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EDITORIAL: 1-15 July 2000

Autonomy, to to whom?

After the rhetoric in Srinagar and the subsequent rejection in the national capital it is time to see and gauge the massage emanating from the land of Chinar. The autonomy resolution, its passage by the J&K state assembly and the immediate reaction it received from the centre has raised hordes of questions in the ongoing debate and conflict in the strife-torn state. Just a few days ago when the National Conference legislators were thumping and echoing Farooq Abdullah’s shrill determination to pass the bill, people across the country read it as a new beginning of confrontation between the state and central government. Observers were dead certain that the state is heading towards a new course of confrontation and showdown. But the negative reaction it received from the central government that flatly refused to endorse this proposal has given a new twist to this centre-state relations. Though retreating from his unyielding earlier posture, Farooq has deftly averted confrontation with the centre has announced that he will try to convince the centre and other states of what could bring harmony and peace back in the state. He says that he intends to send delegations to the national capital as well as to states capitals in order to canvass support for his ideas of autonomy for Jammu & Kashmir. Nevertheless, people are arguing that there is no reason why this challenge, arguably for purely parochial reasons of personal survival, should not be converted in a well-timed opportunity. The Sarkaria Commission’s modest proposal for devolution are gathering dust in files. Centre-state relations are also an important part of the Constitution Review Panel, especially now that regional parties are fact of life. The National Democratic Alliance which set up the Constitution review panel, cannot refuse to consider a proposal for autonomy especially in view of the special status of Kashmir under Article 370. 

The detractors of Farooq Abdullah believe that the resolution of autonomy for J&K is aimed at converting Kashmir into a fiefdom of Abdullah dynasty where it will be free of any supervision from Supreme Court, Election Commission, All India Services, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, yet enjoying the protection of the mighty Indian army from any possible dissidence and opposition.

To be true, Farooq Abdullah’s proposal for granting autonomy to his state is not an extra-constitutional demand as is being propagated by a section of pseudo-nationalists. All his demands and proposals are entirely under Indian Constitution. The status of Jammu and Kashmir is constitutionally different from other states of the Union of India. It enjoys special status under Article 370 of the Constitution. The question here according to the former prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral is that of readjustment of the power structure. It needs to be examined as such. He believes that it is time to seek permanent solution of the state and see this autonomy proposal as an opportunity to do so. 

The Indira Gandhi-Shaikh Abdullah accord of 1975, painstakingly worked out by the representatives of the two leaders (G Parthasarthy and Mirza Afzal Beg) was a major step. But it too has not been given the attention and importance it deserved. 

The NDA government though refused flatly to endorse the resolution of autonomy passed by the state government, it has kept the doors open. It nowhere said that this demand is illegal or unconstitutional. Moreover, it did not reject the J&K autonomy report itself.

If observers are to be believed, had the government accepted the resolution as it is or with some slight modifications, it would have lost a great opportunity to shape the future course of J&K. According to these observers, the central government did not want to make concessions to the discredited government of Farooq Abdullah, who pays more attention to his golf kit than the governance of the state. The Central government probably believes that if it accords internal autonomy to the state now it will lose its cards while negotiating with the militant groups represented by the Hurriyet Conference. It is beyond imagination that the GOI will concede the azadi/accession to Pakistan demands made by militant groups. Within the present scenario and conditions that only thing that may be offered to J&K is internal autonomy. So why it should be given to a discredited leadership and keep the issue alive still? 

The cabinet has rejected the autonomy resolution passed by the state government, but it has not rejected the recommendations of the autonomy committee as such. It has also sought legal advise of the Law Commission on this intricate issue. All this shows the preparedness on the part of the central government to take up the issue at a later stage. It knows that the present impasse cannot be solved without taking some bold steps. The former PM, Narasimha Rao had once said that ‘sky is the limit for autonomy’ if militants shun the demand of azadi. Similar views are reported to have been expressed by two former prime ministers: IK Gujral and Deve Gowda. These views provide food for thought for the present establishment.

The PM and home minister have tried to soothe Farooq by attending Farooq Abdullah’s mother Begum Akbar Jahan’s funeral, but this should be read as an attempt to save the NDA.

The government has taken a great tactical step by refusing the autonomy resolution. With this step it has kept the hope of a settlement alive as this will bring the Hurriyet to the negotiation table (SUR).

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