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In national valley, swaraj slippery
AAP caught in Kashmir row

New Delhi, Jan. 6: Arvind Kejriwal today rebuffed comments by colleague Prashant Bhushan calling for a referendum in Kashmir to decide army deployment for internal security, betraying Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders’ teething troubles in their transition from activism to politics.

“People should be asked whether they want the army to handle the internal security of Kashmir. Any decision which does not have the backing of the people is undemocratic,” Bhushan was quoted as saying in an interview to a TV channel yesterday while asserting it was “his personal view”.

“If people feel that the army is violating human rights and they say they don’t want the army to be deployed for their security, then the army should be withdrawn from the hinterland,” Bhushan was quoted as saying in the interview with Headlines Today.

As the comments touched off a firestorm of criticism today, AAP boss and Delhi chief minister Kejriwal rushed with a disclaimer. “Deployment of the army within the country should be decided on the basis of internal security threat. There is no question of a referendum on this.”

Bhushan, a member of the AAP’s political affairs committee — the party’s top decision making body — today claimed his views were “sensationalised” and quoted “out of context” and that any reference to referendum should not be misconstrued to mean “plebiscite on Kashmir’s relationship with India”.

“The Aam Aadmi Party is of view that Kashmir is an integral part of India. Needless to say, I share this view. Any reference to referendum should not (be) misconstrued to mean plebiscite on Kashmir’s relationship with India,” Bhushan said in a “clarification” released by the AAP.

In the “clarification”, he asserted that Kashmir was an integral part of India but stuck to his stand on the referendum. “It is the prerogative of the state to deploy security forces, including armed forces, for any stretch to internal and external security. This prerogative must be exercised in the best interest of people and, as far as possible, with their consent. This, I said, is consistent with my view of participatory governance and swaraj.”

Bhushan’s advocacy was seen as fallout of the Aam Aadmi Party’s core political line of swaraj (people’s rule) and “participatory governance”. Kejriwal has written a book, Swaraj, to outline the AAP’s core views. Party leaders, including Kejriwal, wear caps with the words “Mujhe chahiye swaraj (I want Swaraj)” emblazoned on them.

The ideal also finds mention on the AAP website that highlights the words “referendum” and “initiative”. “All other democracies in the world have two such provisions-REFERENDUM and INITIATIVE. In these countries if a pre-determined majority of the population consider a law unfit for the people, they can reject it and send it back to their people elected representatives. Our party is committed to giving these two rights of REFERENDUM and INITIATIVE to the people of India,” the AAP website says, highlighting the two key words in bold.

Many saw in Bhushan’s comments and Kejriwal’s disclaimers a sign of the problems faced by leaders of the fledgling AAP in spelling out positions on key national issues.

One challenge has been to balance the AAP’s frequently chanted nationalist slogans — such as Bharat Mata Ki Jai — with its idea of absolute power to people embodied in the idea of swaraj.

Kejriwal’s statement today rejecting Bhushan’s call for the referendum was seen as a sign of reconciling AAP ideals with the compulsions of politics. Kejriwal said “the sentiments of the locals should be respected” but in the same breath made it clear “the AAP does not support referendum on such issues.”

The AAP has faced increasing calls from rivals to spell out its stance on issues as it aims to expand beyond Delhi.

Today, Kejriwal side-stepped questions about his views on Maoists and khap panchayats — many in his home state Haryana — often blamed for honour killings. “Let Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi express their views… ask them first,” the Delhi chief minister told a channel.

WHAT BHUSHAN SAID

Prashant Bhushan’s comments to Headlines Today

• People should be asked whether they want the army to handle the internal security of Kashmir. Any decision which does not have the backing of the people is undemocratic. If people feel that the army is violating human rights and they say they don’t want the army to be deployed for their security, then the army should be withdrawn from the hinterland

• The government can decide if the army needs to be deployed to deal with external threats along the border. The government can also decide if the army needs to be kept to help protect the minorities in the Valley. But there should be a referendum on whether people want AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) to continue in the Valley or not

• (Asked what would happen if the referendum suggested that the people of Kashmir wanted to break away from India) Secession from India is unconstitutional. We have to find solutions within the purview of the Constitution. We have to win the hearts
of people in the Valley who have moved away from the mainstream since they feel that they army has been deployed in Kashmir against their wishes and is violating their human rights.