J&K: Time to call National Conference’s bluff
by Hari Om on 20 Feb 2011 10 Comments

Addressing the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation-sponsored conference on the subject “Common Interests, Common Future: Dialogue Across the LoC” at New Delhi on Feb. 15, National Conference ideologue and J&K Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather demanded withdrawal of all central laws and institutions which were extended to the state between August 1953 and February 1975.


“Autonomy has remained, since the days of accession, the heartbeat of the people of the State. Today we find that the State has lost all semblance to autonomy. Its erosion is the primary cause for Kashmir discontent. J&K National Conference wants restoration of autonomy in its pristine form consistent with Instrument of Accession, Constitution (Application to J&K) Order, 1950, and Delhi Agreement of 1952,” he said.


Some of those who attended this essentially anti-India, pro-Pakistan and pro-separatist conference included former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan Dr. Humayun Khan, former Pakistan High Commissioner to India Aziz Ahmed Khan, Minority Commission chairman Wajahat Habibullah, former Foreign Secretary Salman Haider, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, and some so-called opinion leaders, intellectuals, lawyers and academicians from both countries.


Rather did not say anything new, and only reiterated his party’s stand – limited accession of the state to India and a system of government under which the Kashmiri political elite would exercise extraordinary legislative, judicial and executive powers; the people would have no power whatever in the governance of the state; and Jammu and Ladakh would have no option but to live at the mercy of the Kashmiri leadership and remain content with crumbs.


The situation as it exists in the state is not materially different from what the NC stands for. Doesn’t it enjoy absolute and extraordinary powers? It does. Don’t forget, Jammu and Kashmir is the solitary state in India which not only exercises residuary powers, including the power of taxation, but also has a separate constitution and separate flag.  


The fact that the NC recently rejected outright the demand put forth by coalition partner Congress to adopt the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments before holding elections to the Panchayats in J&K should leave no one in doubt that it is vehemently opposed to the idea of people at grassroots level managing certain affairs themselves according to their specific needs. The Government of India adopted these amendments years ago to empower people at grassroots level, and these amendments were adopted by all the states of the Union.


This is the kind of autonomy the NC wants in the state. That Congress did not pull out of the government despite its failure to make the state government adopt the 73rd and 74th amendments is a different story. Right now the issue is autonomy as being advocated and demanded by the NC and other Kashmir-centric formations like PDP, CPI-M and CPI.        


Rather proffered six main arguments to make a case for greater autonomy for the state (read a system of government outside the Indian Constitution):

-        One: “Jammu & Kashmir State is the only one to have negotiated the terms of its membership of the Union.”

-        Two: The “Constitution of India reflects both the unity and the diversities. Regional diversities are reflected in special provisions with respect to the States of Nagaland, Sikkim, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. The State of J&K is thus not the only one to enjoy a special status.”

-        Three: “Those who ask for abrogation of Article 370 are grossly mistaken. The President of India could issue a notification abrogating or amending Article 370, but it could only be done on the recommendation of the State Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly completed its job long back in 1956 and then dispersed. It did not make any recommendation for abrogation of this article. So the abrogation of Article 370 has now become a constitutionally impossible.”

-        Four: “Jammu and Ladakh regions are not opposed to restoration of Autonomy… NC fought 1996 Assembly elections on the plank of autonomy and got the highest number of seats in all three regions of the State. So the electorate of all the three regions endorsed NC’s agenda of restoration of autonomy to the State.”

-        Five: “The erosion of autonomy began after the unfortunate and unconstitutional dismissal and arrest of Jenab Sheikh Sahib, along with his associates in 1953, and it continued apace there after till the year 1975.”

-        Six: “Alienation of the people of the State needs to be addressed urgently. This would be in the interest of the Nation.” 


First argument: This argument is as untenable as it is ridiculous. Jammu & Kashmir acceded to India on October 26, 1947 in terms of law on the subject or in accordance with what was laid down in the Indian Independence Act of 1947, under which the Islamic State of Pakistan came into being. Maharaja of the State, who alone had the power to take a decision on the state’s political future, took the decision and acceded to India without any condition. The Instrument of Accession he signed was similar to the one signed by other 560-odd princely states, which were not part of the partition plan and the Instrument of Accession he signed was the one prepared by the State Department of the Government of India. There were no negotiations. No commitment was made to any body, including Sheikh Abdullah, president of NC and votary of greater autonomy, bordering on sovereignty.


