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September 5, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

Eureka! He's his father's son!

When the discovery finally dawned, it was deserving of a contemporary 'Eureka!' For days on end after the J&K Autonomy Report came into the limelight last June, everyone who counts wrote on it without clarifying what the Report's demand for the "pre-1953" status meant and why that precise demand was made.

Literally thousands of words were written on J&K's autonomy call; scores of interviews and several panel discussions were conducted. But the "pre-1953" issue remained an unexplored mystery, indicating, incidentally, the standard of our media's professionalism.

And then suddenly, 'Eureka!' It came full 45 days after the J&K Assembly's autonomy resolution of June 26, 2000. Writing in The Hindu of August 9, the veteran journalist, Pran Chopra, revealed that what the J&K State's Autonomy Report demands unilaterally is that, "The Union government should withdraw such extensions of its jurisdiction over the State which Parliament legislated after the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah" (on August 9, 1953). Pray why? According to Chopra, the autonomy report's argument is that "with the Sheikh in prison the State's government and Legislature had lost the mandate of the people."

It is an argument that warrants at least a hundred exclamation symbols at the end of it. It is an attempt at massive rape of the 200-odd Central laws applied to J&K. It is a venture of gigantic fraud on all constitutional, democratic and legislative practices and traditions. It is DECEIT in type size 100, all caps and bold.

It is also cunning insofar as it shrouds the history of (i) Sheikh Abdullah's duplicitous game in 1952 (ii) The events that quickly followed his arrest in August 1953 and (iii) His release in January 1958 only to be rearrested three months later for allegedly making inflammatory speeches that formed part of the Kashmir Conspiracy Case which came to an abrupt, abortive end after the first prosecution witness gave his evidence in the special sessions court, Jammu, on September 19, 1962.

It is critical to know that course of J&K's history. It is critical because his desire to take today's J&K back to the period when Sheikh "sahab" was its 'shahenshah' proves that Farooq Abdullah is his father's son in more ways than what DNA tests can prove. In sum, the autonomy report's attempt to sweep away that brief history should be caution enough to the nation that the present Abdullah should not be relied upon to bring peace or prosperity to the people of J&K under the ambit of Delhi's rule, whatever his PR and protestations be to the contrary.

Below therefore is an outline of that documented history beginning with the Delhi Agreement of 1952 between Jawaharlal Nehru, our then PM and Sheikh Abdullah, J&K's then Wazir-e-Azam.

The essence of that Delhi Agreement is best told in Sheikh Abdullah's own words: "In arriving at this arrangement," he declared, "the main consideration before our government was to secure a position for the State consistent with the requirements of maximum autonomy for the local organs of the State power which are the ultimate source of authority in the State while discharging obligations as a unit of the federation."

Although that Agreement of 1952 was accepted by our Parliament on August 7 that year and approved two weeks later by the J&K Constituent Assembly then in existence, the implementation of the accord was not forthcoming. Suspicion in the public mind was aroused about the intentions of the government's leaders. In the working committee of the ruling National Conference Party itself there was sharp criticism of the government's policy. Why, there was a serious rift in the Cabinet itself. The difference in opinion reached a peak when Sheikh Abdullah, instead going about implementing the accord, started advocating secession which would make J&K an independent State. The people were quick to perceive the danger of such a course for they had seen that the devastating tribal attack in 1947 was a direct consequence of the State's isolated position.

In his book, Danger in Kashmir, Joseph Korbel has recorded the prevalence then of "inflammatory rumours that United States was backing Kashmir's independence" while the New York Times of July 5, 1953, wrote of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, supporting that idea.

Soon enough, Sheikh Abdullah was accused both by his colleagues in the Cabinet and by the public outside of trying to create a State for himself. In fact, three members of the Cabinet submitted a memorandum to him accusing him of various charges. The capacity of the administration to function efficiently became doubtful.

The State's head, Sadar-i-Riyasat, simply had to take cognizance of the situation. He dismissed Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah and dissolved his Council of Ministers. Simultaneously, he invited Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, erstwhile deputy prime minister, to form the new Cabinet, even as the Sheikh was arrested in Gulmarg under the State Prevention Detention Act. However, the head of state made it clear in writing to the incoming PM that the new ministry would have to secure a vote of confidence from the Assembly in the coming session. (Karan Singh -- heir to Hari Singh, Maharaja of J and K-- who contested the last Lok Sabha election from Lucknow, was then the Sadar-i-Riyasat).

A convention of about 400 delegates from the Sheikh's National Conference Party throughout the State met in Srinagar from September 13 to September 15, 1953, approved the change of government as "inevitable in the interest of the country and the national movement," and expressed complete confidence in the new government, promising their fullest co-operation. The State Legislature met on October 5, 1953, and passed a unanimous vote of confidence in the new Cabinet.

It is noteworthy that though one Mridula Sarabhai, a friend of the Sheikh and ex-secretary of the All India Congress Committee, criticised the Government of India for its indifference to the events in J and K, Jawaharlal Nehru's reply to a question in the Lok Sabha was: "This was an internal matter and we did not wish to interfere."

Anyway, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, immediately after taking the oath of office, made a policy statement in which, inter alia, he praised India with which J and K had entered into "indissoluble links." With his coming to power, the formulation of constitutional relations between J and K and India entered a new phase. The work of the Constituent Assembly (set up in October 1951 through universal adult franchise) started afresh with renewed vigour. And on May 14, 1954, the President of India, acting under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, issued an order whereby the powers of the Union in relation to J and K were enlarged, most of the provisions of the Indian Constitution being made applicable to the State without interfering with the State's internal autonomy.

With the Sheikh still in gaol, elections to J&K's first Legislative Assembly under the State's constitution of 1957 were held in March 1957. Every permanent resident of the State, male or female, aged 18 or above who had not been disqualified because of unsound mind or criminal conviction, had the right to vote. Preparation of electoral rolls and the conduct of elections were under the supervision, direction and control of an election commissioner appointed by the Sadar-i-Riyasat. (This power was later vested in the Election Commission of India by the First Amendment of the J&K constitution in October 1959).

With 62.1 per cent of the electorate casting their vote, the new Legislative Assembly could legitimately claim to represent the people of J&K. A fundamental step towards the establishment of a democratic State had been implemented there.

Now, after the J&K autonomy report, it is crystal clear that the above history is not what the second Abdullah wants to own as having been the legal and moral mandate of the State's people. Instead, he now wants to own only the pre-August 1953 scenario of Abdullah I. It is not surprising therefore that he himself is not what the commoners of Jammu and Ladakh regions want. Indeed, he is not what genuine, thinking Indians should want anymore.

Arvind Lavakare

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