Instead of a wall of separation, Kashmir must become a bridge: Muzaffar Hussain Baig [Part II]

Aditya AK August 23 2018
Muzaffar Hussain Baig

In Part II of this interview, Muzaffar Hussain Baig talks about his political career, his vision for Kashmir, the recently failed BJP-PDP alliance, and more.

Baig’s first two forays into politics in 1979 and 1983 were marred by the rigging of elections. As revealed in Part I, a disillusioned Baig shunned politics after that, and focussed on his law practice.

Then, in 1998, he would help set up the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) with a view to battling the plague of rigged elections in Kashmir. A PDP-Congress alliance would come to power in 2002, and Baig was appointed Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister of the state.

He puts forth the four-point formula he had floated for bringing peace to the Kashmir Valley:

“Firstly, India and Pakistan must follow the SAARC vision 2020, that we will go as far as possible to establish something on the lines of the European Union. I suggested free trade, commerce, movement etc between the countries.

Secondly, as per the UN Resolution, Pakistan will only administer the disputed part of Kashmir and it will not be treated as part of Pakistan. Many people do not know that the Pakistani Constitution does not claim this part of Kashmir to be a part of it, though they have tried to manipulate the mechanism.

Thirdly, I wanted to ensure that Kashmiris living in the Pakistan administered region enjoy the same constitutional guarantees that we (rest of the Kashmiris) have.

I also recommended that students from universities in Pakistan could come and study here, and vice versa. The idea was that if they study here, they will go back with a different world view. Manmohan Singh said twice that if there was ever going to be a solution to the Kashmir issue, it would be on the basis of this vision.”

Apart from being an idealist, Baig reveals himself to be a man learned in the fields of history, politics, philosophy, art, literature and poetry. He uses various examples from history to show that seemingly unsolvable conflicts can be overcome through mutual understanding. He quotes Robert Frost to describe the Kashmir issue:

“‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.’ Human impulse is not to accept walls. We may speak different languages and pray differently, but the stock is the same. This Indo-Pakistan conflict must come to an end. Instead of being a wall of separation between the two countries, Kashmir must become a bridge.

But what comes in the way?

“Petty politics”, he says.

“Though Jinnah was initially secular and opposed to a different country, he fell into the wrong hands. There is a residual civilizational collective memory in India still. We should touch base with our past and the idea of union that the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas speak of. Hopefully, the next generation can achieve this.”

In 2014, Baig was elected to the Lok Sabha. Over the course of his career as a parliamentarian, he has fought for socio-political change. Here are some of the issues he has brought up during his stint:

“Firstly, India was not rising up to its potential because of the closed economy. Once I made it to Parliament, I urged them to go beyond the Nehruvian model of development, which was more Socialist. At Harvard, you come across people from all over the world. Having interacted with all these people and collected data, I came to the conclusion that we needed to evolve our economy.

My second agenda was to heal the scars of Partition. But for Partition, we would have been the number one power in the world. If India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were one today, we would not be talking about Gau Raksha, and Article 370, and Kashmir being treated differently. We would have been a secular country without having to announce it from the rooftops.

Once the process of Partition starts, it does not stop. After division on the basis of religion, there was division on the basis of region, language etc. And these divisions give rise to opportunism and manipulation in politics. Though we cannot undo the Partition, we have to stop further Partition. For that, you need to have a vision that is not aligned to religious division, but to common developmental destiny. That is within our reach, if we use our resources.”

2014 also marked the year in which Baig’s PDP forged an alliance with the BJP government at the Centre. Baig explains the rationale behind such an agreement.

“When the results came out, we had 29 and BJP had 29 seats. They (BJP) had all the seats from Jammu, and we had the mandate from Kashmir. So, I was interviewed on television and I said that we must respect the mandate of Jammu. We could have formed the government with National Conference, but that would mean a “Muslim” government. There would be three or four Hindus in the government. It would not have been a representative democracy unless there is a government that respects the mandate of both Jammu and Kashmir.

To ensure that we do not have a bloodbath, and to ensure regional balance, we decided to form the government with BJP. Many people from my party had contested elections against the BJP, but I took that risk.”

