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August 22, 2000


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Skin-deep intellect on J&K autonomy, II

Last week: Skin-deep intellect on J&K autonomy

India Today once boasted of having the clout to build public opinion strong enough to oust a government in New Delhi. But in this, its silver jubilee year, that intelligent man's weekly has committed quite a few blunders in its two recent cover stories on J&K, thereby exposing once again how some so-called intellectuals have not yet got their history right on what has for 53 years now been an extremely critical, sensitive subject for the entire nation.

Thus, the magazine's issue of August 14 would have us believe that J&K acceded to India in 1947 in return for Nehru's promise of plebiscite and Article 370's nomenclature of "prime minister" of J&K was changed to "chief minister" in 1964. The Centre extended jurisdiction over J&K in 1953. Sheikh Abdullah died in 1983 and his son Farooq, became J&K's chief minister in that year.

All the above statements are fiction, pure fiction.

Firstly, J&K's accession to India had nothing to do with the promise of plebiscite by Nehru or anyone else. It was instead directly linked to the tribal invasion from Pakistan that threatened the very survival of Srinagar city, forcing its ruler to ask India's military help and offer accession for that purpose. And Nehru's promise of plebiscite was made in his All India Radio broadcast of December 23, 1949. (It is a different matter that according to a former chief justice of India, M C Mahajan, the Instrument of Accession, designed by the British and the Indian Independence Act, 1947, of the British Parliament gave no legal or constitutional authority to Nehru or Mountbatten, the then governor general, to make that promise).

Secondly, the draft Constitution of India was presented to our Constituent Assembly for debate in February 1948 and, therefore, Article 370 being promised in 1947 is poppycock.

Thirdly, the Centre's jurisdiction over J&K was extended, not in 1953, but on January 26, 1950, by a Presidential Order issued under Article 370.

Fourthly, the nomenclature of 'prime minister' of J&K was changed to 'chief minister' not in 1964 but April 1965 by the sixth amendment to the J&K State Constitution, 1957.

Finally, Sheikh Abdullah died, not in 1983, but on September 8, 1982. Similarly, his son Farooq became J&K's chief minister, not in 1983, but on September 9, 1982.

The above factual blunders may not be critical in arguing for or against J&K's demand for autonomy. However, insofar as they emanate from a reputed magazine with a very large readership, they distort public perception on a major national issue.

The sad part is that such errors indicate a skin deep, chalta hai attitude towards national responsibility that falls on the democracy's Fourth Estate. The above errors of fact, for instance, would just not have arisen had the publication prepared, for its correspondents, a fact sheet from an authoritative book on J&K like that of Chief Justice Dr A S Anand who had his PhD dissertation on the subject approved by London University.

Next, there is Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of the widely circulated The Indian Express. In his column of August 5, one of his brazen accusations is that "We had defied the UN resolutions on a plebiscite." If Pervez Musharraf and Madeleine Albright -- both India haters in their own way -- read that, and well they might, they will both be ecstatic beyond words, for it is a submission they are itching for. And it will needlessly require Jaswant Singh to reiterate our national position for the nth time that India never defied the UN resolution on plebiscite. Rather, it was Pakistan that did so by just not fulfilling the resolution's first condition requiring it to withdraw its tribesmen and nationals from the J&K state territory it had invaded for the purpose of fighting in October 1947 (resolution adopted on August 13, 1948, by UN Commission for India and Pakistan).

With specific reference to autonomy for J&K, Gupta's second accusation is that, "We had consistently and calculatedly diluted the autonomy promised to Kashmir under the Instrument of Accession and Article 370."

That charge is based on a lack of comprehension of the essence of Article 370 which, while guaranteeing the sanctity of the accession deed, also permitted an extension of the Indian Parliament's laws to J&K with the concurrence of the government of that state or in consultation with it. Let it be known here that Article 370, as it stands, had the approval of the four representatives from J and K appointed on the Indian Constituent Assembly in June 1949 by the Sadar-i-Riyasat on the advice of his council of ministers. Let it be known too that all the parliamentary laws extended to J&K so far have the latter's nod. Let it be known finally that the enlargement of various provisions of Indian laws to J&K via Article 370 was upheld by that state's high court in 1959 and by the Supreme Court in 1961 as well as in 1970. So where is the chicanery or devilish design that Shekhar now charges Delhi with?

The crucial question arises again: Why can't an intellectual like Shekhar Gupta see the importance of ensuring that his million and more readers get the right fundamental facts? Is it flippancy? Is it arrogance? Is it sadistic pleasure available from flagellating the government with the pen?

Then there are those two gentlemen who, by virtue of their "former foreign secretary" status, have got wide platforms in our ever-expanding media that is thirsting for "experts". One of them is J N Dixit.

Writing in The Indian Express of July 24, he advocates autonomy to J&K in the framework of the Sheikh Abdullah-Indira Gandhi agreement of 1975. But in summing up the contents of that accord, he says that one its clauses laid down that with regard to those provisions of the Indian Constitution as had been made applicable to J&K, only those affecting the unity of India were unalterable, thereby implying that all others of those provisions were alterable.

But such an open general licence just doesn't exist in the text of that agreement published in The Statesman, Calcutta, of February 25, 1975. That text says clearly that only alterations and modifications to such provisions of the Indian Constitution as had been made applicable to J&K can be repealed after considering the merit of each; those provisions made applicable to J&K without modifications were unalterable.

Dixit conceals more than he reveals with his assertion that Maharaja Hari Singh's decision to accede to India did not represent the view of the Kashmiri people. This is another of those opinions from a reputedly high source that harms India's cause in the eyes of the Madeleines and Musharrafs. Forgotten in this mischievous assertion by Dixit is that, under the monarchical system, the act of accession is the prerogative of the prince and that his people had no legal right to be consulted on the issue of accession. He also fails to mention that when the duly elected Constituent Assembly of J&K unanimously ratified in February 1954 the state's accession to India, the people of J&K had endorsed their Maharaja's action of October 1947.

Lastly, there's that other "former foreign secretary", Muchkund Dubey. Writing in The Hindu of July 17, he makes the emotive plea that, "Autonomy is the only basis of, and indeed the minimum must, for settling the problem with the people of Kashmir." This plea, mind you, after visiting "Kashmir" -- presumably Srinagar -- for a few days, and perceiving the "almost total alienation of the people from India." And yet, says Dubey, the bottomline should be the Instrument of Accession and Article 370.

But that is how it has always been in the last 50 years, hasn't it?

If it is the colossal corruption and miserable misgovernance of J&K that is generally accepted as the reason for increasing unemployment and underdevelopment in J&K, how can autonomy resolve the situation? Dubey provides no answer, partly because in an entire 1,200-word article he mentions 'Jammu' only once and 'Ladakh' not even once. How far did his perception of "people's alienation" really go then?

The correct answer to J&K's problem may well have been given by a mere letter writer, Hari Om, from Jammu. He told The Hindu that the freedom and autonomy sought by the people of J&K was the freedom and autonomy from the National Conference Party of Farooq Abdullah and from the Hurriyat. All that the people of the state were crying for, wrote Hari Om, is "a genuinely democratic government and a fair, clean and responsive government."

That simple, common man's remedy is, alas, beyond the ken of the skin-deep intellect of many in high places here.


Arvind Lavakare

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