We have routinely got to hear that the State governments in Jammu and Kashmir often made made mess of the situation and then each time New Delhi, or the Center as the national political authority is called, had to intervene to get things right. This view has been reinforced and said soundly over the past few year to convince that lives of people began to change only when New Delhi took over the entire legislative and decision-making authority. The post August 2019 regime, when Jammu and Kashmir was downgraded to Union Territory with consolidation of powers in the Union Home Ministry, is projected by the Center as dawn of an era of equitable and fast development, peace and security. With extensive political narrative aided by the media, now there is also a gradual acknowledgement that the past regimes were inefficient, regularly corrupt and compromised on the security front. This provokes us to ask ourselves an important and interesting question: who exactly ruled in the past, and for how long? Only this can help us zero in on someone who made most of the mess.
On June 24, 2019, Amit Shah piloted two Bills in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, his first pieces of legislation as Home Minister. Interestingly, both pertained to Jammu and Kashmir. One was ratification of the reservation to Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) that was extended to Jammu and Kashmir earlier in February through a Presidential Ordinance, and the other was about extension of President’s Rule as its six-month term was expiring on July 2 the same year. While responding to the debate in Rajya Sabha on July 2, Amit Shah made an extensive 63-minute-long speech in which he gave his assessment of what went wrong in Jammu and Kashmir and how Narendra Modi government intends to fix up things.
The central essence of Shah’s speech is the Congress party’s alleged mishandling of Jammu and Kashmir. He begins by asking, “why did you dismiss Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s government and arrest him in the midnight of August 8-9, 1953”. Then he asks why was Sheikh exiled from Jammu and Kashmir in 1965. Shah’s speech is instructive to probe why the Center has always been keen and eager to hold full control of the State governments in Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP practically took it forward from where Shah’s assessment of the Congress approach ended.
Now let’s go back and see how the Governments at the Center managed to rule Jammu and Kashmir for over 50 years directly through Governors, through their elected governments, in coalitions or through proxy. The local political parties could get just a little over 15 years to run State’s affairs through Governments of their own majority. Isn’t it interesting and unique only to Jammu and Kashmir.
In 2023, it is the 76th year since 1947 when Maharaja acceded to India in October that year and subsequently Sheikh Abdullah took over the political executive first as chief of Emergency Administration and then as Prime Minister in March next year. Of these 76 years, there has been direct Central rule for from the Raj Bhawan for over 13 years. With this Jammu and Kashmir becomes such State in India with highest spell of President’s Rule -ten years of Governor’s Rule and three and half years of Lieutenant Governor’s Rule.
With Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s dismissal and arrest in August 1953, the successor Government under Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was also of the National Conference, but that was merely in name. Bakshi and his colleagues worked in cahoots with the Congress and took orders from its central leadership. Before every cabinet reshuffle or expansion, the legislators would lobby in Delhi rather than in Srinagar or Jammu. In 1963, when the Kamaraj Plan required senior Congress leaders to resign from posts of Union Ministers and Chief Ministers and return to the party for organisational work, Bakshi, though not a Congress leader, was first to resign. He had ambitions of taking up a national level role in the Congress party and known as topmost leader of the Muslims across India. This, however, didn’t work. Bakshi was succeeded by Khwaja Shamsuddin, briefly, and then by Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq. These twelve years from 1953 to 1965 were of the Congress rule by proxy.
In 1965, G.M. Sadiq merged the National Conference into Congress. Even as all elections till 1977 were universally accepted farces, the elections of 1962 had thrown up National Conference government which was now to be known as the Congress government 1965 onwards. The Congress ‘won’ next two elections, 1967 under Sadiq and 1972 under Syed Mir Qasim. Therefore, shedding all pretensions, the Congress was in direct rule between March 1965 and February 1975.
Following the Indira-Sheikh Accord of 1974, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah became Chief Minister in February 1975. Sheikh was draw strength from the same Assembly elected under Qasim in 1972 as Congress majority. Besides himself as Chief Minister, Sheikh’s cabinet had only three Ministers, all from National Conference. This is how the Government of Sheikh Abdullah between 1975 and 1977 was first coalition with National Conference in the lead but Congress forming the majority.
It was only in 1977 that Jammu and Kashmir’s local political party, the National Conference was able to form a majority Government following elections in the summer that year. Upon his death, Sheikh was succeeded by his son Farooq Abdullah in September 1982. Farooq was able to pull a victory for the National Conference on its own in 1983 elections even as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had very strongly pitched for an alliance with the Congress.
In July 1984, Congress returned to the ruling scheme by executing dismissal of Farooq Abdullah’s government and extending support to G.M. Shah. Shah’s government was brought down after 20 months and Jammu and Kashmir came under second spell of Governor’s Rule which last for eight months. In November 1986, the Congress now entered into an alliance with National Conference to bring Farooq Abdullah back as Chief Minister. The two parties contested the widely rigged 1987 elections together and their Government lasted till January 1990 when Farooq Abdullah resigned in protest against appointment of Jagmohan as Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, the Congress party was ruling coalition in the State between July 1984 to January 1990. During the eight-month long Governor Rule between March and November 1986, the Congress was in power at the Center and consequently more in direct control in Jammu and Kashmir.
The last time a local political party was able form a full majority government in its was was in 1996. The National Conference government of Farooq Abdullah lasted its full six-year term. Counting in from March 1948 when Sheikh Abdullah was appointed as Prime Minister by Maharaja Hari Singh, it has been only for 18 years that a local regional party of Jammu and Kashmir could get the chance and opportunity to run a Government on its own majority in the Assembly. The first Assembly, howsoever flawed, was elected in 1951.
Since 2002, till the fall of last elected government in June 2018, it has been a coalition Government of local regional parties, in alliance with a national party -People’s Democratic Party with the Congress between 2002 and 2008, National Conference with the Congress between 2008 and 2014, and People’s Democratic Party with the Bhartiya Janta Party between March 2015 and June 2018.
So, who ruled Jammu and Kashmir for how long? The longest party in power has been New Delhi, directly, indirectly or through proxy. Following is the final breakdown: Congress in coalitions -19 years (1975-77, 1984-86, 1986-1990, 2002-2008, 2009-2014), Congress in absolute rule -10 years (1965-1967, 1967-72, 1972-1975), Congress through proxy (1953-1965), Raj Bhawan-13 years, and National Conference 18 years.
This makes an interesting case as why every ruling party at the Center has always remained so keen to hold direct or indirect control of the State government in Jammu and Kashmir. There are a number of States in India, such as Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, where regional political parties could never make any strong presence, and only the national parties -Congress and BJP -have competed against each other. There are, however, other states, such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Orissa, where regional parties have got fair chance. But in case of Jammu and Kashmir the party ruling at the Center has more or less ensured that either it has partnership with the regional party -may that be NC or PDP -or the State is put under the Raj Bhawan.
Now going back to the original question -who made mess of Jammu and Kashmir? Going by the length of rule each party had, the Central Government at New Delhi cannot escape the blame. This is what exactly Amit Shah charged Congress with in his July 2019 speech in Rajya Sabha, but then BJP has followed the same trajectory -at least on one count -denying the people of Jammu and Kashmir their democratic right of having an elected Government for last five years and running the State (Union Territory, of course) through Raj Bhawan.