Kashmir Autonomy: Call Their Bluff
By Abdul Majid Zargar *
The issue of autonomy has once again been raised by National Conference-this time by its legendary General secretary, Sheikh Nazir Ahmad. Previously the subject was broached upon by its additional General Secretary Sheikh Mustafa Kamal, whom the people did not take very seriously.
The saga of Kashmir’s political History post 1975 is more tragic than it was before because more harm has been done by those who professed to undo the earlier damage. Three major assaults on autonomy which happened during Sheikh Abdullah’s tenure post 1975 deserve a special mention. One was the passing of Land grants bill, the other adoption of amended article 368 of Indian constitution and the third acceptance of report of cabinet sub-committee set up earlier to review the laws applied to state post 1953 .
Before piloting the Land Grants bill, we were told that scores of Tatas & Birlas are awaiting across tunnel with fantastic industrial projects to be commissioned in Kashmir which will take the State to moon. Many well meaning persons pleaded at that time to adopt a UAE model which requires a local partner to be necessarily involved in the project on a partnership basis & allot land in his name. But since the intentions were not genuine, nobody cared. The results are for all of us to see. If for any thing this bill has been used (more appropriately misused), it is for gifting land on long term lease basis to most favored non-resident friends and few central Govt. corporations, chiefly NHPC which is using, processing our own resources (water) for manufacture of finished products (power) for sale in mainland India, making us 12% free power beggars and keeping us as starved as we were sixty years ago.
The adoption of amendment to Article 368 of Indian constitution has its own story. Shortly after Sheikh Abdullah assumed office as Chief Minster, the president made an order under Article 370(1) on 23rd July 1975 with the concurrence of the State Govt. It overrode the State’s constitution and amended article 368 which effectively ended our powers to rechristen our Governor & chief Minster as “Sadri-riyasat” & Wazir-i-Azam” respectively. What is noteworthy is that this arrangement was agreed before-hand under para 5 of “ Beg-Parthasarthy-Agreed Conclusions” which formed the basis for Indira-Sheikh accord. That being so why are now we crying for restoring the nomenclature of our chief executives.
Now a word about cabinet sub-committee set up to review laws applied to State between 1953 to 1975. In September 1977, Sheikh Abdullah set up a cabinet sub-committee comprising deputy chief minister Mirza Mohd Afzal Beg, finance minister D D Thakur, ministers M K Tikko, G M Shah and G N Kochak and two senior civil servants to review central laws, including provisions of the Constitution extended/applied to J&K post-1953. It was almost three years before Thakur did so — (Beg had been removed from the cabinet and the panel reconstituted in 1978 with Thakur as chairman).In his 143-page report dated July 8, 1981, Thakur, said the 1975 Kashmir Accord could be the only basis for any review of Central legislation extended to J&K. He concluded that entries in the Union List of the Constitution that had been applied to the state “have become a permanent feature”. As for laws for entries in the Concurrent List, Thakur concluded, the state legislature could pass amendments to such laws but these would take force only after receiving the assent of the President. In spite of dissent expressed by two Ministers M/s G.M.Shah & G.N Kochak, this report was not out rightly rejected which implied that it was accepted by Sheikh Abdullah. The report was also not discussed in the state Cabinet with a view to keep the dust under the carpet so that it does not infect & choke the chair. And strange are the ways of New-Delhi to reward its collaborators & supporters alike. The chief dissenter of the report, Mr. G.M.Shah was made chief Minster in 1984 with chief supporter Mr. Thakur as his deputy .
A word about the autonomy resolution passed by our State legislature in the year 2000. When Farooq Abdullah, the then chief Minster went to Delhi to lobby for the resolution he was told to choose either between the ministerial post of his son Omar Abdullah, who was then a Junior Minster in Vajpayee’s Govt or the resolution. Farooq silently chose the former and this is what L.K.Advani records about the incident in his book - My Country My life at page 678. “Indeed Atalji told Dr. Abdullah to decide whether to continue in the NDA at the centre following the Union Cabinet’s rejection of the autonomy resolution. To his credit Dr. Abdullah allowed the issue to lapse”.
As if these assaults were not enough, Farooq Abdullah’s Govt facilitated passing of laws like Amarnath Shrine Board Act which allows 80% of non-resident Kashmiris to be its members. The same Govt allowed transfer of a prestigious five star hotel in Srinagar to a non-resident through dubious documentation? And the irony is that the said non-resident evicted scores of local resident shop-keepers from the Hotel premises. And more recently J&K Bank was handed over to RBI on a platter thus compromising even the financial autonomy of the State?
Having exhausted the previous stock of Autonomy, National conference now wants a fresh supply and Nazir Saheb knows it better than anybody else that replenishment is badly needed to remain in power for another six years.