Missed opportunities in resolving J&K problems

By Balraj Puri

There hardly seems to be any way the Jammu and Kashmir government can pacify the current angry mood in Jammu over revocation of the government order for the transfer of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). For any such step is likely to revive the flare up in Kashmir from which it just recovered. On the other hand the leaders of the current agitation who are riding on a spontaneous popular upsurge can ill afford to back out.

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What then are the options for the leaders of the Jammu agitation which have declared to continue till the order is withdrawn? On the sixth day of the bandh, BJP national President and General Secretary Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley, came to Jammu to lend its support. The BJP and its Parivar organized a nation-wide bandh on July 3 for the same cause; though with partial success. The party president proposed to raise the issue from ‘Sansad to Sadak’ (Parliament to Streets) and make it a poll issue.

There is no doubt that Jammu had accumulated a lot of grievances over the years. The issue merely provided an outlet for the pent up anger. But the leadership of the agitation must ensure that investment of so much energy over the current agitation should address itself to larger grievances also. For that let us try to learn lessons from the earlier experiences and role of leaders of Jammu and where did they go wrong.

The first wrong decision they tool in recent times was, for instance, to support the Maharaja’s desire for an independent state and thus delay its accession to India till Pakistan sponsored raid on Kashmir left no choice for the Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah to accede to Indian Union and seek help of the Indian army to defend the state. The Sheikh did receive hero’s welcome when he came to Jammu as the Head of the Emergency Administration. After initial goodwill for Sheikh Abdullah, disillusionment with him started growing in Jammu as he did not have any political base here and did not know how to share power with its peoples. He ran the administration though the National Conference leaders as its officers, for instance.

About a year later, I warned Prime Minister Nehru of the consequences of the simmering discontent in Jammu. His reply was that while a Kashmiri leader would be the head of the Government, Jammu’s Maharaja would be the head of the state. This should satisfy both the regions. I argued that the arrangement was unjust to Jammu. For while political power will remain with Kashmiri leaders, people of Jammu would merely have an illusion that their man was living in the palace, who is a constitutional head would be without any power and would be inaccessible. Nehru told me “let us give this unstable stability a trial.”

Trial did not work too long. The Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah were not even on speaking terms. By June 1949, the Maharaja had to abdicate in favor of his son Karan Singh. There was again a movement for the “return of the Maharaja.” It did not occur to the leaders of Jammu that the age of Rajas and Maharajas was over.

After a prolonged campaign, I was able to persuade Nehru and Abdullah to declare on July 24, 1952 at a joint press conference that “the constitution of the state, when framed would provide for regional autonomy.” This would have provided a lasting solution of relations between Kashmir and Jammu regions, and to the Kashmir problem.

But the Praja Parishad, Jammu affiliate of the Bhartiya Jana Sangh, started an agitation on Delhi agreement on Centre-State relations, supplemented by the State-Region relations. Dr.Shyama Prasad Mukerjee the founder president of the Jana Sangh came to lend support of his party to it. He was kept in detention at Chashma Shahi house in Srinagar. During a prolonged correspondence with Nehru, he offered to support in his letter dated February 17, 1953, Delhi agreement and Article 370 provided regional autonomy was also granted. Nehru replied that this was granted in July 1952 and if he had realized his mistake, he should withdraw the movement. Mukerjee wanted some face saving device. Unfortunately he died in June 1953 before the final agreement between his party and Nehru could be announced.

Meanwhile the state government sent a 45 page draft on regional autonomy to Durga Das Verma , the underground leader of the Parishad agitation. After consulting some constitutional experts, he returned the draft with his party’s approval. Eventually the agitation was withdrawn after Nehru’s assurance on regional autonomy to the Praja Parishad leaders, who after their release, went to Delhi to meet him on July 3, 1953.
But according to Balraj Madhok , subsequent of the Jana Sangh , the party reversed this decision after some months on the direction of the RSS. To reverse the decision taken by Shyama Prasad and the Jammu Praja Parishad on a directive from the RSS was the biggest blunder that a party committed to the cause of Jammu. Thus Jammu missed an opportunity of getting a status of equality with Kashmir. Jammu missed another opportunity of acquiring such a status when Gajendragadhar Commission, in its report in 1967 on the basis of a representation of the Jammu Autonomy Forum, headed by me, conceded in its report in 1967 that regional autonomy would be an ideal solution of regional grievances but it did not recommend it as the idea was opposed by most of its leaders. The national executive of the Bhartiya Jana Sangh which met at Shimla in the same year dubbed the idea of regional autonomy as anti-national. Despite its opposition the idea continued to gain popular support from all communities of Jammu region, particularly Muslim majority districts of Rajouri, Poonch and Doda as also most of the secular parties of India.

The J&K State People’s Convention, convened by Sheikh Abdullah in 1968, representing the entire political spectrum of the valley, adopted internal constitution of the state drafted by me which provided for regional autonomy and further evolution of power to districts, blocks and Panchayats.

In early seventies when Indira-Abdullah talks were going on, Indira asked me to get Abdullah’s commitment to regional autonomy. He reiterated before power was transferred to him; so that there was no opposition from Jammu and Ladakh to him. Abdullah agreed to call a convention of leaders of Jammu and Ladakh in 1974 where he reiterated his commitment.

In 1996 when the National Conference government appointed a regional autonomy committee, headed by me, the BJP was the only party which boycotted it. Its opposition was used as an excuse by the government to reject my report. Regional identities are the greatest secularizing forces in the state. Any weakening of them might lead to divide the state on religious lines which is not in the interest of Jammu, Kashmir or the nation. There was a time when the BJP party and the government headed by it at the Centre had proposed for such a division. I argued with Advani, who was the deputy Prime Minister in that government, of the dangerous consequences of the move. Eventually he agreed with my arguments and told me I am convinced that the remedy is worse than the disease. Then I argued in favour of regional autonomy as a solution to the Jammu problem. He was convinced of that also and asked me to revive that idea. The government law minister also declared that parliament had no power to abrogate article 370, which, in any case, had nothing to do with the Jammu problem. Meanwhile all Left parties and the socialist groups supported the idea of the regional autonomy. I wanted it to be included in the Common Minimum programme of the Congress and the People Democratic Party agreed upon after 2002 election before forming a coalition government. But Manmohan Singh told me that the Jammu Congress was not keen it to be included in it.

Recently National Conference passed a resolution in its favour. It could be a basis of a dialogue with all Kashmir centric parties. For if as per PPP leader Asif Zardari Indo-Pak relations cannot be held hostage to Kashmir problem, the leaders of Kashmir based parties should also realize that regional harmony should not be held hostage to what they call final solution of the Kashmir problem. Thus the national course that the Jammu agitation should adopt is to convert it into regional autonomy; so that popular energy spent on it yields optimum results.

Balraj Puri is the editor of the journal J&K Human Rights Perspective. http://www.humanrightsjournal.com/