Recycling Autonomy?



In anticipation of the all party delegation visit to Kashmir, various political parties started talking about pushing clocks back in the Delhi-Srinagar relationship. Nothing much happened during the visit but is taking Kashmir back to post-accession days an option, reports Masood Hussain 

Hurriyat Troika.

Hurriyat Troika.

Almost everybody is frozen in time. Angry over happenings and sympathetic with the victims, unionists are trapped in the status quo. Riding the wave of unrest, separatists are keen Delhi turns clocks back. A ‘centrist’ Delhi sounds unwilling to even talk things publicly fearing a backlash in its Gujarat and UP backyards.

In this situation, Congressman Prof Saifuddin Soz, one of Kashmir’s longest serving members of the parliament, last week, came out with his idea: merge Musharaf formula with greater autonomy. Given the fact that he had met many “important” people in Delhi, Soz’s statement followed two developments.

“Those who passed autonomy resolution during Farooq Abdullah’s rule in Assembly should come forward and start a dialogue with the Government of India,” Swami Agnivesh, a frequent Kashmir visitor, was quoted saying. “Even India should take separatists on board to resolve the issue. The concept of Plebiscite in present circumstances is imaginary while the grant of autonomy and reverting clock back to 1953 is possible.”

Then, Ram Madhav, BJPs RSS leader who stitched the alliance with PDP ruled out encouraging anti-India and pro-Azadi activism. “Every state in the country has freedom to ask for the moon within the four walls of the Indian Constitution. That is applicable to J&K situation,” Madhav said. “..Anything within the framework of the Indian constitution – let them ask, let the Indian Parliament decide.”

These happenings in anticipation of Home Minister Rajnath Singh flying an all party delegation (APD) of parliamentarians, fifth since 1990, indicated as if something was cooking either in Delhi or at Gupkar, Srinagar’s power street.

In the pandemonium in Parliament, certain voices genuinely represented Kashmir’s pain and pathos. Almost everywhere, people talked about the speech of Dr Karan Singh, the son of last Maharaja, who reiterated the terms on which his father joined India. Dr Singh was in Srinagar, so was Ghulam Nabi Azad, the latter as part of the APD.

Abdullah father-son duo.

Abdullah father-son duo.

But autonomy debate is not new in Kashmir. Rooted in history, both the regional parties, the NC and PDP, stand for some sort of autonomy.

Notwithstanding the standstill agreement with Pakistan, tribal raids led J&K’s fleeing Maharaja, Hari Singh to join India on October 26, 1947. The raid led to India’s first war over Kashmir with Pakistan and divided the state into J&K and Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK). J&K was the last princely state to join India even though the entire process of joining is a major academic debate. Plebiscite was promised to people, soon after.

Omar Abdullah’s consistent stand that J&K has not integrated but acceded with India is correct. Even Dr Karan Singh, then a barely-married prince, admitted that in the Rajya Sabha recently.

While signing the Instrument of Accession (IoA), J&K retained everything except defence, communication and foreign affairs. IOA, however, became the basis for states’ 6-member delegation to join India’s Constituent Assembly. Article 306 (A), the “original and un-amended form of Article 370”, was drafted and included in Indian constitution adopted on January 26, 1950. A subsequent President’s Constitutional Application (to J&K) order, 1950 elaborated the centre-state relations on the basis of IoA, Article 1 and Article 370.

Under this special dispensation, J&K was entitled to its own constitution, flag, and nomenclature of its top executives in the government. J&K’s used to have a Prime Minister, and the Sadr-e-Reyasat instead of Chief Minister and governor. Dr Karan Singh was the only Sadr-e-Reyasat that J&K ever had. Interestingly, PaK continues to retain this nomenclature as part of its arrangement with Islamabad.

Besides, the J&K’s lawmakers could legislate under State List, and Concurrent List. Parliament’s legislative powers were limited to the subjects of accession and the rest of the Union List was also lying with the state besides, the Residuary powers.

The arrangement was embarrassing for many congressmen. With epicenter within the ruling Congress, the rightwing elements of that era, were restive over the arrangement. NC veterans insist that Delhi agreement of 1952 was a natural consequence of these tensions so was the subsequent dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953.

Mufti father-daughter duo.

Mufti father-daughter duo.

