EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Crisis Situation in Kashmir
DATE: 11 30 am, 28 October 2019
VENUE: Committee Room 4, House of Lords, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA, United Kingdom
SPEAKER: Baijayant “Jay” Panda
EVENT CHAIR: Baroness Verma
Baroness Verma: I am not going to take up too much time, as I have said to our guest speaker Mr Panda, that you have already received the bios, so you know all about his background, he’s a prominent member of the BJP, he has served four terms, the rest of the bio is with you, and if I may just invite you, sir, to address the audience, do you think what, 20, 25, 30 minutes?
Mr Baijayant Panda: 25 or so.
Baroness Verma: Perfect. So, if I could, as it is always in this House, let’s warmly welcome our guest speaker today. Thank you very much.
Mr Baijayant Panda: May I speak seated?
Baroness Verma: Absolutely. It’s fine.
Mr Baijayant Panda: Thank you. Thank you, Baroness, and also my thanks to the Henry Jackson Society for arranging this event. When we talk about the crisis in Kashmir, of course, Kashmir has been in crisis for seven decades, it’s not a new thing, it didn’t happen on the 5th of August this year. From where I come from, as a representative of the governing party in India, this is a transition towards resolving the problems that have bedevilled Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh for these seven decades. From the beginning I want to say that this is an emotive issue, and a lot of people have strong views on this, which is understandable, and I need to cover not just the emotive aspect of the issue, but also the facts behind it, and sometimes, when we do that, we get accused of being hard-headed. The thing I want to keep in mind is that we’re very conscious that with the effort to win the hearts and minds of the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, there must also be an outreach to the heads. Facts are important, and they must be understood. Now, we come from a particular perspective, I represent, as I said, the governing party, but everybody that engages with this issue has strong views. I don’t think anybody can come out and say that they’re truly neutral. So, what is important to understand, is that the state of Jammu and Kashmir, when it became part of India at Independence, it came about as a part of the Independence Struggle that had lasted for many decades, and it applied to the entire to the entire subcontinent, it applied to process and the circumstances, and the rules that were put into place as British rule ended, and India was partitioned into Pakistan and India, and subsequently, of course, Bangladesh. The rules that applied to the princely states were uniform, they applied to all the states, there was no special difference for Jammu and Kashmir and by those rules, Jammu and Kashmir officially acceded to India, as did hundreds of other princely states, and as did many others who acceded to Pakistan, or to what is now Bangladesh. Sometimes it is misrepresented that India invaded Kashmir, and it’s amazing how prevalent this is. Recently important leaders around the world, one or two of them, have said this. The reality is quite different because India no more invaded Kashmir than it invaded Mumbai or Orissa, where I come from, or Tamil Nadu. It was, in fact, Pakistan which invaded Kashmir, this is a fact.
I will cover the issues of the amendment to Article 370 and, of course, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir today, and Ladakh. What I want to also add here, at this point, is that again, there’s a lot of misrepresentation of what Article 370 is. Now, Article 370 was, is, a part of the Indian Constitution, and it is the only article in the entire Constitution which had the adjective “temporary” with it; it was clearly understood that this was temporary. Some people have also misrepresented that somehow it changes India’s position with its neighbours, with international relations. It doesn’t; we have officially put on the record that it changes nothing vis-a-vis India’s position, whether it applies to Jammu and Kashmir or to Pakistan, or to anything else. So it is entirely an internal matter of India. Something that keeps getting forgotten is that under Article 370 there were certain special provisions given to the state of Jammu and Kashmir which, in retrospect, almost everybody in India regrets because they acted as shelter against the following things, now these are factual, what I’m saying is factual. So, because of Article 370 the state did not adopt many of the laws passed by the Indian Parliament. So, for example, there are 106 laws passed by the Indian Parliament which were not implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, until now, that is. One of them is about the minimum age of marriage. So child marriage had continued, until August 5th, to be legal in Jammu and Kashmir, whereas it had been outlawed in India a long time ago. Last year, or rather two years ago, our Supreme Court passed a historic judgement decriminalising British-era laws that we had which criminalised the LGBTQ community. So in India, the law today, as of the last two years, is that the LGBTQ community had the same rights as any other citizen. Of course, our constitution guarantees equal rights to every citizen, but this too, was not applicable to Jammu and Kashmir. India has had many other laws, progressive laws, to help the cause of the disenfranchised, people who were the former untouchables. Those laws didn’t apply to Jammu and Kashmir. And I can go on and on, and on, and a lot more.
