PM Narendra Modi has added a whole new dimension to the discourse on Kashmir. Rahul Shivshankar, Editor-in-Chief, NewsX speaks to Jitendra Singh, minister in Prime Minister Office (PMO) on how this new formulation will change and impact the narrative.
NewsX: The PM has said when we talk about J&K we should talk about Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, PoK, Balochistan Gilgit and Baltistan. Who is this message specifically directed at?
Jitendra Singh: The Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done us a great good by reiterating something that had been missed out mid-way. The resolution stating that if at all there is anything outstanding that needed to be discussed on J&K it was only about how to reclaim territory under illegal occupation of Pakistan even after 60 – 65 years. This resolution was brought in 1994 by then Congress-led Govt and was passed unanimously by the parliament. It’s unfortunate that the subsequent governments mostly under the Congress did not follow it up. I think the Prime Minister has only reiterated what should have been followed up 22 years ago. This gap has also led to several other consequences which the PM is trying to make up for.
NewsX: Why do you think the PMs who have preceded PM Modi have failed to articulate this aggressive formulation?
Jitendra Singh: There should be clarity and consistency as far as India’s approach to Pakistan is concerned and as all of us agree that as far as foreign policies concerned there needs to be continuity even if governments change, but Congress needs to explain why its leaders forgot about a resolution that they brought with great enthusiasm and which had received unanimous support including the BJP. It was left to a BJP-led Govt and PM Modi to take up the threads where they have been dropped. This is a position that is accepted by the society of India and policy of India that Gilgit, Baltistan and parts of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) belong to Jammu & Kashmir and they must be part of Indian union.
NewsX: Why has the Congress moved away from this narrative?
Jitendra Singh: It is something the historians and researchers would have to study. I would not like to comment on the internal affairs of a party, but that might also be a reflection of confusion and lack of consistency in that party. Indira Gandhi often remarked, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.” We have to now see which fist is clenched. It is ironical that we have to have a difference of opinion and this difference of opinion is coming from the Congress party. Therefore I think there is a lot much that is sought to be redeemed under by the present BJP-led Govt under PM Modi, in every sphere in different levels, because we have inherited a legacy which has a huge baggage and J&K is also part of that big baggage.
NewsX: How did the Prime Minister come up with this formulation?
Jitendra Singh: I don’t think the Prime Minister needs to consult anybody. The Prime Minister has vast experience behind him; he has lived with the history of Independent India for the last so many years. He has been part of the organisation for so many years; he has been the CM for almost three terms. He has a very close understanding of J&K. He was the in-charge of the party for J&K way back in the nineties. When the Tiranga yatra of Murli Manhohar joshi was organised, the arrangements were entirely made by Narendra Modi. Therefore he has a very close understanding of things.
NewsX: Has NDA’s delay in pushing this PoK formulation… has it handed Pakistan the advantage, because we kept quiet about it, to raise Kashmir at an international level. Have you wasted time?
Jitendra Singh: On May 26, 2014 it was PM Modi who invited all the heads of the states of all the neighbouring countries; it was something nobody expected. This was the message to reach out to his neighbours. Even today India is keen to have good friendly and neighbourly relations with Pakistan, and I do not think there is any alternative to that. It is for Pakistan to realise that and the longer it takes to realise, the longer it would be at its own peril and risk and the kind of terrorism…
NewsX: Is this new formulation a cartographic aggression, in some ways? Because India is now firmly saying we want our territory back. Do you believe it was a strategic error on the part of the NDA to have waited this long to bring this up?
Jitendra Singh: I wouldn’t agree to that. Diplomatic posturing and diplomatic responses vary from day to day particularly when you are dealing with a country like Pakistan.
NewsX: Will there be a discussion within the government to decide on whether this formulation should be articulated?
Jitendra Singh: When such visits are taken, there are deliberations within the government and among the ministers, among the different quarters within the government. I would not say that pointedly, but depending upon the occasion what is in the interest of the nation and what is in the interest of the people of India would be decided. We shouldn’t reject the idea, we should discuss it.
NewsX: Where does the government stand on talks with the Pak agents (separatists as we call them)?
Jitendra Singh: Some kind of mindset has cropped in; some people when they talk about engaging stakeholders in Kashmir, they have 3-4 separatists in mind. These people that you have mentioned have never exposed themselves to the ballot at least for the last 25 years.
Prior to that some of them contested on the mandate of a mainstream party, some of them contested on a Congress ticket and are drawing pension as ex-legislatures.
If they have to be taken on board for any discussion then why not the Kashmiri Pandits? They are not separatists even by conviction, they are separatists by convenience. They were part of some mainstream parties, when they found themselves being sidelined. The very fact that they are exposing other children while keeping their own in safe havens exposes their duplicity. They should not be given precedence over others; there is an approach of zero tolerance towards terrorism and zero tolerance towards separatism.
(For the entire interview watch the video.)