Politics of promises has been the forte of New Delhi’s policy towards the State of Jammu and Kashmir. There was a promise of holding a referendum in the state in the wake of 1947 and 1948, developments. There was a promise of preserving the sanctity and sacrosanct of Article 370 of Indian constitution guaranteeing special status to the State. There was a promise of respecting the State Subject Laws introduced in the State way back in 1927, by Maharaja Hari Singh. There were promises of holding clean and fair elections. There were promises of real democracy. There were promises of clean administration, free from exploiters, hooliganism, peace brigades and favoritism. If one starts counting promises from New Delhi, the list will cover pages together. But so far as keeping of the promises is concerned; New Delhi’s record in Jammu and Kashmir has been both disappointing and dismal. Public memory always being very short, people by and large forgot all the promises made by New Delhi, unless reminded by people at the Centre and by the politicians, once they were out of power.
As the political situation underwent a sea change in the state in the wake of 1987 elections, which are considered, as the most rigged elections of the state New Delhi started thinking about its promises of holding fair elections in the state but at this stage they had lost hold on the levers of power and the state administration, like a rudderless boat tossed from one corner to another by gusty winds. The rigged elections reminded people of all promises, even of the first one of holding a referendum in the state. And this made many at New Delhi to ponder and the consensus was, let us forget the first promise and respect the second restoring autonomy to the state which was eroded after a period. To reiterate New Delhi’s new approach towards the state the then Prime Minister of India, PV Narshima Rao made a statement from Brukina Faso about the autonomy to be granted to the State of Jammu and Kashmir. The memory is still fresh in public minds. About the extent of autonomy the Government of India planned to give to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the former Prime Minister had stated that the “sky was the limit”. But this statement did not evoke any enthusiasm in Kashmir. Even the pro-India party the National Conference, showed lukewarm response to this statement and considered it mere rhetorics. Every statement of the Prime minister was followed by a qualifying statement by the then Union Home Minister S.B. Chavan, who always stuck to his stand that there could be no dialogue with any political party in Kashmir before elections to the State Assembly.
The National Conference always asserted that it was not going to participate in any elections until the time 1952 Constitutional position was restored in the State. Parliamentary elections provided a window to the Pro-India National Conference that a faction of the central leadership was interested in sidetracking National Conference and Dr. Farooq Abdullah if it did not go in accordance with the script. The National Conference plunged into electoral fray and won with a three fourths majority. How these elections were conducted is again a matter of debate, and does not need to be discussed here.
The overwhelming majority which the National Conference enjoyed was sufficient to enable it to scrap all laws hostile to the autonomous character of the state. It could have comfortably changed the nomenclature of the Chief Minister to Prime Minister or Wazir-e-Azam and Governor to Sadari-Riysat. It could very comfortably have prevented entrance of members of All India Services into the State Services. But, now when the National Conference Government has completed its term and next elections are round the corner, restoration of regional autonomy seems not only as a distant dream but impossible.
Having shelved the idea of autonomy, the National Conference is left with virtually no issue with which it can go before public next month. The party is left with no choice but to scuttle all moves to ensure that opposition parties with a mass base stay away from the poll process so that it has a smooth sailing.
Mr. Sajjad Haider is the editor-in-chief of the daily Kashmir Observer.