Kashmir enjoys far less functional autonomy than other Indian states

Much ado about nothing
Both the National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah and his chief minister son, who had been “proud allies” of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, with Omar Abdullahserving as a junior minister in Vajpyaee’s council of ministers, despite the fact that the BJP in its election manifesto had mentioned abrogation of Article 370, uniform civil code and construction of Ram temple at the site of demolished Babri mosque at Ayodhya as its major poll planks, have started paying lip service to Article 370 in their campaign during the ongoing elections to Lok Sabha. Farooq has warned that Jammu and Kashmir will secede from the Union if Article 370 was done away with. During the years this Article of the Constitution of India, providing special status to J&K in the country, has been eroded beyond recognition. A large number of Indian laws have been made applicable to the State, either with the consent of those in power in the State including the NC or unilaterally without those at the helm raising their voice against it. The NC entered into an alliance with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) knowing fully well that the party floated by the RSS is committed to the abrogation of Article 370, which has been its major election plank. This simply for sharing the crumbs of office at the Centre and retaining to power in the State. The humiliation which the NC suffered when Vajpayee-led government at the Centre contemptuously rejected the resolution adopted, nearly unanimously, by the State legislature seeking the restoration of the state’s eroded autonomy to pre’53 level is beyond description. It continued to function till its term expired without even any one in the party raising his eye-brow.

Farooq Abdullah as head of the NC had announced his party’s boycott of the Lok Sabha polls in April 1996 saying that his party would never join any electoral process, including the elections for the State assembly, until the State’s autonomy as restored to pre”53 level. But within months, in October 1996, he jumped into the election fray for the State Assembly though New Delhi had not taken any step to restore the State’s autonomy to its original position. Obviously he did this when assured of the support of the Indian establishment for his returning to power. After that he and his party forgot about the erosion of Article 370, remembering it only when their term was about to expire.

Omar Abdullah has been heading the State government in coalition with the Congress for the last over 5 months and during this period he has not taken up the question of the restoration of state’s autonomy with the Centre, except making occasional reference to the party’s stance on the question of restoration of state’s autonomy. His government even failed to take any followup action on the reports of the working group on Centre-state relations or that of the three-member group of interlocutors which had to some extent suggested restoration of the state’s autonomy. The cabinet sub committee to examine the Saghir panel report has since gone into hibernation after the repeated extension of its terms. The fact of the matter is that instead of restoring the state’s autonomy to pre’53 position, the state rulers have connived with the Centre to strengthen New Delhi’s hold over the state affairs. In practical terms J&K today enjoys far less autonomy than other states of the Union. Even the law and order, a state subject, is mostly been handled by the Centre in more than one way.

Intriguingly, during their ongoing election campaign neither Farooq Abdullah nor the chief minister has been talking of the restoration of autonomy to its original level; they are only raising their voice against the abrogation of Article 370 in its present form. This they are doing perhaps to oblige their alliance partner-Congress- which is mainly responsible for the erosion of state’s autonomy and favours only the status-quo in this regard. During their poll campaign in Jammu region, for instance, not once any NC leader including father-son duo has talked of the restoration of the State’s autonomy to pre’53 level. This appears to be a major shift in the NC’s stance on this issue, a price it has to pay for retaining its alliance with the Congress.