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Autonomy song again

National Conference has again raised the bogey of autonomy. The party’s vice president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah Wednesday said granting autonomy is the only “pragmatic solution” to the decades-old problem of Jammu and Kashmir. “It is high time for the Government of India to implement the resolution of autonomy (passed by state legislative assembly in 2000).”It is the only pragmatic solution to the age-old problem. Jammu and Kashmir is a unique state and needs special dispensation in terms of regional autonomy to satisfy the needs of the state,” said Omar, addressing a provincial meet of party functionaries here. Whether autonomy is a solution to the issue of Kashmir, and would the people, who suffered enormously, both, in men and material, in their fight for ‘freedom’, accept it or not, is a separate debate. But the very question is whether National Conference (NC) is serious in what it demands. Restoration of autonomy to the state is as old a slogan as the post-53 NC.  In an academic and intellectual debate NC’s point might have some takers. But politically, the NC has lost all its moral right to make such demand as in 1975 the party’s godfather Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah compromised on the state’s political character and accepted power as it existed on the day. The only concession Abdullah got from Indira Gandhi was that a constitutional committee would be formed to review case by case application of central laws and parliamentary resolutions to the State. Shaikh Abdullah constituted a committee of three members headed by the then Law Minister Devidas Thakur to examine the constitutionality and legality of all central rules applied to the State ever since 1953. The Committee however found only two out of 192 items had some constitutional flaw while the rest 190 items were constitutionally perfect. The two items that stood excluded pertained to very minor and insignificant matters related to sale tax on some items. Even as Shaikh Abdullah did not accept the report and constituted another committee but the matter was never touched on and never raised by his government later. Nor did his progenies, Farooq Abdullah or Ghulam Mohammad Shah ever raise the issue. Had the NC leadership been sincere in their demand for pre-53 status to the state, the eruption of militancy had provided them a great chance to barter it with New Delhi. Government of India was desperate to ink a deal with any political party in Kashmir to get the state back on peace rails. Then Prime Minister Narsimha Rao in 1996 promised ‘anything short of Azadi’. “Sky is the limit”, he had said. But the NC leadership again faulted there preferred to capture power without making any political or constitutional bargaining with New Dehi. The most humiliating moment for the party came in 2000 when its resolution on autonomy was summarily rejected by then BJP-led government. The resolution was passed by the state legislature in a specially convened session on June that year. Farooq Abdullah, as L K Advani has written in his autobiography, was asked to choose between autonomy and his son’s seat in the union ministry. Given the NC’s history of compromises on its political agenda it sounds quite bizarre when its leaders talk of autonomy. The NC never talks of autonomy when in power. That is sufficiently known to the people of the state and the men and managers in New Delhi as well.

A lower low