The story of gradual and perhaps systematic erosion of Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional position and special status within Indian Union is a tragic one. From Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s arrest and removal as J&K’s prime minister on August 9, 1953 to throwing autonomy resolution passed by the state legislative assembly to dustbin in 2000, New Delhi has played many a political game on Kashmir’s turf.
The so-called special status of Jammu and Kashmir is governed under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, a law that grants and guarantees special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir.
Today, the National Conference (NC) argues that Kashmir requires a "healing touch" — autonomy. It (autonomy) has been an important cog in the NC’s political wheel for a long time now. The NC’s political "plank" revolves around the word autonomy, as the party articulates that Jammu and Kashmir’s pre-1953 constitutional position and regional autonomy must be restored in both letter and spirit.
After a popular anti-India armed rebellion broke out in 1989 in Jammu and Kashmir, the state’s institutions started collapsing; one by one. The gun-wielding Kashmiri youth could be seen everywhere, and it seemed as if they were running a parallel government in the Kashmir valley for about seven years until the 1996 assembly elections were held.
National Conference had literally gone into hiding and in local newspapers one could read the resignation notes from NC leaders, members, workers and sympathisers on a regular basis, putting in writing and declaring on oath that they bear no allegiance whatsoever with the pro-India party.
But Farooq Abdullah agreed to contest the elections at a time when participating in an electoral process under Indian constitution had no social sanctity in Kashmir. Anyone seen remotely involved in the electoral process was perceived as a "collaborator".
The realisation had dawned upon Dr Abdullah that if his party, NC, was going to regain some kind of acceptability in the eyes of Kashmiri people it had to do something "out of the box".
“What Farooq told the top IB man in Srinagar, KM Singh, was that he had contested the 1996 election because the government of India wanted him to contest, and at that time he had told the government that he needed a plank to fight an election. Autonomy had been that plank…,” writes former spy chief Amarjit Singh Dulat in his recently released controversial memoir Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years.
Therefore, on November 29, 1996, the Jammu and Kashmir government set up the State Autonomy Committee (SAT) to “examine and recommend measures for the restoration of autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir consistent with the Instrument of Accession, the Constitutional Application Order, 1950, and the Delhi Agreement, 1952.”
The nine-member SAT tabled its report in the J&K legislative assembly in April 1999 and finally recommended the restoration of the 1952 Delhi Agreement.
With an eye on the 2002 Assembly elections, a week-long special session was convened on 19 June June 2000 in the J&K legislative assembly to discuss the SAT’s report and pass a resolution accepting it.
However, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in New Delhi led by Atal Behari Vajpayee summarily rejected the autonomy resolution passed by the J&K assembly.
Enraged Farooq Abdullah is on record saying that "Delhi does not trust Kashmiris". But AS Dulat, former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), also writes in his memoir that Farooq Abdullah was never serious about J&K’s autonomy.
“Tell them (New Delhi government) not to worry, the resolution won’t get passed. Kucch nahin hoga (Nothing will happen),” Abdullah assured anxious Dulat in 2000.
After the 1947 Pakistan-India partition, Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed a special status within India, following a hotly debated and contentious instrument of accession. Jammu and Kashmir was in charge of its own affairs except defence, foreign affairs and communications with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Kashmir’s then most popular political figure, as J&K’s Prime Minister.
Was throwing J&K’s autonomy resolution into the trash can the first betrayal from Delhi or continuation of a story filled with tragedies since 1947? What was J&K’s constitutional position before 1953? And how did the special status gradually keep eroding? What happened to Sheikh Abdullah, the Prime Minister?
In March 1948, after the India-Pakistan partition, Sheikh Abdullah became the second Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir after Mehr Chand Mahajan, who remained in office for a mere 142 days.
Senior Abdullah remained in office until August 9, 1953. On the very same day, Abdullah was unceremoniously and unconstitutionally removed from the post of prime minister. The then "Sadr-e-Riyasat" (constitutional Head of State, equivalent to modern day President) Dr Karan Singh, son of Dogra Maharaja Hari Singh, ordered Sheikh Abdulah’s dismissal and arrest from tourist resort Gulmarg. He was accused of being a “Pakistani agent”.
Senior Abdullah’s impact on Kashmir’s political landscape was immense. His arrest, therefore, led to street protests, violence and bloodshed.
On January 8, 1958, Abdullah was released from jail. He made a passionate demand for Kashmir’s plebiscite and spearheaded the Plebiscite Front Movement (Mahaz-i-Rai Shumari Tehreek). His freedom was short-lived. He was jailed again within three months time from his release.
Around the same time the Jammu and Kashmir State government under Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, the new ‘installed’ Prime Minister, filed “Kashmir Conspiracy Case” against Sheikh Abdullah and his sympathisers.
The case proceedings went on until April 8, 1964.
All the accused were released unconditionally and the state government dropped all charges in the so-called Kashmir Conspiracy Case.
Abdullah, on his part, refused to abandon his political struggle for Kashmir’s independence. He has documented his political life and struggle in his autobiography, Atish-e-Chinar.
It is another matter that in 1975 he described his entire struggle of 22 long years (1953 until 1975) as “Siyasi Awaragardee” (political wilderness).
In 1964, the special status of Jammu and Kashmir got reduced to a bare carcass. The year 1964 assumes significance because the nomenclature of Prime Minister got amended and introduced as chief minister while "Sadr-e-Riyasat" changed into governor. One could ask why did the "Sher-i-Kashmir" Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah at the time of Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord of 1975 endorse all the changes made and introduced with respect to J&K’s constitutional status in 1964 by then chief minister, GM Sadiq?
Indira Gandhi had welcomed Sheikh Abdullah’s “change of thinking”.
Syed Ali Geelani in the first volume of his autobiography, Wullar Kinarey-I (On the Banks of Wullar) writes that “Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s party National Conference (NC) is solely responsible for all the present ills: Kashmir’s “military occupation”, human rights excesses and “slavery”.
Geelani also articulates that “the new generation of the Kashmiri nation has understood character of Late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. That is the reason why there are no security men guarding the graves of either Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad or GM Sadiq. But there is a 24/7 security vigil on Sheikh Abdullah’s burial chamber in Srinagar.”
The Hurriyat leader further argues that those who credit Sheikh Abdullah for "land to tiller" reforms should also understand that the NC leader saved farmers from the landlords, but ensured that the entire Kashmiri nation is “forced into slavery under a much stronger landlord in India.”
“The Kashmiri rarely speaks the truth to you because he feels that you are lying to him. Brajesh Mishra was right when he bluntly said the only thing straight in Kashmir was the poplar tree. But it is we who have made him that way. The problem with Delhi has been that it sees everything in black and white, whereas Kashmir’s favourite colour is grey,” writes Dulat.
The fundamental questions that should be posed to New Delhi are precisely these: Who discredits and undermines democratic processes in Jammu and Kashmir? Why does Delhi refuse to learn anything from last seven-decade Kashmir experience, the fact that conflict management has not and will not work in Kashmir.
There has to be a political will to find a resolution, no more deceptions meant for managing the conflict!