Kashmir: Integral truths
Oct 13 2010
No chief minister started his tenure with so much goodwill within his state and all over the country as Omar Abdullah in 2009. It is a pity that this was frittered away in so short a time, thanks first to the flip-flop over the so-called Shopian rape and murder case in 2009 and to the stone-pelting in 2010. Having interacted with his legendary grandfather, and more closely with his father, I had earnestly wished that he be successful.
Nowadays we do not have political leaders like Lal Bahadur Shastri who as railway minister resigned owning moral responsibility for a major train disaster. The trend now is to disown responsibility and pass the buck. We need not hold against Omar his version of events in his address to the state legislature on October 6. I would even praise him for boldly asserting that he is not a puppet of the Centre, often alleged by separatists in the Valley for CMs of the state. As a duly elected CM, he functioned with due independence. Yet there are two facts which cannot be ignored. Till the evening before Omar was sworn in as CM, it was being said that the party preferred his father for the job. Farooq Abdullah categorically stated on a media channel that he would be taking the oath as CM next morning. Something happened in Delhi that night and Omar became CM the following day. During the stone-pelting crisis, there was widespread opinion in the state and outside that Farooq would not have allowed things to go out of control. It was widely felt that Omar must go, but he survived because of a lone helpline from Delhi.
One should make allowances for Omar being young with little experience in state politics. In 2008, his uncalled for and misleading emotional outburst in Parliament during the Amarnath controversy — "Jaan Denge par Zamin nahin Denge" — only fuelled the agitation in Jammu. He must have been under tremendous strain for the past few months and this should not be ignored while commenting on his recent address to the Assembly. However, some of the issues raised by him are disturbing from the national viewpoint. The record must be set right. Pandering to separatist sentiments will not help build political support. It will only whet the appetite for secession.
Omar's statement that Kashmir acceded to India and, unlike Hyderabad and Junagadh, did not merge with India, has an unfortunate connotation. Over 500 Princely States merged with India. Mentioning only Hyderabad and Junagadh is making insinuations, in line with Pakistan propaganda. There was a common Instrument of Accession for all Princely States acceding to India. Hari Singh was facing a very critical situation. Pakistani invaders were approaching Srinagar and he had fled to Jammu. He desperately needed India's help and was hardly in a position to make any stipulations. He duly signed the instrument. This was fully supported by Sheikh Abdullah, the most popular leader of Kashmir. Later, it was also ratified by the Kashmir Constituent Assembly. At the time of signing the Instrument of Accession, letters were exchanged between the Maharaja and Mountbatten in which special provisions were sought and accepted. Letters do not have the same legal validity as a formal instrument. Yet Article 370 of the Constitution ensures that the provisions agreed upon were duly upheld. In these circumstances, the hair-splitting distinction between accession and merger is meaningless. It may be mentioned that in the earlier two centuries many Princely States, including Kashmir, acceded to the British Crown but the people of those states were not given British nationality. It was refreshing that during the nuclear debate in Parliament in 2008, Omar rightly won accolade for asserting his Indian nationality.
Omar's irritation over Kashmir being described as an integral part of India was uncalled for. That has been our national stand and not that of any particular party as such. Neither his father nor his grandfather ever contested this. On February 22, 1994 the Indian Parliament passed a unanimous resolution asserting that Kashmir is an integral part of India and directing that Kashmir territory illegally occupied by Pakistan be liberated. The National Conference representative in Parliament supported that resolution.
Much is being made by Omar and his party of autonomy. The fact is that Kashmir enjoys more autonomy than any state in India but has the least autonomy below the state level. A regional political imbalance persists and is sought to be perpetuated by the embargo on delimitation of constituencies. For 49,725 voters, Kashmir has one MLA but Jammu has one MLA for 66,521 voters. This means that despite having 1,77,153 more voters, Jammu has nine MLAs less in the legislature than Kashmir. Whereas Panchayat Raj functions in every state, it is yet to be established in J&K. The Right to Information Act has not yet been made fully functional in the state. In the name of autonomy a reversion to the pre-1953 constitutional status is sought. This will entail removal of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor General. There is also a demand for an elected governor from the state and doing away with IAS, IPS and other Central services. The changes effected through due process of law prescribed by the Constitution, and ratified by the state legislature, are sought to be scrapped in the name of autonomy. These changes were endorsed by the Indira-Sheikh accord. They also received the people's support in the Sheikh's overwhelming victory in the 1977 state elections, regarded by all as free and fair. It is strange that Sheikh Abdullah's progenies, who attained political power for being his descendants, now want to undo what he did in the interests of the state and are chasing a mirage of autonomy. It is also pertinent that Central per capita aid is the highest in Kashmir, many times more than some other states in the country. Removal of the jurisdiction of the Comptroller and Auditor General would mean absence of financial accountability. Omar has sought regional autonomy for Jammu and Ladakh regions and has urged splitting them into sub-regions of Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, Kargil and Leh, which would virtually be a division on communal lines. It is interesting that the Valley is not required to be split into the plains and mountain regions, obviously because of commonalty of religion.
The need in J&K is to restore order, remove governance deficit, commence political dialogue and meet the legitimate aspirations of all stakeholders in the state, within the framework of the Indian Constitution. It must not be lost sight of that the separatists constitute a minority in the state. Their influence is generally confined to the Valley, excluding the Gujjars and Bakherwals, living in the mountains. The recent stone-pelting agitation was confined to the Valley, without any Gujjar or Bakherwal participation.
- The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.