‘Two Prime Ministers’ – an exercise in distortion

BJP
TMC's Subhrangshu Roy and Tusharkanti Bhattacharya, and CPI(M)'s Debendra Nath Roy were the MLAs who joined the BJP along with several councillors. Photo: PTI

Distorting facts, quotes and spewing vacuous venom in political rallies seem to be the flavour of the season. Take the latest trending “two prime ministers”.   Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his cabinet colleague Rajnath Singh and the BJP national chief Amit Shah have vowed that they will never allow “two prime ministers” in the country.

What they mean is they will block any attempt to have a prime minister in the state of Jammu and Kashmir along with the one in Delhi. The reason they say is because that will mean letting go of Kashmir which they will never do under any circumstances.  And, they holler across rallies that the Congress needs to explain how they allowed two prime ministers in the first place.

The issue came to the fore recently when National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, in response to the stated stand of the BJP to abrogate special status to J&K, said he would ensure that the post of prime minister gets restored in his state.

For the BJP, Abdullah’s response appears to have come as a political lollipop. In an election, where the party is attempting to pitch nationalism and internal security as the top issues, the talk of a Kashmiri prime minister is just what the doctor ordered for the ruling party whose fortunes may be flagging.

But the deception and the obfuscation of facts is astounding in the BJP’s attempts to create a false fear of a separate Kashmir being planned by its opponents.  For example, the title of prime minister existed in British India provinces even before Independence. This title was abolished and replaced by the nomenclature of chief minister once the Indian Constitution was adopted on January 26, 1950.

Only in the case of Kashmir, due to the specific circumstances of its accession to the Indian Union, the title continued to be in use.  Along with this was the title “sadr-e-riyasat” in place of Governor. While these were just titles that symbolised the special status of Kashmir within the Indian Union under Article 370, it had no consequence either on the larger Indian state or the autonomous relationship of Kashmir to India.

While the BJP leadership would love to portray the rival Congress party as betraying the cause of India, in reality it was the grand old party (GoP) that over the years has chipped at the autonomy of Kashmir in an effort to reduce the state to the status of any other in the Indian Union.

For instance, in 1965, the Ghulam Mohammed Sadiq government in J&K acted entirely in consonance with Congress dispensation in Delhi and helped in replacing “prime minister” and “sadr-e-riyasat” with chief minister and governor. More than the nomenclature of prime minister what substantially eroded the state’s autonomy was the replacement of sadr-e-riyasat with governor. For, the sadr-e-riyasat was an elected position (by members of the legislative assembly), not an appointee of the Indian President.

Once the sadr-e-riyasat was elected, it would recommend his appointment to the Indian President who would then oblige.  But, with the shift to governor, the Congress effectively brought the state almost on par with the other states.

So, the BJP is attempting to point fingers at the Congress, while in effect the Congress has been doing just what the BJP would itself want to do, that is diluting J&K’s autonomy and “integrate” it to the Indian Union.  In this context, the attempt by the BJP to formally abrogate Article 370 and Article 35 (A), is akin to removing a hollowed out shell. As, in reality, the conditions under which Kashmir acceded to India has long been diluted by successive Congress governments in Delhi.

With the help of a pliant state government previous Congress dispensations in Delhi covertly brought in a number of provisions applicable to other princely states into the Jammu and Kashmir system of governance. According to a report in the Delhi-based “Mint”, from 1954 to 1994, 94 of the 97 entries of the Union list and 260 of the 395 articles of the Indian Constitution were extended to the state.

On 27 November 1963, the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared in Indian Parliament that “Article 370 has been eroded… there is no doubt that Kashmir has been integrated”, said the Mint report.

If Kashmir had retained its autonomy, it may not have been possible to impose Central rule in that state, which has occurred eight times until now. All that remains in the name of autonomy are that certain legislations passed by the Indian Parliament need to be ratified by the Kashmir Assembly and other issues like buying of property in that state which is barred to non-Kashmiri Indians.  It may not be common knowledge but similar restrictions exist in several other states, favouring the local population.

Even assuming the title of “prime minister” is restored in Kashmir, it will not make any difference as the meat of the special status has been stripped to its bone.

The National Conference of Omar Abdullah, whose grandfather Sheikh Abdullah played  a big role in steering the state to India, stands for restoring the original autonomy but governments in Delhi,  including the Congress, have until now thwarted any such attempts.

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