The political game plan devised by PV Narasimha Rao was carried out like a game of chess- each move providing a tactical edge over the other player.
India, post-independence saw a number of significant events including India-Pakistan war, Bangladesh liberation, Emergency, Rise of opposition (Janata Party), Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Rajiv Gandhi’s rise etc. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi followed by the election of PV Narasimha Rao as a Prime Minister of the country is another such significant event that changed the future course of India and sculpted a history.
Rao, who had otherwise planned to retire, was back in the race to the post of PM when after the first phase of polling, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. When PV Narasimha Rao was elected the country was already on the brinks of economic bankruptcy while the Indian diaspora was reeling under polarised environment. It was under Rao’s premiership that Indian economy not only resurrected but opened an avenue for new possibilities. Though, Rao is majorly credited for his stern approach to carrying out economic reforms under LPG policies, it must be recalled that it was the shrewd diplomacy displayed by him-which led India to its first diplomatic win at UN over Kashmir issue and earned him the tag of “Chanakya”.
Today, when the Kashmir issue is still blistering and UN report on Human Rights violations in Kashmir has invoked sharp reactions from both politicians and experts, the present government should take a look at the historic diplomatic battle that India fought and won.
Pakistan backs Kashmir Freedom Struggle:
Since the time of Partition, Kashmir was termed as the “unfinished business of partition”. During the 1990s the infiltration of Pakistan backed terrorists in Kashmir was at its peak. Pakistan launched a proxy war on India through jihadis in 1990 (“non-State actors”). However, the alleged “Azad Kashmir” struggle received legitimacy when the then PM of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto decided to support it openly. On Feb 4, 1990, Bhutto called for an urgent conference of Pakistan political leaders on Kashmir situation and announced February 5 as a Solidarity Day with Kashmir. Since then, the day is regularly being observed in Pakistan.
Within next five days, the Pakistani parliament passed a resolution which rejected the Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India and even demanded UN resolution for it. Despite several proposals suggesting bilateral talks by PV Narasimha Rao; Bhutto government, which was then in the good books of US, was successful in internationalising the Kashmir Issue.
Bhutto calls for “thousand years of war”:
Shortly after passing the resolution, Benazir Bhutto visited Pakistan occupied Kashmir which they called “Azad Kashmir”. Not only she challenged the Indian Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to visit Srinagar, she even called for “thousand years of war” indicating her full support to the militant struggle. On March 13, 1990, she addressed a rally in Muzaffarabad where she promised a continuous support to Kashmir struggle.
“We support Kashmiris today and will continue to support them till death. And even if we die our last words will be: ‘fight for humanity, fight for the right of self-determination, fight for Kashmir,” said Bhutto. “We have supported Kashmir’s struggle for the right of self-determination in the past,” she added. Two years later Nawaz Sharif held series of public gatherings in support of Kashmir’s alleged Freedom struggle popularising a slogan that became Pakistan’s war-cry against India- Kashmir Banega Pakistan (Kashmir will be a part of Pakistan).
India Passes Kashmir Resolution:
Delhi, on the other hand, under the Premiership of PV Narasimha Rao wasn’t going to be a mute spectator. To counter Pakistan’s resolution, the Indian parliament unanimously passed Kashmir Resolution on 22 February 1994. The resolution read: “On behalf of the People of India, the Indian Parliament firmly declares that:
(a) The State of Jammu & Kashmir has been, is and shall be an integral part of India and any attempts to separate it from the rest of the country will be resisted by all necessary means; (b) India has the will and capacity to firmly counter all designs against its unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity; and demands that (c) Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression; and resolves that (d) All attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of India will be met resolutely.”
