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Open Space

Understand root cause of Kashmir Land flare-up

Balraj Puri

Six persons were killed in valley while in Jammu region three persons have lost their lives in the agitation both for and against the state government's order to transfer land to the Shrine Board. Hundreds have been injured in both places.

There is no easy way that the Jammu and Kashmir government can pacify the current angry mood in Jammu over revocation of the government order for the transfer of forest land to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). The subsequent alleged suicide of Kuldeep Kumar and the inapt government handling of the situation thereafter has only worsened it.

Jammu's upsurge started after Kashmir valley's upsurge had subsided with the revocation of land transfer order to the Shrine Board. In both places the issue of land transfer was more of a symptom than the root cause. In valley accumulated discontent got opportunity to express itself on the issue of land transfer to the Shrine Board. Dialogue with the Centre had failed to kick off and there seems to be underlying feeling of frustration.

In Jammu there also seems to be a pent off anger against prevalent feeling of being discriminated in the state for the last sixty years which is clearly manifesting in its most vocal forms .

There seems to be stalemate like situation over the demand of protesters in Jammu. For any such step to hand back the land to Shrine board is likely to revive the flare up in Kashmir from which it just recovered. On the other hand the leaders of the current agitation who are riding on a spontaneous popular upsurge can ill afford to back out. What then are the options for the leaders of the Jammu agitation which have declared to continue till the order is withdrawn?

While short term solution can be worked out by dialogue between all concerned groups or interests long term solution cannot be delayed for too long.

There is no doubt that Jammu had accumulated a lot of grievances over the years. The issue merely provided an outlet for the pent up anger. But the leadership of the agitation must ensure that investment of so much energy over the current agitation should address itself to larger grievances also. For that let us try to learn lessons from the earlier experiences and role of leaders of Jammu and where did they go wrong.

I had warned Prime Minister Nehru of the consequences of the simmering discontent in Jammu soon after state's accession to India. His reply was that while a Kashmiri leader would be the head of the Government, Jammu's Maharaja would be the head of the state. This should satisfy both the regions. I argued that the arrangement was unjust to Jammu. For while political power will remain with Kashmiri leaders, people of Jammu would merely have an illusion that their man was living in the palace, who is a constitutional head would be without any power and would be inaccessible. Nehru told me "let us give this unstable stability a trial."

Trial did not work too long. The Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah were not even on speaking terms. By June 1949, the Maharaja had to abdicate in favour of his son Karan Singh. There was again a movement for the "return of the Maharaja." It did not occur to the leaders of Jammu that the age of Rajas and Maharajas was over.

After a prolonged campaign, I was able to persuade Nehru and Abdullah to declare on 24 July 1952 at a joint press conference that "the constitution of the state, when framed would provide for regional autonomy." This would have provided a lasting solution of relations between Kashmir and Jammu regions, and to the Kashmir problem.

But the Praja Parishad, Jammu affiliate of the Bhartiya Jana Sangh, started an agitation on Delhi agreement on Centre-State relations, supplemented by the State-Region relations. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee the founder president of the Jana Sangh came to lend support of his party to it. He was kept in detention at Chashma Shahi house in Srinagar. During a prolonged correspondence with Nehru, he offered to support in his letter dated 17th February 1953, Delhi agreement and Article 370 provided regional autonomy was also granted. Nehru replied that this was granted in July 1952 and if he had realized his mistake, he should withdraw the movement. Mukherjee wanted some face saving device. Unfortunately his untimely death in June 1953 before the final agreement between death in June 1953 before the final agreement between his party and Nehru could be announced,

Meanwhile the state government sent a 45 page draft on regional autonomy to Durga Das Verma, the underground leader of the Parishad agitation. After consulting some constitutional experts, he returned the draft with his party's approval. Eventually the agitation was withdrawn after Nehru's assurance on regional autonomy to the Praja Parishad leaders, who after their release, went to Delhi to meet him on 3 July, 1953.

But according to Balraj Madhok, subsequent of the Jana Sangh, the party reversed this decision after some months on the direction of the RSS. To reverse the decision taken by Shyama Prasad and the Jammu Praja Parishad on a directive from the RSS was the biggest blunder that a party committed to the cause of Jammu. Thus Jammu missed an opportunity of getting a status of equality with Kashmir. Jammu missed another opportunity of acquiring such a status when Gajendragadhar Commission, in its report in 1967 on the basis of a representation of the Jammu autonomy Forum, headed by me, conceded in its report in 1967 that regional autonomy would be an ideal solution of regional grievances but it did not recommend it as the idea was opposed by most of its leaders.

The national executive of the Bhartiya Jana Sangh which met at Shimla in the same year dubbed the idea of regional autonomy as anti-national. Despite its opposition the idea continued to gain popular support from all communities of Jammu region, particularly Muslim majority districts of Rajouri, Poonch and Doda as also most of the secular parties of India.

The J&K State People's Convention, convened by Sheikh Abdullah in 1968, representing the entire political spectrum of the valley, adopted internal constitution of the state drafted by me which provided for regional autonomy and further evolution of power to districts, blocks and Panchayats.

In early seventies when Indira-Abdullah talks were going on, Indira asked me to get Abdullah's commitment to regional autonomy. He reiterated before power was transferred to him; so that there was no opposition from Jammu and Ladakh to him. Abdullah agreed to call a convention of leaders of Jammu and Ladakh in 1974 where he reiterated his commitment.

In 1996 when the National Conference government appointed a regional autonomy committee, headed by me, the BJP was the only party which boycotted it. Its opposition was used as an excuse by the government to reject my report. Regional identities are the greatest secularizing forces in the state. Any weakening of them might lead to divide the state on religious lines which is not in the interest of Jammu, Kashmir or the nation.

There was a time when the BJP party and the government headed by it at the Centre had proposed for such a division. I argued with Advani, who was the deputy Prime Minister in that government of the dangerous consequences of the move. Eventually he agreed with my arguments and told me I am convinced that the remedy is worse than the disease. Then I argued in favour of regional autonomy as a solution to the Jammu problem. He was convinced of that also and asked me to revive that idea.

The government law minister also declared that parliament had no power to abrogate article 370, which, in any case, had nothing to do with the Jammu problem. Meanwhile all Left parties and the socialist groups supported the idea of the regional autonomy. I wanted it to be included in the Common Minimum programme of the Congress and the People Democratic Party agreed upon after 2002 election before forming a coalition government. But Manmohan Singh told me that the Jammu Congress were not keen it to be included in it.

Recently National Conference passed a resolution in its favour. It could be a basis of a dialogue with all Kashmir centric parties. For if as per PPP leader Asif Zardari Indo-Pak relations cannot be held hostage to Kashmir problem, the leaders of Kashmir based parties should also realize that regional harmony should not be held hostage to what they call final solution of the Kashmir problem. Thus the natural course that the Jammu agitation should adopt is to convert it into regional autonomy; so that popular energy spent on it yields optimum results and takes care of the political aspirations of Jammu which is the root cause of this pent up anger.

The demand for regional autonomy should not be seen as a solution of Jammu's problem alone. It goes a long way in addressing aspirations of people of Jammu and Ladakh alone but would also safeguard unique identity and civilization of valley. The world over in any democratic setup centralized polity has been substituted by a federal and decentralized structure which goes a long way in empowering people at the grassroots level. The system is not only efficient but also politically harmonious in a diverse state like Jammu and Kashmir.

Balraj Puri is a civil rights activist and Director of Jammu based Institute of Jammu and Kashmir affairs.

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