In the summer of 2007, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised Jammu and Kashmir’s people a “blueprint for a new future.” Late last month, retired Supreme Court judge Saghir Ahmed released the summary of that blueprint — and sparked off protests across party lines. Made on behalf of a working group set up by the Prime Minister in 2006 to consider measures for strengthening the relationship between the Union of India and Jammu and Kashmir, Justice Ahmed’s recommendations are less-than-substantial. Among other things, he has called on the Prime Minister to set up a mechanism to restore J&K’s autonomy “to the extent possible.” He has also recommended that the people of the State be allowed to decide whether Article 370 should be made a permanent feature of India’s Constitution or, alternatively, abrogated — neatly sidestepping the divisions on the issue. There are no serious recommendations on how sub-regional aspirations are to be met. In short, the suggestion is that the State and central governments decide the questions the working group was set up to consider!
But the anodyne findings aren’t the reason most major parties are protesting. It is that the Working Group’s members had little say in shaping the recommendations that have been made in their name. Justice Ahmed last met the members of the Working Group on September 3, 2007, when each party made a presentation on its position. Members came away from the meeting believing there would be further discussion. Instead, they learnt about the recommendations from the newspapers. The loudest protests have come from the Bharatiya Janata Party but other parties, ranging from the People’s Democratic Party to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), have also made it clear they are less than happy. Only the National Conference has backed the report, claiming, for reasons not immediately apparent from the text, that it vindicates the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly’s 2000 call for maximal autonomy. In his address at the third roundtable conference on April 24, 2007, Dr. Singh pointed out that New Delhi’s efforts to initiate an inclusive dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir had raised hope for the State’s future and underlined the need to “keep this process moving forward.” Now the government finds itself in the curious position of negotiating with Islamist-led secessionists — but not engaging the elected representatives of the State’s people. It is not too late to do a course correction and restore the legitimacy of a promising process by resuscitating the inclusive dialogue Dr. Singh promised would shape the future of the State.