No Mr Abdullah, Returning To Pre-1953 Position Is Not Feasible For Jammu And Kashmir

by Hari Om Mahajan - Nov 20, 2017 09:37 AM
No Mr Abdullah, Returning To Pre-1953 Position Is Not Feasible For Jammu And Kashmir Farooq Abdullah (Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • The only way Jammu and Kashmir can progress is by not regressing to the pre-1953 political state.

    Farooq Abdullah’s demands would only accord a dangerous legitimacy to the politics of communalism and separatism.

At a public meeting in Uri, of the Kashmir province, Farooq Abdullah declared that, “Time has come to reverse the extension of all central laws extended to Jammu and Kashmir post-1953 through pliant regimes that were installed in Jammu and Kashmir through covert and undemocratic machinations to dismember the people of the state and rob them of their political identity,"

He further added that “The erosion of the state’s autonomy is the genesis of the political problem in Jammu and Kashmir and created a sense of disenchantment and disillusionment in the people. It was this sense of betrayal, disenchantment and disillusionment that has fuelled the eruption of turmoil and unrest in Kashmir at various regular intervals in our history and this is what New Delhi needs to acknowledge. The restoration of autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir is non-negotiable.”

He also stated that :

Area called Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) belongs to Pakistan and this side of Jammu and Kashmir to India and that Pakistan is not that weak that India could retrieve PoK.
Farooq Abdullah

There was nothing new in his demand that the state’s return to the pre-1953 position could be the lasting solution to the so-called Kashmir problem.

He has been asserting repeatedly since 1996 that the root cause of the insurgency in Kashmir and the alienation of Kashmiri Muslims resulted from the conspiracy of New Delhi and its Kashmiri agents to bypass Article 370. He also blames (the non-existent) 1952 Delhi Agreement between the then Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the then Jammu and Kashmir Wazir-e-Azam Sheikh Abdullah to bring the state surreptitiously within the purview of central laws and institutions which thereby eroded the “Kashmiryat”. (What happened was that it was on July 24, 1952 that Prime Minister Nehru made a statement in Lok Sabha on the ongoing talks between him and J&K Wazir-e-Azam Sheikh Abdullah, on the Centre-state relations and it is this statement that the NC leaders and others term as the Delhi Agreement).

Jammu and Kashmir enjoys a separate status under Article 370. It has its constitution and a separate flag. Jammu and Kashmir is also the solitary state that, unlike other states of the Union, exercises residuary powers. No central legislation can be introduced in the state without the concurrence of the Jammu and Kashmir government.

Will this restoration of the pre-1953 politico-constitutional position strengthen democracy in the state or redress the grievances of the Kashmiris and re-empower them? Even a cursory scrutiny of the political system before the dismissal and arrest of Sheikh Abdullah on 9 August 1953, suggests that it will not.

On the contrary, a restoration will - apart from encouraging believers in the concept of “Nizam-e-Mustafa” and Jammu and Kashmir’s separation from India - at once subvert all democratic institutions, deprive the common people of whatever civil liberties and political rights they have enjoyed so far and fetter the press and the judiciary. The reason: such a drastic return will arm the council of ministers with absolute, unbridled executive, legislative and judicial powers.

One must realise that between 7 September 1939 and 26 January 1957, the state ruler and the ruling elites derived their authority from the Jammu and Kashmir Constitutional Act (JKCA) of 1939. The ruler, Hari Singh, had enacted it to mollify Kashmir-based Sheikh Abdullah and his supporters. They had been demanding since 1931 the replacement of autocracy by democracy.

Though an assembly of 75 elected and nominated members was set up by the Act of 1939, Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues continued their protest. In fact, they repudiated the JKCA of 1939 and declared that they would not withdraw their struggle until a responsible government had been established. They opposed the JKCA on seven counts.

First, it contained provisions which obstructed the formation of a responsible government and facilitated the domination and exploitation of people. Besides, it was not framed by an elected constituent assembly, but by the ruler and his henchmen. It recognised the ruler and not the people as the “fountainhead of all essential attributes of sovereignty.”

It did not recognise the “doctrine of supremacy of the legislature”. It did not provide for an independent judiciary. It did not grant freedom to the press by repelling the highly obnoxious Jammu and Kashmir Press and Publication Act (JKPPA) of 1932 under which the ruling elite could seise any press and fine them for “seditious” writing. And finally, it, like the Government of India Acts of 1909, 1919 and 1935, introduced communal electorates.

