July 2, 2002


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Arvind Lavakare

The autonomy shrill -- yet again

How often, hey Ram, must we be inflicted with the demand for autonomy from the bosses of Jammu & Kashmir? How long, hey Ram, must we hear that demand's echo from "experts" of print and TV? And how many times must this writer quote a constitutional authority's view that "the State [of J&K] has a much greater measure of autonomy and power than enjoyed by the other States"? [Pg 436 of Indian Constitutional Law, Wadhwa & Company, Nagpur, 4th edition, Reprint 1994, by M P Jain].

The latest shrill has come from Omar Abdullah, the new occupant of the National Conference throne abdicated by Papa Farooq who, like his father, Sheikh Abdullah, has been known to vacillate between India and independence depending on the circumstance and, probably, his score of the day at golf.

As minister of state for external affairs, Abdullah III had been articulate and sober. A commerce graduate who had a tilt at the MBA course in England, and one who confesses his inability to speak Kashmiri, it was thought that the youngster would wipe out the mirages and get down on the floor to clean up the non-governance plaguing J&K for long.

The Sunday Express of June 23, 2002, had certainly suggested that optimism. "We have become complacent," he said of his NC party in the interview there. "We need to reach out to the grassroots," he said. Most important was his diagnosis. "I would love to drown corrupt bureaucrats in the Dal Lake. They are the ones responsible for most of the ills Kashmir faces today."

His reference to "Kashmir" instead of "Jammu & Kashmir" did, however, create a nagging suspicion of where exactly his heart lay. And on the evening of that same Sunday, when he was officially "crowned" the NC's chief, Abdullah III proved his genes. Referring to PM Vajpayee's recent comment that the Centre wanted to know which article of the Indian Constitution was a hurdle in the smooth functioning of the J&K government, he said "autonomy is not an issue related to the functioning of the state government" and that "autonomy is not a matter related to our minds, but to our hearts". He rubbed it in by asking, "How is the issue of Babri Masjid and Ram Mandir related to government functioning?"

Clearly, Abdullah III is as brazen, quixotic and "secular" as his father and grandfather. Look at the cheek of the junior minister, all of 32 years, belittling our prime minister of 77 summers. Imagine the tinpot new chief of a residual regional party delinking J&K's demand for autonomy from the state's governance and instead clubbing it with the demand of millions of Hindus for a Ram Mandir at Ayodhya.

Unfortunately, such cockiness about "autonomy" for J&K has been abetted by media "experts" who support the demand with a skin-deep mention of the mythical "Kashmiriyat", "alienation of the people", and "promises of the past". In the latest instance, Amitabh Mattoo's edit page article in The Hindu of June 24, 2002, advised Delhi to not only "negotiate the quantum of autonomy that the people of J&K feel necessary for functional self-rule", but to also ensure that it is "guaranteed for the future by making it a basic feature of the Constitution of India".

Mattoo is apparently unaware that 44 presidential orders issued from 1950 to 1994 to tailor many provisions of the Indian Constitution specifically for facilitating the pre-eminence of autonomy in J&K's governance have been acted upon by the Supreme Court, no less. So what more "guarantee" is called for?

Clearly, Abdullah III & Co as well as "experts" of the print and electronic media need to learn the ABC of J&K's prevalent autonomy.

The first lesson lies in carefully reading Article 370 -- the article that has been permanently "temporary" in the Constitution of India since birth in 1950.

Article 370 provided for a J&K Constituent Assembly that would come about to formulate a J&K State Constitution -- the only state in the Union of India to have that privilege. The assembly did come about in October 1951 in that part of the erstwhile J&K state which was left with India after the skulduggery of the US, the UK and the UN allowed Pakistan to retain one-third of the territory it had so blatantly invaded, plundered and ravaged in October 1947.

The J&K State Constitution came about in November 1956 -- the fulfilment of a long-cherished desire of the state's people since June 28, 1938, when Sheikh Abdullah moved a resolution to demand the establishment of a "complete Responsible Government".

The Indian government had thereby kept its two crucial promises towards J&K's autonomous status.

Article 370, however, promised more, and has kept those promises too -- with what effect though on the nation's emotional integration is evident from J&K's continued obstinacy in wanting to be on an isolated pedestal even after half a century of surviving on Delhi's doles and military protection.

Thus, under Article 370:

  1. Each and every parliamentary law of India related to defence, external affairs and communications has been made applicable to J&K state only in consultation with its government. All "autonomywallas" must note that those three subjects of defence, external affairs and communications were unconditionally surrendered by J&K to the Dominion of India under the Instrument of Accession it signed, and, therefore, there is no need at all for Delhi to consult Srinagar on such legislation, though it does so.
  2. Each and every Indian law for 96 other subjects on which Parliament alone is empowered to legislate, and for 52 subjects (excluding defence, external affairs and communications) on which Parliament as well as the state governments are permitted to legislate has been applied to J&K only after the latter's government's concurrence.
  3. Provisions of the Constitution of India have been made applicable to J&K wholly or in modified form on the same above principles.
As a result of the above, quite a few laws made by Parliament are not in force in J&K. Three that are conspicuous are:
  1. Thomas Macaulay's magnificent achievement, The Indian Penal Code, 1860,
  2. The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, under which an increasing number of bureaucrats and politicians have suffered nights in jail, and
  3. The laws regarding CBI and other investigations that have made life miserable for many across the land. Abdullah III should especially ponder over the latter two if he is sincere about burying corruption in the Dal Lake.
To grasp the considerable constitutional leeway granted to J&K, Abdullah III and the "experts" must diligently juxtapose the 16 book-printed pages of the updated version of the President of India's Constitution [Application to J&K] Order, 1954, along with a copy of the Constitution of India.

For quick reference, the Articles of the Indian Constitution that do not apply to J&K are: 135, 139, 153 through 217, 219, 221, 223 through 225A, 227 through 237, 255, 328, 331, 332, 333, 336, 337, 360, 365, 369, 371, 371A, 372A, 376 through 378A, 392, 394 and 395.

The articles that have been modified to respect J&K's autonomy are: 3, 7, 13, 16, 19, 22, 31, 31A, 32, 35, 55, 81, 133, 134, 220, 222, 246, 248, 249, 250, 253, 256, 261, 266, 267, 273, 277, 282, 283, 284, 295, 299, 300, 303, 312, 324 to 327, 329, 329A, 334, 335, 352, 356, 367, 368, 372 and 374. The most conspicuous is the modification that any constitutional amendment effected through Article 368 shall not apply to J&K unless it is issued by a presidential order under Article 370, although the amendment as such was approved by the required two-thirds majority in Parliament.

The above is J&K's autonomy as per law. With regard to autonomy described by Abdullah III as "a matter of the heart", there is J&K's state flag permitted by Nehru under the Delhi Agreement, 1952 -- the only state in the Union to have its own flag apart from the Union flag. Then there is the snatched autonomy entailed in the phrase "Radio Srinagar" broadcast all these years without the prefix "Akashwani" [All India Radio] that all other radio stations proudly announce without feeling demeaned in any manner whatsoever.

What more autonomy does Abdullah III want? An open general licence for nepotism, despotism and ethnic cleansing?

Tailpiece: In an interview published in The Times of India of July 8, 2000, Arun Shourie revealed that the per capita central assistance to J&K was 14 times that to Bihar, 11 times that to Tamil Nadu and six times that to even a beleaguered state like Assam. And then he asked, "Where has this money gone?" The rest of India along with the neglected people of Jammu and Ladakh districts await an answer from the new brash brat of Kashmir Valley's "autonomy" dynasty.

Arvind Lavakare

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