On November 15, 2016, National Conference president and three-time chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah said Kashmir never was and will never be an integral part of India and that India must grant autonomy to the state, as this was the only solution to the Kashmir issue.
“Government of India is bound to make provisions to grant autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir and this was a guarantee that had time and again been clarified with the representatives from the government of India. Autonomy remains the only constitutional remedy to Kashmir issue and there is nothing unconstitutional about it,” he said while addressing party workers from Gandarbal at the party headquarters in Srinagar.
He also demanded the implementation of the so-called 1952 Delhi Agreement between the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and wazir-e-azam of Jammu and Kashmir and his father Sheikh Abdullah. As a matter of fact, he demanded a regime under which New Delhi would have jurisdiction over just defence, foreign affairs and communication and all other subjects will be the sole preserve of the Jammu and Kashmir government.
His demand for autonomy didn’t surprise anyone, as he and his party had been putting forth this obnoxious and unsettling demand since many years. What was surprising was his insistence on implementation of the otherwise non-existent Delhi Agreement.
It is true that Jawaharlal Nehru, Sheikh Abdullah and their aides got involved in negotiations between 14 June and 24 July 1952, to work out an arrangement that would regulate the centre-state relations. The outcome of these lengthy and tortuous parleys was what they term as the “Delhi Agreement”, signed on 24 July by Nehru and the Sheikh Abdullah. But this is just one side of the story. The other is far more interesting and startling. It, in the words of Dr Abdullah, is that “it was the parliament which (ratified the Delhi Agreement and) promised autonomy” and that “the bill (to this effect was) piloted (on 24 July) by (the) then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru”.
It bears recalling that it was in 1992 that the “fugitive” Farooq Abdullah and his out-of-power Jammu and Delhi-based Kashmiri associates unleashed a no-holds-barred campaign to convince the Indian nation, parliament, the authorities in South and North Blocks and the media that the root cause of the alienation of Kashmiris was the conspiracy hatched by New Delhi and its power-hungry Kashmiri agents to subvert the Delhi Agreement and bringing Jammu and Kashmir surreptitiously within the ambit of the central laws and institutions. Ever since then they have been using all the available fora and saying that there is but one way in which the separatists can be deflated and that the Kashmir problem solved. The estranged Kashmiri won over by redefining the Centre-Jammu and Kashmir relations strictly in accordance with the lines indicated in the Delhi Agreement.
In effect, they (and their report on state autonomy and the 26 June 2000 assembly resolution on it) have been vouching for a dispensation that not only snaps all the state’s politico-constitutional ties with New Delhi and re-arms the valley’s ruling class with extraordinary legislative, executive and judicial powers but also makes it mandatory for the central government to guard the state’s borders, protect Jammu and Kashmir from foreign aggressions and meet all the financial needs of the Kashmiris.
It would be only desirable to discuss very briefly the circumstances under which Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah met during June-July, 1952, and what transpired between the two. Such an exercise had become imperative to clear all the confusion, put things in proper perspective and establish that there exists no such accord as the Delhi Agreement.
It needs to be noted that the whole exercise started on 10 April 1952, when Sheikh Abdullah made some highly inflammatory speeches at Ranbirsingh Pura in Jammu and repeatedly poured venom against the Indian state. Highly infuriated, Nehru asked the Sheikh Abdullah to meet him and explain his position. Sheikh Abdullah and Nehru did meet. It was during this and the subsequent meetings that Sheikh Abdullah raised certain issues concerning the centre-state relations.
In fact, the Sheikh Abdullah told Nehru that he and his party were for an autonomous Jammu and Kashmir. He also urged the Indian prime minister to allow the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly, which was set up in 1951 after wholesale rigging, to frame a constitution that could empower the state to exercise absolute control over all matters minus those relating to three subjects — defence, foreign affairs and communications.
To be more precise, Sheikh Abdullah wanted Nehru to accept at least 10 of his demands. These were:
- The “state subjects”, or persons domiciled in J&K, will be the citizens both of the state and of India.
- The “state subjects” will have all rights all over India but the “non-state subjects” will have no rights whatsoever in J&K.
- The fundamental rights as contained in the Indian Constitution will not be conferred on the “state subjects in their entirety”.
- The state will have the power to “define and regulate the rights and privileges of the permanent residents of J&K”.
- The state will be allowed to have its own flag.
- The state will have the power to elect its own head of state or sadar-e-riyasat, and the person so elected shall be answerable to it (read ruling party).
- Article 356 shall not be applicable to J&K. In other words, the centre will not intervene in the state in the case of any internal disturbance.
- Article 324 of the Indian Constitution will apply to the state only in the case of elections of the parliament as well as the offices of the president and the vice-president.
- The Supreme Court of India will have limited jurisdiction over J&K. It will deal with only such disputes as are covered under Article 131 of the Union Constitution.
- All the residuary powers will be the sole preserve of the state.
It is very important to note that both Nehru and the Sheikh Abdullah had arrived at an agreed solution only as regards to the aims and ideals and bare outlines of the new Constitution. Numerous matters, which will form the basis of centre-state relations, had been left undetermined as proper subjects to further discussion and explanation. Some of these issues such as the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, jurisdiction of the Election Commission, emergency powers, fundamental rights and the question of finance were yet to be clinched. It is true that Nehru expressed his willingness to accept Sheikh Abdullah’s other demands. But it is equally true that he did so rather reluctantly.
It was on 24 July 1952, that Nehru informed the Lok Sabha as to what had transpired between him and Sheikh Abdullah. And what he told, had been taken by the National Conference as a solemn agreement between New Delhi and Srinagar. This, despite the fact that there is no Constitution (Application to J&K) Order to this effect. The Lok Sabha statement of the Indian prime minister, which was rather ambiguous on several issues, has no moral, legal or constitutional significance.
However, to write all this is not to suggest that there exists no written agreement between the centre and Sheikh Abdullah. There exists one and that is the 1975 Indira-Sheikh Accord. This has been implemented in its entirety. Sheikh Abdullah became the chief minister in 1975 itself under this accord, despite the fact that his party did not have even a single legislator either in the Assembly or in the Council. Not only this, Sheikh Abdullah gave up his 25-year-old demand for greater autonomy in 1981, when the chairman of the Central Laws Review Committee and the then Jammu and Kashmir deputy chief minister, D D Thakur, (father of present Chief Justice of India, Tirth Singh Thakur) submitted his report and told the chief minister that the “needles of the clock cannot be turned back” and that the application of the provisions of the Indian Constitution to J&K had not only benefited the state but also the “state subjects”.
Hari Om Mahajan is former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Jammu.
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