It is true that Jawaharlal Nehru, Gopalaswami Ayyangar and Mahatma Gandhi conspired against Maharaja Hari Singh and created a situation that led to the transfer of power from Jammu to Kashmir (read Sheikh Abdullah), as to the exile of the Maharaja from the state. It is also true that Nehru and his cronies, who were against the Maharaja and joined hands with communal forces in Kashmir, incorporated in the Indian Constitution Article 370 to fulfill the communal and separatist urges of the Kashmiri leadership. This caused the whole problem. It created an impression that the people of Kashmir were a race apart. It created a doubt in the minds of the international community about the status of Jammu & Kashmir.


However, to say this is not to convey an impression that there was any agreement between New Delhi and Kashmiri leaders like Sheikh Abdullah. Let Abdul Rahim Rather bring to the public domain the details on the negotiations that took place between New Delhi and the Kashmiri leadership before the state acceded to India so that the record is set straight. He can’t do this because there is nothing on record.           


Second argument: It appears that the NC minister did not apply his mind before advancing such a laughable argument. The fact is that Jammu & Kashmir is the only state that enjoys special status in the Union under Article 370. There is no other state in the country whose relations with New Delhi are governed by Article 370. Yes, states like Nagaland, Sikkim, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh enjoy certain powers, but these relate to social matters and have been conferred under Article 371. This Article doesn’t give the power to have a separate flag and separate constitution. Nor does this Article empower any state to exercise residuary powers. All Central legislations, without exception, are automatically applicable to the states Abdul Rahim Rather mentioned in his controversial and misleading presentation.


Third argument: The minister should know that the only job of a constituent assembly is to prepare a constitution, after which it ceases to exist. Under the constitution so prepared, the legislative assembly exercises all legislative powers, including the power to amend the constitution taking into consideration new needs of the people and exigencies of the time. Rather says Article 370 cannot be abrogated or amended because the Jammu & Kashmir Constituent Assembly “did not make any recommendation for abrogation of this Article.”


But the question to be asked is: Has the State Government not amended the constitution after its introduction on January 26, 1957? Yes, umpteen times. Will Abdul Rahim Rather educate public opinion by explaining under which authority the state government amended the state constitution? He cannot befool the people by making ridiculous statements; he ends up as an object of ridicule. It is the Indian Parliament that is the sovereign legislative body. If it can adopt any provision, it can amend it also.


Fourth argument: A grave distortion. Jammu and Ladakh have at no point of time endorsed the NC’s divisive and communal autonomy doctrine. On the contrary, they have consistently opposed it and insisted that the state be brought under the purview of Indian Constitution so that they become part of the national mainstream and are freed from the cruel clutches of the Kashmiri leadership. They have been repeatedly saying since 1947 that they need to be segregated from Kashmir on the ground that they have nothing in common with the people of Kashmir and the Kashmiri leadership has been responsible for their all round neglect and degeneration. In fact, reorganization of the state on regional basis has been their battle-cry. And, their struggle for empowerment and full integration continues unabated.


Abdul Rahim Rather says NC contested the 1996 assembly elections on the autonomy plank. Actually, autonomy was only one plank. The first half of its election manifesto was silent on the issue of autonomy, which figured only once in the second half. Had NC contested the elections in Jammu province on the autonomy plank, it would have been wiped out. The beguiled people of Jammu province in about 10 out of 37 assembly constituencies voted for NC candidates in 1996 because NC misled them by focusing on issues of administration, development and inter-regional relations. Most of these constituencies were in predominantly Muslim areas.


That NC was never popular in Jammu could be seen from the fact that it suffered humiliating defeats in the 2002 and 2008 assembly elections. In 2002, its tally in Jammu had come down to eight and in 2008 the tally further declined to six. In Ladakh, the story was no different. During the 2002 assembly elections, all local NC leaders and workers left their party and joined hands with those demanding Union Territory for Ladakh. Thus the Ladakh Union Territory Front candidates were declared elected unopposed. Yet the NC Minister says the people of Jammu and Ladakh are for autonomy.           


Fifth argument: It’s absolutely true that the erosion of autonomy began after August 1953 when Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed and arrested on charges of sedition for hobnobbing with the United States and for his move to establish a “Switzerland-type independent Kashmir.” The nation between 1953 and 1975 witnessed a process leading to closer constitutional and political integration between the state and New Delhi, with the state coming under the purview of hundreds of Central laws and institutions. The process was smooth and voluntary, for the betterment of the people of the state. Moreover, everything was done on the demand of or with the concurrence of the state government.


But what about those 18-odd Central laws, including POTA, which were introduced in the state between February 1975 and January 1990, when the state was ruled by Sheikh Abdullah, his son-in-law G.M. Shah and his son Farooq Abdullah, all ardent believers in the concept of greater autonomy. And, what about the D.D. Thakur Report that Sheikh Abdullah accepted in full. Thakur had said: “Needles of the clock cannot be turned back; the Central laws had only benefited the state and its people.” Thakur was Deputy Chief Minister in the Sheikh’s government. And, what about the report of G.M. Shah and Ghulam Nabi Kochak that Sheikh Abdullah rejected outright, which recommended wholesale withdrawal of Central laws and institutions from the state.


