Professor Abdul Gani Bhat, whom former Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) chief AS Dulat calls his friend, philosopher and guide in the acknowledgment section of his book, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, is known for his one-liners. It is said that Gani, an erudite scholar of Persian, was asked about Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Farooq Abdullah and their politics. Gani responded, saying: "Azad is Indian by accident, Mufti by conviction and Dr Farooq Abdullah by compulsion."
And all AS Dulat is trying to do in his book is prove Bhat wrong. Dulat repeatedly pleads for New Delhi to trust Farooq Abdullah and then goes on at length, page after page, chapter after chapter, to convey how good an Indian Abdullah is. "I wonder," Dulat writes, "if as such people say, Farooq is not reliable then who the hell in Kashmir is reliable." "Is it coincidence that one Kashmiri that Pakistan never tried to approach - because he was too unpredictable, that is, he was too much his own man-was Farooq Abdullah?"
Dulat argues that there's nobody in Kashmir more committed to India than Farooq Abdullah. And then he rues that "there seem to be a lot of people in India who simply don't recognise that and are readily dismissive of him."
Then he explains the senior Abdullah's politics. That Farooq doesn't want to spend his life like his father, "Sheikh Saheb" who spent most of his time in jail. "I have figured out that to remain in power here you have to be on the right side of Delhi and that's what I am going to do," Dulat quotes him as saying.
The former RAW chief tries to convey that National Conference's (NC's) main political plank, autonomy, is a mere charade. The former spy chief points out that the pressing of the autonomy resolution in the J&K House in 2000 was a compulsion for Farooq, who he had fought the 1996 election on the restoration of autonomy. "Tell them (central government) not to worry, the resolution won't get passed. Kucch nahi hoga," Farooq tells a worried Dulat in 2000, when the J&K House was debating the resolution seeking the pre-1953 position for J&K. Then Dulat adds, "events apparently overtook the chief minister and resolution was passed in the Assembly."
The National Conference needs to explain its position on autonomy as the party believes that it was after the resolution that New Delhi created the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to keep the NC in check.
Dulat also justifies the belief among mainstream political leaders in Kashmir that it is New Delhi that has the ultimate say on J&K. Elections or no elections, nothing matters here except what New Delhi wishes. Thus he describes the desperation of Sajad Gani Lone, who went and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2014, ahead of the elections: "Sajad was thinking that he had to get on Delhi's right side. Like every other Kashmiri, Sajad believes that what Delhi wants is what will happen."
It seems true and here is an example. Three chief ministerial candidates were in the fray in the 2008 polls, Farooq Abdullah, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Ghulam Nabi Azad.
The elections held after massive agitations, which erupted after the state government transferred forest land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, saw a huge participation of the electorate. It surprised political pundits, who after the massive agitation that led to killings of over 60 youngsters during the police and security firing, were expecting a total boycott of the electoral process. Nothing of the sort happened. The National Conference won 28 seats, the Congress 17, while the PDP finished with 21.
Congress entered an alliance with NC and Farooq Abdullah announced that he would be the next chief minister. "Yes, you are talking to the next chief minister of the state," Abdullah told the anchor of a leading national channel. However, the next morning, it so happened that Delhi wanted Omar Abdullah to be the chief minister.
Why did Omar Abdullah become chief minister when he was not even a chief-ministerial candidate? Dulat has the details. That passing of the autonomy resolution forced Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to look beyond Farooq for "cutting the Gordian knot in Kashmir." Subsequently, PM Vajpayee had dinner at Omar Abdullah's home in New Delhi and "the germ of the idea that Omar and Farooq should be switched, with Omar taking charge in Kashmir and Farooq settling down in Delhi, may have been planted during this time." This explains a lot about Kashmir politics.
Dulat's book looks like a petition from Farooq Abdullah to the Centre that they must do something about him. "When it comes to the Republic Day and Independence Day awards and honours, Farooq has never figured. He hasn't even got a Padma Shri, whereas one of the Ikhwanis - the counter-insurgents who are not considered heroes in Kashmir - received a Padma Shri a few years back. It's simple, someone recommended it, the Ikhwani got it. People laughed," Dulat says.
He goes on to say, "Farooq should have at least been given a Padma Vibhushan by now. He's not even considered for a governorship or an ambassadorial assignment."
Other details in the book surround the gossip in Srinagar. Dulat only authenticates it - that Mufti was in touch with BJP long before 2014 Assembly elections, that Mufti loves his Black Label whisky, that Yasin Malik is no longer Kashmir's Che Guevara, that Shabir Shah is a big disappointment. The RAW chief includes other known details from the grapevine, like Sajad Lone looks for extraordinary favours from New Delhi and is in a hurry to be chief minister and that Mehbooba is quirky. He says that people love the fetir (fool) Farooq and Kashmiri Pandits wield disproportionate clout, which adversely impacts Kashmir policy in New Delhi. That separatists were in touch with Dulat. All this is common knowledge in Kashmir.
Over the years, several separatists including Syed Ali Geelani, have been calling for a dialogue. However, Geelani has placed the condition that India should first accept Kashmir as a disputed territory. In his book, Dulat reveals that the Hurriyat hardliner wrote to PV Narashima Rao in 1992 saying he was willing to talk to the government if it was prepared to concede that there was a dispute on Kashmir. There has been no change in his stance. The former RAW chief's views that Pakistan is also miffed with Geelani and is worried what to do with him would be only perceived as an advantage by the Hurriyat faction led by Geelani. About other separatists with whom Dulat was holding "talks about talking", he could not get anything except "talking" to them. In spite of hinting that Shabir Shah stood the chance of becoming the J&K chief minister and that he vacillated over it for years - perhaps fearing the ISI - it is telling to see how tough it is for separatists to switch over to the mainstream.
Dulat presumes he knows this art of holdings talks. "There is difference between negotiation and talks", said Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960 at the peak of India-China border tension, which in 1962 culminated in full-fledged war between the two countries. The Opposition had criticised Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for engaging his Chinese counterpart premier Zhou Enlai. Nehru said, "there is a world of difference…Talking must always be encouraged wherever possible. Negotiation is a very formal thing; it requires a very suitable background; it should not be taken up unless a suitable background comes...Talking is an entirely different matter. Talking may not yield any result; may be; at any rate it helps in understanding, in probing others' mind."And Neville Maxwell in his book, India's China War, says holding discussions and talks to "persuade the other side of the validity of the Indian position has since become a staple device of Indian foreign policy articulation."
Dulat was doing the same in Kashmir and Kashmiri separatists knew it. That is why Hurriyat leaders were nervous ahead of talks with LK Advani during the NDA government. "Hamara pajama to nahin utravoge," Professor Gani told Dulat. They knew what was happening. Kashmiris don't care about what others say about them. From Lawrence onwards everyone has written notes on the Kashmiri character. That they are fickle, that they bitch about others and now Dulat adds that centuries of foreign rule has made them natural agents. Nothing new. Kashmiris know why their character is being attacked. They perhaps attack themselves more than others.