Sometimes history proposes a spell of inexorable tyranny. In the case of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the rigging in the elections of 1987 was the sordid event that transformed the whole of Kashmir to militate against the authority of the Centre, the Indian Union. The ongoing spate of insurgency in the State of Kashmir is the corollary of the injustices that the Centre meted out to the Kashmiris in order to install a government of its own liking. This was the wrong turn of history ruining Kashmir-India relations.
Generally, Kashmir-India relations remained notorious for the application of two main articles of the Indian Constitution to the State of Kashmir. First, Article 249; and second, Article 356. This piece will discuss the impact of only Article 249.
In July 1986, Governor Jagmohan Malhotra dismissed the government of Farooq Abdullah and imposed the governor’s rule on the State of Kashmir. On 30 July 1986, Indian President issued a Presidential Order seeking an amendment to the Presidential Order of 1954 to extend Article 249 of the Indian Constitution to the State of Kashmir.
Article 249 described the powers of the Indian Parliament to legislate, in the national interest, even on a matter mentioned in the State List, if the Rajya Sabha (the lower house of the Indian Parliament) so resolved. In principle, the Indian President could not have legislated on the subjects mentioned in the State List. Nevertheless, on the same day, without seeking the advice of the Council of Ministers, Malhotra provided his concurrence to the Presidential Order of 1986. Malhotra could not have done so because neither did he seek the mandatory advice of his Council of Ministers nor he paid heed to adverse advice of the law ministry. The personal say of the Governor was immaterial unless recommended by the majority of the Council of Ministers of the State of Kashmir. Hence, both the Indian President and the State’s Governor violated Article 370 of the Indian Constitution describing otherwise relations between the State and the Indian Union. As a nominee of the Indian National Congress, Malhotra remained the Governor of Kashmir from 1984 to 1989. Afterwards, he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Interestingly, the Kashmir’s Governor was an appointee of the Centre. That is, the Center’s own appointee provided the requisite concurrence, without seeking the mandatory advice of his Council of Ministers, in a single day, against the advice of the law department, as the State of Kashmir was having no popular government at that time. Under Article 249, a direct Governor-President relationship developed bypassing the legislative assembly of the State of Kashmir. Article 249 permitted the rule of the Indian President on the State of Kashmir. In the past, during the Governor’s rule imposed under the State’s Constitution, all the ordinances issued would lapse unless the State’s legislative assembly ratified them. Nevertheless, once the President’s rule under Article 249 was extended, the Governor’s actions were not required to be ratified by the State’s legislative assembly. With that, the residuary powers of the State of Kashmir stood dissolved.
Before the Centre, the next challenge was to control the State’s legislative assembly. The Election Commission of India was already enjoying powers to supervise and administrate the elections. Many a time before, the Centre’s Election Commission remained implicated in electoral rigging to bring in the political party of interest to influence the future decisions of the consequent legislative assembly.
On the political front, the Indian National Congress had become a political stakeholder in the State of Kashmir. The National Congress became able to forge an electoral alliance with the National Conference of the late Sheikh Abdullah, as happened in the 1983 elections. Rajiv Gandhi played an important role in settling differences between the two parties, the win of which was certain. The National Congress dominated the Jammu region whereas the National Conference overwhelmed the Kashmir Valley region.
After July 1986, the streets in the State of Kashmir grew wary of their future. Consequently, a reactionary political awareness burgeoned. To forestall the pro-India tilt of the State of Kashmir, whether administrative or political, certain small groups joined hands together to constitute a Muslim United Front (MUF) to which Jamaat-e Islami also joined. The fear driving the mélange was that any overwhelming victory of the Conference-Congress alliance would further erode the autonomy of the State of Kashmir.
Whereas the National Conference had dropped the demand of plebiscite in 1974 (expressed through the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah Accord), the MUF raised the electoral slogan of settling the State’s future through the Simla Agreement of 1972, besides demanding autonomy. The regional Islamic freedom movements influenced the outlook of the MUF, which called for an Islamic Unity. Whereas the National Conference banked on secularism to reclaim any remnants of the State’s autonomy from India, the MUF relied on communalism (or Islamism) to ensure the State’s autonomy.
On 23 March 1987, elections were held. The Conference-Congress alliance won 66 seats out of contested 76 seats, whereas the MUF could win only 4 seats out of contested 43 seats. Compared to the Conference-Congress electoral alliance, the MUF was an insignificant coalition. The National Conference feared that any minimum presence of the MUF in the State’s legislative assembly would jeopardize its political monopoly, and India feared that the MUF would try to redefine State-India relations. Hence, through electoral rigging under the auspices of India’s Election Commission, the MUF was denied even the minimum chance of representation. The pre-poll rigging was done by arresting the workers of the MUF, and the poll rigging was done by rejecting the votes cast in favour of the MUF candidates. The MUF bore the worst rigging where it was contesting against Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference especially in the Kashmir Valley.
After the elections, though Farooq Abdullah became the Chief Minister, the Kashmir Valley descended into a cycle of violence inviting the Governor’s rule in January 1990 and dismissing Abdullah’s government. The MUF later on transformed into the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.
The reactionary medley popularized a new creed of leaders such as Abdul Ghani Lone, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq and his son Maulvi Umar Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhat, Sheikh Yaqoob, Mohammad Abbas Ansari, Yasin Malik, Mohammad Yusuf Shah, Shabbir Shah, Azam Inqulabi, Nayeem Ahamad Khan and Asiya Andrabi. The Kashmir Valley became the bastion of defending the State’s autonomy offering a push for resolving the Kashmir issue, instead of assuming it an open-and-shut case.
*Dr Tehmina Aslam Ranjha is an Assistant Professor at School of Intergrated Social Sciences at University of Lahore and Research Fellow at UoL Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research.Currently,She is SDPI’s grantee for a mega project on Countering Violent Extremism. She appears on BBC Urdu as an expert on National Security and Counter-Terrorism.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of South Asia Strategic Research Center (GASAM)