Nothing to be alarmed

Jammu & Kashmir and the Indian union

The frenzy that followed Omar Abdullah’s statement in the J&K Assembly on October 6 was much ado about nothing, based on a poor understanding of the facts and process of the post-Independence integration of the princely states. The Assembly was in turmoil and BJP and Panther MLAs had to be ejected from the chamber for unruly behaviour.

The chief minister was accused of challenging Kashmir’s accession and its status as an integral part of India. He did nothing of the kind. Outraged Pandits accused him of fostering separatism. Syed Ali Shah Geelani hailed Omar’s statement as a belated admission of the bitter truth of a ‘dispute’ that required a ‘political settlement’ and hailed it as a great separatist ‘victory.’ Poor man. His delusions grow by the day.

What are the facts? Article 1(2) of the Constitution read alongside the First Schedule (and the corresponding provisions of the J&K constitution) names J&K as a constituent unit of the Union and as much an integral part of India as Bihar or Gujarat. Omar did not question this.

The BJP has consistently misinterpreted and misunderstood Article 370. This falls under the chapter governing ‘temporary, transitional and special provisions’. It defines the special relationship between the Union and J&K and the mechanism for modifying it.

Much anger was, aroused by Omar’s statement that J&K acceded conditionally in 1947 but did not merge with India like other princely states. He is perfectly correct. Accession, in the case of all states, was limited to the three heads of defence, foreign affairs and communications. This was followed in one or more steps by merger agreements that were concluded individually with larger states and collectively with smaller states brought together to form coherent units like Kathiawar, PEPSU, Matsya, Chhattisgarh and the Eastern (Orissa) and Deccan states union.

V P Menon explains (in ‘The Integration of the Indian States’) that the peremptory merger of any state after accession would have been contrary to Sardar Patel’s assurances to the princes on July 5, 1947, and the subsequent commitment formally made by the Viceroy in the Chamber of Princes on July 25, 1947. He comments, “it was true that at that time we were anxious by the policy of accession on three subjects to preserve the integrity of the country, thus preventing the states from becoming so many ‘Ulsters’ in the body-politic.”

The rulers of the Eastern States Union and of Chhattisgarh signed the merger agreement on December 15, 1947. On January 26, 1948, at its very first meeting, the constituent assembly of the United Deccan States resolved that it merge with Bombay province. Kohlapur, a stand-out, merged some weeks later. Saurashtra, Matsya and Vindhya Pradesh followed.

Accession

In the case of the Rajasthan Union, Menon notes it was made obligatory on the Rajpramukh “to accept all the subjects in the federal and concurrent lists for legislation by the Dominion Legislature, excepting entries relating to taxation and duties.” Financial integration followed. This was repeated in regard to Travancore-Cochin and Mysore. J&K remained the only exception. It acceded but did not merge. Article 370 survives.

Omar Abdullah merely reaffirmed the special status of J&K. If Geelani takes comfort in this it means he accepts that the state is an integral part of India. Critics took umbrage at Omar’s referring to the ‘dispute’ over J&K. Nothing wrong there. It is not the fact but the nature of the dispute that is in contention. From the Indian point of view, the dispute revolves around Pakistan’s failure to vacate its aggression which India took to the UN Security Council in 1948. If Omar called for a political resolution of the matter, he merely stated the obvious.

Pakistan has now fired its annual broadside in the UN, going back on the Manmohan-Musharraf formula that Musharraf has again insisted was fairly close to becoming a done deal — when he backed off after messing things up at home. His statement that Islamabad sponsored terror groups in Pakistan to operate against Kashmir (read India), later crudely retracted (but recently confirmed by the UN Commission that inquired into Benazir Bhutto’s killing), merely conforms to the familiar pattern of Pakistan’s rulers living a lie since 1947.

Meanwhile, the Jamait Ulame-e-Hind and the Darul Ulema Deoband have described J&K as an integral part of India and Kashmiri demands must be addressed within the framework of the Indian constitution. This apostasy has drawn fire from Kashmir separatists who would deny Indian Muslims any locus standi in J&K.

Geelani, like many Pakistanis, has not read Jinnah’s repudiation of the two-nation theory in his August 11, 1947, address to the Pakistan constituent assembly, discounting any commonality between Muslims even within Pakistan. Geelani is an unabashed Pakistani for whom the Kashmir jihad is a duty imposed by Islam on the worldwide Muslim ummah. These are the rantings of a sick mind. Let us all get our facts and history right.

The new J&K non-political interlocutors, Dileep Padgaonkar, M M Ansari and Radha Kumar, and the two task forces for Jammu and Ladakh, just appointed have knowledge, balance and experience and must now be given a chance to get a quiet dialogue going. Political endorsement will necessarily have to follow. If anyone wishes to stay out of the dialogue, let them not think they command a veto. The caravan must move on.

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