J&K’s gen-next phase carries the old imp

Last Updated: Tue, Feb 03, 2009 07:08 hrs

Arvind Lavakare may be 71, but the fire in his belly burns stronger than in many people half his age. The economics post-graduate worked with the Reserve Bank of India and several private and public sector companies before retiring in 1997. His first love, however, remains sports. An accredited cricket umpire in Mumbai, he has reported and commented on cricket matches for newspapers, Doordarshan and AIR. Lavakare has also been regularly writing on politics since 1997, and published a monograph, The Truth About Article 370, in 2005.

Every media commentator, with or without a by-line, has hailed the recent elections to the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly as a triumph of democracy over boycott through fears of terrorist bombs, the separatist’s gun and the kidnapper’s threats. And three cheers to that happy reality!

But none of these analysts has told us whether the latest record 62 per cent voting percentage included those 100,000 and more of the state’s population who are not certified as being “Permanent Residents” under Section 6 of the Jammu & Kashmir State Constitution and have therefore remained condemned to the unique position of being eligible to vote for India’s Lok Sabha polls but not for their own J& K state assembly elections.

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That most heinous discrimination of democracy was made possible by Jawaharlal Nehru’s Congress when it issued in 1954 a Presidential Order under the Constitution of India’s Article 370 creating a special Article 35A exclusively applicable to J& K. That Article allowed the J&K. legislature to deny a variety of benefits to those who were long residing in J&K state but were not recognised by the state government as “State Subjects” (called “Permanent Residents” in the J&KState Constitution).

Who are those 100,000 and more citizens of our motherland? They are mostly the refugees from West Pakistan who, because of the 1947 Partition, settled along the Indo-Pak border in Jammu and who secured Indian citizenship in dues course but have been denied citizenship of J&Kfor more than five decades after they settled in the state. Below is a portion of what one of them, 81-year-old Hari Ram, told a Press Trust of India reporter four-and-a-half years ago at his village named Rangpur Sidhriya in Jammu constituency:

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“We have closed our doors on candidates campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections. They are repeating the same 50-year-old promise to get us citizenship in Jammu and Kashmir. We are now fed up of them.”

Said Bachan Lal, another of those 100,000 and more, “All have duped us with false promises. We continue to live as unwanted people devoid of basic rights including education, voting in assembly elections, civic bodies, admission in professional colleges and right to own land and houses.”

Setting right this half a century of cruel prejudice is one of the novel challenges to the new state government of J&.K. headed by a modern young man divinely blessed to do for the state what his grandfather could have done but failed to deliver. Yes, chief minister Omar Abdullah, just 38 years of age, educated in cosmopolitan Mumbai city, and having himself seen how the Indian nation has made giant strides in recent years, can turn around his state from a pain in the nation’s neck to being a jewel of envy.

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His initial disclosures to the media certainly hold promise. Thus, he wants to put (economic) development on top of his agenda and to bring governance back on track. He says there would be zero tolerance for dishonesty and that corrupt ministers would be shunted out. He wants it to be known loud and clear to everybody that officers must exhibit loyalty to the state and not to the party in power. Even though no Kashmiri Pandit has been elected to the state assembly, he wants one of that community to be in his council of ministers; and he wants to create an atmosphere in which the displaced Pandits can return to the Valley. “I have a huge responsibility towards them”, he said. He wants a commission under a retired Supreme Court judge to examine if there had been any neglect of any region, be it Jammu or Ladakh. He is keen on e-governance and wants the state’s Right to Information act to be on par with the central law. And the new government will not indulge in the politics of vindictiveness.

Omar Abdullah certainly has the seriousness and gravity of purpose that his golf-loving father lacked. He also seems to have the same passion for his state that was possessed by his grandfather, Sheikh Abdullah, who led a revolt of sorts against the erstwhile maharajah ruling the state, demanding constitutional rule instead of autocratic monarchy. What’s more, he has the energy and the eloquence to communicate with one and all, friends and foes.

