Autonomy for whom?

It’s only when it comes to the interest of the people that the rulers think of paying lip service to cause of J&K’s special position
While ruling out the extension of 73rd amendment to the Constitution of India, aimed at providing constitutional status to a fully empowered and democratically elected four-tire panchayati raj institutions, the State’s minister for law has justified his government’s stand by saying that this amendment is “ not applicable to the State in view of its special status.” By saying so Ali Mohammed Sagar has either betrayed his total ignorance about the objective and utility of this historic amendment or has been wittingly playing the cord of notional autonomy that Jammu and Kashmir enjoys in the country. The intransigence of the Omar-led State government on this issue does not flow from its concern to what has been left of the State autonomy but from a self-interest and as a matter of sheer political expediency. It flows from the rulers concern to concentrate powers in their own hands and use it for self-aggrandizement and betrays their lack of trust in the people at the grass-root levels, During the years since Article 370 was incorporated in the Constitution of India, providing for a special status to J&K within the country, the much trumpeted autonomy has been eroded to a great extent. A number of central laws have been extended to J&K both unilaterally and with the concurrence of the ruling establishment in the State. In this matter the National Conference is no exception. In fact the NC while in power has even been more responsible for the application of several anti-people laws, particularly those curbing people’s democratic rights than the Congress or other mainstream powers who ruled the State. The notonrious Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) is one such law which the rulers of the State have willingly supported for years and are still not categorically demanding its repeal.

The fact of the matter is that most of the central laws which are retrogressive in nature or which curb people’s democratic rights, have been extended to the State with the concurrence of the State’s ruling elite. Its only some of the progressive central laws and measures which serve the interests of the people at large, particularly the working classes, poor and marginalized sections of the people which are opposed by those in authority in the State, justifying such opposition in the name of autonomy. The present government’s intransigent stand on the question of extending the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution of India aimed at providing statutory status to the rural and urban institutions of local-self governance, betrays a mindset which believes in centralization of power and lacks trust in the people at the grass root levels.

The special status of the state should have benefitted the people and not those at the helm of affairs who are only interested in centralizing power and authority and deny the people their democratic and economic rights. The state laws enacted during the past six decades, sincethe Constitution was framed, are more retrogressive than the laws enacted by the Centre and applicable to all other states. These include the laws concerning the interests of the working classes, farmers, dalits, other backward communities and marginalized sections of the population.

On all counts the State enjoys much less functional autonomy than other states of the country. Even in the matters under the state and concurrent lists in the Constitution of India the State rulers have surrendered their authority and powers before the directions of the central government. For instance, unlike the other states, the State government abides by the directions of the Union government while making key appointments in the police and it’s the Centre’s writ which runs in the state on issues related to law and order. In fact other states, particularly those ruled by the non-Congress parties, enjoy much more functional autonomy than Jammu and Kashmir.

On the question of extending 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution of India to Jammu and Kashmir the right course for the State government was to go for similar amendments to the Constitution of J&K by providing a separate chapter dealing with the panchyati raj institutions and urban local bodies respectively, There is a sharp difference between amending the panchayati raj bill and providing a constitutional status and guarantees to the institutions of panchyati raj and urban local-self governance. In the former case the State government can easily amend the law on the whiff of its whims to suit its political convenience while in the latter case these institutions enjoy constitutional status which cannot be tampered with by the executive.