Autonomy in Jammu
& Kashmir and Regional Minorities
by Prof. K. N.
is the former Director, Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of
The concept of sovereignty of states does not exclude
decentralisation of authority
on a territorial basis. The purposes of territorial subdivision can be
several, not necessarily linked to efforts to accommodate different ethnic
or linguistic groups, and very seldom intended to separate religious groups.
It may, however, be a very useful device to facilitate the accommodation
of different ethnic and linguistic groups which live compactly together
in separate parts of the state. But it can also have its dangers, as evidenced
by the Bosnian situation in recent times.
sometimes 'greater autonomy', is the main plank of the National Conference's
political agenda. The Assembly elections of September 1996 were fought
and won by the party on that basis. Never before did it make autonomy an
issue to be given any priority in successive election manifestoes in the
past. Some differences, which had surfaced between the Congress and the
National Conference in the past and had soured their relations temporarily,
had nothing to do with the autonomy question. These differences were ironed
out when Sheikh Abdullah-Indira Gandhi Accord came about in 1975 followed
by Rajiv-Farooq Accord in 1984.
Made A Condition
Abdullah resigned as Chief Minister in early 1990. The reason for his resignation
was the appointment of Mr. Jagmohan as Governor for the second time. Autonomy
was not the issue. But when, after seven years of insurgency, conditions
were considered conducive for holding parliamentary and then assembly elections,
the National Conference leadership made autonomy the condition for joining
the democratic process.
Conference President, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, has reiterated Kashmir's accession
with India as final and irrevocable. The militants in Kashmir have been
orchestrating 'azaadi' - meaning freedom from Indian control. Their struggle
- not considered reasonable by the nationalist sections of society - has
taken a heavy toll of life and property in the Valley. The Government of
India had to fight insurgency to fulfill its constitutional obligation
of preserving India's sovereignty and territorial integrity. In the background
of this political scenario, the demand of the National Conference for autonomy
is an attempt to indirectly legitimise the movement and meet its demand
half way. Therefore, there should be no doubt in anybody's mind about the
ultimate destination of greater autonomy. It has to be remembered that
there was neither any insurgency in the Jammu and Ladakh regions nor any
demand for autonomy. The demand from these regions was decentralisation
and removal of discriminatory treatment. What autonomy proposes is further
centralisation of power in the hands of Kashmir's majority group.
I would not
go into legal and juridical implications of autonomy to which legal luminaries
may address. But it needs to be reminded that when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah
came to power for the second time in 1975, he appointed a committee headed
by his lieutenant, Mirza Afzal Beg, the seniormost member and law minister
in his cabinet, to examine the erosion of the State's autonomy after his
ouster on August 9, 1953. The committee conducted the examination and when
Mirza Beg died, another cabinet minister, Mr. Devi Das Thakur, assumed
its chairmanship. The committee in its final report submitted that there
was no erosion of constitutional and legal provisions governing the State's
relations with the Centre. Does it not suggest that the present demand
for autonomy is essentially politically motivated?
If the National
Conference demanded that no further Central laws would be accepted for
application to the State of Jammu and Kashmir hereafter, that would have
carried a different meaning. But return to ambiguous cut-off line (pre-
1952, pre-1953, anywhere between 1953 and 1975, etc.) is reconfirmation
of very unclear destination of the party's autonomy demand.
of absolute majority in the Legislative Assembly is a strong temptation
for the ruling National Conference to introduce a bill for greater autonomy.
The United Front government is already committed to granting it. Evidently,
the government will shore it up with a plethora of arguments to legitimise
the initiative. As such, we must consider the consequences that are likely
to flow in the trail of the passing of the bill.
We do not know
as yet the final contours and quantum of contemplated autonomy nor do we
know the frame of regional autonomy which the Chief Minister has said a
number of times he is prepared to concede to the three regions of the State.