Another thing that Article 370 did was create cover for the kind of misgovernance that is stunning in retrospect. If you look at the amount of money that the Indian state has spent throughout the country, and you compare just Jammu and Kashmir to the rest of the country, one fact stands out. On a per capita basis, per person, the Indian state over 70 years spent four times in Jammu and Kashmir what it spent in the rest of the country. This amounts to many billions of dollars over seven decades, and yet it isn’t reflected on the ground. You don’t see that level of infrastructure, you don’t see that investment in industry, you certainly don’t see jobs; we have challenges for creating jobs in all of India, but Jammu and Kashmir had an extra burden in term of how this was misused. Why is it, for instance, that cement costs 80% more in Jammu and Kashmir than the rest of India? Why is it, that steel costs 75% more in Jammu and Kashmir than the rest of India? It doesn’t take very much to figure out because the governance system under the cover of Article 370 wasn’t subject to the same checks and balances, wasn’t subject to the same audits which made all of this possible. So you’ve had the tensions in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly with the terrorists, backed by a neighbouring country, you’ve had separatists within the state, you have nationalists, you have all kinds of people there, but the reality is that those, who are at the heads of the separatist movement, those who have straddled the political heights, don’t have the skin in the game, in the sense that the children of those who urge jihadis to create terror attacks are not involved in that, they’re all settled abroad.
Now, let me come to; this is all about Article 370, and why it needed to change. I want to say something very humbly here. There is no sense of triumphalism in India, there is no sense that we have done this to teach anybody a lesson, there is a sense that this is a difficult course, but that this needs to be done to apply the Constitution to everybody; the Constitution guarantees every citizen equal rights, and that this must be applied. It cannot be the case, as was highlighted, a young lady in Srinagar, this was highlighted three months ago, who scored very well in her college exams and in normal circumstances would have either in the private or government sector had very, very good prospects, but the only prospect that she had was that she could be a janitor if she were to take up government employment. And the reason for that is that the laws in the rest of India, which prohibit discrimination against the former untouchables, don’t apply, didn’t apply to Jammu and Kashmir. Anybody who stands for equal rights of all citizens, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, anybody who stands for LGBTQ rights, anybody who stands for the Constitutional rule of law, has to agree that Article 370 was not serving its purpose. The Right to Education Act in India – not applicable in Jammu and Kashmir. Is it any surprise that the literacy levels in Jammu and Kashmir are lower than the Indian average, despite, as I told you, four times per capita expenditure overall in the state over seven decades?
People ask that, “Why detain people? Why put into place these restrictions?” and I think that’s a valid question, I think it’s a question that every democracy should answer, and certainly, the largest democracy in the history of human kind needs to be able to answer that. Let me tell you this, I urge you to see this as an unfinished part of the process of Independence and Partition. When Independence happened, when Partition happened, these sort of restraints were put into place in large parts of the subcontinent. In India alone, in Punjab, in Rajasthan, in Gujarat, in Delhi, in Assam, in Bengal, and that doesn’t take into account the restraints that were put into place in Pakistan and the eastern side of Pakistan which is now Bangladesh. Why? Because it saw half a million people displaced, it saw tens of thousands of people killed, it saw immense violence, and nobody questioned it because they recognised that this was a very difficult period that had to be dealt with in unusual circumstances. If the same had been applied to Jammu and Kashmir in 1947-48, nobody would’ve questioned it, just like they didn’t in the Punjab and these other places that I talked about. Now, of course, it’s a different story because much water has flowed since then, and a lot of narratives have taken hold, but the same logic holds true. I have explained why Article 370 needed to be diluted. If these temporary measure had not been taken, there would have been immense violence, as we saw during Partition and as we have seen in Jammu and Kashmir in the last several decades. 42 000 people have lost their lives in Jammu and Kashmir as a result of terrorism, as a result of separatism, and that would have continued not just unabated, but on a much larger scale. I urge you to see that, if you agree that Article 370 had to go, the Indian state had a choice between the temporary restraints of certain freedoms and the permanent loss of large numbers of lives. Now, these restraints are done as per the laws passed by the Parliament of India and as per the laws passed by the Assembly of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir. Some people refer to the “lock-down” of Jammu and Kashmir. Let me clarify: there is no lock-down. After the first 24 hours there has been no restraints. Large numbers of people have been moving around within Jammu and Kashmir, they’ve been visiting other parts of India, and Indians from other parts of the country have been visiting Jammu and Kashmir. For the average citizen there has been no restriction. There have been some restraints on political people who have wanted to go and have public events; that is because it was, indeed, going through a transition, but very rapidly, one by one, those steps have been, the restraints have been removed. So let me cite, after the first, now it’s been just about three months, it’ll be three months in a few days, after the first few weeks the landlines were restored, and just about ten days ago mobile phones have been restored, pre-paid mobile phones. You can’t go in as a tourist and take… I apologise, post-paid mobile phones where you have to give your, like, regular mobile phones. You can’t go in as a tourist and start using a local mobile phone, but if you’re a local who has a mobile phone, there is… So that’s 99% of mobile phones have been restored. The shops and the markets are open for part of the day, but interestingly, open mostly at night. Now, this is not a restraint by the Indian authorities, this is a restraint by the terrorists who’ve been threatening traders and shopkeepers not to open during the daytime to give an impression that there is a lock-down. This is all factual, I’m not making any of this stuff up, you can look it up. So, about four traders have been killed in the last 11 weeks by terrorists for daring to open their shops or for daring to carry out trade in daylight rather than at night. Now, within the, you know, television has not been off at all, so those of us who’ve been monitoring television, and many of us have visited, you’d see that the markets were open at night.
