Across the aisle by P Chidambaram: Azadi, autonomy and Mr Azad | The Financial Express
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Across the aisle by P Chidambaram: Azadi, autonomy and Mr Azad

Although the Congress party diluted its position over the years, it reaffirmed the core of the idea — special status — at every opportunity.

Across the aisle by P Chidambaram: Azadi, autonomy and Mr Azad
Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, a senior and long-time member of the CWC, was present and voted in favour of the resolution.

Since 1947 there have been two opposing ideas of Kashmir. From time to time, the ideas mutated into many variants creating an impression that there were more than two ideas of Kashmir. Actually, there are only two ideas and they oppose each other.

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The original idea is embodied in the history of Kashmir and the Instrument of Accession signed by the then Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, on October 26, 1947. The Constituent Assembly recognised the Instrument of Accession and the Congress party embraced the idea behind it. Although the Congress party diluted its position over the years, it reaffirmed the core of the idea — special status — at every opportunity.

The opposite idea owes its origin to Syama Prasad Mukherjee who was a member of the first Cabinet of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947. The RSS and its political offsprings, including the BJP, embraced Mukherjee’s idea, added layers to it over the years, and distorted it to a point where they rejected the Instrument of Accession.

Congress’ consistent stand

On August 5, 2019, the BJP government took the extreme step of abrogating the special status of Jammu & Kashmir, dismembered the State and created two Union Territories — Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.

Also Read: Labouring under an illusion

On the next day, the Congress Working Committee convened an emergency meeting and adopted a resolution that, inter alia, read:

“The CWC deplores the unilateral, brazen and totally undemocratic manner in which Article 370 of the Constitution was abrogated and the State of Jammu and Kashmir was dismembered by misinterpreting the provisions of the Constitution… Article 370 is the Constitutional recognition of the terms of the Instrument of Accession between the State of Jammu and Kashmir and India. It deserved to be honoured until it was amended, after consultation with all sections of the people, and strictly in accordance with the Constitution of India.”

Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, a senior and long-time member of the CWC, was present and voted in favour of the resolution.

Steps not irreversible

It is necessary to recall the purportedly ‘legal’ steps taken by the Modi government:

  1. No Constitution (Amendment) Bill was brought in Parliament or passed.
  2. On August 5, 2019, the government issued an Order under Art 370(1) superseding a similar Order of 1954 and adding clause (4) to Art 367 (the Interpretation Article of the Constitution).
  3. On the same day, the government brought a Resolution before Parliament for the repeal of Art 370 and it was passed by both Houses, purportedly under the proviso to Art 370(3) of the Constitution.
  4. On the same day, the government introduced and passed in the Rajya Sabha the Jammu and Kashmir (Re-organisation) Bill, 2019 bifurcating the State and creating two Union Territories. It was passed by the Lok Sabha on the next day. This was done purportedly under Art. 3 of the Constitution.
  5. On August 6, 2019, the President made a Notification purportedly under Art 370 (3) of the Constitution declaring that all the clauses of Art 370 shall as from 6th August 2019 cease to be operative except a new sole clause that was introduced by the same Notification.

All members of the CWC were convinced that the above steps were illegal and unconstitutional. Nothing that the government did on those two fateful days required a two-third majority of the members present and voting in either House. The Order and the Notification were issued in exercise of executive powers. The Resolution and the Bill were passed with a simple majority.

These questionable steps have been challenged in the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court holds any or all of the steps to be unconstitutional, the step(s) will be reversed. Alternatively, if another government replaced the Modi government, it is possible that the new government may reverse some or all of the steps. Mr Azad certainly knows all that. Then, why did Mr Azad say that a political party promising to restore Art 370 would be “telling lies” to the people (something he would never do)?

Not Azadi, but autonomy

The issue that is central to the people of J&K is not Art 370. It is the special status.

Notwithstanding the ‘repeal’ of Art 370 in August 2019, the vast majority of the people of Kashmir Valley (and there is significant support in Jammu and Ladakh as well) crave for a special status that, by and large, confers autonomy on the State while J&K remains, forever, an integral part of the Republic of India. In my numerous interactions with the people, I was convinced that they do not demand Azadi or freedom or secession. They seek a large degree of Autonomy. They recall the words of P V Narasimha Rao (“the sky is the limit”) and of A B Vajpayee (“Insaniyat, Jamhuriat, Kashmiriyat”). There is nothing unusual in a State craving a large degree of autonomy within a federation. India continues to recommend that very course to Sri Lanka, as recently as on August 12, 2022 at the UNHRC. The Naga groups demand the same in their talks with the government which are stalled on the issue of ‘degree of autonomy’.

Mr Azad, Member, CWC, MP and Leader of the Opposition, lent his voice to the original idea of Kashmir. It is an unfortunate turn of fate that Mr Azad, minus the status of MP, has embraced the opposite idea of Kashmir.than RBI’s estimate. What does this slow start foretell about the remaining three quarters?

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