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Greater Autonomy: A Step Closer to Azadi?

K B Jandial
After long time, autonomy debate has come to the centre stage of J&K and national political discourse, mainly due to P Chidambaram’s support for ‘Greater Autonomy’ for J&K, broadly calling ‘azadi’ seekers as autonomy supporters. Like a hot potato, the Congress party immediately distanced itself from Chidambaram’s controversial remark.
Chidambaram’s statement has opened up a Pandora Box with politicians of all hues joining the fray- for or against autonomy- cum -azadi for ‘restive’ J&K. While PM Modi didn’t miss the opportunity to condemn the former Union Home Minister and a senior lawyer for batting for “azadi” seekers, Dr. Farooq Abdullah slammed one and all- from Congress to Modi to Army Chief. While addressing the State-level NC convention, held after 15 years on Sunday last (29th October), he said, “the present dispensation thinks that they will crush Kashmiris with force.” “No force can forcibly muzzle the voice of the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh,” he thundered.
The autonomy-cum-azadi slugfest had first causality: the Hurriyat leadership that was maintaining studded silence on Modi Govt’s appointment of ex- IB Chief Dineshwar Sharma for dialogue with all stakeholders rejected engagement with him. It took a pot shot on PM Modi for his strong reaction to Chidambaram’s suggestion of ‘greater autonomy’ to Kashmir and said that Delhi has rejected restoration of autonomy which is guaranteed by its own (Indian) constitution.