A few other things. Tomorrow a group of 28 European MPs is visiting the Kashmir Valley. This news just came out earlier today, and I think that’s wonderful because the Indian position has been very clear that these are temporary restraints, these are not meant to subdue people, these are not meant with any sense of triumphalism, these are not meant to be extended, these are meant to manage the transition. As I said, Kashmiris have been free to move around, they’ve been free to move to the rest of India, Indians from other parts have been free to move, anybody who’s an Indian citizen is free to move to Kashmir any time, and gradually restrictions on others moving in are removed. Let me tell you something, yes, people have a degree of resentment, I think it’s fair to admit that, because there is a substantive change that’s taking place. But you might be surprised of some of the nuances. One thing that’s getting clearly communicated, and this is not just from media that is favouring the Indian government, this is from media that has been extremely critical of the Indian state and the Indian government, is that a huge majority of the population of Jammu and Kashmir think that some of the people, or most of the people who have been detained should be detained, and, in fact, if you see some of them on television, they keep asking that they should be detained for the rest of their life. That’s not going to happen because there is due process of law, and due process of law will apply. What will be clear though, is that the tolerance that was there earlier, that you could, on the face of it, swear allegiance to the Indian Constitution, but also at the same time do things that were clearly in violation of the Indian constitution, will not be tolerated. You’re welcome to your point of view, you’re welcome to do activism, you’re welcome to try to change the situation as you see fit, but you are not welcome to initiating violence, you are not welcome to indulging in money laundering, to indulging in arms trading, to indulging in disrupting the state. So that, in short, is what sums up the Indian situation. Now, as I come to my conclusion, I would like to say the following: at the time of Independence Jammu and Kashmir, like all the other states of India, princely states, had, really, two choices. They had either the choice to join India, or the choice to join Pakistan, and as applied to the more than 560 states, it was the princes, the rulers, who were to take that call. And that’s how this situation came about, but because of the invasion by Pakistan, as you are aware, a portion of Jammu and Kashmir is under Pakistani control. Not through any legitimate document or instrument of accession, or any kind of legal situation, but just through occupation, whereas, although some people refer to the Indian part of Kashmir as “Indian occupied”, it’s not occupied, it’s as per the process of Independence, as I pointed out earlier, which applied to all the 560 plus princely states. The oddest thing about all of this is that Pakistan, which claims to stand up for the rights of Kashmiris, in fact, ceded, gave up a part of the Kashmir [inaudible] to China, completely illegally. This happened in 1963, 15 years after their occupation of Kashmir. So there is no moral ground on which Pakistan stands. The reason I keep referring to Pakistan is because, of course, the terrorism emanates from across the line of control. This is not just me saying, or my party, or the Indian state saying this. If you look at the United Nations listing of terrorist organisations, whether it is the Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Jaish-e-Mohammad and many others, they are based in Pakistan, it’s, I mean it’s a very open, it’s not even a secret anymore.
So, what happens from now? And I will sum up in the next three or four minutes. Going forward, India is very clear that this delayed integration of Jammu and Kashmir into the state of India, which should’ve happened, really, in 1947-48, is, again let me emphasise, there is no triumphalism in this, but that this must see proper development of Jammu and Kashmir. We must not have the kind of situation where billions of dollars were squandered away without any lasting development. Some people try to point out that, I said, on literacy Jammu and Kashmir is noticeably below the Indian average, but on some other aspects it’s at the average, in terms of access to primary health [care]. Now, some people say that if it’s at the Indian average, is that a problem; I say, yes, it’s a problem because this achieving of socio-economic norms is not based on having created a sustainable economy, but from handouts from Delhi, and that must change. The local economy must grow. I mean, India is happy to keep writing these cheques, even if it is four time per capita compared to the rest of the country, but it must see results, it must create investment, it must create jobs in Jammu and Kashmir. So that is bound to change. A large number of Indian companies have started committing to make the investment necessary, and now, this was not possible in the past. Now, finally, one question that people ask, “Why was it converted to a union territory?” Some people use the term “downgraded”. Let me point something out [inaudible]. There is still democracy in Jammu and Kashmir, none of the voting rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been taken away, they still get to vote who represents them, both in the Local Assembly, in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as in the National Parliament in Delhi. So what is different, why is it a union territory rather than a state? Again, this is a practical measure. The only difference, really, is that being a union territory means that the security agencies are better integrated between the national, for example, the armed forces and the paramilitary forces, and the state police, whereas with the state, the security apparatus is under the state control and requires much more co-ordination, much more effort to make them work together which increases the risks and has created the problems that we’ve seen in the past. The Indian government is on the record that this is not a permanent change, once the things, once the situation settles down, there is nothing preventing Jammu and Kashmir to go back to being a state again. Ladakh portion, of course, has become a separate union territory, that was their aspiration for all these decades, that will remain a union territory, but nothing stops Jammu and Kashmir to go back to being a state again. But the only difference, as I said right now, is just the co-ordination between the security forces. I will stop by leaving you with one thought. Every time the Indian army has a recruitment camp in Jammu and Kashmir, including recently, they get thousands of young Kashmiri men wanting to join, thousands. This does not indicate the kind of antipathy towards the state that some people would have you believe. It indicates, to a certain extent, a lack of private sector jobs, and that should change, but it also indicates that the majority of people in Jammu and Kashmir do not view the situation through the same lens that some people would have it projected. I thought we should leave time for Q&A. I could go on and on, and I could cover many other aspects, but I’m happy to do that in Q&A. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you, and thank you for listening to me.
