Excerpts from Sheikh Abdullah's Opening Address to the J&K Constituent Assembly, 5 November 1951
Our movement to freedom has been connected against the background of this same old struggle. We stood for the brotherhood of men of all creeds and strengthened our union on the basis of common work and sacrifice .Against us were ranged the force of religious bigotry centred in the Muslim league and its satellites, and the Hindu communalists from within and without the State. Ranged against us ,and often in alliance with communalism were the forces of the autocratic States ,backup on the Paramount Power, and on the other, by the rich landowners and other beneficiaries of Court patronage.
We must remember the our struggle for power has now reached its successful climax in the convening of this Constituent Assembly. It is for you to translate the vision of NEW KASHMIR into reality, and I would remind you and its opening words , which will inspire our labours:
"We the people of Jammu , Kashmir and the Frontier regions , including Poonch and Chenani Illaqas - commonly known as Jammu and Kashmir States -in order to perfect our union in the fullest equality and self-determination ,to raise ourselves and our children for ever from the abyss of oppression and poverty darkness and ignorance into the sunlit valleys of plenty ruled by freedom , science and honest toil , in worthy participation of the historic resurgence of the peoples of the East and the working masses of the world , and in determination to make this our country a dazzling gem on the snowy bosom of Asia do purpose and propound the following constitution of our state"
This was passed at the 1944 Session of the national Conference in Srinagar , Today in 1951 embodying such aspiration , men and women from the four corner of the State in this constituent Assembly have become the repository of its sovereign authority. This assembly , invested with the authority of a constituent body , will the fountain head of basic laws , laying the foundation of a just social order and safeguarding the democratic rights of all the citizens of the State.
You are the sovereign authority in this State of Jammu and Kashmir ;what you decide has the irrevocable force of law. The basic democratic principle of sovereignty of the nation , embodied ably in the American and French Constitutions , is once again given shape in our midst. I shall quote the famous words of article 3 of the French Constitution of 1791:-
"The source of all sovereignty reside fundamentally in the nation . Sovereignty is one and indivisible , inalienable and imprescriptable. It belongs to the nation."
We should the clear about the responsibility that this power invests us with. In front of us lie decisions of the highest national importance which we shall be called upon to take . Upon the correctness of our decisions depends not only the happiness of our land and people now, but the fate as well of generations to come.
What then are the main functions that this Assembly will be called upon to perform?
One great task before this Assembly will be to devise a Constitution for the future governance of the country . Constitution- making is a difficult and detailed matter. I shall only refer to some of the board aspects of the Constitution . which should be the product of the labours of this Assembly.
Another issue of vital import of the nation involves the future of the Royal dynasty .Your decision will have to be taken both with urgency and wisdom , for one that decision rests the future Form and character of the state.
The third major issue awaiting your deliberations arises out of the Land Reform which the Government carried out with vigour and determination . our "land to the tiller" policy brought light in to the dark homes of the peasantry; but, side by side , it has given rise to the problem of the landowners demand for compensation .The nation being the ultimate custodian of all wealth and resources . the representatives of the nation are truly the best jury for giving a just and final verdict on such claims. So in your hands lies the power of this decision.
Finally this assembly will after full consideration of the three alternatives that I shall state later . declare its reasoned conclusion regarding accession. This will help us to canalise our energise resolutely and with greater zeal in directions in which we have already started moving for the social and economic advancement of our country.
To take our first task , that of Constitution- making we shall naturally be guided by the highest principles of the democratic constitutions of the world. We shall base our work on the principles of equality. Liberty and social justice which are an integral feature of all progressive constitutions . The rule of law as understood in the democratic countries of the world should be the cornerstone of our political structure . Equality before the law and the independence of the Judiciary from the influence of the Executives are vital to us. The freedom of the individual in the matter of speech. Movement and association should be guaranteed ; freedom of the press and of opinion would also be features of our constitution, Indeed not refer in great detail to those rights and obligations, already embodied in NEW KASHMIR, which are integral parts of democracy which has been defined as "an apparatus of social organisation wherein people govern themselves through their chosen representatives and are themselves guaranteed political and civil liberties".
You are no doubt aware the scope of our present constitutional ties with India,We are proud to have our bonds with India,the goodwill of whose people and Government and available to us in unstinted and abundant measure .The constitution of India has provided for a federal union and in the distribution of sovereign power has treated us differently from other constituent units. With the exception of the items grouped under Defence , Foreign Affairs and Communication in the instrument of Accession . we have complete freedom to frame our Constitution in the manner we like. In order to live and prosper as good partners in a common endeavour for the advancement of our peoples. I would advise that, while safeguarding our autonomy to the fullest extent so as to enable us to have the liberty to build our country according to the best tradition and genius of our people . we may also by suitable constitutional arrangements with the union establish our right seek and compel Federal co-operation and assistance in this great task.as well as offer our fullest co-operation and assistance to the union.
