FORMER Solicitor General Harish Salve (HS) while talking to senior Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaising (IJ) justified the Centre’s step that scrapped special status of Jammu and Kashmir besides bifurcating it into two Union Territories, as a right move.
Here’re the excerpts of their engaging conversation:
IJ: Mr. Salve, the semi-autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir has been abrogated and the state divided into two Union Territories. What are your views on the subject?
HS: Well, I must say, I was very distressed about the Kashmir issue. I have examined, not in great detail, what has happened, and I think legally it may pass muster. The wisdom of the measure, I don’t think has been seriously challenged. The time has come for Kashmir to be a part of India.
The main attack appears to be on the fact that you had detained the local leaders and then passed the order. I see the argument, but I also recognize two things. You know this is strictly my personal view, and not as a constitutional lawyer but as a worried citizen of India. These (Kashmiri) leaders, unfortunately, have never given unqualified support to the Indian Constitution, forget who is in Parliament. They have made voices; they have made sounds which have pleased the ear of those who support terrorism. Their attitude towards Pakistan has been soft, which is something that bothers me.
Consulting these people… before even you could consult, the moment they said, this is the bridge which connects, if you talk about it, we will burn Kashmir etc. I saw that Mehbooba’s statement. The attitudes had been so hardened about this that I think that in the real world, consulting them may not have achieved anything. It was for the rest of India to decide, whether you want to go along with those people or you want to bite the bullet and do it.
However, Ladakh has clearly got a turn which it deserved. I don’t think that on that there is any doubt. Ladakh clearly had to be separated and be made a union territory. They were so small they had no political bite. You know it’s a vast tract with very few people, they are backward and poorest of the poor.
IJ: But they still will not have a Legislative Assembly.
HS: Frankly, there what you need is financial support from the Union, for those poor people, the tribals who live there, and their life should be made good. They are such a small troop, and they are a border state, how much will they be able to govern themselves?
IJ: Well, as you know, Sri Lanka made a statement that it’ll be the first Buddhist state in the country. I’m sure you’ve read that statement. But just coming back to Jammu and Kashmir, and your comments on that, the issues are not the leaders. The issue is the people and would you not feel that even if it’s a legislative assembly – let’s forget the leadership …
HS: You know, my personal view is this. I went to Karachi, and I went to Lahore. I met people there, in 1987. The view of the people and even now we meet people, you know yours, and my lineage is from that part of the world. So, when we meet people from there, the kind of love and affection you get from them, and then you see the political leaders. They don’t speak the same language. So, coming to Kashmir… I went to Kashmir for the first time in 1981, and a fellow at the airport asked me, “Are you coming from India or some other foreign country?” I got so angry, and I was young and hotheaded in those days. I said, “I am coming from India to India”. I went back there in ‘96, and when we landed, they were so welcoming because they had gone through a lean spell, the first round of disruption which (Governor) Jagmohan quelled.
Terrorism had been put down, and tourism had picked up, and then they realized that it is the tourists from India who bring employment to them. Today also, if we can follow this up by getting jobs for those people, by getting education for those people, by providing healthcare for those people… your and my money which we pay as taxes goes on keeping the armed forces on their toes in Kashmir… if you give those billions of rupees to that state, the state will become a very happy, prosperous state. The common man ultimately wants a job, he wants safety and security, he wants healthcare, and today, his children want education. That is what we have to provide and ultimately if we can provide that, who knows, if things settle down, five years later we can restore it to a full statehood.
IJ: Exactly. There is one point that bothers me, and I’d like to raise it with you, when you do this when a state is under President’s rule you are virtually saying, we are giving permission to ourselves to do this. We know that. So that is…
HS: Yes, yes.
IJ: So that is, in my opinion, morally, ethically and legally, very highly questionable. It is challenged in a court of law, and that proposition will be tested – Can the centre give permission to itself? It impacts Article 1 of the Constitution, it impacts Article 3 of the Constitution, it impacts the provisions relating to an emergency; it impacts just about the whole Constitution. So, let’s await a decision.
HS: Yes, let’s put the legality of two and three aside, I feel it may pass muster, but I see that there is a challenge possible, but ethically, conceptually – what may be unethical in one situation, may become a practical reality in another.
IJ: Yes, we are waiting to see…
HS: And there, I feel for Kashmir, this is a practical reality.
IJ: Mr. Salve, neither you nor I can take a call on this. History will have the last word.
HS: History will tell, history will judge these people and see if they have been extremely wise…
IJ: Or extremely foolish…