Explore autonomy for Jammu & Kashmir – P Chidambaram

Former union home minister P Chidambaram today said India should ‘seriously consider’ giving autonomy to the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

Chidambaram, who was in charge of maintaining law and order in the hill state for several years as part of his role as India’s home minister, is the head of his party’s standing committee on Jammu & Kashmir for several years under the former Congress Party-led government.

He is visiting the state as part of the Congress Party’s delegation.

“My interactions with youth in Jammu & Kashmir led me to the conclusion that when they ask for Azadi, most people — I’m not saying all — most people, the overwhelming majority want autonomy,” he said.

“Therefore I think we should seriously examine that question and consider on what areas we can give autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir,” he said.

Chidambaram said people from the Kashmir valley want India to respect Article 370, which was a stand-in provision that was brought in by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to give some degree of autonomy to the hill state.

Since part of the former kingdom had a Muslim majority, Nehru feared that it would go to Pakistan, which also coveted the region.

Nehru had hoped that Article 370 would be ‘worn out’ in course of time and J&K would become another Indian state. Many of the provisions of the Article have indeed been diluted by various governments headed by Chidambaram’s own party.

In his latest statement, Chidambaram said he is in favor of maintaining Article 370.

“It is perfectly within the consitution of India,” he said. “Jammu & Kashmir will remain within the India, but it will have larger powers as promised under Article 370.”

Several respected leaders from Jammu & Kashmir, among them former Congress Party figures, have pointed to Article 370 as the root of all problems India is facing in the region.

Not surprisingly, BJP leaders were not very enthusiastic about Chidambaram’s apparent change of heart on the topic.

“The problem is that he doesn’t know the constitution,” said Subramanian Swamy, also a lawyer like P Chidambaram. “Article 370 is a temporary provision.”

“What he’s suggesting is a path to the secession of Kashmir from India.”

The state is home to several Islamist terror groups, many of which are allegedly funded by Pakistan, which apparently still nurses dreams of making Kashmir its own.

“Kashmiris have a mentality that they are different from the (people of) the rest of India. I’m sorry there’s no other way (than to remain as equals),” he added.

Like other princely states, Jammu & Kashmir was given the option of calling a constituent assembly and creating its own constitution instead of accepting the Indian constitution when it acceded to India.

However, unlike the other states, Jammu & Kashmir actually made use of the provision and set up a constituent assembly in 1951, which took five years to create a constitution for the state.

Even as the constituent assembly was being convened, a temporary provision, called article 370, was added to the Indian constitution to prevent the Indian government from unilaterally expanding the applicability of the Indian constitution on the hill state without the consent of the local people.

Article 370 envisioned that the constituent assembly will arrive at a clear and final opinion on which additional provisions of the Indian constitution would be applicable to the state.

As a further precaution and to prevent Article 370 itself being amended by the Indian parliament, another order was issued in 1954 that exempted Jammu & Kashmir from being affected by any amendments to the constitution that did not have the concurrence of the constituent assembly of the state. In other words, to amend the article 370 of the Indian constitution, both the Indian parliament and the constituent assembly of Jammu and Kashmir must agree.

However, in 1956, the constituent assembly of Jammu & Kashmir dissolved itself without making any recommendations on expanding the applicability of the Indian constitution beyond the areas specified in the agreement between the Union of India and the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir at the time of accession. As a result, the temporary provision became, for all practical purposes, permanent.

Today, if Article 370 has to be amended, the 1954 rule has to be abrogated first.

Swamy, however, had a different solution to the problem.

“It is written in the constitution that it should be, and can be removed by just a presidential proclamation. There is no other provision under the constitution to give autonomy to any part of India.”

His position is supported by the opinion of Bhim Singh, a former Congress Party politician from the state.

“Article 370 has guaranteed powers to the President of India which were enjoyed by the Viceroy of India before January 26, 1950,” he said recently.

“The President of India shall use his power within the meaning and scope of Article 370 which has itself become outdated, undesirable and unacceptable,” Singh, who currently heads the National Panthers Party of J&K, said.

“Parliament of India has full authority and competence to amend Article 370 by a simple majority because Article 370 is a temporary provision… The state acceded to the Union like other 577 states in the Union of India and were merged in the Union,” he added.