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  Debate on Article 370 (By Balraj Puri)
BJP General Secretary Arun Jaittey reiterated commitment of his party, during his election campaign in Jammu that abrogation of Article 370 of the constitution which guarantees special status to Jammu and Kashmir State, was the key issue for his party. He invited the State Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to debate with him on it. Whether or not it remains the key issue of the party in the rest of the country, it promises to remain a perpetual controversy within the state where the coalition partner, the National Conference had contested the election on the slogan of restoration of autonomy of the state. It is therefore necessary to seek on end to this controversy

Omar had maintained that any change in the statues of the State could have be done only by its constituent assembly which ceased to exist in 1956. Constitutional validity of this stand was never tested by a judicial court. Never were series of measures for erosion of the autonomy of the State challenged in the court on this ground. Likewise Indian Parliament has inherited all the powers of the Constituent Assembly of India.

Intriguingly Congress which is locked in a contest with the BJP, and not the National Conference, in two Lok Sabha seats in Jammu, has not joined the issue with its rival. That tends to make it Jammu versus Kashmir issue. As far actual possibility of abrogation of the Article is concerned, the BJP does not have the support of its own allies in the NDA. Moreover, the Law Minister in the government led by it had declared that Parliament had no power to abrogate the Article unless the State assembly recommended it.

Not that the Article has entirely been used in the interest of the people of the State. For instance 73rd and 74th amendment to the Indian constitution which ushered in Panchayati Raj and local self government in urban areas were not applicable to the State. The most diversified State of the country, consequently, has been administered by a most centralised government. Which is the root cause of most of the internal tensions within the State. Similarly, autonomous institutions like National Human Rights Commission and National Women Commission have no jurisdiction in the State. Obviously people of the State do not get any benefit for being out of the jurisdiction of these national instituions, which are autonomous of the executive authority. It was under the pressure of public opinion generated by some enlightened citizens that the State has just adopted central Right to Information Act.

If Article 370 is restored to its original position, central autonomous institutions like Supreme Court, Auditor General and Election Commission would not have any jurisdiction over the State. These would be appointed and managed by the State government. It would also facilitate the Union government to manipulate affairs of the State. If Supreme Courts jurisdiction had extended to the State in 1953, Sheikh Abdullah could not be arrested under any law then in force in India.

It is the manner in which ruthless integration was imposed on the State by post Nehru leadership in Delhi and the manner the issue was posed as Kashmir versus Jammu and Kashmir versus India that provoked the people of Kashmir and alienated them. It was the agitated mood of the people in 1965 over such measures of forced integration that might have tempted president Ayub of Pakistan to send its army men in the form of infiltrators to the state that led to 1965 war. National interest, in no way, is linked with the degree of integration of the State. Nor Jammu’s grievances have any thing to do with Article 370. Let people of Kashmir be free to discuss and decide in consultations with people of other region the type of Centre-State relations that serve their interest.

It may be recalled, that much damage was done to Kashmirs emotional relations with India by the agitation for ek vidhan, ek pradhan and ek nishan (one constitution, one head of the state and one flag) launched by Praja Parishad, Jammu affiliate of the Jana Sangh, in 1953 ostensibly to safeguard Jammus interest and the national interest. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukerjee, the founder president of the Jana Sangh came to lend his support to the agitation.

Jawahalal Nehru in a letter, to Jayaprakash Narayan on 29 July 1953, observes, reactions in the Kashmir to the situation have weakened our position terribly and for the first time I feel very doubtful about the future.

Dr. Mukerjee had also entered into a prolonged correspondence with Pandit Nehru. Nehru had warned him also about the dangerous repercussions of Jammu agitation on Kashmir problem. Eventually, Mukerjee in his letter dated February 17, 1953 agreed to support Delhi Agreement that had conceded special status to the State provided principle of autonomy will apply to the province of Jammu as also to Ladakh and Kashmir valley.

This was precisely what I was campaigning for and had succeeded in getting Nehru and Abdullah to declare at a joint press conference on July 24, 1952, that when the constitution of the State is framed, it will provide for regional autonomies. The Praja Parishad agitation was finally withdrawn on July 3, after a meeting of its leaders with Nehru on this very formula.

Meanwhile Dr. Mukerjees death in Srinagar jail had created sharp reactions in Jammu and many parts of India with counter reactions in Kashmir. This had caused further tensions and complications in the situation which were a major cause of the crisis of August 1953 crisis when Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed from power and put under detention. From Indian point of view, it was the beginning of Kashmir problem.

After some months, according to Balraj Madhok who became president of the Jana Sangh after some years, the party withdrew its support to the formula Mukherjee had agreed viz autonomy of the State within India and of the regions within the State on directions from Nagpur (the RSS headquarters).

If successors of Nehru, Abdullah and Mukherjee had stood by their joint agreement, on the issue of status of the state alienation of the people of Kashmir would not have gone to the extent it exist today and Kashmir problem would have been resolved long ago. Let their respective commitment be recalled and debated to find an end to the Kashmir imbroglio.

26th Apr 2009, 12:25 am.

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