Can the Finance Minister and NC ideologue refer to a single Central law that was extended to the state without concurrence of the state Government? He cannot because there is none. His party brought out a 180-page report on autonomy in April 1990 but did not refer to those Central laws which were extended to the state between 1975 and 1990. Nor did the report refer to the 1975 accord under which Sheikh Abdullah became Chief Minister. These were not lapses; these were deliberate omissions. Had NC referred to these two things in its report, which was rejected outright by the BJP-led NDA Government, it would not have been able to rake up the issue of autonomy.


Sixth argument: What exactly does Abdul Rahim Rather mean by alienation? Whose alienation and what has led to the alienation? Does he and National Conference, like the People’s Democratic Party, believe in the “psychological” factor, which means the followers of a particular religion are a separate nation and cannot live with others?


The Muslim League talked about the psychological factor before 1947. It said Muslims were a distinct nation and all Muslim-majority areas of British India must form Pakistan. This psychological factor led to partition in 1947 and caused death and displacement on an unprecedented scale. Which alienation are Rather and his ilk talking about? Does he want another Pakistan to address the psychological factor? He and NC, like PDP and similar outfits in Kashmir, want another communal partition overlooking the fact that the creation of Pakistan in order to accommodate the psychological factor in no way helped Pakistan to retain what became Bangladesh in 1971, and overlooking the fact that Pakistan is on the brink of collapse, with Muslims killing and maiming Muslims in the Islamic Republic, known all over the world as a failed and rogue state.   


Why should Kashmir feel alienated from India? Kashmir province has been ruling the state since October 1947 and has established its stranglehold over all political, administrative and economic institutions; over all technical and professional institutions; even the universities. Besides, New Delhi has all along been at the back and call of Kashmir and the Kashmiri leadership.


It is Jammu and Ladakh which have been suffering pain, economic deprivation, political disempowerment and social degeneration. Neither New Delhi nor Kashmir has ever cared for the sensitivities and needs of the people of Jammu and Ladakh. On the contrary, the authorities in New Delhi and the powers-that-be in Kashmir, backed by their cronies in Jammu, have dismissed the people of Jammu and Ladakh with contempt, unworthy of rights available to the people of Kashmir and other parts of the country.


The authorities in New Delhi and the powers-that-be in Kashmir have always denounced the people of Jammu and Ladakh, saying they are creating problems by demanding the state’s full integration with India and opposing demands for autonomy, self-rule and independence. Some of them denounce the people of Jammu and Ladakh as communalist of communalists, regionalist of regionalists, reactionary and parochial just because they advocate the need of integrating fully with the rest of the country and seek political and economic empowerment.


So, who should feel alienated? Kashmir? Or Jammu and Ladakh? The answer is obvious. Kashmir enjoys power and Jammu and Ladakh suffer at the hands of the all-powerful, unaccommodating and intolerant Kashmiri leadership. It is disgusting that none in New Delhi has ever questioned Kashmiri leaders who seek separation from the constitutional organization of India under the garb of what they call alienation. The problem in Kashmir is communal and has been created by a handful of Kashmiri leaders who still believe in the pernicious two-nation theory and want another partition of India on purely religious grounds. It’s an irony that there are elements in and outside the political establishment in New Delhi who, instead of questioning the Kashmiri leadership and denouncing the politics of separatism based on religious fanaticism, have been making common cause with it, thus giving a dangerous respectability to divisive forces.


It’s time to call the Kashmiri leadership’s bluff and expose it. It’s also time to abrogate Article 370 because it has created a psychological barrier between Kashmir and the rest of the country. We must remember that it was the introduction of communal electorates in British India in 1909 that had led to the country’s partition and it would be Article 370 that would ultimately lead to the separation of Kashmir from India. In fact, in October 1949, Indian Constituent Assembly member Maulana Hasrat Mohani had warned that the grant of special status to Kashmir on the score of religion would enable it to assume independence afterwards.


Rectify the mistake and integrate the state fully into India. This is the only solution to the problem in Kashmir. Even this will not do. What needs to be done immediately is the empowerment of the alienated Jammu and Ladakh. They have suffered too much. Their patience is ending and ending very fast. In their empowerment lies the solution to the problem in Kashmir as well as to the problem facing the nation in Kashmir.                  


The author is former Chair Professor, Maharaja Gulab Singh Chair, University of Jammu, Jammu, & former member Indian Council of Historical Research

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