“The Quintessential Rebel”
By Mr A Krishna Rao
Before 1991, the law- and-order situation in Kashmir was horrendous. In 1987, the Jammu and Kashmir witnessed assembly elections, but with the government itself indulging in rigging making the entire election process a big farce, militancy reached its peak in the state, forcing the centre to impose President’s Rule. The situation was so bad that India had almost given up Kashmir. There used to be fundraising openly in Pakistan in support of the liberation of Kashmir. Several leaders including Chief Minister Farooq Abdulla were forced to be in exile in other countries.
Narasimha Rao appointed General K V Krishna Rao as the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir in March 1993 (his second stint) and the armed forces got complete freedom to weed out the extremists. During Krishna Rao’s second regime, the Indian army regained its hold on the valley and crushed the terrorism.
After initially focussing on implementing economic reforms, Narasimha Rao first focussed his attention on restoring normalcy in Punjab and then in Kashmir. After appointing Padmanabhaiah as the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister began the political process in Kashmir. He wanted to change the international opinion on Kashmir by sending the diplomats of the US, the UK and European Union.
Behind the screen, too, Narasimha Rao spoke to those who mattered, including several Kashmiri leaders. He then created a separate wing for Jammu and Kashmir affairs within the Prime Minister’s Office and kept it under his control. He made a historic speech in the US Congress before he met Clinton in Washington which was a big hit, reflecting his oratorical skills. But during the winter of 1994, a top terrorist leader Mast Gul from Pakistan, along with his squad, entered India and occupied Charar-e-Sharif, a prominent Sufi shrine in Budgam district in Kashmir. He was there in the shrine and was holed up with extremists for nearly six months. Finally, in May, soldiers surrounded the shrine and sealed all the routes. However, Mast Gul managed to escape after exploding the mosque and landed in Pakistan-Occupied- Kashmir.
In fact, Narasimha Rao prepared the ground to conduct elections in Jammu and Kashmir during his regime. Had the Charar-e-Sharif incident not taken place, elections in Kashmir would have been held during his tenure. A few days after the Charar-e-Sharif incident, on July 4, 1995, another Islamic fundamentalist group from Kashmir Al Faran kidnapped six foreign tourists, including two Americans and one of them was beheaded Infront of camera. The kidnappers demanded the release of Pakistani terrorist leader Maulana Masood Azhar and 20 others, who had been imprisoned by India.
Azhar was arrested by security forces in January, 1994, during the Narasimha Rao regime. The Prime Minister did not pay any heed. But in 1999, the Vajpayee government had to release Masood Azhar and three others, after the Pakistan terrorists hijacked an Indian flight. He was declared as an international terrorist by UN in 2019 and still untraced. It was then that Narasimha Rao decided to set the stage for the conduct of elections in Jammu and Kashmir. On Narasimha Rao’s directions, Padmanabhaiah held discussions with some surrendered militants.
Intelligence official Ajit Doval, now National Security Advisor who was then working in Kashmir and played an instrumental role in the surrender of Yousuf Parry. With his help, the armed forces stepped up eliminating pro- Pakistani terrorists.Narasimha Rao contemplated conducting the assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, much before the general elections scheduled to be held in May 1996. Kashmiri separatist leaders like Shabbir Shah, Sayyed Ali Shah Gilani, Abdul Ghani Lone and Yasin Malik were released from jail. However, in October 1995, militants attacked a government office and burnt the voters’ list and elections could not be held.
The Prime Minister even announced an attractive package for the development of Kashmir and monitored its implementation through his secretary K R Venugopal. Padmanabhaiah went all the way to London to discuss with Farooq Abdullah on the conduct of elections. Narasimha Rao, too, spoke to Farooq Abdullah. He made an attempt to join hands with Shabbir Shah, president of Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Party, who was fighting for the liberation of Kashmir.
But Narasimha Rao was also apprehensive that there could be killings and large- scale violence during the elections in Kashmir and it would have an adverse impact on the Congress prospects in the general elections in the country. “So, let us hold the elections in Kashmir, as soon as we come back to power,” he told the Home Secretary. On April 12, 1996, Narasimha Rao released the Congress election manifesto where he promised restoration of democracy in Jammu and Kashmir.
Narasimha Rao did not come back to power. But the Deve Gowda government which was formed with the support of Narasimha Rao in 1996, conducted elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 1996. Once reluctant, Farooq Abdullah, contested the elections and came to power. Thus, it has been recorded in history that Narasimha Rao had a major role to play in the conduct of the elections in Jammu and Kashmir by Deve Gowda.
To deflate the boggy violation of human rights in Kashmir, Narasimha Rao created the National Human Rights Commission with the tradition of appointing a retired Supreme Court judge as the chairman. Narasimha Rao utilised the services of Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party, in pre-empting Pakistan from raising Kashmir issue on international forums, reflecting his shrewd strategy. He sent a message to the neighbouring country that when it comes to international forums, the ruling party and the opposition would get united. He also wanted to prove a point that he would take the opposition parties into confidence on crucial issues. He sent Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the USA in 1994 to counter Pakistan’s attempts to raise the Kashmir issue in the United Nations Organisation. He had also sent L K Advani to the European Parliament convention, where he could stop Pakistan even from raising the Kashmir issue.
Before the commencement of this convention, Narasimha Rao took several key decisions. The arrest of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Javed Mir was a big moral blow to the Kashmiri militants. Narasimha Rao entrusted Hamid Ansari, who was then India’s permanent representative in the UNO in New York (he later became the Vice President of India), with certain key responsibilities related to the Geneva convention.
Pakistan received a rude jolt at the Geneva convention, with the world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia and Islamic Libya and Iran refusing to support its stand on Kashmir. Interestingly, even China took a similar stand, annoying its all-weather friend. made a similar request with Pakistan. Had Pakistan been successful in the UNHCR in highlighting the Kashmir issue, it would have given a lot of moral courage to the militants in the valley. Later, it would have come up for discussion at the United Nations’ Socio- Economic Council and even in the General Assembly. India’s morale would have taken a big beating.
(Excerpts by the author & senior journalist A.Krishna Rao on Kashmir)