Baroness Verma: So, thank you so very much for those remarks, I think they’ve been incredibly informative for the audience, and from that I’m sure we’ll draw out some questions. I also would like to introduce to you Dr Paul Stott from the Henry Jackson Society, the people who have, the organisation that has arranged this event here today, and Paul is a Research Fellow for the Centre of Research on Terrorism and Radicalisation. As I said, and to those people who came in a little late, no photographs, no live-streaming, no anything. It’s all to do with the security of the Palace, and we are monitored regularly, so for your own benefit, it is best not to put everybody else at the disadvantage of having all of their stuff removed too. I would also like to ask you to please introduce yourselves before you ask your question, and if you could make them quite brief, it will mean that we’ll get a lot more questions in place. So who would like to start? Oh well, the hands shot up.
Baroness Verma: Can I also say that I may, if you don’t mind, Mr Panda, take two questions at a time?
Mr Baijayant Panda: Sure.
Baroness Verma: It’s just often easier. I’ll have the gentleman there and the gentleman on my left. So please introduce yourself and your question.
Member of Audience 1: My name is [inaudible], I live in London, [inaudible] I run the [inaudible] group, and I am very very glad that [inaudible] come here to give this really great insight into Kashmir. Might I ask two questions, just to [inaudible]?
Baroness Verma: Well, don’t give any preludes, just give the questions.
Member of Audience 1: I have been to two events where there was complete anti-India stuff, anti-Hinduism stuff, at the University of Westminster in the Society of, sorry, School of Oriental and African Studies, it was grotesque, the venom that was being poured from the people. [Inaudible] What can we do to counter that, because the average indigenous English liberal-minded person is getting the wrong stuff, we’re not reaching out to them, and it’s very important to reach the good-hearted English [inaudible] people because they’re very good, very generous, [inaudible]. How can we do that? And the second thing is this Jeremy Corbyn man from the Liberal Party, he’s [inaudible]. What can we do to counter that, please? Thank you.
Baroness Verma: Okay, so one of them may be a question, Mr Panda, you may not be able to respond to.
Mr Baijayant Panda: Yes.
Baroness Verma: But yourself, sir, what’s your name?
Member of Audience 2: My name is [inaudible], I’m from Kashmir, from Indian administered Kashmir. I just have some, two questions [inaudible].
Baroness Verma BV: Two questions, and short ones, please.
Member of Audience 2: Yes, very short ones. I thank you for the presentation, but most of your points are not supported by law in the Indian Constitution [inaudible]. You spoke about [inaudible] rights, I’d like to point out that Article 141 of the Constitution of India itself says that [inaudible] applicable to Kashmir as well, and in 1995 there was a judgement of the Kashmir High Court [inaudible], which you can look up, which only says that lawmakers [inaudible] have already decriminalised in Kashmir, the same way as they were decriminalised in India in last year, and for 72 years [inaudible]
Baroness Verma: So the question?
Member of Audience 2: The second question is that you spoke on right to education, saying that in Kashmir right to education is not the same as in India. The Kashmir Constitution which has been now abolished permits for free education ’til college under the [inaudible] made in 1944, but as the Constitution of India [inaudible] is education until the age of 14. I can also [inaudible] about the other points, but I’m conscious of my…
Baroness Verma: We may get back; we may get time.
Member of Audience 2: If you permit me, I could get back to you about the other points as well, and point out how Indian law itself does not support the positions as you’ve put forward here on the [inaudible]
Baroness Verma: Perfect, [inaudible], let’s get those questions responded to. If we’ve got time, we may come back to some more.
Mr Baijayant Panda: Do you mind if I keep, continue seated?