Following a series of meetings, the agreement was signed on July 14, 1952. It resulted in extension of Fundamental Rights to J&K (despite the state constitution envisaging it), gave equal status to tricolor, made it mandatory that the President’s must issue the warrant of appointment of elected Sadar-e-Reyasat, gave the Supreme Court the status of the highest appellant court at the cost of J&K’s Supreme Judicial Council besides vesting the right to grant reprieve and commute death sentences with the President of India. While Delhi took the Emergency Powers under Article 352, the state retained the rights to decide on state subjects. This agreement deflated the state claims that its assembly was having every authority on issues outside the subjects agreed to in IoA.

However, Sheikh Abdullah’s was arrested and his government dismissed on August 9, 1953. The Prime Minister had gone holidaying with his family to Gulmarg where a police party raided the hut and took him away without firing a single bullet. The subsequent disturbances led to nearly two thousand killings. It happened within days after death in custody of Dr Shyama Prashad Mukhreji in Srinagar and Nehru’s insistence that J&K assembly must ratify accession.

Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammed, Sheikh’s deputy and successor took Srinagar much closer to Delhi. Quickly, after the change of guard President’s Constitution Application (to J&K) Order in 1954 and Part XI of the constitution, superceeded the 1950 order, extending with negligible modifications, a number of laws involving finance, administration, trade and supreme court. Bakhshi’s “misrule” was supported by Delhi till his replacement by Shams-ud-Din Kath was “manipulated” in 1963.

On February 28, 1964 the state came under the Congress (I) rule headed by Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq. In the first year, he made the crucial Sixth Amendment Act in the State Constitution that changed the nomenclature of the state, revoked the pre-requisite for Sadar-e-Reyasat to be a state subject, besides, changing the text of oath of affirmation for the elected representatives. Sadiq, thus, became J&K history’s last Prime Minister and the first Chief Minister.

Notwithstanding the `Protest Day’, Kashmir observed on January 15, 1965 against the extension of Article 356 and 357, Sadiq managed Eighth Amendment Act in the State Constitution in 1967, extending the provisions of Election Commission of India and Comptroller and Auditor General to J&K. This coincided with the administrative integration. When Sadiq died in Punjab in December 1970, Mir Qasim replaced him.

CM Ms Mehbooba Mufti with family of slain Mashooq Ahmad in Kund village of Kulgam on September 03, 2016. (KL Image: FB page of Mehbooba Mufti)

CM Ms Mehbooba Mufti with family of slain Mashooq Ahmad in Kund village of Kulgam on September 03, 2016. (KL Image: FB page of Mehbooba Mufti)

Qasim’s rule ended when Sheikh Abdullah after “22 years of political wilderness” replaced him following 1975 Indira – Abdullah Accord. The accord followed a series of meetings between Mirza Afzal Baig, and G Parthasarthy, who represented Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi.

After taking over with an impressive mandate, Sheikh in 1977 constituted a 3-member committee comprising D D Thakur, Ghulam Nabi Kochak and Ghulam Mohammed Shah to suggest measures for restoration of autonomy eroded post-1952. In May 1978, two ‘contradictory’ reports were submitted to him: Kochak – Shah report suggested the withdrawal of all the central laws and Thakur insisted the 1975 accord “had materially narrowed down the scope of this exercise”.

With Simla Agreement of 1971 already making Kashmir issue a bilateral affair, the 1975 Indira-Abdullah accord upheld Article 370, gave parliament right to legislate on issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and agreed to the inalterability of the provisions “already applied to the State”. State got the flexibility of identifying the laws falling under concurrent list that may require repeal or change. No any other change was agreed upon.

Kashmir would take the narrative at face value had not NC’s rival, the PDP, started adding more to the “dilution”. A senior party leader said that two more changes took place, one each during the “negotiations” between Delhi and Srinagar, first in 1974 and second in 1986. The two situations led to the return of powers of Sheikh and much later to his son Dr Farooq. In the first case, Delhi extended an amendment preventing state from amending its constitution and in the second case residuary powers were taken away. Much latter Jagmohan came with his own constitutional agenda, albeit briefly.

In 1996 when Dr Farooq Abdullah returned to power, he repeated the exercise. Finally when the report was submitted to the centre, it was rejected. “The Cabinet finds the resolution passed by the State Assembly of J&K endorsing the report of the State Autonomy Committee unacceptable,” a statement issued by the cabinet led by Atal Behari Vajpayee said. “The Cabinet feels that the acceptance of this resolution would set the clock back and reverse the natural process of harmonising the aspiration of the people of J&K with the integrity of the nation.

As union Tourism Minister, Mufti Sayeed (R) accompanying then Indian PM, Rajiv Gandhi, with Dr Farooq Abdullah.