When, despite their five-year-long struggle, Hari Singh did not introduce any democratic principle, Sheikh Abdullah and other “pro-democracy” leaders stepped up their efforts. In the 1946 Quit Kashmir movement, National Conference cadres openly defied the ruler’s authority, confronted police, attacked police stations and other symbols of the government, demanded the dethronement of Hari Singh and the establishment of people’s government. Only after the police and Army swung into action and imprisoned Sheikh Abdullah and other prominent leaders on the charge of sedition, that normalcy was restored.

It was under these circumstances, and in the wake of the full-scale war with Pakistan, that Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India on 26 October 1947. Ironically, the state’s accession and Sheikh Abdullah’s appointment as Emergency Administrator at Nehru’s behest did not ameliorate people.

For Sheikh Abdullah, rather than repealing the JKCA of 1939, chose to exploit it to consolidate his position, marginalise his senior colleagues like Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, Mohi-ud-Din Kara and Maulana Masoodi and put down his political rivals. He also exploited the JKPPA to muzzle the press.

In short, his rule was as autocratic as Hari Singh’s.

It was only during the reign of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad (August 1953-September 1963) that a number of steps were taken to democratise the polity.

These included the abrogation on 14 May 1954 of Section 75 of the JKCA under which the Council of Ministers were the final interpreter of the Constitution, the abolition of the Board of Judicial Advisors, extension of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India to the state on 14 May 1954 and the adoption on 17 November 1956 of a new Constitution by the Constituent Assembly and its application on 26 January 1957.

The people’s natural right to shape and control political, administrative and economic policy was recognised, and the press and judiciary freed to an extent. It is thus clear that a return to the “pre-1953 constitutional position” will grievously harm the legitimate rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

It needs to be underlined that Farooq Abdullah’s father Sheikh Abdullah, who was brought back to power in February 1975 by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi after a long gap of 22 years under the Indira-Sheikh Abdullah Accord of 1974. This was after dethroning the Congress government led by Mir Qasim, who had appointed a three-member cabinet sub-committee under deputy chief minister Mirza Afzal Beg to review all the central laws and recommend withdrawal of such laws that eroded the state’s autonomy and harmed its people. Other members of the committee included his son-in-law Gul Mohammad Shah and Ghulam Nabi Kochak.

The committee was asked to submit its report within 15 days. However, this committee couldn't do the assigned job as Sheikh Abdullah dismissed Mirza Afzal Beg from his government on 16 November 1978. After the dismissal of Mirza Afzal Beg, Sheikh Abdullah appointed deputy chief minister and former Judge of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court D D Thakur as chairman of the Central Laws Review Committee (CLRC). Other members of the remained unchanged.

The Thakur Committee submitted two reports. One was submitted by D D Thakur himself on 18 July 1981, and the other was submitted by Gul Mohammad Shah and Ghulam Nabi Kochak on 11 April 1982. The D D Thakur report said that “the needles of the clock cannot be turned back” and that “the central laws extended to the state had only benefited the state and its people”.

Contrarily, the report of Gul Mohammad Shah and Ghulam Nabi Kochak recommended complete withdrawal of the central laws extended to the state, saying that “the central laws extended to the state had eroded the autonomy Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution”. Significantly, the Sheikh, an ardent believer in the concept of greater autonomy or limited accession, accepted the D D Thakur report and rejected the one submitted by Gul Mohammad Shah and Ghulam Nabi Kochak.

Both Sheikh Abdullah and Farooq Abdullah, who was appointed as chief minister by Indira Gandhi after the demise of his father, allowed the Union Government to extend no less than 13 more central laws to the state between 1975 and 1990, including Prevention of Terrorist Act (POTA) and the law which enhanced the life of the State Assembly from five to six years. In fact, Farooq Abdullah was the first chief minister to adopt and implement the POTA rigorously to curb the rising fissiparous tendencies in Kashmir Valley.

The roots of the Kashmiris’ alienation lie not in central laws and central institutions such Supreme Court, Auditor and Comptroller-General and Election Commission but the Kashmiri leadership’s gross misrule, bureaucratic bungling and denial of the legitimate expression of popular will.

If the central government sincerely wishes to conciliate the alienated Kashmiris, it must repudiate outright such perverted demands such as autonomy and self-rule, as both these demands only mean a step short of Azadi.

Acceptance of any of the two demands would not only accord a dangerous legitimacy to the politics of communalism and separatism as is being played by Kashmiri leaders of all hues but it would also facilitate the process of the country’s balkanization.

Even otherwise, such demands can’t be accepted because these have the potential of provoking political explosions of portentous dimension in Jammu and Ladakh. The watchword and battle-cry of the people of these two regions is the complete integration of the state into India and the application of the Indian Constitution to the state in full, barring its Article 370 and Article 35-A which makes invidious, humiliating and unjust distinctions between the “permanent residents” of the state and the rest of the Indians.

Hari Om Mahajan is former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Jammu.
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