Baroness Verma: Yes, no, absolutely, I’m just short, so, they can see you, I have to stand up.
Mr Baijayant Panda: I was just wondering if there’s a protocol.
Baroness Verma: No, no, no, it’s just me.
Mr Baijayant Panda: The first question was: “How to counter the anti-Indian narrative that you see?” Look, I think India for several decades did not engage on this issue sufficiently. And the reason is, we thought we have the facts with us, we had logic with us. Just like all the 560 other princely states, the Jammu and Kashmir was another state that signed the Instrument of Accession and joined India legitimately, as with, I mean, if you could question Jammu and Kashmir, you could question all of it. So, that has to change, and that is beginning to change. On the other hand, others who have opposed this narrative, and specifically, Pakistan, have invested a lot of time, energy, effort, funding to go out and reach out. This kind of event, for instance, we should’ve been having hundreds of these over the decades. Answering the difficult questions because we believe that we have right on our side, not might. This needs to happen a lot more. To be honest, I don’t expect that those who have got a hardened narrative in their minds are going to change their mind right away. But I suspect some of the things I said today may have come as a surprise to you. Everybody in this room is from a background who knows more about Jammu and Kashmir than the average citizen, but I suspect that at least a few of things I’ve said may have come as a surprise to you.
Now, regarding the second question, I can’t talk about British politics, I’m not qualified, so I’ll skip that one.
Now, you pointed out that LGBTQ rights exist in Jammu and Kashmir. I mean, look, the whole issue of the constitutionality and change of Article 370 is being taken up in the Indian Supreme Court. And, of course, it will finally give a judgement that’ll be binding on the Indian government, but I can tell you the following. This was not a knee-jerk reaction, this was not a casual decision, this is something that has been in the works for a while. Every “i” has been dotted and “t” has been crossed, and I can give you examples of how that was thoroughly done. The High Court judgement that you refer to I believe was negated in some sense because LGBTQ rights, we could argue about it, but I certainly am not aware that the LGBTQ community enjoys the same freedoms in Jammu and Kashmir today, until August 5th, that they have now begun to enjoy in the rest of India. Now, regarding the, before August 5th, the Kashmiri provision of free education ’til college, the reality, it wasn’t panning out. Why is Jammu and Kashmir’s literacy rate at 67%, when the rest of India is approaching 80%, and states like Kerala are at 99+%? The facts are quite different on the ground. Let me say something here. One of the aspects that is sort of the 800-pound gorilla in the room, is that the states, the population of Jammu and Kashmir is predominantly Muslim. Now, let me explain something here. This was the issue on which India got partitioned. The issue was, those who created Pakistan and Bangladesh believe that Hindus and Christians, and others and Muslims could not live together, and they have to be separate. India doesn’t believe in that, India simply does not believe in that, and that’s why our Constitution is not a theistic constitution, it gives equal rights to every citizen. And what has happened in the demographics over the last 70 years? The Indian population of Muslims, which was just about 10% in 1947, after Partition, is now 14%. The Pakistani population of the minorities, Hindus, Christians, [inaudible], Parsis, which was at 23% after Partition, is now below 3%, and they’ve stopped counting it because it’s embarrassing. So, I just wanted to make that clear, that the Indian Constitution has his particular view about your citizenship and your rights, and obligations, irrespective of religion, caste or creed.
Baroness Verma: Thank you. Right, so I know this gentleman on my right put his hand up at that point. I’m looking for a lady, right, at the back there, so those two questions first, and then I’ll come back for two more. Your name first, please, sir.
Member of Audience 3: My name is [inaudible], I’m also a member of [inaudible] for Strategic Studies, but the question is, of course, my personal viewpoint. Mr Panda, why doesn’t the Indian government emphasise the illegal actions Pakistan has taken in [inaudible] occupied by it? They gave part of J and K to China [inaudible]. Two, Pakistan has altered the demography of J and K occupied by it by setting [inaudible], and three, China-Pakistan economic [inaudible] is going through Jammu and Kashmir without India’s permission.
Baroness Verma: That’s three questions rolled into one.
Member of Audience 3: One question, but three points.
Baroness Verma: Lady at the back?
Member of Audience 4: [Inaudible]
Baroness Verma: Can you just come forward a bit because there’s no mic reaching there, and I think we’ve having an echo, there we go.
Member of Audience 4: Oh. I’m [inaudible], I’m part of [inaudible] Society International, and I’ve also recently joined [inaudible] Kashmir [inaudible] Centre. My question to you is, the Kashmiri Pandits went through a very gruesome persecution in [the] 1990s. So, is the Indian state [inaudible] looking at re-instating them and providing a conducive environment for them, to help them go and live in the land again? And [inaudible] question is that, so, [inaudible] Jammu and Kashmir [inaudible].
