Haste will Spell Doom

There are more than one    sacred cow in our country. Army is one, Kashmir two, and so on. Being a veteran parliamentarian Indrajit Gupta knows it. So he deserves kudos for the guts to admit on the floor of the Parliament that during the last parliamentary elections in Kashmir, elections in Muslim-dominated constituencies like Doda could not but have been rigged in view of the number of votes secured there by BJP. When all political parties ranging from right to left were applauding the role of army and central administration for holding 'free and fair' elections in Kashmir, how can the Home Minister himself be allowed to besmear this accomplishment. Consequently, not only BJP members were vehement in their protest, Congress members were also on their feet and even the Chair indicted Mr. Gupta to seek an apology, to which he unswervingly declined. And Mr.Deve Gowda, already the premier when the elections took place in Kashmir, could not hide his displeasure at it.

The role played by security forces and central administration in Kashmir has been a crucial factor in determining the outcome of the elections there, hence, even a partial comment like this should have been taken serious note of while discussing the matter of coming assembly elections in the state. Although the UF leaders expressed their hope that Hurriyat will participate in the assembly elections to be held in Jammu and Kashmir in September this year, recently Hurriyat leaders Abdul Ghani Lone and Syed Ali Shah Geelani have outrightly rejected the offer, saying that elections will never solve the Kashmir problem, so they are going to ask people to boycott the proposed polls. Though they reiterated their old stand that tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri representatives should be held to find 'everlasting solution to the vexed problem', they could have participated in elections to prove that they had people's mandate to deal with the Union Government.

Constituents of Hurriyat, e.g. Jamaat, had in fact participated in 1987 elections, but they faced worst repression at the hands of security forces. Gradually the situation worsened and ultimately with the appointment of Jagmohan, militancy picked up. In the subsequent years, Kashmir was virtually turned into an 'occupied territory' and sentiment in favour of 'azadi' rose high, militant leaders gained popularity; Yaseen Malik ranking first, Shabbir Shah second, and then Geelani and Lone. Farooq's graph, on the other hand, nose-dived. But their apprehension that state assembly elections would be conducted in the manner in which parliamentary polls were conducted in Kashmir is by and large not unfounded. 'Forces will come and coerce people to polling booths', they say. And true to their apprehensions, extra troops have already started pouring in from different parts of the country for it. However, it will simply be a failure on the part of the government if Hurriyat remains out of the fray.
Amid three cheers for the army it has been conveniently forgotten by the constituents of UF, including CPI and CPI(M), that the J&K state administration was not involved in the whole parliamentary election process. They were not allowed even to enter the polling booths and the booths were kept secret from them till the polling day. That the army had already threatened people door to door, in every village, that they would be treated as Pakistani agents if they don't carry the ink mark on their fingers, which would be checked by them the next morning. At some places, however, despite the threat people did not turn up till noon, and then they were rounded up and driven like sheep into the polling booths - children, old, sick and disabled included. Thus elections turned into yet another exercise in perpetuating the reign of terror. Even for those who are not hawkish on Kashmir, all this cannot be justified in the name of frustrating Pakistan's designs.

Therefore, in order to provide legitimacy of sorts to the assembly elections in Kashmir, the UF, particularly Left, was eager to ensure Farooq Abdullah's participation. After initial backtracking, Farooq has finally consented, even though the Union Government did not accede to his demand for granting the state greater autonomy before any such elections. He said earlier that he ought to have something in hand to offer the local population, because more than 6,000 Kashmiris have been killed during the six years of 'civil war'-like situation in the state (1989-95). But now he has nothing more than 'promises' made by a 'friendly' government at the centre. Would this facilitate Kashmiri people's return to the 'national mainstream'?

Of course UF Government's common minimum programme talks of more autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, and in the words of Harkishan Singh Surjeet 'only sky is the limit' to it, but it is a fact that so far the partners of the UF government have not discussed the quantum of autonomy. As far as Farooq Abdullah is concerned, the Delhi Agreement of 1952 between Sheikh Abdullah and Nehru has been the point of reference. How does the Union Government interpret 'maximum' autonomy it has agreed to bestow? For all practical purposes, Mr.Deve Gowda has bought time: first let the elections take place, a government be elected, let the J&K State Legislature recommend what powers they want in the name of autonomy; only then the Union Government would decide what to accede. This policy is not different from what Narsimha Rao had adopted till six months back.

