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Change for whose sake?

Politicians in Kashmir are exploiting the 'autonomy' issue to further their own interests, writes Jagmohan.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2011 13:47 IST
Hindustan Times

In the course of a debate in the Lok Sabha on Kashmir recently, some MPs pleaded for autonomy for the state as if it was a panacea for all the ills that have been plaguing the Valley. To a large extent, the current turmoil in the Valley owes its origin to the vested interests in J&K that want to exploit the issue of autonomy to build a power-base for themselves. More often than not, these interests have erased the line between autonomy and azadi.

After the execution of the Instrument of Accession in 1947 and adoption of the Constitution in 1950, J&K was brought under the jurisdiction of India. Article 370 provided for special relationship but it was temporary. The sum and substance of this Article 370 is that, in addition to the items included in the Instrument of Accession, the Parliament can make laws with regard to the subjects of the Union and Concurrent Lists, but only with the concurrence of the state.

To define these constitutional legal, financial and administrative relations, the Delhi Agreement was signed in 1952. Soon thereafter, unfortunately, Sheikh Abdullah started changing colours. Whatever provisions of the Agreement suited him, he got them implemented. But with regard to items that related to the linkages between the Union and the State, he adopted an obstructionist attitude. Those who accuse the Centre of 'breach of promises' will do well to ponder over the events of 1953. If they do so, they would discover that the real breach occurred at that time and it was caused by the excessive ambition of Sheikh Abdullah and his proclivity to hob-nob with foreign powers.

It was only after the coming into being of the new state government, headed by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, that the process of implementation of the Agreement began. Apart from establishing financial links between the Union and the State, the jurisdictions of the Comptroller and Auditor-General, the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of India were extended to the State; Articles 356 and 357 were also made applicable.

With these 'extensions' and 'applications', the nomenclature, status, functions and mode of appointment of 'Sadar-e-Riyasat' and the Prime Minister of J&K became anachronistic. It was, therefore, considered necessary to change the nomenclature and mode of appointment of 'Sadar-e-Riyasat' and also the nomenclature of the PM and the necessary changes were made in 1966.

In the changed circumstances arising out of India's triumph in the Bangladesh War, Sheikh Abdullah threw hints for returning to the mainstream and an agreement, known as the 'Kashmir Accord', was signed in 1975. The only concession made by Indira Gandhi was to review any specific proposal, if received, in respect of 'extensions of the Indian Constitution made to the State with adaptations and modifications'. But neither the governments of Sheikh Abdullah nor that of Farooq Abdullah could send any proposal for 15 years, primarily because the changes made earlier were necessitated by practical considerations.

Those who are now asking for the 1952-53 status are forgetting this fact. Nor do they explain how, if only defence, foreign affairs and communication remain with the Centre, the financial needs of the State would be met. At present, it is the Union finances that provide funds for the State's Five-Year Plans and also for a substantial part of the non-Plan expenditure. In fact, while the State's share of India's population is 1 per cent, it has been receiving about 11 per cent of all grants disbursed by the Centre.

Further, the proponents of autonomy do not care to address certain questions. Do the Kashmiris not have all the fundamental rights that are available to individuals in modern liberal democracies? Has their identity, culture, religion or language been undermined by the constitutional arrangements that have been in existence for the last several years? How would the common Kashmiri be benefited by changing the nomenclature of Governor to Sadar-e-Riyasat and of chief minister to prime minister? How would requirements of national security be met and how would certain other contingencies be dealt with if Article 356 is not applicable?

If all issues concerning Kashmir autonomy are subjected to considerations, it would be found that no material change in the existing arrangements is warranted. The nation is already paying a heavy price for the mistakes made in the past under pressure. Let us not add another one to them by falling into a trap of those who, for their own narrow ends, are out to exploit the constitutional illiteracy of the masses on the subject of autonomy.

Jagmohan is a former Governor of J&K and a former Union Minister

The views expressed by the author are personal

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