Congress seems out to unsettle the settled in Kashmir
by Hari Om on 28 Oct 2009 6 Comments

The State of Jammu & Kashmir acceded to the Indian Dominion on October 26, 1947 as per the law laid down by the Indian Independence Act, under which Pakistan also came into being as an independent and sovereign state. Although Maharaja Hari Singh alone had the authority to take a decision on the states’ political future, Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru went beyond the laid down rules and involved the controversial founder of the Kashmir-based National Conference, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, in the process, notwithstanding the fact that the Sheikh had no locus standi in the matter.

This was the first serious mistake on the part of the Dominion Government. The second great mistake was the transfer of political power from Jammu to Sheikh Abdullah using undemocratic means, and his appointment as the “Emergency Administration” of the state. Subsequently, he was designated as the state’s Wazir-e-Azam (Prime Minister). Not just this, both Nehru and the Sheikh conspired against Maharaja Hari Singh and ensured his ouster from the state.

Not content with all this, the Congress government referred the issue of Pakistani invasion of Kashmir to the United Nations under a wrong provision and de-linked Kashmir from the Union Home Ministry and attached it with the Foreign Ministry, as if Jammu & Kashmir was an alien country, as if Muslims of Kashmir were a race apart. Jammu & Kashmir was the only princely state treated differently by the Indian political establishment, thus complicating the whole issue and enabling the United States, United Kingdom, Pakistan and others to interfere in India’s internal matters.           

The next five years witnessed the ruling elite in Delhi taking more steps designed to meet the communal and separatist urges of the Sheikh, who in between exploited to the hilt the Jammu and Kashmir Press and Publication Act of 1934 and the Jammu and Kashmir Constitutional Act of 1939 to muzzle the press and neutralize and marginalize his opponents in the state, including his not-so-pliable colleagues like Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, Mohi-ud-Din Karra, Maulana Masoodi, et al.

In October 1949, the Indian Constituent Assembly not only incorporated Article (306-A) 370 in the yet-to-be-adopted Indian Constitution, giving special status to Jammu & Kashmir on the score of religion, but also tried its level best to change the nomenclature of the state from the State of Jammu & Kashmir to the “State of Kashmir”. Article 370 was incorporated on October 17 in no time, overlooking Maulana Hazrat Mohani’s unambiguous warning that the grant of special status to Kashmir on the score of religion would “enable it to assume independence afterwards.”

Article 370, apart from enabling Jammu & Kashmir to exercise residuary powers, empowered the Sheikh to have a separate flag and separate constitution for the state. Thus came into being a republic of Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Republic. Those like noted constitutional lawyer Rajiv Dhawan who compare Article 370 with Article 371 and say that Jammu & Kashmir is one of several states in the Union which enjoy special status are absolutely wrong. Article 371 doesn’t empower any state to have a separate flag and a separate constitution. Nor does it allow any Indian state to exercise residuary powers.   

The Indian Constituent Assembly at the behest of the Prime Minister and his close lieutenant Gopalaswami Ayyangar (Minister of Kashmir Affairs) sought to change the nomenclature of the state on May 27 the same year. Had Prof. KT Shah (who had served in Jammu & Kashmir for 10 years as financial advisor and knew Sheikh Abdullah through and through), Pandit Lakshmi Kanta Maitra of West Bengal and HV Kamath of Central Provinces and Berar not opposed the highly controversial move tooth and nail, the state today would have been known as the State of Kashmir (Constituent Assembly Debates, Book No 3, Vol. VIII, May 16, 1949 to June 16, 1949, second rpt, New Delhi, 1989, pp 357-373).

Yet another mistake was committed by Prime Minister Nehru in 1952. He invited Sheikh Abdullah for talks – talks calculated to further drive the state away from the national mainstream by giving more autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir. Those who know nothing about Jammu & Kashmir and certain vested interests describe these talks as the “Delhi Agreement.” (There is no such thing as the Delhi Agreement; an agreement is something signed between different parties. What really happened was that both Nehru and the Sheikh made a statement regarding the nature of talks between the two. National Conference leaders like Farooq Abdullah and Abdul Rahim Rather admitted in response to my assertion during a seminar on autonomy in Srinagar that there was no such thing as a “signed Delhi Agreement” and that “it was a statement made by Nehru and the Sheikh”). However, the talks remained inconclusive because of certain developments within the National Conference and outside.

