By K.N. Pandita
The authors of the report concede that “iniquitous delimitation of constituencies” is a raw deal to the people of Jammu. It does not adversely affect only just representation of the people of Jammu region in the legislature and the government but also embodies numerous ramifications that ultimately lead to economic disadvantage of the people of the region. Likewise, budgetary allocations on population basis in the case of Ladakh are unjust owing to territorial size of the region and its sparse population. While the authors touch on intra-regional tensions and fears exemplified by the Muslim dominated districts of Jammu region and Buddhist dominated region of Ladakh, it inexplicably sidetracks identical fears among the religious minorities in Kashmir Valley.
It is not clear how uprooted communities will be able to establish their direct stake in the State’s power structure through democratic governance carried out through appropriate regional and Panchayati Raj institutions. Democracy, as we are aware, is a number of games. Destiny of a community hinges on the number of souls it stands for. Reservation with specificities has been found a viable option of assuring the minorities that their voice will be heard in all organs of the state.
Before we proceed to deal with the chapter on Special Status, we would like to appreciate the Interlocutors for stating threadbare that UN Resolutions of 1948 and 1949 have lost their validity as stated by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2004. The chapter about Special Status for J&K is adequately dealt with and key features of legal documents beginning with the clauses of the Instrument of Accession have been precisely stated. There should be no controversy on various Articles of the Indian Constitution like Article 353 which clarify the constitutional status of the State. The authors have rightly carried the discourse from theoretical to practical aspect. Their report states that “the State’s economy is inextricably linked with the economy of India, especially on the strategic, economic, technological and cultural fronts”. This is the sum and substance of the need of extending various laws passed by the Indian Parliament to J&K State over the years. Application of these laws was possible only with the concurrence of the state legislature. It is true that three reviews were ordered by the state government at different times and consensus of opinion could not be arrived at. But that falls under juridical discourse and has little to do with political dimension of the case.
The interlocutors have made a cogent point by arguing that the people of the State in their capacity as Indian citizens would immensely benefit from autonomous institutions of the country like NHRC, National SC/ST Commission, National Commission for Minorities, National Commission for Women, etc. And finally the report winds up the debate about extension of the jurisdiction of various Indian institutions to the State by saying that “the State’s economy is inextricably linked with the economy of India, especially on the strategic, economic, technological and cultural fronts.” Therefore, it concludes that the demand of repeal of the Central laws is uncalled for.
However, the report lapses into ambiguity and complication when the recommendation of replacing word “temporary” with “special” is accepted in the case of Article 370. Example of Article 371 (Maharashtra and Gujarat) or Article 371A (Nagaland) is irrelevant because these states did not have the same background history as that of Jammu and Kashmir. If the word “temporary” reflects subtle doubt, it is unfounded because, as the interlocutors themselves argue, ultimately economic and developmental compulsions will make Article 370 irrelevant. That is what Jawharlal Nehru had meant when he said “ghiste ghiste ghis jayega” He had the future progress and development of the State in his mind.
A recommendation of far reaching importance is that of creating three Regional Councils, one each for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Ladakh will be given provincial status. The recommendation is to invest the three regions with legislative, executive and financial powers. This is the most feasible way of removing the sentiment of victimhood that has dogged the people over past six decades. It will not only speed up development of the regions but will also enhance inter-regional trade, tourism, economic activity and educational expansion. Panchayats are already in place and creation of empowered Regional Councils will put a seal on devolution of powers on each region. The report has brought historical content to the constitution of three Regional Councils, which is almost akin to regional autonomy. It has to be recollected that in 1996 elections NC leadership had championed regional autonomy for Jammu and Ladakh and sub-regional autonomy for ethnic and religious communities. Significantly it did not speak of sub-regional autonomy for religious communities in Kashmir Valley. Amusingly while the report seems to be supportive of regional as well as sub-regional autonomy by considering Balraj Puri’s 1999 RAC report as most comprehensive and realistic, the interlocutors are silent on the issue of sub-regional autonomy to religious minorities of Kashmir Valley.
Interlocutors have suggested that each region should have “fairer” representation in the Legislative Council of the State. In the earlier part of their report, the authors have conceded that discriminatory treatment has been meted out to Jammu and Ladakh regions. Their sense of discrimination will not be mitigated by “fairer” representation but by just and factual representation. Why has the delimitation been barred till 2026? Repealing of this law should have been strongly emphasized. By not making that recommendation, the interlocutors have, by their own confession, become inadvertent party to discrimination perpetrated against Jammu and Ladakh regions. The idea of clubbing displaced persons with the category of women, SC’s, STs and OBCs “assured representation” is ridiculous. Displaced persons in the state are the members of the minority group. They must get representation not as displaced groups but as minority group. Suppose they return to the valley one fine morning. Should they cease to have the right of sending their representatives to the Regional Council of the Legislative Assembly because they are no more displaced?
The recommendation for a Constitutional Committee to examine the legality etc. of Central laws extended to the State is an exercise in futility. Dissidents call it an eyewash and time gaining process. It does seem to be so. Let it be clear to all that even if this Committee is constituted, it will not be able to single out one instance where the Central law has been applied arbitrarily. Even if there is a stray instance does it make any big difference in the situation? If the interlocutors assert that the clock cannot be turned backward, then why make such a nebulous suggestion? Maybe a mechanism of denying Central laws any jurisdiction in J&K could be evolved for adoption in future. But there is no rationale for return to 1952 or 1947. Investment of six decades and half cannot be allowed to be trivialized and thrown into dustbin. The bogey of “dual status” of the people of J&K could become another source of alienation and estrangement. Majority community of the State is enjoying the rights and privileges of majority group in the State and minority group on national level. Minority community in the State is denied minority rights as they are told that they belong to national majority. This dichotomy is unjust and inequitable. Despite strong recommendations by the National Minority Commission, the State and Central governments both have refused to confer the status to the minorities of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. That is why the Working Group on Minorities at the UN Human Rights Council characterized Kashmiri Pandits as “reverse minority”. The purpose was to ensure their rights as members of a minority group in a particular region of a state.
(to be continued).