Autonomy shock!

The National Conference has yet again received the `autonomy’ shock. The report of the Interlocutors awaiting consideration by the Home Minister of India since October 2011 was `deliberately’ leaked to the press. The report ruled out restoration of autonomy by stating it would create a constitutional crisis.The apprehension of the Interlocutors is not totally unfounded.  Some people in the state believe that autonomy was the best solution to the vexed problem.

How to achieve the goal? Can it be granted by the Prime Minister and his cabinet?  According to constitutional experts, the government has to go to the Parliament and amend the constitution, or re-induct the omitted articles that spoke about autonomy of the state.  This also is not possible. The government lacks the numbers required for passing such amendments. The opposition shall oppose such move tooth and nail for obvious reasons.

And shockingly this is the only recourse available. Going to the Parliament is a necessity if New Delhi is serious about the issue. The article on central-state relations was omitted from the Indian constitution through an amendment during Bakshi’s rule. Pertinent to mention Article 238 spoke about nomenclature of the top posts of the state.  In absence of Art 238, the Chief Minister of Jammu Kashmir cannot be the Prime Minister and Governor cannot be the Sader-e-Riyasat.

With New Delhi’s nominated interlocutors ruling out change in the nomenclature of the posts of Governor and Chief Minister, the advocates of autonomy must be disappointed.

This is not the first time when NC has received `autonomy shock’. In 1996 Dr Farooq led Government constituted the State Autonomy Committee (SAC). The SAC produced a detailed report which was submitted to New Delhi for consideration. The state legislature even passed a resolution seeking restoration of autonomy. However, the then government at New Delhi rejected the resolution as well as the autonomy document.  

Jammu Kashmir is a very sensitive issue. The gullible people in India believe that Jammu Kashmir binds them to the Indian union. Therefore, developments in the state are viewed with extreme caution and interest.  Scores of states in India are up in arms against New Delhi. Some demand absolute sovereignty and some are unhappy with the system. Granting autonomy to Jammu Kashmir at this stage, therefore, is not simply possible. It will have a serious bearing on government of India. It may end up in a change in the pattern of governance. Is India prepared for a federal system of governance? This perhaps is the reason that the BJP government did not consider National Conference’s autonomy document.   

The `leak’ has vindicated a Valley based senior columnist. According to him, New Delhi cannot give the autonomy gift to National Conference. “The separatists call the shots in Kashmir. Syed Ali Geelani runs the show and he has made his intentions clear. He is not interested in autonomy. He has given his five point formula and wants the government of India to accept Jammu Kashmir as a disputed territory. Like him, the majority of the people in Kashmir are not interested in autonomy”, he believes.

Similarly nobody in Jammu and Ladakh has shown any liking for autonomy. So why should New Delhi restore autonomy? And to whom shall it be gifted? Gifting it NC will make no difference. And the people who matter are averse to the very idea.  

Surprisingly the National Conference has not reacted officially to the leak. The only reaction came from Dr Baig who, while talking to a news channel said the report had vindicated the stand of the separatists.  The leak will have a serious bearing on Chief Minister’s one man panel headed by the finance minister (Rather Panel) that was constituted to study Justice (Late) Sageer’s recommendations on restoration of autonomy.

 The Panel was directed to submit its report within three months. The panel has completed 18 months and the report is still awaited. Political experts believe the leak had rendered the Panel infructious.   

Justice Sageer headed one of the working groups formed by the Prime Minister in 2006. Sageer’s report was considered a victory by the National Conference although it made only a passing reference of autonomy.
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