Baroness Verma: Thank you very much. It’s amazing how three, two questions get into one, but there you go Mr Panda. Your expertise on how to [inaudible] that.
Mr Baijayant Panda: Your first question was: “Why doesn’t India oppose Pakistani actions in what we call POK, Pakistani occupied Kashmir?” You’re right, we have always opposed it, but more or less as a formality, and I think we developed diffidence. Despite the law being with us, despite Pakistan not having any shred of paperwork for its occupation of its part of Kashmir, we somehow got diffident and started treating them as if they had a [inaudible]. In fact, the Shimla Agreement after the 1971 war specifically states, that all issues are to be treated bilaterally. Of course, Pakistan never has followed that, they’ve always tried to internationalise the issue, but the reality is, why should it even be bilateral? I mean, if Jammu and Kashmir can be bilateral, so can Balochistan, so can Maharashtra. All the states which signed on to either India or Pakistan can be bilateral, so that’s not true. What is happening now, is that India realises that just having the facts and the law with you is not enough, it has to be communicated. Just like me, the Indian government, the Foreign Minister has been on tour recently, and, as I said, we are way behind. And we don’t expect that minds will change, or that hearts and minds will change in a snap, but we do hope that getting the message across, both with facts and with empathy, we will begin to change minds over the course of the short to medium term. Now, I’m glad you raised the issue of the Pandits. I deliberately didn’t mention that because that’s one of those emotive issues. The fact is, several hundred thousand minority Pandits were driven out from the Kashmir Valley. I know some of them personally, who’ve had to live and grow up in refugee camps. The kind of ethnic cleansing that went on in Kashmir has not received the kind of attention it should have, and, as the gentleman was saying, it’s happened on the other side in a different way, where the ethnic Kashmiris have gradually been outnumbered by others who are settling in there. Indian governments over the years have had many plans to resettle Pandits back there. The security situation has not permitted it. Hopefully, the security situation will change, and hopefully any of the Pandits that want to go back, they have the right to go back, of course, but, you know, they must also feel safe and comfortable in going back. I think that is something that’s going to happen. Why not trifurcation? Because I don’t think the Jammu region was asking to be separate, the people from Jammu feel that, you, know, there is an essence of Kashmir. It’s always been Jammu and Kashmir for many centuries. The region of Ladakh felt very different, it’s [inaudible] demographics, and they had been asking for a long time because they felt oppressed, this is on the record, they felt oppressed by certain state rules and laws, which were possible only because of Article 370, you couldn’t have that kind of discriminatory rules and laws in other parts of the country, for example, not being allowed to learn your mother-tongue at school and things like that. You only hear about that in places like [inaudible], not in parts of India. So, it was keeping in mind the aspirations of the people.
Baroness Verma: Thank you. So, I know the young lady there, what I’ll do is, I’ll take two from here, and then on the next round I’ll take two from there, okay.
Member of Audience 5: Thank you very much. My name is [inaudible]. I’m a Fellow at UCL. I have insight into the [inaudible] because my family, my maternal and my paternal, were the first to sign, I come from two princely states myself, and I fully support the abrogation of the undemocratic Article 370. I want to focus on the media narrative and bias that we see, which is very prevalent [inaudible]. There was a recent article in the Washington Post, where apparently it was stated by someone in a village that they are more fearful of the military than they are of the militants. What is the accuracy, factual accuracy of such statements that are being made in such articles, which us in the West are consuming? And secondly, is the government in [inaudible] worried about political and economic vacuums being exploited by militants and separatists in Jammu and Kashmir, and if so, what steps are being taken to prevent such occurrences from happening? Thank you.
Member of Audience 6: Thank you, my name is [inaudible]. I was wondering if you could talk more about the ways forward in Jammu and Kashmir, and how the government [inaudible] next steps the government would like to or is going to take within the region in terms of the political leaders that continue to be detained [inaudible], and how the government of [inaudible] plans to promote and encourage economic investment as [inaudible] now from Thursday, union territory of Jammu and Kashmir? Thank you.
Mr Baijayant Panda: Great questions all around. The Washington Post, those of you who follow Twitter might have noticed, since yesterday there’s been a big trend where their viewpoint was clear when they referred to al-Baghdadi, who was killed the day before yesterday, as an “austere scholar”, and it’s led to a rather humorous Twitter trend, where they refer to lots of notorious historical characters with sanitised obituaries. Look, I think there is a certain narrative that has taken hold, and we need to address that. Here I must be candid, this is off the record, mistakes have been made by all sides in the past. I think the Indian state made mistakes 30-35 years ago, in the only example, where the interfered with the elections, this happened in the early 80s. [off the record remarks] India is very clear that we need to win the hearts and minds, and that there be an experience of the people that the army is here to help. You saw an example of that a few years ago when the floods hit Jammu and Kashmir, and I think the narrative today would be very different. I just want to say one thing. I’ve experienced this kind of bias, there was an international media, very famous, asked me to write an op-ed a few days after August 5th, and then they dragged it on and wouldn’t publish it, and it went on, it became quite dramatic until finally I said: “I will just publish it on my Facebook page which has two million viewers, and say what happened,” and then they published it. So I mean, that’s the kind of thing that we face.
