Four months after a tear-gas shell killed a Srinagar teenager in June 2010 — sparking off street protests and firing by the security forces which were to claim over a hundred young lives — the government appointed a team of interlocutors to “suggest a way forward that truly reflects the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.” Last week, The Hindu published excerpts from Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari's report, one that, in the six months since it was submitted, the Cabinet is yet to find time to discuss, let alone open up to serious political debate. The report, A New Compact , advocates placing India's constitutional relationship with J&K on a more durable footing by reviewing Central laws made applicable to the State without the consent of its legislators — and limiting Parliament's right to legislate for the State on issues other than India's security and vital economic interests. It seeks the setting up of autonomous councils to address the concerns of the State's regions. It calls for a serious review of security arrangements, including the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, and seeks deeper linkages across the Line of Control. In spite of its title, few of A New Compact's proposals are in fact new. The issues it raises have been debated for decades. Put simply, A New Compact isn't a manifesto for radical new thinking: it is a call to get a move on.
For several reasons, New Delhi is reluctant to do that. First, India wants a constitutional agreement on J&K to be part of a final-status agreement with Pakistan. Mired in an ever-deepening crisis, Pakistan's political leadership just does not have the authority to even negotiate, let alone sign on to such a deal. Second, A New Compact correctly emphasises that the State's constitutional future “be reached through consensus so that they are acceptable to all stakeholders represented in the State Assembly and in Parliament.” Even though political leaders privately acknowledge the need for change, however, major parties have not even begun to debate the issues. Third, Kashmir's secessionist coalition, which New Delhi hopes would back an agreement, is paralysed by its own crisis of legitimacy. Finally, Pakistan-based jihadist groups have sharpened their polemical swords in recent months. These are real problems. There is no reason, though, to defer discussion on troop cuts, regional dialogue or constitutional change. The report's proposals may or may not address the issues that are driving political alienation in Jammu and Kashmir today. Not debating them, though, is certain to breed resentment and deepen scepticism about India's intentions. New Delhi, not for the first time, has responded to challenges by choosing to do nothing — a response that is outright dangerous.