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Fact vs Fiction: Chidambaram's J&K Autonomy Statement and BJP's Outrage

From the reactions of those around him, Chidambaram sounds like the first mainstream political leader to have made such a bold suggestion. As if three serving Prime Ministers of India (one from BJP, Congress and United Front each) had never made such a proposal.

Suhas Munshi | News18.com

Updated:October 30, 2017, 10:20 PM IST
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Fact vs Fiction: Chidambaram's J&K Autonomy Statement and BJP's Outrage
Picture for representation: Getty Images
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New Delhi: Senior BJP leaders, led by none other than the Prime Minister, have been breathing fire after P Chidambaram talked about holding discussions to give greater autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. His own party — the Congress — has distanced itself from comments made by him, calling them his personal views.

From the reactions of those around him, Chidambaram sounds like the first mainstream political leader to have made such a bold suggestion. In fact, three Prime Ministers of India (one from BJP, Congress and United Front each) had made such a proposal while they still were in office. And this is excluding the views of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, under whose leadership Article 370 was furnished through which the state acceded to India and which gave Kashmir autonomy over all matters except defence, finance, external affairs and communication.

The last time this suggestion was made by BJP's founding member and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

On June 26, 2000, the state Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir passed ‘autonomy resolution’. Headed by the then Chief Minister of the state, and the president of National Conference, Farooq Abdullah, the Assembly passed a resolution which recommended sweeping changes in Centre-State relations. At that time BJP, headed by Prime Minister AB Vajpayee and deputy PM LK Advani, which was in power at Centre, set aside the resolution.

But two years later, Vajpayee expressed the Centre’s willingness to discuss the question of J&K’s autonomy.

“We had not set aside the resolution on autonomy (passed by the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly) without giving it a thought. We were ready for talks. We are ready for talks even now,” Vajpayee had said on a visit to the state in May 2002.

According to former Jammu and Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah, Vajpayee had nominated his law officer to discuss autonomy with the then ruling National Conference.

"Moreover, what does this say about their feelings towards Vajpayee Sahib who had nominated his law minister to discuss autonomy with the then ruling National Conference," said Omar Abdullah in reaction to BJP questioning Chidambaram's suggestion to hold discussions to give greater autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir.

Before Vajpayee, the manifesto of United Front government, which came to power in 1996 and was headed by Deve Gowda, contained the words ‘maximum autonomy’ as a promise to Kashmir.

The UF government’s minimum program, published on June 5, 1996, said: "Respecting Article 370 of the Constitution as well as the wishes of the people, the problems of Jammu and Kashmir will be resolved through giving the people of that State the maximum degree of autonomy."

And just one year earlier Gowda’s predecessor, Congress government’s Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao had also, very famously, said while talking on the issue of Kashmir, in Burkina Faso, on November 4, that as far as J&K’s autonomy was concerned “sky is the limit”.

Rao had said that he would consider any Kashmiri demand that was “something short of Azadi” and was within the framework of Indian constitution.

Although both these statements, by Rao and Gowda, riled many observers and political appointees who continued to attack both these PMs for these statements years later. Former governor of J&K Jagmohan, in his autobiography — Frozen Turbulence — went on to say that Rao’s comments were not only hollow, cowardly and careless, but “also betrayed an infirm mind.”

National Conference and regional parties have also at various points in last several years batted to give J&K greater autonomy. CPI(M) in a statement issued in July 2000, right after the state’s Assembly passed the autonomy resolution said, "While the CPI(M) stands for greater autonomy within the scope of Article 370 of the Constitution, it also advocates regional autonomy for Jammu and Ladakh within the state."

In fact BJP’s own alliance partner in the state – PDP – talked of ‘autonomy’ in their own election manifesto for 2014 Parliamentary elections. The third point in PDP’s manifesto reads — ‘In the last 65 years, the Parliament has never deliberated on J&K in any substantive and serious manner. All the well-meaning announcements made by different Prime Ministers be it the P V Narasimha Rao’s “sky is the limit for autonomy”, or Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “insaniyat kay dairay main” or Manmohan Singh’s “making borders irrelevant” need to be institutionalized for them to have an impact on the ground.

So when Chidambaram talked about ‘seriously examining’ whether the state could be given greater autonomy and if so, ‘consider on what areas we can give autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir’, he was only reiterating a point that has been promised by Indian Prime Ministers, national party leaders, and leaders of J&K’s own regional parties, and promised to the state through article 370 of the Indian constitution.

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| Edited by: Ashish Yechury
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