Tuesday, March 28th, 2023 14:19:14

Kashmir Autonomy Thin End Of The Separatist Wedge

Updated: November 19, 2011 4:46 pm

The interlocutors have presented their report on autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir. The report is claimed to be an exercise in appeasement—an appeasement that started the day Kashmir was considered a “special case” and taken to the UNO and Prime Minister Nehru recognised Sheikh Abdullah as Prime Minister of Kashmir. It is this special status, formalised by Article 370 of the Constitution that haunts to this day the idea of an integrated India.

A quirky fact apropos this special constitutional concession for Kashmir is that when, on October 17, 1949, the Constituent Assembly was discussing the merger into India of the 500-odd princely states then existing in the country, Gopalaswamy Ayyangar stated that the constitutions of all these states had been embodied into the Constitution of India, but this had not been possible in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, which continued to have a separate constitution. There upon, Maulana Hasrat Mohani asked Ayyangar why Jammu-Kashmir was being “discriminated” against. Thus, for Mohani J&K continuing to have a separate constitution was an act of discrimination.

It was clear from the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly that the special status accorded to this state under Article 370 was only an interim arrangement. The rationale behind doing so was Pakistan’s invasion and the UN dimension. This article has absolutely nothing to do with J&K being a Muslim-majority state—the argument that is being advanced today to condemn the demand for its abrogation.

In respect of this article the then education minister MC Chagla had made an excellent speech in the Rajya Sabha on February 24, 1964, in the course of which he had observed : “The Prime Minister (Nehru) the other day spoke of the gradual erosion of Article 370 of the Constitution. I only hope that the erosion is accelerated, and I also hope that very soon the article will disappear from the Constitution of India. After all, it is transitional and temporary. I think the transitional period has been long enough.”

That was only 14 years since the adoption of the Constitution containing this proviso. Now it is more than 60 years. Not only has the transitional period not yet ended, but today any Chagla merely suggesting that this temporary article be repealed runs the risk of being condemned as communal. Why has this interim article of the Constitution thus become a permanent article of faith ? Because it has been allowed to grow unchecked and get transformed into separatism under cover of autonomy. Clueless about how to effectively tackle this cancerous concept, the government has been drifting from measure to ineffective measure, talking in different voices—of converting the LoC into an international border one day, and the 1994 Parliament resolution mandating the return of PoK to India on another.

In the meanwhile, this spectre has grown so powerful that it could (and did) not only defy the mandate of the people of India as represented by the Parliament, but even flout the law by which it chose to govern the state. For a decade back, in June 2000, by a clever use of words, the J&K government got away with a clearly illegal resolution calling for a new relationship with the rest of India. The trickery lay in how the June 26 resolution passed by the J&K Assembly at the behest of the state government was helped by it to circumvent Section 147 of the state’s own Constitution. This section bars the introduction of any Bill seeking to change any provision in the Constitution of India that is applicable to the state. Under Article 370 certain specific portions of the Indian Constitution and laws passed by the Government of India have been made applicable to the state of Jammu & Kashmir. For this purpose Presidential Orders were passed either “in consultation” or “in concurrence” with the state government.

The ruse the state government tried to get around the prohibition in its own constitution against the introduction of a Bill to wipe out the Presidential Orders and change Article 370 itself was to try, through the Assembly indirectly in the name of a resolution, what it had been prohibited from doing in the name of a Bill. This clever attempt to achieve an illegal and unconstitutional purpose was sought to be covered by the use of the politically convenient word “autonomy”. The present report reportedly recommends that orders passed by the President of India may be legally contravened.

That illegal autonomy resolution had also required completely doing away with the Supreme Court’s authority in the state. In effect, even a decade ago, the autonomy that was sought meant denial of India’s parliamentary and judicial sovereignty. For it was tantamount to saying that while the Central Government and Parliament cannot amend the Constitution of India due to a binding Supreme Court judgement, this particular state can do so, because it does not recognise the Supreme Court of India. What is the difference between such an autonomy and secession?

It is to this secessionism, flaunted as separatism and advertised as autonomy, that all three major players of the Valley—National Conference, PDP, and Hurriyat—have been actively contributing.

For starters, Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of the J&K Government of the National Conference (which, incidentally, was originally Muslim Conference), has recently said that the state has “only acceded but not fully merged with India like other princely states”. With statements like this he has brought the state into the vortex of violence. And now he has openly started speaking the language of the secessionists and their Pakistani mentors.

A small but significant indicator of the official attitude behind such talk was that three new Muslim universities are going to be set up in Kashmir, including one to be called the Transnational Islamic University, while efforts in the recent past by Gen SK Sinha, when he was Governor of the state, to set up a Sharada Peeth University were ignored despite his assurance that it would not be at government expense.