Vacuum, that’s a great question. One of the things is, now, I know some of the top leaders, I know two of the former Chief Ministers quite well. One of them is actually a good friend of mine, who’s a contemporary, but the reality, the feedback that you are getting, is that the top political leadership in the state, or the former state, the union territory, is much more unpopular than the general impression had been. Just a few days ago we had a very good development. We had elections to the Block Development Councils. These are indirectly elected. A year ago we had the [inaudible] elections, which are the rural, lowest level democratic elections, and these councillors then elect their council chiefs, so 25 000 electors came out three days ago and voted. Very high turnout. There is a whole new generation of Kashmiri men and women who think that they can do as good a job as some of the earlier generations of politicians have been doing, and I’m sure they will step up to the plate. There is going to be no restraint on anybody. The only requirement is going to be that you have to adhere, swear allegiance to the Indian Constitution, that’s the only requirement. Other than that, whether you are from an earlier generation who, you know, wants to resume your political career, whether you’re a new person, you want to start a political career. This comes, this is a valid question to ask, will there be a vacuum. What we saw from just a few days ago, I don’t think so. I think it’ll go very well.
“What’s the way forward?” is a brilliant question. The Indian state is determined, that this time around the vast expenses will not squandered away, it will not go into foreign accounts, it will not go into steel being sold at 75% higher than the rest of India, and cement being sold at 80% higher than the rest of India. As a matter of fact, you may be aware that, apart from Jammu and Kashmir, the Modi government has been cracking down on corruption in a very big way, and there are fundamental changes happening in Indian laws and rules, and people who used to get away with impunity at breaking the laws quite openly are having to face the music, some of them, you know, are in this country, temporarily at least, and this is going to also happen in Jammu and Kashmir. That, you know, these Block Development Council elections that I just referred to, what that means is that there will be fiscal devaluation down to the block level. So, blocks are smaller parts of districts, and when the fiscal devaluation goes down there, the siphoning off, which was taking place at the state level, will stop. It will, I’m sure, it’ll have its own challenges, to have capacity building at that level, but money not reaching the last mile will not be a problem.
Baroness Verma: Thank you. So, we’ve got eight minutes left, so we’re going to, if I say “a question”, could it just be a question, not several, otherwise Mr Panda can’t answer. You sir, you, then you, this lady here, and then I’ll see if I’ve got time.
Member of Audience 7: [inaudible] One of my clients is the largest FPI investor in Kashmir, and one of the problems that he’s had since [inaudible] is actually unlocking funds [inaudible] from foreign investors. We’ve got competition from Kazakh and Ukrainian [inaudible]. Again, goes back to the question which was just asked, but what’s the Modi government going to do encourage foreign investment to [inaudible], overseas Indian investor, who’s very keen to [inaudible]
Baroness Verma: Thank you, thank you.
Member of Audience 8: My name is [inaudible]. I’ve just [inaudible] for my PhD at King’s College on early Christianity, I mean, theology, so my question, Mr Panda, is why isn’t the Indian government emphasising that 85% of Jammu and Kashmir [inaudible] living in India? Because [inaudible] of the land [inaudible] is Jammu, which is Hindu majority, 59% was Ladakh, which was Buddhist majority, they’re very happy with India, there’s only 15% of Kashmir Valley which is very pro-Sunni Muslim, 95% Muslim, very pro-Pakistan, for different reasons, mainly because of, you know, lot of [inaudible], funds and brainwashing. Anyway, so 85% of Kashmir wanted to be with India, and now, after it’s become a union territory, 65%…
Baroness Verma: Say your question.
Member of Audience 8: In Jammu, and 35% is…
Baroness Verma: Let’s have your question.
Member of Audience 8: Is Kashmir, so is there any reason why in Indian government and spokesperson don’t emphasise that 95% of Jammu and Kashmiri is not a Muslim majority, and they will always be wanting to be, remain…
Baroness Verma: Thank you. Can I have the… From the lady on the left. Yes, that’s right.
Member of Audience 9: Thank you. Naomi [inaudible]. Totally outside my control. [Inaudible], thank you for your comments. I’m very aware that India has metaphorically gathering dust, in its cupboards, the crown jewels of defence [inaudible]. And that’s very interesting research that’s been done on this, and at the [inaudible] brief you if you were interested, I’ve got a written endorsement from a senior figure at Sandhurst, in this approach. It’s very very exciting, and I truly would [inaudible]. So instead of tackling things [inaudible], like a diseased tree you don’t treat your branches.
Baroness Verma: Do you have a question?