Or one can say it is worse than that. At least Narsimha Rao had offered that he would have no objection if chief minister and governor of J&K are called Vazir-e-Azam and Sadar-e-Riyasat respectively. It is another matter that he did not clarify whether Sadar-e-Riyasat will be appointed from outside or from within the state as was the case earlier. Regarding other matters, however, he had acceded that all legislations made after 1953 could be reviewed by the Parliament on the basis of recommendations by the State Legislature constituted following the elections.

However, there is a limit for the Government and Janata Dal leaders are already pointing to it. It has to be kept in mind that the situation in 1953 before the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah was considerably different. Nehru had assured the people of Kashmir: "We would ultimately abide by the verdict of their plebiscite, if they tell us to walk out, I would have no hesitation in quitting Kashmir.... We have taken the issue to the United Nations and given our word of honour for peaceful solution. As a great nation we cannot go back on it. We have left the question for final solution to the people of Kashmir and we are determined to abide by their decision." (Amrit Bazar Patrika, Calcutta, January 2, 1952) Moreover, Mohammad Ali, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and Nehru in a joint communique had agreed that "In order to fix some kind of provisional time table it was decided that the Plebiscite Administrator should be appointed by the end of April 1954". It was in this scenario that from Indian Government's side, the people of Jammu and Kashmir were assured of "full autonomy" within the Indian Union with only defence, foreign affairs and communication being concerns of the Union Government. This assurance included the provision that J&K will have its own constitution, and the Constituent Assembly of J&K shall be free to accede or not to accede to India on any subject other than those on which the State had already acceded to India by virtue of the Instrument of Accession.

It was in this atmosphere Sheikh Abdullah signed the Delhi Agreement of 1952. However, even in those days communal absolutists led by Shyama Prasad Mukherji and those under the flag of Praja Parishad clamoured for "one vidhan (constitution), one pradhan (head of state) and one nishan (flag)".

After Pakistan joined CENTO and hostilities between the two countries did not subside, Sheikh Abdullah was arrested and a long period of suppression of autonomy and consequent democratic rights to the people of Kashmir ensued. Only after the Indo-Pak war in 1971, Indian and Pak heads of state met in Shimla and signed an agreement on 2 July 1972 known as Shimla Agreement. It was in this changed scenario that during emergency Sheikh Abdullah agreed to wind up his Plebiscite Front in 1975 and entered into an agreement with Indira Gandhi.

Indira Gandhi promised that Article 370 of the Constitution would continue to govern relations between the State of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union. More significant was the assurance in that agreement that the residuary powers of legislation would rest with the State to enable it to have its own legislation on welfare, culture, social security and personal law. However, Article 370 itself renders the assumption by the parliament of the powers of J&K legislature (lawmaking) under President's rule unconstitutional in respect of J&K. Therefore, in July 1992 the Parliament enacted J&K State Legislature (Delegation of Powers) Act, 1992, conferring on the President the powers of the state legislature (to make laws for the State of J&K). The law to make Kashmiri migrants eligible to vote in camps outside the state, a facility unknown to J&K Law, was enacted on the basis of powers thus assumed by the Parliament. Is it merely the fulfillment of voting right that ensures genuine democratic life to the people who are kept away from their home and hearth, cut off from the political life of the area of which they are considered voters? Why not first prepare conditions for their return to their own homes in Kashmir? And if they are settled in Jammu or Delhi camps, why should they not become part of the political life there instead of just remaining a refugee?
All this has seriously undermined the autonomy of the State by circumventing the Article 370. If such encroachment on autonomy goes on unhindered, Article 370 will be no better than Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act, according to which tribal land can not be sold to outsiders, similar to the provisions that all those who are not permanent residents of the State cannot purchase land in Jammu and Kashmir. Both provisions can be equally manipulated at will by the power of money.

In this situation vague proclamations like 'full autonomy' or 'sky is the limit' are not going to serve any purpose, if the Union Government wants to reverse the course. Instead, something concrete should be offered and, more importantly, it should not be made contingent upon holding legislative assembly elections. After nearly seven years of President rule, elections should not be conducted under the shadow of army and para-military forces, against the wishes of the people. There is no hurry, the autonomy package can be evolved in consultation with other political parties including all the political forces operating in Kashmir. Army and para-military forces should be immediately withdrawn and all functioning should be handed over to the State civil administration. Above all, culprits like Jagmohan and civil and military officials who have grossly violated human rights should be duly punished in accordance with the law. Only then free and fair elections can be conducted in the state and democracy, peace and normalcy can be restored. Only this can pave the way for genuine integration, as opposed to forced one, of Jammu and Kashmir with Indian Union.

-BB Pandey