As for the PDP, it has recently presented a document called ‘Vision on Kashmir’ in which it would be difficult to draw a line between Vision and Treason. It contains a map of Kashmir superimposed on a collage of foreign currency notes. Besides, the PDP not only seems to have acknowledged China’s stake in Kashmir but actually wants its role in the state. It wants Srinagar to be connected to Yarkand in China and beyond that to the Karakoram highway, constructed by China after Pakistan ceded it some 4000 sq km of Kashmir in 1963.

PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti is on record as saying she does not mind being seen in the company of separatists. And there have been occasions when the party was suspected, not without reason, of links with militants. Senior PDP leader and J&K MLA Ghulam Hassan Mir had even offered fateh at the graves of foreign militants in 2008. “I offered fateh as a Muslim,” he declared, and added, “I don’t think there is anything wrong in this.”

As for the Hurriyat, it plainly says—and has been saying for years—that separatism is its very basis, and if it gives up separatism it would have no reason to exist. As an example of this mindset, only the other day “moderate” Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz said he was upset at Anna Hazare calling Kashmir an integral part of India. In fact things have come to such a pass that its hardline leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani feels no need to cover up its anti-Indian core. A glaring instance of this was his recent warning to the Government of India against hanging Afzal Guru.

A day after the Union Home Ministry advised the President to reject his mercy petition Geelani warned the Centre of “serious consequences if he is hanged”. Calling it a blunder, he added that Guru’s death “will create hundreds of Afzal Gurus in Kashmir”. Geelani even questioned the legal standing of Guru’s death sentence, saying that since Kashmir was a disputed area Guru was a “prisoner of war under the international convention”. Geelani also recently said even as the people of Kashmir were fighting for their freedom, it was also “a war for the survival of Pakistan”.

Furthermore, Hurriyat might cry hoarse that it has no links with gun-totters and only believes in a political resolution of Kashmir, but the terrorist group Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen had made the sensational claim in 2006 that the separatists had turned down an invitation to a round table conference for talks after prior consultation with the terrorist leadership. The terrorists’ spokesman had said this in a statement faxed to the local news agency Kashmir News Service.

Through all these happenings characterising the politics of the Valley runs a common, dark undercurrent, for which the interlocutors have no remedy. It is the mindset—the mindset that is out to make Kashmir a fundamentalist Islamic constituent of secular India. It is perceptible at the people’s level to a growing extent.

An ominous index of this mindset is the proliferation of madrasas across the state. It had been estimated in the 1980’s that there were as many as 60 madrasas all over Kashmir valley, where Deobandi fundamentalism was the driving force. The first such madrasa had come up in Kashmir in the 70’s, and in just one decade the number had grown to 60. It would therefore be legitimate to presume that during the next three decades this number may have shot up multiple times.

A visible effect of the madrasa-moulded mindset is the ongoing campaign of Islamisation of place names all over the state. Srinagar is being proposed to be changed to ‘Sheher-e-Khas’. The practice of changing names of towns and historical places in Jammu and Kashmir had started immediately after the Partition of the country. The names of places in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have already been changed. Apart from renaming Kishanganga river as Neelum river and Krishna valley as Neelum valley, most villages in this area have also been renamed. Now a similar pattern is emerging in Jammu as well. Here, Narwal has been renamed Islamabad, Sanjawa has been changed to Jalalabad and some other localities have been given names like Firdauspura. The campus site of Srinagar University is popularly called Islamabad. Even Ladakh is reportedly being Islamised.

Another sad symbol was that during the recent Mohali test match between India and Pakistan Srinagar had virtually shut down to watch it, but the team that was cheered was not India but Pakistan. In hotels and in homes at roadside stalls and in downtown Srinagar and also in villages Kashmir was rooting for Pakistan. Every Indian wicket prompted a flurry of firecrackers, and when Pakistan started batting, every run was cheered. This backing for Pakistan had visibly united the politicians, the separatists and the people of the Valley. (On the other hand, two top PoK leaders had been arrested for committing the “crime” of cheering the Indian team during the match.)

The tragedy of this whole situation is that the disastrously distorted secularism of the powers that be in New Delhi never gave the Kashmiri Muslim—why, the Indian Muslim—a chance to become one with the national mainstream. Rather, they indulged in shameless minority-mongering in order to convince him that he was, and will remain, a class apart.

So a quote from the father of the Kashmir imbroglio himself would be a fitting conclusion for this essay: “If you seek to give safeguards to a minority, you isolate it…. Maybe, you protect it to a slight extent, but at what cost—at the cost of isolating and keeping it away from the main current.” ( Pt Jawaharlal Nehru, May 26,1949. Address to Constituent Assembly.)

What Nehru predicted has happened. The autonomy demanded is already proving the thin end of the separatist wedge. And autonomy today means partition tomorrow.

 By Sudhakar Raje

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