Member of Audience 9: My question is; would you be interested in further information about the [inaudible] approach to defence?
Baroness Verma: Right, there you go. Thank you.
Mr Baijayant Panda: The number one thing that the state of India is going to do is ensure law and order, ensure the lack of violence. This is the crucial part about making Jammu and Kashmir a union territory, so that the security forces are co-ordinated. You cannot have normal bustling economy if there is violence, if there is uncertainty. India has seen a huge surge in its economy over the recent two and a half decades, and continuing. Last year, for instance, the whole world saw a dip in FPI, India saw a sharp rise and is seeing a continuing rise, and it’s terribly needed in Jammu and Kashmir. Now, of course, domestic investment to Jammu and Kashmir is going to happen, very large companies like the Lance Group and others have already announced, but also small and medium investments are lining up informally, there’s expected to be a large conference on investment in Jammu and Kashmir sometime soon. But I think the single biggest thing will be that, and to improve governance because, apart from having law and order, and no violence, if you’re going to have huge corruption, that’s a big deterrent to attracting investment, so just like there has been improvement in governance in other parts of India, through the application of technology and through the streamlining of rules, and through the implementation of rules, same thing will happen.
Now, why is the Indian government not emphasising these percentages? Yes, these are informal surveys that institutes, organisation, magazines, media have had. There has never been any formal referendum as to, because there was no provision for a referendum either at independence or at any other point, and, to be fair, sitting in this country, when you talk about referendums, when there was no need for it, it might get some mixed opinions.
Baroness Verma: We were waiting for that.
Mr Baijayant Panda: So, I think it’s not for the Indian government to make any statement, but, of course, these figures do exist, they have been conducted privately, and I’m sorry, I’m not a defence expert. I wouldn’t be able to really, I can convey the message if there’s something to be…
Member of Audience 9: If I can [inaudible], briefed your former defence attaché in London [inaudible], and his number two [inaudible] very excited. Then I had gone back to Australia for some time [inaudible]. They were very excited, and they said the problem is it has to be a political decision, you know, we’re totally for this, it’s really exciting, [inaudible] totally behind the initiative.
Mr Baijayant Panda: So I’ll just say this, historically through the decades of the Cold War, India was on the other side of the groupings to which the UK and the US were, and, sadly, very few Indians involved in the military or in the Defence Ministry got to come to Sandhurst or to WestPoint, or to other places, or to have the kind of collaboration that was necessary. That has changed dramatically. In these last 20 years, the kind of military co-operation for exercises with the US, for instance, with Japan, with Australia, and our acquisition has now shifted a lot more to the West, whereas for decades it used to be primarily Russian [inaudible] that we used to take. So I would imagine that there is tremendous appetite for whatever the implications are, which, I’m not an expert.
Baroness Verma: Thank you. It is 12.29, I do apologise, I know, the one question will not finish at 12.30, so I, look, I’m incredibly strict as a chair, so I’m sorry, and I’m going to call this meeting to a close because it is incumbent on me as chair, first of all, to thank all of you for making time to come here this morning. I am pretty sure that you, sir, Mr Panda, have taken away a lot of interest in this country from the questions that have been proposed this morning to you, but I also hope that you as an audience who came here to put those questions, have also taken away the fact that it was worth coming this morning. It is engagement, Parliament is a place to be able to facilitate. We agree with you. We would like political debate of all kinds to take place in the most civilised manner that we have seen here today, and I would like to thank you all for making that possible. I would also like to thank Dr Paul Stott, and all of his people from Henry Jackson Society for facilitating this, and, finally, to you, for making yourself available to be able to have this conversation, and it was a conversation, about what’s happening in India and Kashmir, and Jammu, and Ladakh, and we are extremely grateful for your time. Thank you all very much for coming, it is 12.31, when you leave, please leave quietly because there are meetings going on in other rooms, and I, if you are going to pose a question, I’m sorry, it’s…
Member of Audience 10: No, just to you.
Baroness Verma: Yes.
Member of Audience 10: May I, I’m a big admirer of Mr Jay Panda.
Baroness Verma: Very good.
Member of Audience 10: And I even work in [inaudible]
Baroness Verma: Thank you, very quickly.
Member of Audience 10: [Inaudible] so, would it be possible to take a selfie with the…
Baroness Verma: I am really sorry, but this is, no! No! This is Parliament, security applies everywhere, and unless there is special permissions, which I have a feeling have not been sought, I’m afraid I have to say no, so…
Member of Audience 10: [Inaudible] outside [inaudible]
Baroness Verma: You can go outside the building and do whatever you want…
Baroness Verma: I’m sure that’s for Mr Panda to decide, whether he wants to or not, but you will have to wait outside, and, whilst we summarise here. Thank you very much, and thank you.
Mr Baijayant Panda: Thank you for doing such a wonderful job of chairing the session.