Between accession and merger, there seems to be some confusion, as no State of the country has fully merged into the Union of India and every state has some amount of autonomy
The controversy over J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s statement on accession was revived over a month after it was made as the BJP and some allied parties organised a Bandh in Jammu in protest against it on November 8 when the Durbar—the government offices—moved to Jammu, the winter capital of the State. The momentum of the protest has further been raised.
The party is holding demonstrations at various places where effigies of the chief minister were burnt. Some national leaders of the BJP have joined these protests. A senior leader like L K Advani condemned the chief minister for his statement. The party proposes to organise a bigger protest rally in Jammu on 24 December which its senior national leaders are expected to join. It has demanded apology from the chief minister who instead has reiterated his statement.
On October 6, chief minister in his 90 minute speech in the State Legislative assembly had said, “accession of the State to India has occurred under an agreement. We have not broken that agreement but you have gradually demolished it and people are aggrieved and angry for your act.” He further drew a distinction between accession of the State and that of other states which unlike J&K State had merged.
The statement was hailed in separatist circles. Syed Ali Shah Geelani said “Omar’s stand is not only vindication but also victory of the conglomerate’s stand.” On the contrary, the statement has shaken the pro-India elements. The BJP has made it a national issue.
In fact it is not so much an issue of views as of facts. The fact is that accession has no degrees. It is either accession or secession. The slogan raised by the Jana Sangh in 1953 for full accession and now by the BJP had no meaning. The controversy over full and limited accession raised by it had made the fact of accession a matter of controversy.
Similarly it is simply not true that the accession of J&K State to the Indian Union was under different conditions than other States.
All princely states acceded to Indian Union on the same terms and all rulers signed the same instrument of accession. There was no separate agreement with J&K State as contended by the chief minister, unless he means promise of plebiscite. But that was subject to many conditions which are a subject of dispute between India and Pakistan. The National Conference no longer insists on it. On July 24, 1952 Nehru in a statement on Delhi Agreement said, “The accession is complete in law and, in fact, J&K is a constituent unit of India like any other.”
Originally the Constitution of India had divided the country into three parts:
(A). Erstwhile provinces in British regime.
(C) States directly ruled by the Centre.
After some time, changes took place in the Constitution. Some States merged together as Patiala and some adjoining States called Pepsu. Institution of princes too was abolished in all States as it was done in Jammu and Kashmir State. Others merged with the neighbouring States at the time of reorganisation of the States on the basis of their linguistic affinity. Most of the States opted for status equal to part ‘A’ States under popular pressure, mobilized by Praja Mandals, counterparts of the Congress in princely States. Thus provision for ‘B’ States in the constitution was abolished.
In case of Jammu and Kashmir State no major changes took place till 1964 when head of the State continued to be called Sadar-i-Riyasat and head of the government as Prime Minister. In post Nehru period major changes took place in the constitutional relations of the State with the Union in concurrence with the State assembly through rigged elections and against popular sentiment in the valley when its most popular leader, Sheikh Abdullah was in jail.
So far as Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah’s distinction between accession and merger is concerned, there seems to be a confusion, as no State of the country has fully merged into the Union of India and every state has some amount of autonomy.
In fact in a federal country, no State is fully merged. There has been a demand in States like Tamil Nadu, Punjab, West Bengal and North East for more autonomy and the case of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is no different from these States. In same States the demand for autonomy took a more aggressive form. In Punjab, it was taken over by terrorists who demanded secession while in Tamil Nadu the Indian flag and Constitution were burnt in early years of independence. In North East, a violent movement is still going on.
Gradually, Indian federal system was able to satisfy aspirations of most of the states except North East and J&K. The powers of the States expanded partly because, opposition parties were elected to power in many States and partly because liberal interpretation of the constitution by the Supreme Court. Earlier the centre could dismiss any State government and impose Governor’s rule, who represented the President and worked under the direction of the Union Government. Now no elected State government can be dismissed arbitrarily by the Union government as long as it is working according to the provisions of the constitution.
In J&K, as long as the State government was run by a party different from that in power at the Centre—The National Conference in the State and Janata and Congress Parties at the Centre from 1975 to 1986—the people of Kashmir enjoyed a greater degree of autonomy and there was no sense of alienation among them. However now partly on account of regional tensions, internationalization of the issue by Pakistan and partly due to follies of the central government, discontent was revived and continues in Kashmir valley.
Basically, the National Conference of Kashmir wants more autonomy as agreed upon by Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah under an Agreement in 1952 which should be considered. But the apprehensions of Jammu and Ladakh regions cannot be dismissed about it. The first step, therefore, should be no reconcile the aspirations of all regions which the 1952 Agreement had taken care of. For it also included a provision for regional autonomy.
It is within the jurisdiction of the state assembly to grant regional autonomy. It is the responsibility of the government and the political parties of the State to decide exact form of regional autonomy. If regional aspirations are satisfied, it would be much easier to work out a consensus over the form of autonomy of the State or any status that leaders of Kashmir aspire for.
Author is Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir affairs, Karan Nagar Jammu and can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. www.humanrightsjournal.com