By K.N. Pandita
The resolution for clemency to Afzal Guru introduced in the Assembly by a private member has evoked unprecedented controversy and turned what could have been a historical debate into virtual “fish market” in the words of the Speaker. The much talked about resolution was anticipated to create ruckus and lines were sharply drawn. Reaction of the members was a mix of dirty politics, treachery and irresponsibility. BJP members questioned the jurisdiction of the Assembly and the Speaker in allowing the resolution in the business of the house. Introduction of the resolution resulted in strange combination and permutation among party members. There was virtual clash with BJP, NPP and Jammu Morcha making a common cause against the resolution. The role of the mainstream parties was more of ambiguity than of clear cut policy.
Congress members, instead of favouring or opposing the resolution, took up cudgels with the BJP raising an extraneous issue of the legality of their membership in the wake of floor crossing in Upper House election sometime back. The Congress members raised the issue of expulsion of BJP members and the fluid situation of that party in the Assembly. How can BJP escape the blemish of misusing the trust of their voters? But that is more an ethical than a legal issue to which Congress wanted to cling. However the Speaker of the House had, some days earlier, given his decision of maintaining status quo in regard to the status of expelled BJP members or the dissensions within that party. Congress members should have honoured the verdict of the Speaker. That has not happened, and the way Congress handled the matter lends credence to the allegation of Engineer Rashid, the MLA who introduced the private resolution, that the resolution was sabotaged. Amusingly, the Deputy Chief Minister joined the protesting MLAs from Congress and NC parties while the Chief Minister sat silently in his seat as an unconcerned spectator.
What trickled down from the stormy proceedings in the Assembly are some disappointing inferences. People are likely to ask some pointed questions. Is there deepening of communal polarisation in the State on the controversial resolution? Is it an attempt of a majority of J&K legislators to challenge and subvert the powers and authority of the President of India before whom the Guru case is pending? Is it a clear message to the authorities in New Delhi that Kashmiris want to legalise terror as an instrument of resolving the disputed status of the State? The mandate of the President of National Conference (Dr. Farooq Abdullah) to his party members in regard to the resolution under discussion is to vote according to their conscience. That is what the Chief Minister repeated. Muzaffar Baig is right in pointing out that it was the Chief Minister who first raised the question of clemency to one involved in the conspiracy of launching an attack on the highest and most powerful organization of the State. By asking the members to vote according to their conscience, it is clear that their vote goes in favour of the resolution because none among the party MLAs ever expressed aversion to the resolution for one or other reason. In the same vein, Congress has also taken an ambivalent stand by talking of generalities. When they say that the legal and constitutional authority of the State should be allowed to run, it has double meaning, one in favour of the resolution and the other against it. The debate on the resolution, the voting and the result of voting all are included in legal and constitutional framework. Interpretation of Congress’s statement lends as much legality and credibility to the parliamentary process in J&K Legislative Assembly as to the constitutional authority of the President of India. This is the ambivalent stand adopted by the Congress in regard to the resolution under discussion. According to reports PDP chose to be silent and non-committal in the matter of the upheaval in the House. It is debateable whether intervention by the PDP would have tilted the balance. The fact is that the PDP President has been forcefully and decisively speaking that they support the resolution. This is despite the fact that some of the amendments desired by the party were not accepted. Thus there is hardly any weight in accusing PDP of not doing what it should have done. It has done what it wanted to do.
Lastly the analogy of Tamilnadu Assembly cannot become the precedence. Tamilnadu is not a terror-stricken state as J&K is. No ISI sponsored and abetted terrorist groups are active in Tamilnadu as they are in J&K. Tamilnadu is not a border state like J&K where infiltration by well trained and armed terrorists from across the line of control is a regular feature. Tamilnadu is not governed by Article 370 of the Constitution as J&K is and does not enjoy special status. Internal and external situation in Tamilnadu is very different from J&K. More than four thousand of our defence personnel have had to sacrifice their lives to keep terrorists and separatists at bay in J&K. This is no mean a sacrifice. The analogy with Tamilnadu is misplaced.
Besides all this, the issue has a vital legal aspect as well. Lawyers at J&K High Court, Jammu, and at lower courts proceeded on one day’s strike protesting against the resolution for clemency to Guru. B.S. Salathia, Chairman Jammu Bar Association has raised a legal point. He says that politicians should not interfere in the affairs of the judiciary. Addressing the protesters, he said that a debate over a judicial verdict was a direct attack on the independence of the judiciary and the lawyers could not be mute spectators to it. The passing of clemency resolution by the Tamilnadu Assembly and the furiously contested resolution on a similar subject in J&K Assembly are likely to demand a nation-wide debate on the issue. Ultimately the Parliament will have to intervene and set at rest the controversial phenomenon of State Assemblies trying to interfere with the independence of judiciary in this country.