Kashmir autonomy divide gets wider
21 June 2000
Times of India
Srinagar: The contours of a possible future conflict between the National Conference and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre were visible on Wednesday as the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly continued to discuss a controversial autonomy committee report. And, once again the Farooq Abdullah government and the Opposition were locked in a war of words. The chief minister interjected sharply, when agitated BJP members stopped National Conference MLA from Ladakh T. Namgyal from speaking. ''I know you (the BJP) will not allow autonomy. But at least hear us out,'' he said. Abdullah, whose party has a majority in the House, said if he wanted he could get the report passed and adopted straightaway. ''But I want a national debate on the proposal.'' Later talking to The Times of India, the state education minister and part of the National Conference''s think-tank, Mohammad Shafi, one of the strongest advocates of autonomy, challenged the Centre to go ahead and talk to the Hurriyat leaders. ''We are offering autonomy within the Constitution. But if they (the Centre) prefer to talk outside the Constitution, they can. We will not stop it.'' Shafi''s contention was that his government''s autonomy recommendations were the best anyone could get. For the people of J&K, it meant genuine self-rule as envisaged in the instrument of accession. For the Centre it was a solution within the framework of the Constitution. ''Besides we have the mandate. The people of J&K have elected us. If we do not represent the people, who does?'' Shafi strongly objected to the opposition charge that the autonomy move was anti-national. ''The proposal to restrict the Union''s legislative powers to defence, finance and communication is in the instrument of accession. Is that anti-national? But thanks to the systematic and deliberate erosion of the autonomy provisions in their original form, today no one remembers that J&K was the only state to negotiate the terms of its accession to the Union.'' Shafi said Article 370 underwent five different variations before the Indian constituent assembly approved it. In its final form, the Article made all additions to the instrument of accession subject to the approval of the J&K constituent assembly. And since any constituent assembly could only have a short life, Article 370 was designated temporary. ''However, this has been completely twisted. The propaganda is that the Article was to be abrogated to bring the state into the mainstream.'' Shafi also had a bone to pick with the BJP on what Sardar Patel had to say on Article 370. He quoted the following speech Patel made while the Indian constituent assembly was discussing Article 370: ''In view of the special problem in which the J&K government is faced, we have made special provisions for the continuance of the state with the Union on existing basis (the existing basis was instrument of accession).