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HVK Archives: Centre only consistent policy has been to erode JK autonomy

Centre only consistent policy has been to erode JK autonomy - The Indian Express

Ritu Sarin ()
22 December 1996

Title : "Centre only consistent policy has been to erode JK autonomy"
Author : Ritu Sarin
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : December 22, 1996

When the National Conference came back to power in Jammu
and Kashmir, the return of its former ruler, Karan Singh
to the centrestage was a forgone conclusion. Singh who at
36, became the Youngest Union Cabinet Minister, had kept
his links with the troubled state and was the only promi-
nent leader who reached Srinagar during the Hazratbal and
Charar-e-Sharif crises. Now, he heads the crucial nine-
member committee to look into the autonomy issue. With
this assignment and the nomination to the Rajya Sabha,
Singh's becomes an important voice in the Valley once
again. He says his palace-turned-hotel in Srinagar is
also going to be back in business Excerpts from an inter-
view with Ritu Sarin:

The two feuding first families of J&K yours and the late
Sheikh Abdullah's - have come together. Who initiated the
unity moves?

The so-called hostility between my father Maharaja Hari
Singh and Sheikh Abdullah is a thing of the past. Once
elections were announced, Farooq came to me seeking
support. At that time my son, Ajat, was planning to
contest elections and when Farooq came I said, if you
want I will give you Ajat. This was the first step.
Even before that Farooq had told me that he wanted me to
look at the whole issue of autonomy. He felt I was best
suited since I could look at the problem from the nation-
al view as well as with empathy from the viewpoint of the
state.

The autonomy question seems an intractable problem and
has been dogging J&K since its accession to India.

The issue is incredibly complicated, but, remember there
are two committees handling it. The second committee on
the regional demands is headed by Farooq and has Balraj
Puri as the working president. The two are inseparable
because if you demand more autonomy for J&K via-a-vis the
Centre, you have to be prepared to give autonomy to the
regions also. And the people who demand regional autonomy
must also be prepared to support autonomy for the state.
You cannot have it one way.

Is there any dichotomy in terms of reference? Balraj
Puri recently said he wants the distribution of regional
powers between Jammu, Kashmir and Ladhak defined. Do you
agree?

There is no dichotomy. He has said that because he is
looking into the issue of regional autonomy. I am looking
into the issue of state autonomy. For the first time in
50 years a serious effort is being made to solve the dual
problems. And the problem is: what is the relationship of
J&K with the rest of India and two, what is the relation-
ship between Jammu, Kashmir and Ladhak within the state?
Both these things have to be sorted out if we have to get
an abiding solution.

Are you happy with the composition of the committee?
Should there have been fewer politicians on it and more

people from different walks of life?

The team consists mainly by ministers. But what we are
now going to do is to put in advertisement and call for
memoranda from people in the state, in India and even
abroad, people in the state, in India and even abroad.
After we get all the memoranda, we will see if we need to
personally meet people.

How are you overcoming the problem of documentation. It
is believed that even some important documents and copies
of agreement between the state and the Centre are not
readily available.

It is astounding how much documentation there is. But
still nobody is clear is to what the position is. Fifty
years have passed and if you ask, nobody in India can
give a coherent answer about what the problem in J&K is
because nobody really knows. So, our first task is to
identify the present position.

Don't you think the problem is the whittling down of what
was promised to J&K in the Delhi Agreement of 1952 and
later the 1975, accord, both signed by Sheikh Abdullah?

Other things also have happened. After the 1952 agreement
and the Constitution of the state adopted in 1957, some
of the points (of the earlier agreement) were incorporat-
ed, some were not. Subsequently, there was a lot of more
dilution. Then, came the 1975 agreement and after that
too, there was further dilution. In fact, the situation
is chaotic. Chaotic because there have been so many
changes and amendments. But I would also like to say
that not everything that was done was against the inter-
ests of the people. For example, the Supreme Court juris-
diction. If its gives the citizens of J&K an additional
opportunity, it is not something negative.

New Delhi has never had a consistent policy on Kashmir.
Do the people feel betrayed because of this or are they
more bitter about the erosion of the special status of
J&K?

The only consistent policy the Government has followed is
to erode, as far as possible, the autonomy of J&K. Since
there has been a steady erosion of autonomy, the commit-
tee calls itself the 'committee for restoration of auton-
omy'. Autonomy is an idea whose time has come. And It is
not only J&K, others are also asking for it. The other
day the West Bengal Chief Minister was talking about it.
Autonomy is no longer something which is against the
mainstream though J&K is still a special case and for
instance, is the only state, with its own constitution.

Do you feel the powers-that-be have refused to acknowl-
edge this? Or have they simply shut their eyes?

No, they have simply been eroding this. They thought it
was in national interest to erode this (autonomy). But
the situation is much altered. Now everyone realises that
the concept of all authority, all wisdom and all ability
being concentrated in New Delhi and in South Block is no
longer valid. We are going to be a billion people by the
turn of the century and a billion people cannot be run
from South Block. Therefore, this is a good time to re-
establish J&K's autonomy, of course, within the framework

of the Indian constitution. There should be no fear on
that account.

You have said you will finish your report in six months.
What happens to it then?

It will then go to the government of J&K and the Govern-
ment of India. And hopefully the report will be such
that it will carry enough weight and prestige to make it
acceptable.

At some stage your recommendations will have to get the
sanction of Parliament. What happens if, hypothetically
speaking, this Government has gone out and, say, the BJP
is in power?

Certain things may need a Presidential order, some state
sanction but yes, I suppose the report will go to Parlia-
ment at some stage. But all these things do not matter.
J&K is a national question. It should become a party
matter. After all, if we are going to restore autonomy
to J&K, it is going to be in the broader national inter-
est. If the people of the state are satisfied, it
strengthens national integrity and the Government of
India.

How are you so optimistic?

Other important documents like the Sarkaria Commission
report on Center-State relations have been lying on the
backburner for years. I am a very optimistic person. As
far as the Sarkaria report is concerned, it was on a
general subject and we too are looking at it. I agree
that it has become a dead letter and maybe, we can go
much beyond it. The Sarkaria Commission report can be a
starting point for us. We can use some of its recom-
mendations. Let us see how it goes.

The Prime Minister has been reiterating earlier claims of
giving 'maximum autonomy' to J&K. One notices others such
as American Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphael
have picked up the demand. What is your understanding of
'maximum autonomy'?

This is a semantic problem and we have to precisely study
this. We have called it restoration of autonomy, the
Prime Minister is calling it maximum autonomy. I am
trying to recreate a good relationship between J&K and
New Delhi and to restore to the people a sense of in-
volvement and dignity.


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