Mufti Sayeed (R) accompanying then Indian PM, Rajiv Gandhi, with Dr Farooq Abdullah.

Despite the stated positions that clock cannot be pushed back, there were various occasions when Delhi wanted to walk the talk within the limits of its Laxman Rekha. In 1990, most of the Congress and even prior to them V P Singh government, was desperate to give “the boys” something. A track-II was going on for many years within and outside the jails.

The second major stage came with P V Narasimaha Rao addressing Kashmir in anticipation of the 1996 assembly elections. The “sky is the limit” and “short of Azadi” statements made by him in Parliament (May 17, 1995) followed by his Oughadogo (Burkina Faso capital wherefrom he addressed Kashmir on All India Radio) offer about nomenclature (September 1995) and finally the inclusion of “greater autonomy” for J&K in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the UF government (May 1996) are a few milestones suggesting Delih’s willingness.

Dr Manmohan Singh era was clearly different. Representing the shift that nucleraization of subcontinent and Kargil dictated, he talked repeatedly about settling things with Pakistan.

“I have often said that borders cannot be redrawn but we can work towards making them irrelevant – towards making them just lines on a map. People on both sides of the LoC should be able to move more freely and trade with one another,” Dr Singh said in Delhi on March 24, 2006, insisting on a step-by-step approach for a practical solution. “I also envisage a situation where the two parts of J&K can, with the active encouragement of the governments of India and Pakistan, work out cooperative, consultative mechanisms so as to maximize the gains of cooperation in solving problems of social and economic development of the region.”

“I hope and believe that J&K can, one day, become a symbol of India-Pakistan cooperation rather than of conflict,” Dr Singh said in Jammu on July 15, 2007. “There can be no question of divisions or partitions, but the LoC can become a line of peace with a freer flow of ideas, goods, services and people.”

“We seek the normalization of our relations with Pakistan, a solution of all issues that cause estrangement, including J&K through dialogue and peaceful negotiations in an atmosphere free of violence,” he said on October 10, 2008 in Srinagar. “While we cannot change borders, we can make them irrelevant. When I met President Zardari in New York recently, I invited Pakistan to work with us to usher in a new era of sub-continental cooperation.”

As Congress decided to launch Rahul, the government was asked to stop dabbling into issues which could trigger controversy for Shahzada. Statements stopped, so did Rahul.

Unionist Opposition party, National Conference, on Thursday held a protest demonstration outside the civil secretariat in Srinagar. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

Unionist Opposition party, National Conference, on Thursday held a protest demonstration outside the civil secretariat in Srinagar. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

In this backdrop when Soz tried salvaging the autonomy, it looked fresh. But there are issues that limit its importance in the din caused by 1.5 million pellets fired and more than 63 million stored for future use:  slightly more than nine pellets per capita. For obvious turf wars, PDP will not support “autonomy” as long as they have “self rule” in hand. Then well meaning voices within the unionist camp want a completely new process if it is to decide on power-sharing between Delhi and Srinagar: what may be legal may not be desirable and vice versa.

But Omar Abdullah made his point clear in his representation. “My father Dr Farooq Abdullah had once told the Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao that do not delay the restoration of autonomy because it will create a situation that at one point of time you will be offering it and nobody will be taking it,” Omar said, he told the delegation. “That moment has actually come.”

That was perhaps why vetern Communist leader Sitaram Yechury said that dialpogue should take place and things can be picke up from 1948 itself.

But the press conference by the Home Minister Rajnath Singh was indicative of the fact that there was no change in the stated party positions. He did not respond to the to questions pertaining to autonomy and self rule nor did he talk about Delhi’s bilateralism with Islamabad. Rajnath was just talking concerned about the situation.

Insiders in government said that the APD should not be mistaken as a major initiative. “Delhi’s Kashmir group is still intact and unwilling to yield,” one top source said. “APD is effort of the Home Minister to explore things which necessarily may not result in anything at all.”

There is much bigger issue around. Supposing Delhi offers some concession, why should it be routed through unionists who have no problem in status quo? And if any concession is being offered to separatists, will they accept? Entire Hurriyat did not talk to the members of the APD who tried to meet them – Assaddudin Owaisi, Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, and Sharad Yadav. Unlike Geelani who shut his doors and did not grant access to Yechury, all others, already in custody, had brief talk with emphasis on the fact that they have decided against talking in this situation.

(There have been minor changes in the copy that slightly altered the contents from the print version)

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