Whereas it would be easy for you to devise a document calculated to create a framework of law and order . as also a surbay of the duties and rights of citizens, it will need more arduos labour to take concrete decisions with regard to the manner in which we purpose to bring about the rapid economic development of the State and more equitable distribution of our national income among the people of which we are pledged . Our national conference avows its faith in the principle that there is one thing common to men of all castes and creeds and that is their humanity. That being so,the one ailment which is ruthlessly sapping the vitality of human beings in Jammu and Kashmir is their appalling poverty, and if we merely safeguard their political freedom in solemn terms , it will not effect their lives materially unless it guarantees them economic and social justice.
NEW KASHMIR contains a statement of their objectives of our social policy. It gives broadly a picture of the kind of life that we hope tro make possible for the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the manner in which the economic organisation of the country will be geared to that purpose. These ideals you will have to intigrate with the political structure which you will devise.
The future political set-up which you decide upon for Jammu and Kashmir must also take into consideration the existence of various sub-national groups in your State .Although culturally diverse, history has forged an in common unity between them; they all are pulsating with the same hopes and aspirations, sharing in each others joys and sorrows. While guaranteeing this basic unity of the state,our Constitution must not permit the concentration of power and privilege in the hands of any particular group or territorial region. It must afford the fullest possibilities to each of these groups to grow and flourish in conformity with their cultural characteristics, without detriment to the integral unity of the State or the requirements of our social and economic policies.
Now let us take up an issue of basic importance which involves the fundamental character of the State itself .As an instruments of the will of a self -determination people who have now become sovereign in their own right, the Constituent Assembly will now re-examine and decide upon the future of the present ruling dynasty , in respect of its authority.
The present Iiouse of the Rulers of our state based its claim to authority on the treaty Rights granted to it by the British Government in 1846. To throw light on the nature of these rights , it will be helpful to recall that the British power in its drive for territorial expansion , achieved its objectives through a network of alliances with the Indian Princes subsidiary and subordinate . offensive and defensive . This mutually helpful arrangement enable the British to consolidate their power and strengthened the grip of the princes, giving them military help in the event of rebellion by their exploited subjects . The butler Committee Report on Treaty Rights in 1929 bears ample testimony to this. It says:
"The duty of the Paramount Power to protect the states against rebellion and instruction is derived from the clause of treaties and sanads, from usage and from the promise of the King Emperor to maintain unimpaired the privileges, and dignities of the princes . The promise of the King Emperor to maintain unimpaired the privileges , rights and dignities of the Prince against attempts to climinate him and substitute another from of Government."
In recognition of their service s to the British Crown the Indian Princes earned the rewards of a limited sovereignty over their States under the protection and suzerainty of the paramount power. It was in this way that their rights , privileges and prerogatives were preserved.
Thus the pioneers of British Imperialism subjugated India ,aided by the Indian Princes . This was hardly diplomacy ;it amounted to fraud and deceit. Mutal agreements arrived at for such ignoble purposes were invested with the sanctity of treaties . And it is from such "treaties " that the princes claimed their right to rule. Our own State provides a classic example of this . One glance at a page of our history will lay bare the truth.
The State of Jammu and Kashmir come to be transferred to Maharaja Gulad Singh in 1846 after the Sikh Empire began to disintegrate.II is failure to render competent assistance to the Sikh armies was duly noticed by the British as also his willingness to acknowledge their authority . This paved the way for the total occupation of Northern India by the British who were not slow in recognising Maharaja Gulab Singh 's services to them. In reward they sold him the territory of Jammu and Kashmir for 75 lakhs of rupees and in the "Territory of Amritsar the British Government made over the entire country in independent possession to "Maharaja Gulab Singh and the hairs male of his body." In this way the entire population of Jammu and Kashmir State come under his absolute authority. The peculiar indignity of the transaction naturally offended the national self -respect of our people.. who resisted the occupation of their country. But the direct intervention of the British troops helped the Maharaja to take possession of the territory.
This event in the history of the State had catastrophic consequences for the people . the old feudal order , which was bad enough gave way to more exacting rule, in which the Maharaja assumed all proprietary rights over land. The entire State was plunged into a chaotic economic condition , aggravated by a heavy scale of taxation . tributes and levies wich were required to make up for the money given by the maharaja to the British.This unrelieved despotism reduced the bulk of the people to the level of serfs. There was general impoverishment . In 1848, some 4,000 artisans started on trek to Lahore with the object of permanently settling there.Even the British counselled the Maharaja to loosen his grip so as to avoid to total collapse of his administration .Perhaps the forefathers of the great poet -philosopher son of Kashmir, Iqbal,were also part of the same trial of migrants who left the State of this time. When his agony over the fate of the people of his homeland burst out in immortal verse, his fillings are echoed in the heart of every Kashmiri:
"O Wind, if you pass through Geneva, give this massage to the comity of the people of the world.They sold the peasant,his field , his property and the roof over his head,in fact,they sold the entire nation and for what a paltry price!"
invested with this absolute authority acquired in 1846,the present ruling dynasty was in power for one hundred years. This sad and stern century of servitude has stultified the growth of our people; leaving them in the backwaters of civilisation. While in British India ,and even in some of the Indian State,many a measureof reform was introduced to alleviate the misery of the people,in this State the unenlightened absolutism of the RulersDrove them deeper and deeper into poverty and degradation. When conditions become increasingly intolerable, they made determined,efforts to wrest power from the hands of the ruler.
