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The autonomy song

As the state has been put under the President’s rule and the urgency of holding of assembly elections is becoming a priority, National Conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah has virtually set his party on election mode. On Thursday, he claimed that if voted to power in the ensuing assembly elections, regional autonomy will be granted in Jammu and Kashmir within 30 days of his party forming the government. “If am blessed with good health by Allah and we’re voted to power with absolute majority, I promise that I will make this happen (regional autonomy) within 30 days after assuming power,” he said in Jammu. Farooq Abdullah is known for blowing hot, blowing cold on political situation in the state. He is used to make statements in accordance with situation and audience that raise questions on his intentions.

It is a well known fact that the restoration of autonomy or pre-53 position to the state is an old demand of the National Conference but this, too, is a fact that the party had never serious and sincere about the demand. Whether autonomy is a solution to the issue of Kashmir or not is a separate debate but the very question is whether National Conference (NC) is serious in what it demands. 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. 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 here and they accepted power against the wishes of common people without making any political or constitutional bargaining with government of India. The most humiliating moment for the party came in 2000 when its resolution on autonomy was summarily dismissed by then BJP-led government. The resolution was passed by the state legislature in a specially convened session in June that year. Dr Farooq Abdullah, as L K Advani has written in his autobiography, was asked to choice between autonomy and his son’s seat in the union ministry. Omar Abdullah was minister of state in the union government then.Farooq Abdullah opted for the continuation of his son as minister instead of insisting on autonomy. Given the NC’s history of compromises on its political agenda it sounds quite bizarre when its leaders talk of autonomy.

Farooq Abdullah has only but made mockery of himself when he said that if voted to power he would get autonomy resolution passed in the assembly. What he needs to explain is how his new resolution would make a difference. Farooq Abdullah owes explanation to the people of the state why he compromised on the resolution already passed by the state assembly. What if the central again rejects the resolution? Abdullah knows it well that his party was never serious in demanding autonomy.They raise the slogan of autonomy only to bargain power with the centre. 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. It is sheer political hypocrisy to demand a thing the party does not believe in.