He compares the BJP alliance with the one the PDP had with the Congress in 2002.

“I felt that the idea was good, but it needed a heart-to-heart, a frank discussion at the highest level.” Source

“Manmohan Singh and I had made a document for governance of the state. For that, three top most leaders from each party came together. However, this time, it did not happen. Mufti saab did not meet Modi or Amit Shah, neither did Mehbooba or myself. Two people from their party and one from ours drafted some document, which was not signed.

The coalition was based on an honest, heartfelt collaboration between a Hindu organisation and a regional political party. It involved understanding each other and sacrificing a little on both sides. I was not in favour of power sharing on the lines of the TDP-BJP alliance. These do not last long, and do not get translated on the ground.”

However, the alliance would eventually come to a bitter end. Looking back, Baig says,

“I felt that the idea was good, but it needed a heart-to-heart, a frank discussion at the highest level. I mean no disrespect to the people nominated from each party. But if there were discussions at the highest level, we would have had a roadmap for the next ten years. We have got lost in stupid issues – what benefits does a BJP minister get for his constituency, etc. We wanted to forge a common understanding for the benefit for the people of the state.”

Moving the discussion to a more central level, Baig talks about the perceived interference of the Executive with the Judiciary, and how judges ought to be selected.

“I am not part of the Central government, but I have heard that this is happening a lot. This has happened before, during the Fundamental Rights case. We need reforms at the Supreme Court. First, it should not be necessary that the senior-most judge should be Chief Justice.

Instead, you should have the most talented judge being CJI. In America, judges openly have different ideologies, not party-wise, but liberal and conservative. But what they see is integrity and ability; on that basis, even the opposition will vote for you.

The judges in US have to be confirmed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, so it should appear that the system is guided by politics. There, appointments are guided by political ideology, but it takes a back seat, and merit is the main consideration. We do not make a distinction between political ideology and party loyalty.”

As a Lok Sabha member, Baig has witnessed first hand the recent disturbances that have brought many a parliamentary session to a standstill.

“I made it a point to not sit in the House if there is no quorum. I have marked attendance only twice in this whole session. If there is quorum, the House is not in order. You cannot have a sitting when the House is not in order.

“You don’t allow the House to work, but you are ready to take home 2000 rupees? It is a mockery of democracy.”

Whenever I went to Parliament, those pagdi wallas would say, ‘Sir where are you going? There is no quorum’. Every time you sign, you get Rs. 2000. But I don’t do that, because it is unethical. You don’t allow the House to work, but you are ready to take home 2000 rupees? It is a mockery of democracy.

If a person walks into the well three or four times, he should be disqualified. He is holding the entire country to ransom. There should be some accountability.”

Baig is in favour of bringing in wholesale changes to the system, and particularly backs doing away with anti-defection laws.

“Our Parliament has the potential to hold the government accountable, but it does not. It does not act on the freedom of conscience principle, it depends on the party whip. One of the first steps should be to do away with these anti-defection laws. If this happens, there can be a situation where someone from other side votes in your favour.

We must be able to trust the people who have been trusted by half a million voters. The voters should have a provision to recall who they voted for. The Council of Ministers has to be responsible to Parliament, which in turn has to be responsible to the people.”

The conversation drifts back to the issues in Kashmir, one of the most pressing of which been the misuse of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). While there have been calls to do away with the Act itself, Baig feels that it is a necessary evil.

“Nobody wants the Army to get involved in political conflicts, but considering the relations with Pakistan and China and the fact that certain interest groups want to destabilize the region, it is required. The Act may have to stay until we can resolve issues through dialogue rather than through use of force.

The Supreme Court upheld the Act after the Army submitted its Standard Operating Procedures, which ensure that no misuse of the Act can take place. If that judgment is implemented, then there is no issue. The problem is not with the Act itself, but with its implementation from time to time. Despite it being a Constitution Bench judgment, it is not followed in many cases.”

Baig is “cautiously optimistic” about the future of Kashmir. Though his idealistic approach has not brought peace to the region yet, he believes that it may achieve its goal someday. When asked about his future plans to work towards his vision of a united, conflict-free Kashmir, he quotes Robert Frost one last time,

“Miles to go before I sleep.”

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