Democratic institutions being subverted in Jammu & Kashmir

By Hari Om on April 18, 2013

On April 14, two dangerous developments took place in the sensitive and highly strategic Jammu & Kashmir. One, Jammu & Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee President Saif-ud-Din Soz, a Kashmiri Sunni, appealed to all the Parties, including the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to consider the ‘voice’ of people of Kashmir (read Kashmiri-speaking Sunni leadership). He strongly urged for an “internal and external dialogue process to address the issues facing the State and advocated for the need of a “new dispensation” for Kashmir. He said a new dispensation is the need of hour and will help in restoring peace in the Valley. This was for the first time in 65 years of independence that any Congress leader made such a nasty and unsettling statement.

Two, National Conference (NC) President and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah (Kashmiri Sunni) demanded greater autonomy for Jammu & Kashmir. “Jammu & Kashmir is primarily a political problem (read patently communal problem in the small Kashmir Valley) and needs to be resolved through peaceful political means. The only way to bring normalcy and permanent peace to the State and to the subcontinent is to restore autonomy in its pristine form (read pre-1953 politico-constitutional status), as guaranteed in the Indian Constitution”.

Even a superficial look at the statements made by the Congress and the NC leaders would be enough to draw a conclusion that both the Parties are working in tandem and suggesting a solution to the so-called Kashmir problem, which, if accepted and implemented, would end the Indian presence in the State, seal the fate of the people of Jammu and Ladakh for the times to come and ultimately, culminate in the disintegration of the Indian State like what happened in August 1947.

In other words, the acceptance of the demands as put forth by the Kashmiri ruling elite would lead to another communal partition of India and persecution and annihilation of the non-Muslim minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, as it happened, and continues to happen, in theocratic and medievalist Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Will a ‘new dispensation’ as suggested by Soz and “restoration of autonomy in its pristine form” as demanded by Abdullah strengthen the democracy in Jammu & Kashmir and regenerate the socio-cultural and politico-economic life of the already highly prosperous and appeased people of the militant and separatist-infested Kashmir? Even a cursory scrutiny of the political system as it existed before the dismissal and arrest of Sheikh Abdullah (Wazir-e-Azam of the State) on August 9, 1953, suggests that it will not. On the contrary, a restoration will – apart from emboldening believers in the concept of ‘Nizam-e-Mustafa’ and Jammu & Kashmir’s communal segregation from India – at once subvert all democratic institutions, deprive the common people of whatever civil liberties and political rights they have enjoyed so far, and shackle the Press and the judiciary. The reason is that such a drastic return will arm the Council of Ministers with absolute, unbridled executive, legislative and judicial powers.

It needs to be recognised that between September 7, 1939 and January 26, 1957, the State ruler and the ruling elites derived their power and authority from the Jammu & Kashmir Constitutional Act (JKCA) of 1939. The ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, had enacted this Act to conciliate and mollify Sheikh Abdullah and his Kashmiri followers. Since 1931, they had been demanding for the replacement of autocracy by democracy. However, a Praja Sabha (Assembly) of 75-elected and nominated members was set up in accordance with the Act of 1939, Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues continued their protests. In fact, they repudiated outright the JKCA of 1939 and declared that they would not withdraw their movement until a ‘responsible government’ is established.

Sheikh Abdullah opposed the JKCA on various grounds, firstly, it comprised provisions that obstructed the formation of a responsible government and facilitated the domination and exploitation of the people. Besides, it was not framed by a Constituent Assembly elected by adult franchise, but by the ruler and his henchmen. It recognised the ruler and not the people as the “fountainhead of all essential attributes of sovereignty”. It did not recognise the “doctrine of supremacy of the legislature”. It did not provide for an independent judiciary. It did not grant freedom to the Press by repealing the highly obnoxious Jammu & Kashmir Press and Publication Act of 1932 (JKPPA) under which the ruling elite could seize Press and fine the them over “seditious” writings. Finally, the JKCA of 1939, like the Government of India Act of 1909, 1919 and 1935, respectively introduced communal electorate.

Despite their five-year-long struggle, Hari Singh did not introduce new reforms or democratic principles, Sheikh Abdullah and others intensified their struggle. During the 1946 Quit Kashmir Movement, which was directed against the Dogra Maharaja and Dogras of Jammu, the NC cadres openly defied the State authorities, confronted police umpteen times, attacked police stations and other symbols of the Government, demanding the dethronement of Hari Singh and establishing “people’s government”. Order was restored only after the Police and the Army swung into the action and arrested Sheikh Abdullah and other prominent Kashmiri leaders on the charges of sedition.

It was under these circumstances and in the wake of full-scale war with Pakistan and communal partition of India, that Jammu & Kashmir acceded to India on October 26, 1947 in terms of the Constitutional law on the subject (Indian independence Act of 1947). Ironically, the State’s accession and Sheikh Abdullah’s appointment as ‘Emergency Administrator’ at the behest of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the root cause of all troubles facing the nation in the State and elsewhere in the country, did not ameliorate the people. Rather than repealing the JKCA of 1939, Sheikh Abdullah chose to exploit it to the hilt to consolidate his position, marginalise his senior colleagues, including Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, Mohiuddin Kara and Maulana Masoodi. He also exploited the JKPPA to muzzle the Press. In short, his rule turned out to be despotic (read local oligarchy).

It was during the reign of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad (August 1953-September 1963) that a number of steps were taken to democratise the polity. These included the abrogation of section 75 of the JKPPA under which the Council of Ministers was the final interpreter of the Constitution; the abolition of the largely committed Board of Judicial Advisors, extension of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India to Jammu & Kashmir on May 14, 1954 and the adoption of a new Constitution for Jammu & Kashmir by the Constituent Assembly of the State on November 17, 1956 and its implementation on January 26, 1957. The people’s natural right to shape and control political, administrative and economic policy was recognised and the Press and judiciary were freed.

Therefore, it is clear that grant of pre-1953 status will grievously harm the legitimate rights and interests of the people not only of Kashmir, but also Jammu and Ladakh. The roots of the ‘Kashmiri Muslims alienation’ and unrest in Jammu and Ladakh lie not in Central laws, but in the NC’s gross misrule, bureaucratic bungling and denial of the legitimate expression of popular will that stands for genuine democracy. If the Central Government sincerely wishes to conciliate the so-called alienated (read pampered) Kashmiris, it must reject out-of-hand any such suggestion.

Any attempt whatsoever on the part of the Congress-dominated UPA Government to recognise the NC and the JKPCC as the only factors in the State’s otherwise rotten polity and to accept their demands without analysing their implications would be both dangerous and disastrous for the State and New Delhi. It will not only provoke political explosions in Jammu and Ladakh and jeopardise the legitimate interests of the over three lakh internally displaced Kashmiri Hindus, but also lead to the country’s Balkanisation. Even otherwise, the present UPA Government, which is neck-deep involved in corruption, has lost the people’s mandate to govern the country even for one more day.


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