDP. On the other hand centre used this occasion to convey separatists that it is working on many fronts concurrently to buy peace in the state and any stubbornness will compel it to switch over within no time.
The recommendations of the working group were warmly welcomed by National Conference by saying, “working group has recommended to examine autonomy in light of Kashmir accord, which implies that the laws applicable to the state before 1953 should be restored, in other words it means restoration of autonomy” (Dr. Mehboob Beigh ). In the first instance the major mainstream opposition party PDP (People Democratic Party) disapproved the recommendations by describing the party’s self-rule proposal as the only practical solution to the vexed Kashmir issue and objected to the observation of Justice Saghir that ‘ self-rule appears to relate to the autonomy in wider context’. But within twenty four hours it came to terms and derived its own meanings when party president Mehbooba Mufti said, ‘’the self-rule is an ultimate document and it addresses external dimension of Kashmir issue, unlike autonomy which is all about centre-state relations. Justice Saghir has used the word ‘consider’ for self-rule and ‘examine’ for autonomy. This is enough to differentiate between the two” (Statement in the news conference carried by GK 25th December 2009). This attitude of the two main mainstream parties of the state regarding Saghir recommendations has drawn a clear line between them and the separatists and exposed their occasional love for separatist politics. Both PDP and NC are fighting for their own political turf and have little love left for poor Kashmiries within their political treasuries. National Conference and PDP are out to sell their miniaturized concept of emancipating people of Kashmir under the trade names ‘autonomy’ and ‘self-rule’ and for long they have been looking forward to the decision of central government (read Congress) for approval of their products. But the congress had given its decision immediately after the assembly elections by choosing worn-out NC over slightly rejuvenated PDP. Justice Saghir report was the final reminder to hopeful PDP that the die is cast in favor of NC. By sending the report, first to Omar Abdullah the signal was loud and clear. Kashmir think tank and strategist in Delhi are playing a brilliant chess game with regard to Kashmir. On one hand they encourages separatist to indulge in secret talks on Kashmir and on the other hand sending signals of autonomy to its collation partner in Kashmir at the cost of PDP’s self-rule delicacy. Centre is trying to hold all the aces close to its chest. Justice Saghir report is a distinctive dice thrown by the centre, knowing it will have more sections opposing than embracing it, like the secret talks and that is what suits its Kashmir agenda. These conflicting signals will temporarily buy peace in Kashmir but will never help in resolving this vexed issue!
Justice Saghir report has touched every aspect of centre-state relations ranging from article 370 to representation in Supreme Court and has meddled in many insignificant and irrelevant issues like reservation in services (government service), promotions and refugees. It seems either the unrelated issues have been deliberately incorporated within the terms of reference for the working group to create an atmosphere of ambiguity for future exploitation as in the case of Delhi agreement of 1952, or the working group leadership was under tremendous pressure that it lost its line and length while deliberating upon the issues and ended in the backwoods of indistinctness. The content and timing of the report speaks volumes about the intention, context and target of the working group recommendations. It is a tailor-made report to counter certain political forces, appease others and checkmate the rest. Only first three sections of the report, related to article 370, autonomy of National Conference and the self-rule of PDP are the concentrate of this much hyped report, rest all is add-on just to give it some creditability as a working-group report. Blaming Justice Saghir for crafting these blurred recommendations will not be fair, as he is only a medium to create ripples and confusion in the apparently calm political waters of Kashmir. Its content has been very cleverly crafted to appease all but to suit none and to offer every thing but to give nothing. Justice Saghir has simply issued it under his seal and signature on behalf of the centre for National Conference and against PDP in the best interest of Congress party.
Mainstream parties of all shades are under the misconception that recent assembly election was a mandate for resolving the Kashmir issue and so before mounting the election bandwagon the two main parties PDP and NC came out vigorously with their own version of emancipating Kashmiries and are out to harvest the dividends of sacrifices put in and hardships faced by the common Kashmiri in every nook and corner of Kashmir for last more than two decades. No civilized society permits any one to justify the bloodshed for attaining its justified goals but at the same time no one should be allowed to exploit the suffering of a Nation for their own political constituencies and benefits without feeling even a pinch of sufferings. Separatists should also feel the pulse of Kashmiri people and changing international scenario, respect and regard people’s aspirations in a transparent and positive manner. Instead of indulging in veiled talks and extreme stubbornness they should behave as mature leaders and seriously involve both Pakistan and India in talks on their terms by properly make use of the mounting world pressure on both these countries. Kashmiri people have suffered a lot and before deciding their fate every Kashmiri should be taken into confidence and their consent sought for resolving this issue once for all. Repeating, 1947(Un-realistic accession), 1952 (Ambiguous Delhi agreement), 1953 (Undemocratic and unreasonable deposition of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah), 1974(Irrational and deceptive Beigh, Parthasarthi Accord), 1987 (Rigged election) and now this Saghir recommendations drama, will only complicate the issue and will not be in the larger interests of people of the subcontinent.