The by-elections of the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat in J&K has once again shown the real state of affairs in the State; with 8 killed and 7.14 per cent polling, it is one of the worst elections it has seen in past three decades. So much so that the Election Commission has been forced to defer the Anantnag bypoll which was on April 12 to May 25 as the law and order situation prevailing in the Valley is not conducive for holding free and fair elections. It has brought to focus the urgency of finding a solution to the complex problem so that continued bloodshed and loss of life of the misguided youth, as well as that of the security forces, can come to an end. It is apparent that both the sides are clear about each otherās position, yet are not prepared to blink due to their own compulsions. Over the years, successive State and Central governments have tried all kinds of permutations and combinations, including diluting the autonomy already granted, sometimes due to misplaced suspicions, but have unfortunately not found a lasting solution. Should the government at the Centre remain a silent spectator? Present situation calls for a bold initiative which majority in the country thinks that only a Prime Minister like Modi is capable of taking.
The nation today is divided sharply on certain issues; it has been observing different interpretations of the right to freedom of speech granted by the Constitution. Recent happenings in JNU, Jadhavpur University, Ram Jas College, Delhi and some other educational institutions have polarized the nation; some students and teachers support the freedom of expression and in their exuberance cross the limits to prove their point of view while some others consider themselves as the lone custodians of Indiaās sovereignty and territorial integrity and feel the right to freedom of expression is getting misused. A major part of the educated men and women are divided on the issues. Unfortunately, the political parties unmindful of the damage they are doing lend support to their student wings to get mileage out of the complex situation.
The present scenario lends credence to the view that the challenges we face as a nation to our internal security have increased manifold. Attacks by determined militants on Red Fort, Parliament and the 26/11 attacks as also the activities of Naxalites in at least nine of our States has shattered the myth that only J &K, Punjab, HP and the East are vulnerable to terrorist-related actions. The prophecy by Thomas P.Thorton in his book, āA look at South Asia, Sea Changesā edited by Nicholas Rizouopulor, Council of Foreign Relations Press, New York, āIndiaās future, especially, will be determined more by indigenous than external factorsā is turning out to be true. India is a nation at war with itself, a war waged by the secessionist elements among our population at every layer though the war is aided and abetted by our neighbours, Pakistan and China in every possible manner.
Even if the number of those challenging the legitimacy of their own State is small, the matter is of serious concern for a nation posed to become a super power. How can we check the culture of anti-national and anti-terror sentiments which impede the path of our growth? As most of the troubled areas are in the periphery regions, obviously, the external forces have been playing a major role in our domestic instability. As such while the role of the armed forces to safeguard our borders will continue to be crucial, the national security policy must take in to account the internal threat perceptions. Is this is the right time to initiate the debate on autonomy in J&K?
The issue of autonomy in J&K has remained at the core of the politics of the State since its accession to the Union of India in 1947. Different governments at the Centre have always considered the theme as an indirect route to demand for total freedom by the political parties supporting it. In fact, both the sides, the ones who favour the autonomy and the others who oppose it, lack complete knowledge of the issue and their support or opposition is fuelled only by narrow political gains. One side doesnāt appreciate the entire picture and the other is blinded by unreasonable patriotism. The ground reality is that out of a total area of 2, 22,236 of the State, 78,114 sq km is in illegal occupation of Pakistan (PoK), 5180 sq km has been illegally handed over by Pakistan to China and 37,555 sq km is in illegal occupation of China. Should this fact inject a dose of realism which most of us like to ignore when discussing any issue related to J&K.
Over a period of time, the world has realized that concrete borders and hyper-nationalism cannot help in solving complex international problems. No nation can remain an island and within the nations the dependence of the various parts on each other is even more important for their survival and growth in the twenty first century. The tragedy is that both the aspects of āSecularā and āFederalā provided by the Constitution of India which gives us the status of a secular State with a federal structure have become the root cause of all problems related with our internal security. It is unfortunate that the democracy we practice has thrown us a political system which has not been able to instil a sense of confidence in the minds of the common man and more and more frustrated citizens are raising the revolt of armed struggle in different parts of the country.
The need for more autonomy to the States has been appreciated by all the governments at the Center after the Sarkaria Commission submitted its recommendations which stressed that unless and until the entire nation participated effectively in the political process, pockets of frustration resulting in terrorist activities and insurgent uprisings cannot be curtailed. It is clear that our geographical vastness, multiple religions, faiths and languages and cultural diversity demand more decentralization of domestic issues of the States. There are no two ways about the fact that a strong Centre is a must to maintain the harmony of 29 States and handle any threats to internal and external security challenges. The āfedralismā of the political, social and most importantly the economic issues which has always remained important has now become urgent and needs to be tackled forthwith.
There are problems in the UN Security Council Resolution dated 13 August 1948 which cannot be resolved easily as successive State and Centre governments have made certain āmistakesā. Citizens more than ever understand it now that the ship of state cannot sail smoothly if all are not on board. Accepting that Kashmir is a problem which must be solved urgently is the first step and like all problems which need solutions, the complexity of the problem must be understood very clearly by all the stake-holders.
A Strong centre is an absolute must for our kind of democracy but theoretical patriotism should not suffocate the genuine urge of the citizens of the States for more freedom within the Constitution. They must be permitted to assert their cultural and political identity and autonomous political space. Going back in the history to understand why it was that J&K came to the negotiating table and why was it given a special status through Article 370 and the Presidential (constitution) order of 1950, should become the starting point. Also why was it that the State adopted its own Constitution in 1957?
The Centreās experiment with Sheikh Abdullah as Prime Minister was short-lived and he had to be dismissed and arrested in 1953. It is unfortunate that the then government unwisely used 42 constitutional orders to curtail the powers of the State. At present many Articles have been made applicable to the State. It may be noted that when in 1953 the erosion of autonomy of J&K began, 94 subjects out of 97 in the Union list in the Seventh Schedule were not applicable to the State.
The State Autonomy Committee (SAC) submitted a report in 1999 had recommended āThe provisions of the Constitution of India specified in the Second Schedule and the matters specified in the First Schedule to the Constitution (applicable to J&K) Order 1950 and the matters agreed to by the representatives of the State and the Union vide the Delhi Agreement of 1952 should continue to apply to the Stateā¦ā¦ā¦.all Orders issued thereafter under clause (1) of Article 370 of the Constitution of India by the President applying various provisions and matters of the Constitution of India to the Stateā¦ā¦ā¦.should cease to apply.ā
In addition to the SAC recommendations, the State has also witnessed demand for regional autonomy. The Regional Autonomy Committee (RAC) was also constituted along with SAC by the National Conference government in 1996. It may be pertinent to note that any government can get it passed with two-third majority in the State Assembly without even referring to the Centre. No one can suggest that we should go back to the pre-1953 days, but no one should also forget that J&K enjoys a special status and needs to be given a special treatment by looking sympathetically into the SAC and RAC reports if one has to find a way out of the imbroglio.