Kashmir can be turned into India's crowning achievement, worthy of a great people. But it will take some fresh thinking. After 70 years of failed policies, three wars with Pakistan, and more than 40,000 dead in the state, it is fair to say the conventional wisdom is not working. I propose here a clear-eyed new blueprint, one based on converting slogans – including the now famous "Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat" – to practicable principles.
Each of these words must be translated into useful principles, for they represent key aspects of the Kashmir problem.
Prime Minister Vajpayee coined the above slogan in a 2013 speech in Kashmir. He explained to Parliament that "issues can be resolved if we are guided by three principles of Insaniyat (Humanism), Jamhooriyat (Democracy) and Kashmiriyat (Kashmir's age-old legacy of Hindu-Muslim amity)." Lately, the media has been abuzz with different interpretations of his slogan. The Indian Express ran a story "3 words, 5 ways to interpret them," and famed columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta could only ask, "What is Kashmiriyat? Or Insaniyat? Or Jamhooriyat?" Unfortunately, Vajpayee himself is unavailable to provide any further guidance.
It is telling that without any clarity over its meaning the slogan has resonated for more than a decade. It is because it implied that India had a wholesome new strategy. But Vajpayee's government fell and the slogan disappeared. Prime Minister Modi revived it in 2014, saying this was his mantra. However, after recent setbacks to his policy in Kashmir his followers added another word, "Bharatiyat" (Being Indian), as a way of saying that Kashmir cannot be seen in isolation.
Each of these words must be translated into useful principles, for they represent key aspects of the Kashmir problem. However in order to do so, we must first address two elephants in the room: Pakistan, and India's nationalists.
Pakistan's interest in Kashmir is nothing but religious ambition. A self-proclaimed Islamic state is fulfilling its prime directive of bringing more people and geography into the fold. Its polity eggs on extremists engaged in this cause, by nurturing a culture of martyrdom. And its military promotes violent jihad as state policy, driven not by an urge to promote national security, but by ideology. Pakistan is not interested in creating Kashmir as a secular model.
It is therefore foolish to expect any constructive help from Pakistan in creating a Kashmir of the Indian vision. Any proposal to keep it engaged in Indian Kashmir only provides it a conduit to further inflame Muslims. It is best to keep Pakistan out, and secure our borders. People-to-people contact must be encouraged, but only with full vetting before visas are granted. If Pakistan insists on any other engagement, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir must also be placed on the negotiating table. If it continues with overt or covert military operations, the response must be forceful and in kind.
Any proposal to keep Pakistan engaged in Indian Kashmir only provides it a conduit to further inflame Muslims.
Will the Muslims of Kashmir allow Pakistan to be set aside in this way? The answer lies in the rest of this proposal, and the view India takes toward Hindu nationalists.
In the guise of patriotism many Indian nationalists have decided Kashmir must be held by force. They have concluded that Muslims want another partition and a weakened Hindu India. They think any give from India will only further that aim. But no people in history have been kept by force forever. Seven decades of effort has only alienated the Kashmiri people further. A 2010 survey by an independent London-based think-tank found growing support for independence. So, any proposal that implies continued use of force is foolhardy.
Kashmiriyat must be addressed first for any plan to succeed. Every analyst has said the core problem in Kashmir is political disempowerment. People want freedom and self-determination. The 1953 plan gave Kashmir control over local affairs; the Centre was left with only three tasks – defence, foreign affairs, and communications. But Article 370 and other provisions of India's Constitution allowed the Centre's dominance to continue. Kashmir must be given genuine autonomy, not only over local matters (police, justice system, public health, etc.) but over their own elections. The Centre must limit its control to defence, border security, external affairs, money, and interstate matters.
For Jamhooriyat to be meaningful, the state needs its own constitution. But India's Constitution must not give Kashmir special status.
For Jamhooriyat to be meaningful, the state needs its own constitution. But India's Constitution must not give Kashmir special status. Article 370 must be repealed; it serves no one. Indians detest Kashmir's special treatment, and most Kashmiris see it as a sly channel for controlling the state. Kashmir's constitution, which can be revised by its assembly, must be amended to have these proven features:
1) Directly elected governor.
2) Bicameral legislature, with one chamber representing the population of each area (Jammu, Kashmir valley, Ladakh), and the second representing each area equally.
3) A high court to adjudicate state laws.
4) Genuine separation of powers among these branches of government. The governor and the legislature would be accountable only to the people, and the Centre will not have the power to dissolve a state government unless national security is at risk.
As for Insaniyat, Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris must be treated equally. Hated laws like AFSPA should be removed and the Kashmiris jailed for protesting it released. The people of the state must be allowed to move freely within India, and all Indians should have the freedom to buy property in the state. Displaced Kashmiri Pandits must be allowed to return to their homeland. Kashmir's constitution must guarantee all people freedom of religion and expression.
And Bharatiyat demands that India's security and integrity never be placed in any danger. The Centre should move its 700,000 military men currently in the state to the Pakistan border. Let the state government provide internal security, and the Centre external.
This plan would do India no harm. She would have stronger control at the border; the festering demand for a referendum in the state would end; more non-Muslims would come to live in the state; and India would be standing on honorable ground. This plan is credible, for it follows established principles of federalism and separation of powers practiced over two centuries in the United States.
In governing Kashmir by using moral principles instead of force, India would set an example of how a great people deal with diversity. And that would be a proud moment indeed.