But we shall be justified in visualising what could be the fall-out of
this measure on the minorities in the entire State.
of autonomy in theoretical terms is to find a mechanism of meeting the
aspirations of the minorities in a given state and to help it develop its
identity. This definition would have suited the State of Jammu and Kashmir
without much debate if it was inhabited by a homogeneous national minority.
That is not the case. Therefore, the concept of autonomy has to be dovetailed
to suit the peculiar demographic distribution in the State. Essentially,
we have to talk about religious minority/majority syndrome although the
ethnic and linguistic aspect of demographic distribution in the State is
of no little significance. The national minority in India becomes regional
majority in Jammu and Kashmir and, conversely, the national majority in
India becomes the local minority in Kashmir. In the case of the Jammu region,
numerically there is only a narrow gap between the majority and the minority
groups in comparison to the Kashmir valley. In the Ladakh region, there
is also majority-minority situation. Again in the Jammu region, we have
pockets with an overwhelming religio-linguistic majority with kinship extended
to the Kashmir valley.
For New Aspiration
arising from this ground situation is this: Will the autonomy open avenues
for the realisation of the aspirations of these minorities and will it
tend to provide the wherewithal for the development of their respective
identities? The ruling party will have to provide the answer.
It is generally
believed that the demand of autonomy is raised essentially to meet the
rising aspirations of the ruling Sunni elite of the Valley within whose
circle political and economic power remained monopolised in the past. This
elite wants not only to rule but also to reign. Autonomy being a power-sharing
mechanism, what are the guarantees that the elite would share it, for example
with the minuscule religious minority in the Valley. Not only that. What
guarantee is there that it would share it with the ethnic and linguistic
minority? The representation of the Shias, Pandits and Gujjars, who fall
into minority groups in all the three regions of the state, have been abysmally
negligible. In particular, in the straightjacketed bureaucracy of the State,
the entry of these categories is an uphill task. In the light of the well-known
axiom that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, the minorities
would, undoubtedly, receive a rough deal under autonomy dispensation.
up the question of security concerns. Jammu and Kashmir is a border state
sandwiched between two inimical neighbours, namely, Pakistan and China,
with mutual nexus. Both have grabbed whatever territory they could of the
original state of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan has bartered away 5,000 squre
miles of the occupied territory to China in return for the construction
of Karakorum Highway. The highway has posed a serious threat to the security
of India and of the State. An autonomous state sandwiched between these
two uncanny enemies is highly vulnerable to their nefarious designs as
in the past and to spying as in the case of Nepal. Pandit Nehru once said
that he would offer Kashmir to Pakistan on a platter rather than opt for
its independence. Everybody knows how the Anglo- American bloc has been
responding to India's position in Kashmir. Only a massive presence of the
Central authority in the State can be a guarantee against the designs of
these enemies. Any other country placed in this situation would have turned
the State into a sensitive strategic border area and placed it under full
military control at least for another 20 years.
India is a
multi-religious, multi-linguistic and multi-ethnic country. Parliament
represents most of these identities. Naturally, laws passed by Parliament
have a true national character. The purpose is to carry our Indian masses
from economic backwardness and social deprivations to multi-faceted development.
Application of the laws passed by the Indian Parliament to the State selectively
in the past was guided by the principle of multi-faceted development of
its citizens. A benefit of these laws, among other things, was judicious
integration of the people of India of multitudinous identities. Autonomists
have the compulsion and commitment to look at these national and people-based
perceptions from a myopic regional standpoint, losing the sight of a futurist
Indian society struggling for gradual integration.
of autonomy linked with accession and Muslim majority character is not
administrative decentralisation. It has serious ramifications for the survival
of secularism in India as a principle of Indian nation state. There has
neither been armed insurgency in Jammu and Ladakh nor has there been any
demand for autonomy. Of course, there have been strong protestations in
both the regions against discrimination by the Kashmir ruling elite over
the years. Ladakh has a leaning towards a Union Territory status and Jammu
has been fluctuating from Vishal Duggar Desh to regional autonomy to trifurcation
of the State. These demands are the manifest reaction to the dominance
of the ruling elite of the Kashmir Valley. Autonomy, therefore, means further
empowerment of that group and further alienation of Jammu and Ladakh regions
from the mainstream, besides strangulation of the minorities.