By 1947, India had achieved independence and reached one of her historicalwatershedes.It was clear that with the withdrawal of the Paramount Power ,the treaty rights of the Indians princes would cease. Sovereignty in that case should revert to the people, they wished therefore to be consulted about the arrangements to be made with regard to the transfer of power. But a strang situation arose. The cabinet Mission . while admitting the claims of the Indian National Congress and the Muslims league in the British India , completely refused a similar representation of the states' peoples, who would not allow the right of the princes to speak on their behalf.
In our own state , the national Conference had made it clear as early as February 10,1946 that it was against any further continuance of the treaty rights of the Princes which had been "made in times and under circumstances which do not obtain and now which have been farmed without seeking the consent of the State peoples. Under such circumstances , no treaties or engagements which act as a dividing wall between their progress and that of their brethren of British India, can be binding on the people."
It was in this connection that I invited the attention of the Cabinet Mission to the standing iniquity of the treaty of Amritsar,and sought its termination . I wrote to the Cabinet Delegation to that "as the Mission is at the moment reviewing the relationship of the princes with the paramount Power with reference to treaty rights, as wish to submit that for us in Kashmir reexamination of this relationship is a vital matter because a hundred years ago in 1846 the land and people of Kashmir were sold away the British for 50 lakhs of British Indian Rupees. The people of Kashmir are determind to mould their destiny and we appeal to the Mission to recognise the justice and strength of our cause."
In the Memorandum submitted to the cabinet mission later by the national conference , the demand for independence from autocracy was reiterated:"Today the national demand of the people of Kashmir is not merely the establishment of responsible Government ,their right to absolute freedom from autocratic rule . The immensity of the wrong done to our people by the sale deed of 1846 can only by judged by looking into the actual living conditions of the people .It is the depth of our torment that has given strength to our protest."
The different attitude of the cabinet Mission to the claims of the State's people convinced us that freedom would not be given to a hundred million people who were to be left to be grown under the heel of autocratic rulers. Consequently the national Conference gave a call ot the people to prepare themselves for fresh ordeals and new responsibilities in the final bid for the capture of power from the hands of authocracy.This call came on the eve on the transfer of power in India and was therefore in kipping with the spirit of the times.
The partition of india in 1947 brought many new problems and developments in its wake. In Kashmir , the very foundations of the administration begain to sake ,and ther government made frantic efforts to patch up the creaking structure. Its incompetence had become glaring .With the tribal raids on the State in october 1947,it was obvious that the maharajah's authority had creased to function and the real power lay in the hands of the people's organisation ,the national conference .Even at this hour of grave national danger,the ruler failed to see the wishdom of taking of this organisation into his confidence and the preferred ascape to the dignity of a farmer surrender. When the situation become critical, the unprecedented pressure of the people forced him to call upon the representatives of the National Confernce to deal with the emergency , when he himself had failed to handle the affairs of the state effectively.
The emergency Administration in the state marked in effect a revolutionary transfer of power from the ruler to the people.
It was however the proclamation of march 5,1948.which constituted the first step towards the completion of national emancipation .On this day ,t, as the leader of the largest party of the state , was entrusted with its Government ,being assisted by a cabinet with full power to run the administration . The maharajah's authority was limited to that of a constitutional ruler,making it imperative upon him to consult his Government on all issues relating to the government of the State.
This was obviously an interim measure. The Cabinet of the people's representatives thus chosen function with the support and co-operation of the national Conference . but with the passage of time it became clear that the maharajah could not reconcile himself to this democratic system of Governent.He put positive impediments in the way of the Government .these threatened to bloch much -needed reform in verious spheres of administration. It was, therefore . natural that following disagreement between him and the Government on matter on policy . that he should disconnect himself from the administration and leave the state.His young son Yuvaraj Karan Singh there upon became the Regent and has functioned since as constitutional Head of the State.
Today , the Constituent Assembly having, meet the time has come for the people's representatives to make the fundamental decision about the future position of the present dynasty.
It is clear that this dynasty can no, longer exercise authority on the basis of an old discredited Treaty. During my trial for sedition in the "Quit Kashmir" movement . I had clarified the attitude of my party when I said:
"The future constitutional set.up in the State of Jammu and Kashmir cannot derive authority from the old source relationship which was expiring and was bound to en soon. The set -up could only rest on the active will the people of the State