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Sadly, the third generation Abdullah has also revealed the old imp of his dynasty. Like his grandfather and his father, he is unwilling to let Jammu & Kashmir swim with stream of a common federal system under just one constitutional architecture without alterations and exceptions. His DNA perhaps compels him to continue demanding “the autonomy which Pandit Nehru had agreed to.”

See how very shrewd this young man is. It was the Congress Prime Minister Narasimha Rao who, in the nineties, had publicly volunteered maximum autonomy short of azadi to the J. &K. state. And yet Omar Abdullah doesn’t refer to Rao’s promise but to what, he says, Nehru agreed. He does so because he knows too well that the late Narasimha Rao is a forgotten and shunned name in the Congress party which is his coalition ally today, whereas Nehru continues to be (foolishly enough) a revered name not only in the Congress but in the whole nation itself.

Read all columns by Lavakare

Anyway, Nehru’s autonomy which the gen-next Abdullah is referring to is clearly what is historically known as “The Delhi Agreement, 1952” arrived at between representatives of the then J&K government under chief minister Sheikh Abdullah and the Indian government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru.

The main features of the 1952 agreement can be read in detail in the seminal book The Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir–Its Development & Comments” by Dr.A.S.Anand, ex-chief justice of India who wrote it first as a doctoral thesis from London University.

The 1952 Agreement’s most crucial point was that, as per the Instrument of Accession to India signed by J&K’s maharaja on 26th October 1947, the sovereignty in all matters other than Defence, External Affairs and Communications should continue to be with the J&K state and, unlike in respect of other states, the residuary powers of the legislature should be vested in J&K state itself. In practical terms this meant that Parliamentary laws would be applicable to J&K only in respect of the three aforementioned subjects. This Agreement was approved in the Indian Parliament on August 7, 1952.

Omar Abdullah’s shrewdness is seen once again in how he recalls that promise of 1952 but not the history that followed soon thereafter.

What actually followed is recorded in Dr. Anand’s book as follows: · Instead of implementing the Agreement, Sheikh Abdullah started advocating the state’s secession from the Indian dominion. There were “inflammatory rumours” that United States was backing Kashmir’s independence.” He was accused by his Cabinet colleagues and by the public of trying to create a state for himself. · The state’s governor, taking cognizance of the situation, dismissed Sheikh Abdullah as Prime Minister and dissolved the cabinet on August 8, 1953. · On May 14, 1954, the President of India issued an Order under Article 370 of the Constitution of India. By that Order the powers of the Union Parliament in relation to J&K were enlarged and most of the provisions of the Constitution of India were applied to the state, yet the state’s internal autonomy was not interfered with. Several such Orders came thereafter even as Omar’s Nehru reigned in Delhi. · After years in captivity, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi managed to get Sheikh Abdullah back to power once again in February 1975. And she quickly got the Sheikh engaged in a dialogue that ended in what is known as the Kashmir Accord which Justice Anand has described as being of “great political significance in the history of the State” (of J&K). · The most vital content of that Accord was what Indira Gandhi told Parliament on February 24, 1975: She stated that “Sheikh Abdullah was very anxious to start with the Constitutional relationship between the State and the Centre should be as in 1953 when he was in power. It was explained to him that the clock could not be put back in this manner. …I must say to the credit of Sheikh Abdullah that despite his strong views …he has accepted the agreed conclusion.”

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It would thus be in his own and his state’s interest that Omar Abdullah best forget his dynasty’s dream of pre-1953 autonomy and instead work on making J&K “an integral part of the Union of India” not only in the words of Section 3 of his state’s separate Constitution but also in the spirit of those words. If he really means to concentrate on economic development, he is intelligent enough to know that the discrimination of Article 370 and Article 35A it created exclusively for J&K needs to be abrogated…now, at this moment. The dynastic imp he’s carrying also needs to be buried because his present ally, the Congress, and his future possible friends or foes will never accept that mischievous, malevolent creature.

The views expressed in the article are the author’s and not of Sify.com.

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