Straight Talk

At Rajkot, Gujarat while interacting with media persons his views on Kashmir were sought and his take was, “My interaction in J&K led me to the conclusion that when they ask for Azadi, mostly, I am not saying all… the overwhelming majority, they want autonomy.” He feels that the question of greater autonomy should be seriously considered and in which area it should be granted. Chidambaram feels that most of the ‘azadi’ seekers are, in fact, autonomy lovers. Then are all these people NC activists since NC has been in the vanguard for ‘restoration of autonomy’? Chidambaram’s assessment is flawed on many counts even though Modi and BJP too have over reacted especially when they have recently appointed a special representative for dialogue and he has yet to find its feet in Kashmir.
Chidambaram cannot be oblivious to the source of autonomy for J&K. He knows it well that autonomy is granted by no document or provision other than Article 370 of Constitution of India. He is expected to know the import of this constitutional provision and how Sheikh Abdullah got it incorporated in the constitution despite serious reservations of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
The historical anecdote repeated umpteen time in earlier Straight Talk and elsewhere in the media that Ambedkar, architect of the Constitution, had declined the request of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru to draft the Article saying that he would not do injustice with the nation.  He had told Sheikh Abdullah in unambiguous words, “You wish India should protect your borders, she should build roads in your area, she should supply you food grains, and Kashmir should get equal status in India. But Government of India should have only limited powers and Indian people should have no rights in Kashmir. To give consent to this proposal, would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India and I, as the Law Minister of India, will never do it.”
Nehru was compelled to get it drafted from Gopalaswami Ayyangar in consultation with Sheikh Abdullah and the Constituent Assembly approved it as a temporary measure.  This shows that the provision which the then leadership of Kashmir wanted didn’t have the comfort of the best constitutional brains of the country but Sheikh Abdullah had his way.
Talk of erosion of autonomy apart, question arises who has snatched the autonomy?  How can anybody take it away without amending Article 370? How can it be eroded when the constitutional provision is followed in letter & spirit? Dr. Farooq has arraigned its all time ally, Congress, for “erosion of autonomy” and the Congress kept silent on this criticism even though the unsavory debate has been initiated by a senior congressman only. One has to understand Article 370 in right perspective and not what one may think it otherwise to suit one’s perception.
Article 370 has three important provisions. One part ( Art 370 cl-1(b) sub cl (i)) restricts the legislative power of the Parliament to the subjects of the Union and Concurrent lists corresponding to the matters specified in the schedule of the Instrument of Accession
The second important part (cl-1(b) sub cl (ii)) empowers the President of India to bring more subjects in these lists under Parliament jurisdiction with the concurrence of State Govt. It means that if J&K Govt concurs more subjects can be brought under  the legislative competence of the Parliament.
The third part (Art 370 cl-1(c & d)) relates to application of Art 1 and 370 to J&K. But more Articles of Constitution can be extended to J&K but with the concurrence of the State Govt with such exceptions and modifications as the President may order.
The core of Article 370 is its flexibility to extend more Articles of Constitution to J&K and  bring more subjects in Union and Concurrent lists under  Parliament’s legislative jurisdiction. The only condition laid down is ‘concurrence’ of the State Govt. which in democracy represents the will of the people. This luxury is not available to any other Indian States. This is the autonomy which Sheikh Abdullah had bargained for J&K on taking over full control of the Govt after “managing self-exile” of Maharaja Hari Singh.
Now, all that has happened in J&K since 1950 is as per the prescribed provisions in Article 370. Successive J&K Governments had been giving concurrence for extension of more provisions of the Constitution to J&K  in terms of Article 370 cl-1(c & d) and for empowering Parliament with more subjects in Union & Concurrent lists under (Article 370 cl-1(b) sub cl (ii)). Now, if the prescribed procedure of Article 370 has been followed to give benefit to the people of the State also like rest of the country, how can it be called erosion of autonomy?
In addition, the provisions of the State Constitution were also amended by the State legislature which is competent to do it like change of Sadr-i-Riayast and Wazir-i-Azam to Governor and Chief Minister. This too cannot be called erosion.
The off-repeated war cry of NC leadership of “erosion” of autonomy, the claim supported by many political leaders at national level including Chidambaram and some political analysts and columnists, came under scrutiny of one of the three Working Groups on State -Centre relationship set up by Manmohan Singh amidst 2010 Kashmir unrest that took over 120 lives.  Justice (Retd.) Sagheer Ahmed headed panel went into the issue of erosion of autonomy but didn’t agree with NC’s contention. It recorded that the constitutional provisions were applied following prescribed procedure with concurrence of duly elected/ constitutional state government of the day from time to time. In a democracy (despite its all deficiencies), the government represents the popular will of the people.
In terms of Indira-Sheikh accord of 1975 that led to return of Sher-i-Kashmir to mainstream politics, Sheikh Abdullah had set up a 7-member cabinet sub-committee headed by the then Dy. CM, Mirza Afzal Beig to review all laws and provisions extended to the state after 1953(Sheikh’s ouster) and to  report whether  operation of any such was detrimental to the interest of the State. It was asked to submit the report within 15 days, the deadline not met. In the meanwhile, Sheikh sacked Beig from the cabinet and himself became its Chairman on November 16, 1978. But he could not spare time from more pressing issue for it, he made his Minister, D.D.Thakur, former Judge of J&K High Court, it’s Chairman. Getting very late on this issue, Thakur himself went into the entire gambit and submitted his report on July 18, 1981 which is a described as a lucid exposition of law.
However, G N Kochak, member of the Committee showed his reservations on Thakur’s recommendations and submitted his report on April 11, 1982. But Sheikh Abdullah or his cabinet refrained from taking a decision on either of the reports and this issue finally stood closed with the demise of Sheikh Sahib on September 8, 1982.No law was recommended for repeal by Sheikh Abdullah Govt despite in power for nearly seven years. One presumption could be that Sheikh had reconciled with matter and did want to touch it any further. But his successors don’t leave the opportunity to revive this issue even when Justice Sagheer panel had upheld extension of all laws.  Chidambaram, being privy to this report, and Omar Abdullah, to whom this report was submitted should have contested this finding at that time.
The flip side of this controversy is the failure of Kashmir leadership to identify any of the extended Indian laws or Constitutional provisions detrimental to the interest of the people of the State. The unresolved predicament is as to how a law which is good for 124 cr people across the country including 20 cr Muslims how could it be harmful just for over one crore residents of J&K? Only reason is that by preventing Indian laws & Constitutional provisions, Kashmiris are fed that they are separate from India & this self created psychological barrier is responsible for fillip to separatism and resultant bloodshed to achieve what is not achievable.
Chidambaram’s flawed views are only Kashmir centric having no regards for the nationalistic sentiments of Jammu and Ladakh regions which don’t have such sentiment, his claim on overwhelming majority support notwithstanding. It can’t be said about whole of Kashmir. He is insulting a vast majority who don’t subscribe to this sentiment. As Union Home Minister he could have experiment his revolutionary views but he couldn’t even amend AFSPA during his tenure and let down Omar Abdullah on this issue.
Leave aside PM’s outburst on Chidambaram’s azadi being politically motivated, equating azadi seekers with autonomy supporter is terribly misplaced if not mischievous or anti-national. Kashmiris are more politically sound than people of any other region. Their slogans of ” Hum kya chatey hain- Azadi”,  “azadi ka matlab kya- Laila Illalah”, ” Pakistan  se rishta kya- Laila Illalah”, ” Pakistan Zindabad” and “Indian dogs go back” do not even remotely indicate that slogan mongers’ would remain  part of this  great secular nation even if  autonomy is restored. If it is so simple then why he as Home Minister and his Congress party led UPA didn’t resolve the long pending matter by taking J&K back to 1953?
Congress has been accused of committing blunders in Kashmir right from the moment of accepting Instrument of Accession. Why a strange letter was sent to Maharaja to ascertain the wishes of the people of the state when peace returns? Why the marching columns of Indian army were stopped from vacating the rest of the captured territory of the State in 1947?  Why Pt Nehru took the issue to UNO and internationalized Kashmir issue? Why Sheikh Abdullah was arrested in 1953 and charged with sedition in 1953 to be withdrawn later on and reinstalled as CM in 1975? Why were the captured strategic points of West Pakistan in 1965 war like Haji Pir returned?  Why Indira Gandhi from the position of strength failed to force crest fallen Bhutto to finally settle Kashmir issue at Shimla before releasing over 96000 Pakistani PoW in 1972? Where was need to dismiss Dr Farooq Govt in 1984 by misusing Article 356 and installed defectors’ Govt in J&K?  Where was the need to brazenly rig1987 election in Kashmir, even a few constituencies as is quietly accepted? There many more such blunders India (read Congress) have done in Kashmir including humiliating last Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh and perpetually ignoring Jammu and Ladakh by treating these as mere appendages to Kashmir?
Is it another blunder being forced on the nation by treating ‘azadi’ as ‘autonomy’? ‘Greater Autonomy’ if ever considered,  could only be possible by amending Article 370- delete all clauses of Art 370 except cl-1(b) sub cl (i) and make it permanent. This proposition would be closer to the idea of Hong Kong model which our Dogra pride espoused in Rajya Sabha. Do it, and take Kashmir only one step away from ‘azadi’. Why didn’t UPA Govt execute this great idea in 2010 itself? It could have saved thousands of lives of Kashmiris, militants and security forces that had been lost in past seven years. Jammu & Ladakh would never accept this proposition.
(feedback: kbjandial@gmail.com)

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