A certain section
of thinkers in this country speaks forcefully in favour of regional and
subnational identities. Without attempting to destroy these, effort has
to be made for integrating them through positive and healthy interaction.
Autonomy on the basis of subnational projections means blocking the process
of integration. Integration means not only socio- political but most importantly
financial. As we see, the world is heading towards economic globalisation.
Countries are moving from a military alliance to an economic alliance.
The European countries have integrated into the European Council, the European
Parliament and the European Market. The introduction of a common European
currency is on the cards. One can travel in all the five countries of Europe
with a single visa. Contrary to it, what the National Conference is proposing
for the State is a ghetto where the people's mind gets shut through the
psychological fall-out of an autonomous status of their State. Will this
not lead to dealienation or further alienation of the people of the State
and especially those of the Valley ? In such a situation, only the minorities
get a raw deal.
part of armed insurgency and Islamisation agenda in Kashmir has been the
extirpation of small Hindu community from its homeland. In no other Indian
state has such a thing happened in post-independence period, leaving aside
occasional communal riots with causes other than those governing the exodus
of Kashmiri Pandits. This has exploded the myth of communal harmony in
Kashmir. If the Indian leaders wanted to sell to the world that Kashmir
was a slap on the face of believers in two-nation theory, alas, they have
miserably failed. They lived in a utopia of their own creation but at the
cost of three lakh defenceless Kashmiri Hindus which we consider a crime
against humanity. Rabid Islamic indoctrination of Kashmiri Muslim youth
has been the primary instrument of conducting anti-India and anti-Hindu
campaign in Kashmir during several decades in the past. This weapon of
indoctrination has been more lethal than Kalashnikovs because indoctrination
percolates through generations. The National Conference has vowed to eradicate
the gun; a month's notice has been given to the militants to surrender
weapons and those, who do, will be recruited into State police.
question is: What about this deadly weapon of fundamentalist indoctrination
which has made the Kashmiri youth perverse? The government has not come
out with any plan and programme of cleaning the slate and offering it for
new impressions and symbols. Not only that, the real source of the grilling
indoctrination campaign remains intact. Will the government impose a ban
on Jamaat-e-Islami, the formidable machine generating communal hatred and
violence? Will it close down the Jamaati schools mushroomed in the length
and breadth of Kashmir and Doda? Will the government impose severe restraints
on clerics not only from Kashmir but from U.P. and Bihar who continue with
their hate-Hindu and hate-India tirades in the mosques? Will the government
weed out communal elements in the administration and bureaucracy which
have been the breeding grounds of anti-national activities and anti- minority
measures? With a mentally diseased bureaucracy, with a sectarian dominated
administration, with police units stuffed with surrendered militants (who
have surrendered only their guns and not their ideology), with people still
sadistically rejoicing the gutting of Hindu houses and property and with
thousands of minority houses and shops either forcibly occupied or acquired
through fake documents, is not autonomy going to put a seal on them?
In the final
analysis, we think that given double constitutional safeguards, a functional
democratic system and the experience of good-governance models, the State
of Jammu and Kashmir should strive to come closer to the Indian Union in
letter and in spirit, benefiting more from its progressive socio-political
arrangement than running into the ghetto of autonomy. It should also be
remembered that the real protection of a truly popular government is the
support of the masses and not the prowess of the black cats. A government,
which wants to retain the security forces in the state in a large number
and then ask for their further increase, cannot instill a sense of security
among the minorities. As such, it has little legitimacy to demand autonomy.
These are two contradictory positions and the dichotomy runs vertically
down. In the process, autonomy loses its substance and becomes a crude
political gimmick, a blackmail of those who demand, those who give and
those who receive.