A reference here to at least three developments would be in order. One was the virtual revolt against the Sheikh; almost all his senior colleagues disapproved of his style of working and accused him of subverting the system to strengthen his own position. The other was the “seditious” speech the Sheikh made at RS Pura in Jammu in 1953. And, the third was the report that the Sheikh, in collaboration with the United States, was conspiring against India with a view to establishing a “Switzerland-type independent Kashmir.”

These developments had their impact on Jawaharlal Nehru. So much so, he bemoaned that “Kashmir is lost to us”. Such was the situation that Nehru had to act. He did so on May 9, when he not only dethroned the Sheikh, but had him imprisoned on the charge of “sedition”.

The removal of the Sheikh was good riddance in the sense that his removal commenced the process of the state’s constitutional and political integration with India. His successor Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad removed all restrictions his predecessor had imposed on the press, gave the judiciary a freehand and handed down to the people a sort of democratic government. It was during his rule that the permit system was abolished (1957), thus allowing the people of Jammu & Kashmir to visit any part of India and granting similar freedom to fellow Indians to visit any part of the state they liked.

The process of democratization of the state’s polity and its constitutional and political integration continued unabated right till 1989, notwithstanding the fact that the protagonists of greater autonomy like Sheikh Abdullah and his son Farooq Abdullah and son-in-law GM Shah also ruled the state between 1975 and January 19, 1990 for nearly 9 years.

In 1975, the Indira Gandhi - Sheikh Abdullah Accord empowered the latter to seek withdrawal of any central laws which he considered harmful for the state’s identity. In 1977 he appointed a three-member high-powered Cabinet Sub-Committee for the purpose, with the then Deputy Chief Minister DD Thakur as chairman and GM Shah and Ghulam Nabi Kochak as members. The committee submitted two contradictory reports: one from Thakur who said the “needles of the clock cannot be turned back” and that “central laws and institutions had only benefitted the state and its people;” the other from Shah and Kochak recommended wholesale withdrawal of Central laws and institutions saying these had eroded the internal autonomy the state enjoyed under Article 370.

Significantly, the Sheikh rejected outright the report of Shah and Kochak and accepted in full the one submitted by Thakur. The Sheikh, who had become Chief Minister under the 1975 accord, took this decision taking into consideration opposition in Jammu and Ladakh to the idea of the state getting more autonomy, as also to save his chair.

Indira Gandhi had made her party, which was ruling the state since 1965, abdicate the chair in favour of the Sheikh whose outfit, Plebiscite Front, did not have a single legislator either in the Legislative Assembly or in the Legislative Council. No one had ever imagined that a national party would wind up its political establishment in the sensitive border state and hand over the highest executive office to the Sheikh whose credentials were highly questionable and who had repeatedly expressed himself in favour of independence. 

The process of constitutional and political integration between the state and New Delhi continued even after 1984, though not at that pace. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah entered into an agreement in 1986, called Rajiv-Farooq accord. But this accord had nothing to do with the state’s political future. Nor did it talk about more autonomy for the state or any other concession. It was merely a power-sharing agreement between the Congress and the National Conference.

It was after this accord that Kashmir was engulfed by secessionist violence due to the wholesale rigging in 1987. Had the National Conference-Congress combine allowed democracy to flower in Kashmir and not rigged elections to ensure the defeat of the Muslim United Front candidates, including Syed Salah-ud-Din, who now controls the dreaded Hizbul Mujahideen, things would have been altogether different and Pakistan would not have been able to exploit the discontent in the Valley.      

Anyway, the fact is that between 1975 and 1987, successive Congress governments in New Delhi took some extreme steps to rein in those striving to unsettle the settled things in Kashmir. For example, while Indira Gandhi dismissed the government of Sheikh Abdullah in 1977 and of Farooq Abdullah in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi dismissed the government GM Shah in 1986. The signal was clear: Behave properly or face strict action.

But more than that, the period between 1965 and 1975 could be described as the epoch-making period. It was during this period that the Congress government at the Centre took substantial steps to integrate the state fully with the rest of the country. The most significant aspect of the whole process was the unstinted support of the state’s ruling elite. The process was started by Lal Bahadur Shastri and carried forward by Indira Gandhi with great zeal and commitment.                

What happened between 1965 and 1975 and even afterwards? The ruling National Conference merged with the Congress in 1965, thus ending the rule of a regional party and bringing the state under the rule of a national party. It was a remarkable development by any yardstick as it created an impression all round that Jammu and Kashmir would become part of the national mainstream. The same year, the Congress-led state government dispensed with the offices of Sadar-e-Riyasat and Wazir-e-Azam and established the institutions of Governor and Chief Minister, thus bringing Jammu & Kashmir at par with other states of the Union.

Between 1965 and 1975, the Congress government introduced hundreds of Central laws in Jammu & Kashmir. It extended as many as 260 Central Articles out of a total of 395. It brought the state under the ambit of 94 Entries (out of a total 97) in the Union List. It also brought Jammu & Kashmir under the ambit of 26 out of a total of 47 Entries in the Concurrent List. Besides, it extended 7 Central Schedules out of a total of 12 Schedules to the State. It was during this epoch-making decade that the Congress government brought the State under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India, Comptroller & Auditor-General and Election Commission of India. It was for the first time in 1967 that the people of the State participated in the general elections. Earlier, it was the state’s ruling elite which used to nominate its henchmen to Parliament.   

Between 1975 and 1989, the Congress dispensation in New Delhi extended 11 more Central laws to Jammu & Kashmir, all at a time when the National Conference was ruling the State. It clearly demonstrated that Congress was committed to integrating the State fully with New Delhi. Not just that. In 1982, Indira Gandhi stalled the highly obnoxious and controversial Jammu & Kashmir Grant of Permit for Resettlement in (or permanent return to) the State Act, 1982 (Bill No 13). This “black bill”, it needs to be underlined, was designed to allow those to resettle in Jammu who had migrated to Pakistan in the wake of the Partition and embraced Pakistani citizenship. Besides, it was calculated to displace thousands of refugees from Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir who had been living in the evacuee property since 1947.

Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao announced in Burkina Faso that his government was prepared to give more autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir. “Sky is the limit”, he said. But he did not do anything fearing a backlash in Jammu and Ladakh, and the rest of the country. Instead, he crushed militancy in the state and ignored the votaries of autonomy or those who wanted to unsettle the already settled things in Jammu & Kashmir. During his time Parliament adopted a resolution unanimously in February 1994 declaring that the only issue which needed to be resolved between India and Pakistan was the political future of Pak-occupied-Kashmir.

Compare the role of the Congress in the process of the state’s political and constitutional integration with New Delhi with the BJP and you will see the glaring difference. Such an exercise is a must to understand the attitude of the BJP towards Jammu & Kashmir.

BJP says day in and day out that it is because of it that Jammu & Kashmir got integrated with the rest of India. It appears to be a false and motivated propaganda. The fact is that it was the Congress which actually integrated the state with the rest of the country by taking several concrete measures. This is a statement of fact.

BJP was in power at the Centre for six long years between 1998 and 2004, and it did not extend even a single Central law to Jammu & Kashmir. It may appear ludicrous but it is a fact that its election manifesto for the Jammu & Kashmir assembly elections (2008) was totally silent on Article 370. Earlier in 1996, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had even declared at Tangdhar (Kashmir) that Article 370 shall ever remain part of the Indian Constitution.

All this shows that the BJP was never really committed to abrogating Article 370. On the other hand, one can say with confidence that had the BJP returned to power in New Delhi in 2004, it would have compromised the Indian position in Jammu & Kashmir. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s National Security Advisor Brijesh Mishra had admitted in public that the BJP-led NDA Government was considering autonomy/self-rule for the state. The Track II talks between RK Mishra, point-man of Vajpayee, and Pakistan’s former foreign Secretary Niaz Naik also suggested the same. It was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who initiated the so-called “peace process” with Pakistan in April 2003, and had he returned to power in 2004, he would have compromised the Indian position on Jammu & Kashmir.    

It was hoped Congress would discard the Vajpayee line and restart the process of the state’s political and constitutional integration with New Delhi. The hope stemmed from what the Congress did in Kashmir between 1965 and 1990, and even in February 1994. It is a matter of grave concern that Congress, instead of discarding the Vajpayee line, has been pursuing it religiously, overlooking its dangerous ramifications. 

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Congress has deviated from the path of integration and like the BJP, is playing with dangerous tools. But Congress started committing grave blunders since November 2002, when it was not in power in New Delhi. The case in point is the handing over of the office of Chief Minister on a platter to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of the People’s Democratic Party – the Mufti who as the country’s Home Minister had played a great mischief by securing the release of dreaded militants in order to secure the release of his abducted daughter Rubiya Sayeed. (There is an opinion that behind everything, including the abduction, was the Mufti himself.)

It needs to be underlined that both the People’s Democratic Party and Congress had contested the 2002 Assembly elections separately, with Congress winning 20 seats (15 from Jammu and 5 from Kashmir) and the Mufti’s outfit 16 (all from the Valley). But AICC president Sonia Gandhi declared ‘she is sacrificing the interests of her Congress party for the larger national interest’ and, hence, ‘she has decided to hand over the office of Chief Minister to the Mufti.’ Thus recommenced an era in which secessionists, extremists and the Pakistani establishment would rule the roost; an era which would see at regular intervals negation of what the Indian nation had meticulously done in the state till 2002.

In fact, the Common Minimum Programme evolved by Congress and the PDP had all the ingredients needed to unsettle the already settled things in Kashmir. It was basically a militant and separatist-friendly document. No wonder then that the Mufti, who had declared at the very outset that “elections and Kashmir problem are two different things” and that the “the job of the state government is only to cater to the day-to-day needs of the people”, started his inning in Jammu & Kashmir in right earnest to achieve what Pakistan and its supporters in the state could not during all those 55 years of independence. Take, for example, his “healing touch policy”. It was nothing but an instrument to accommodate and reward extremists and Pakistani agents. Under the “healing touch” policy, family members of slain terrorists were entitled to get financial aid from the government, obtain government jobs and obtain bank loans on easy terms.

The Mufti and PDP outfit crossed all limits when they started attacking the institution of the Army and talking in terms of supra-state measures or shared sovereignty in Jammu & Kashmir, dual currency and economic independence. Ironically, the Congress-led UPA Government did not react. And when it did react, it only dumbfounded all those who believed in national unity and integrity. The Prime Minister, while concluding the first Round Table Conference at his official residence in 2005, said: ‘His government will consider the issues of autonomy and self-rule within the vast flexibilities provided by the Indian Constitution.’

Since then, both the People’s Democratic Party and the National Conference have been working relentlessly to achieve their respective goals. The roads, though diverging, lead to the same destination - disintegration of India. It would not be out of place to mention here that the PDP and National Conference are two sides of the same coin, that self-rule document is virtually a carbon-copy of the National Conference’s autonomy report, and that both outfits want a dispensation outside the Indian Constitution – Muslim dispensation on Indian soil, but an integral part of the Islamic State of Pakistan ideologically. The only difference between the two is that while the PDP describes its demand as “internal sovereignty”, the National Conference terms its demand as “internal autonomy.”

The worst part of the whole situation is the soft attitude of the Congress towards the unsettling demands put forth by the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party and similar other separatist outfits in Kashmir. Earlier, Congress shared power with the PDP and helped it and its separatist cause. Now it is sharing power with the National Conference and facilitating its separatist and communal agenda both overtly and covertly.

Things have now climaxed to the point that none other than the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister are openly hobnobbing with those having scant or no regard for India, secularism and democracy, and talking in terms of “non-territorial solution” (read ideological compromise and communal solution) and “unique solution” to the so-called Kashmir problem. Leave aside the Prime Minister’s rather disturbing Havana statement that “Pakistan, like India, is also a victim of terrorism” and leave aside his Sharm-el-Sheikh’s delink-terrorism-from-composite dialogue formulation as well as his permission to allow Pakistan to include in the joint-statement the diabolical suggestion of Indian involvement in Baluchistan.

Things are frightening by any yardstick. Things become worse when one looks at the Prime Minister’s May 2, 2009 statement that India and Pakistan had reached a settlement on Jammu & Kashmir – a non-territorial settlement. This is no statecraft. This is treachery. Will the Prime Minister and his political advisors abandon the suicidal path and pursue the line his predecessors pursued, particularly since 1965? They must. They are constitutionally bound to protect and further advance national interests and uphold the unity and integrity of India.

The author is Chair Professor, Gulab Singh Chair, Jammu University, Jammu

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