Pakistan tables the resolution at UN:
This resolution came on the backdrop of increasing attempts by the US to term the Kashmir issue as “dispute”. The New Delhi was alarmed when in May 1993 John Malott of US State Department followed by Robin Raphael visited India. During the talks, they termed Kashmir a “dispute”. However, what really rang the bell was September 1993 reference of “Kashmir dispute” by US President in his UN General Assembly address. The New Delhi felt that there was an international coup to dislodge the Indian government from Kashmir. Emboldened by this, the Organisation of Islamic Countries too began seeking visas to send a fact-finding mission to Kashmir. Pakistan which was the member of OIC cried oppression of Kashmiri Muslims at the hands of Indian Army.
Just five days after Indian parliament’s resolution, Pakistan on 27 February 1994, moved to UN Human Rights Commission and tabled the resolution through OIC that condemned India for violation of human rights in Kashmir in Geneva. If the resolution would have passed, India would have been put on UNSC economic sanctions.
How shrewdly PV Narasimha Rao played the cards:
- Handpicked Delegation was half war won
Faced with challenges on several fronts, PM Narasimha Rao took the matter into his own hands. The same month he flew from Davos (where he was attending World Economic Forum) to Germany. He formed a team of delegates all carefully chosen to represent India. PM PV Narasimha Rao chose Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then opposition party leader to represent India at Geneva. The delegate also included Salman Khurshid, E. Ahmad, National Conference head Farooq Abdullah and Hamid Ansari. To counter Benazir Bhutto’s personal presence, Rao sent his reformist Finance Minister Manmohan Singh who was a known figure at UN. At such a juncture, it was important that no move could go wrong. It was also the time when the leaders from across the party lines and religions came together to defend the country. Such statesmanship and spirit are rarely seen in politicians today.
Rao’s masterstroke of including Muslim delegates was later turned out to be effective in dismantling the claims of oppression of Kashmiri Muslims in India. Furthermore, Rao even sent Hurriyat men to UNHRC as non-governmental presence. New Delhi called six ambassadors who were influential with OIC member countries and other powerful Western nations. The big team of delegates from India and Pakistan had even become a matter of joke at the UN restaurant.
- The smart moves behind the stage
While the big delegation was handling the battle from the front, PV Narasimha Rao knew that it will not be enough as long as the majority of UN Member countries support Pakistan. So, he started moving his cards quickly back here in India. During the time when India and Pakistan had locked horns at UN, Indian Foreign Minister Dinesh Singh had called in sick and was hospitalised. However, Rao flew him to Tehran by a chartered plane. Even as Singh’s unscheduled visit came as a surprise for Iranian Government, their Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati received Dinesh at Mehrabad airport. Velayati was a personal friend of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao who cancelled all his scheduled engagements of the day. Velayati drove Singh straight to President Hashmi Rafsanjani and he delivered a small letter from the Indian Prime Minister.
Coincidently, Chinese Foreign Minister, Aian Qichen was also in Teheran. Dinesh Singh met with him also in the backdrop of Uighur East Turkistan Movement in a Chinese province. Dinesh Singh flew back home Later that night and drove straightway to his hospital bed.
Dinesh Singh has finished the task successfully and had laid the foundation for Vajpayee to carry out further plan. Back in Geneva, Vajpayee was preparing UK-based Indian business mogul—the Hindujas—to influence Tehran who had close ties with Iran. It was a success too. Now, Rao shifted his focus to China. In what can be called as a big tactical decision an Indian diplomat voted in favour of Beijing at UN on a resolution based on a different matter. By this, Delhi ensured Beijing’s support at the UNHRC resolution. The political game plan was carried out like a game of chess- each move designed to provide a tactical edge over the other player.
On the day of Resolution, most of the countries that Pakistan expected would favour the country had backtracked. Indonesia and Libya withdrew support to OIC Resolution, Syria escaped saying it would reconsider the revised draft. On March 9, 1994, the final day, Iran asked for revised resolution after consultation. Having lost two biggest key players -China and Iran, Pakistan withdrew the resolution by 5 pm that day.
The victory of India in the diplomatic warfare saved the day for India’s bid to retain its territory. In Present times, when the Kashmir issue has been raked up again, India must learn a lesson or two from the example set by former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao.