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August 14, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

Skin-deep intellect on J&K autonomy: Part I

Farooq Abdullah's autonomy resolution has, in retrospect, served a very useful purpose: It has dramatically revealed that some high profile intellectuals are as skin deep about J&K as showman Abdullah himself.

Let us begin with the author of the resolution. (He is the doctor who was recently awarded the Dr B C Roy memorial honour and must willy nilly be deemed an intellectual). A few days after his proposal was rejected by the Vajpayee Cabinet, he told The Times of India that more autonomy under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution must be given to J&K for return of peace to the Kashmir Valley. He demanded that Article 370 be restored to its original shape -- that, he told Star TV, would satisfy him.

That stand of our doctorsa'ab is laughable. He doesn't seem to have understood all these years that the essence of Article 370 is not to expand J&K's autonomy but to erode it. Though Gopalaswami Ayyangar moved the Bill for that Article in the Constituent Assembly, the brain behind it was, one suspects, that of supreme nationalist, Vallabbhai Patel.

First, the tribal invasion of Srinagar in October 1947 from Pakistan territory, and then Nehru's fetish for Sheikh Abdullah as well as for internationalism had denied Patel the chance to amalgamate J&K with India the way he had done in respect of over 500 princely states. Only the Sardar, one believes, could have devised Article 370 once the J&K maharaja decided to strictly abide by the terms of the Instrument of Accession (designed by the British) that made his state a mere protectorate of the Dominion of India while free to have its own Constitution.

Let Abdullah read Article 370 again and again; it will dawn on him that its sum and substance was designed to extend central laws to J&K through the latter's consultation or concurrence. All that was required to do so was an obliging state government in Srinagar. That is how 205 central laws are today applicable to J&K, so as to achieve an increasingly uniform framework for the nation as a whole. And that is presumably why Nehru himself had foreseen Article 370 withering away on its own with the passage of time.

Critical to note here is that there is no provision in Article 370 that permits the retraction of a parliamentary law from J&K once it has been made applicable to that state. (The BJP wants that Article's abrogation to preempt an obdurate state government from enabling J&K's full and final integration with the rest of the country. Indian citizens outside J&K being denied the fundamental right to acquire property in that state or to secure J&K government jobs are examples of such autonomous obduracy.)

Abdullah's talk of "restoring the original shape to Article 370" is also laughable because it betrays his ignorance that the Article has never really lost its shape; it has been amended but one solitary time since it was enshrined in our Constitution. That single alteration took effect from November 17, 1952, when the word "Maharaja" was replaced by "Sadar-i-Riyasat" to denote the head of the state government.

What restoration then is Abdullah talking about? Bring back the "Maharaja"? Bring him back even though hereditary rulership was abolished in June 1952 by the J&K Constituent Assembly itself? ("Sadar-i-Riyasat" itself was replaced with "Governor" by the J&K assembly in 1965).

Then there is another Kashmiri, Amitabh Mattoo, supporting the autonomy call of J&K in a signed article published in the issue dated July 28 of The Telegraph, Calcutta. He cites six grounds for his support. But his first two grounds are enough to show how flippant is this chairperson of the Centre for International Politics of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Mattoo wants the terms Sadar-i-Riyasat and Wazir-e-azam to be restored (as desired by Abdullah's resolution) since the terms do not in any way enlarge the powers of the governor and the chief minister respectively. This weird logic turns the "What's in a name?" theory on its head. What if Laloo Yadav wants his wife to be designated as pant pradhan? Or what if Tamil Nadu wants its chief minister called the Tamil equivalent of prime minister? Do JNU "scholars" believe that designations should have no sanctity in our land? Is it all right for us to call someone a "cabinet person" of JNU instead of "chairperson" since his powers would not be enlarged by that description?

What takes the cake is Mattoo's second belief that J&K should be allowed the exception of having its governor elected by the people instead of being appointed by the President of India as laid down in Article 155 of our Constitution. By that suggestion, our JNU intellectual assassinates with one shot the long debates in our Constituent Assembly which decided on the "appointment by President" principle for various reasons:

1. It would encourage centripetal tendencies and thus promote all-India unity.

2. In a parliamentary system the head should be impartial, but a governor elected by the direct vote of the people would have to be a party man and therefore, unlikely to be impartial.

3.Conflicts might arise between the governor and the chief minister for the former might claim to arrogate power on the plea of his having been elected by the whole state as against the latter who would be elected only in a constituency.

4. The governor being only a symbol, a figurehead, there would be no point in spending money on having him elected.

Incidentally, what a fiction writer's delight it would be if, in next year's J&K assembly election, Karan Singh or Syed Salahuddin were elected governor, and Farooq Abdullah retains his chief ministership.

Our next intellectual in the list is Praful Bidwai, professional journalist, anti-nuclear activist and anti-Hindutva warrior. In a roundabout way, so typical of committed leftists, he supports autonomy to J&K as a way to reverse the damage allegedly caused by New Delhi's repeated failure to fulfill its constitutional commitments and political promises over the last 53 years. In that signed article in The Times of India of July 29, he does not elucidate that charge but cites how Delhi had effected 42 amendments to the Constitution of J&K, no less, and some of them without legal warrant and propriety.

It is a marvel, really, the way these learned leftists like Bidwai produce fiction from fact. And the facts are that:

i. The President of India has issued 43 orders from May 14, 1954, making several Central Acts applicable to J& K

ii. 24 amendments, not 42, have been made in the J&K Constitution till April 13, 1997, and all of them have been made by the state legislative assembly, not by the Government of India and

iii. since the 43 Presidential Orders were issued as per the procedure of state government consultation/concurrence set out in Article 370, not a single one of them can be tainted as being illegal or improper.

What is truly a marvel about all the shallow and superficial intellectualism we have seen in this commentary today is the unwillingness of opinion makers to open books and dig deep. The reputation of being this or that seems to be license enough to just sit at the lap top and fire away at the keyboard. And never mind even if the subject is so sensitive as J&K, the cause of so much heartburn and fighting and killings all these 53 years.

The situation reminds this writer of what Sasthi Brata penned in The Spectator of London recently. He believes that some columnists continue to occupy space in prominent broadsheets because they are ex-editors, or live in the desired locations or simply because of their ability to write English in the modern idiom; others are allowed space not because of what they have to say or how they argue their point, but simply because they are on familiar terms with the editor or proprietor. It is interesting, Brata says, to speculate as to how these columnists acquire their special status.

It is also interesting to speculate why, in all the sound and fury of state autonomy, nobody is questioning why Karnataka and Tamil Nadu didn't even ask the central government's assistance in securing actor Rajkumar's release and capturing Veerappan once and for all. Or is that what state autonomy is all about?

Arvind Lavakare

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