Sunday, August 6, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Restructuring our federal polity
Need for fresh perspective on autonomy 
by Dalip Singh

T is a matter of fact that the Constituent Assembly of India (dominated by the Congress leadership and with the absence of a lobby seeking the protection of the rights of the states) created a highly centralised system to deal with the then uncertain political situation in the country.

What the Rajamannar Committee said
he Rajamannar Committee on Centre-State Relations, set up by the Tamil Nadu Government on May 27, 1971 recommended the constitution of a high-power commission to redistribute powers between the Centre and the states. 

On the Sarkaria Commission
ustice R. S. Sarkaria presented the report of the commission on Centre-state relations, headed by him, to the Prime Minister, Mr Rajiv Gandhi, in New Delhi on October 27, 1987.

Separation pangs over new states
HE passage of the Bills for the creation of the new states of Uttaranchal, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand turned out to be an emotional affair for several members. While the creation of the new states was a cause for happiness for most members, several MPs were sad that they would be separating from their mother state.

by Harihar Swarup
Dar — “human face” of the Mujahideen
ABDUL Majid Dar was little known outside Kashmir till he created the big bang by announcing a unilateral ceasefire by Hizbul Mujahideen. Commander-in-Chief of the biggest militant outfit, having an estimated strength of 2000 of 3000 ultras, Majid Dar, a son of the soil, will never like to leave the village where he was born; can never forget the apple orchards, the bubbling stream, the fresh air and the Kashmiri folklore.

UN body slams Aboriginal policy
From Matthew Brace in Sydney
USTRALIA has come under renewed fire from the United Nations for the way it treats its Aboriginal population. A report by the UN’s Human Rights Committee released at the weekend chastised Australia for its mandatory sentencing laws — the compulsory jailing of offenders for minor crimes.



Restructuring our federal polity
Need for fresh perspective on autonomy 
by Dalip Singh

IT is a matter of fact that the Constituent Assembly of India (dominated by the Congress leadership and with the absence of a lobby seeking the protection of the rights of the states) created a highly centralised system to deal with the then uncertain political situation in the country.

The impact of the partition of India and the consequent law and order problem, the rehabilitation of refugees, the issue of integration of princely states the need for rebuilding the economy on a planned and balanced manner, and the need to set up a system for meeting external and internal threats to the security of the new-born nation — all these factors influenced the thinking of the founding fathers to create a strong and powerful centre.

The states were assigned limited powers (the State List consists of 47 subjects) and these were totally made dependent on the Centre for financial requirements.

The Constitution also talks of the great ideal of an egalitarian society, socio-economic justice, the dignity of every individual by incorporating a set of fundamental rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy.

It also created an apex court (the Supreme Court) for evenly holding the balance of power between the Centre and the states and for upholding fundamental freedoms of all citizens.

The working of the federal polity over the past 50 years has, however, belied these expectations, urges and aspirations of the People. Nearly 40 per cent of the people are living below poverty line. The rich are becoming richer and the poor poorer. For many poverty, hunger, illiteracy, lack of drinking water and the basic health care facilities are the reality.

The highly centralised system of government (with control over 97 subjects in the Union List, including 66 subjects listed in the Concurrent List) has not been able to achieve the goal of egalitarian society as promised in the high sounding and pious words of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity to all solemnly proclaimed in the Preamble to the Constitution.

The Congress led by Jawahar Lal Nehru (a person of sterling qualities and the product of western ideas) assumed the reins of administration and for 17 long years remained at the helm by evolving a system of governance under its monopoly rule which led to the stranglehold of the Union Government over the states.

The Constitution became a tool in the hands of the ruling elite or dynastic rule of the Nehru family. Rule of the Congress both at the Centre and the states helped this process. Not only this India, indeed came to be governed from the Prime Minister’s Office. Delhi became a Mecca of worship for the nominated Congress Chief Ministers who sought the blessings and the guidance of the Prime Minister for running the affairs of their states.

The fourth General Elections of 1967 ended Congress rule and half of the Indian states came to be governed by various coalitions of non-Congress parties.

After assumption of power, these non-Congress parties came to realise their mendicant status. These coalition governments were thus dislodged one by one on partisan considerations.

The Congress model of governance maltreated the non-Congress Opposition governments, discriminating against them in matters of allocation of financial grants, location of heavy industrial projects and in matters of centrally sponsored schemes for poverty alleviation etc.

The Central Government failed to work for balanced growth of the nation and has been responsible for creating regional imbalances responsible for widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Mounting unemployment coupled with spiralling prices has added to the miseries of the people.

The partisan role of the Planning Commission (which has come to achieve the status of a super Cabinet under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister) and the Finance Commissions have been unsympathetic to the opposition-ruled states. The price and wage policies of the Union Government are responsible for causing a drain of the limited resources of the states. The states have very meagre sources of revenue (approximately 14 items of taxes) that are incapable even for meeting the salary bill of their employees.

The Central Government has been continuously increasing its hold over the finances of the states by resorting to measures like bank nationalisation, imposition of a surcharge on income tax, by acquiring control over the employees provident fund, general provident fund and through centrally sponsored national saving schemes.

Besides, the partisan role of the Governors, misuse of Article 356 for dislodging popularly elected governments, enquiry commissions against Chief Ministers, deployment of para-military forces without the consent of the states, discrimination in matters of allocation of discretionary grants — all have resulted in souring the Centre-State relations.

The power to amend the constitution has been blatantly misused to increase the hold of the Centre over the states. As a result of the draconian 42nd Constitution Amendment, the federal balance was further eroded and some important subjects were transferred to the Concurrent List from the State List.

The theory of “committed judiciary” and the “committed bureaucracy” and the policy of transferring Judges of the High Court smacked of manipulative politics seeking to attack the independence of the judiciary and the autonomous functioning of the bureaucracy in India.

The short-sighted policy of creating linguistic states, resolving of river water and boundary disputes between states in an unfair manner, repressive measures like TADA and MISA during the Emergency imposed in 1975 and the violation of human rights of the people — all these are acts aimed at suppressing the autonomous functioning of the states.

Under the present constitutional set-up, the state governments are at the mercy of the Centre not only for their economic, administrative and legislative requirements, but also for their very existence. The track record of the central governments during the past 50 years (barring the BJP-led coalition governments at the Centre) has been partisan and have been responsible in creating and intesifying bitterness between the Centre and the states.

The pattern of governance set in motion by the Congress party was followed by the 34-month-long rule (1977-79) of the Janata Party. The Janata conglomerate (due to its ideological feud) failed to honour the commitments contained in its election manifesto that it would decentralise powers and would ensure autonomous functioning of the states.

The Janata Dal minority government headed by V.P. Singh (December 2, to November 10, 1990) and later by Chandra Shekhar (Novmber 10, 1990, to June, 21, 1991) could do nothing worthwhile in restoring even the subjects which were transferred to the Concurrent List by Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.

The Sarkaria Commission (in its report on October 27, 1987) retained the status quo so far as the division of powers between the Centre and the states was concerned.

The Commission in its report observed that “it is neither advisable nor necessary to make any drastic changes in the basic character of the Constitution. It has, however, made 247 recommendations to improve the functioning of the Centre-state relations.

The step-motherly treatment meted out to the opposition-ruled states by successive central governments has led to the demand for autonomy by the states. The Akali Dal was indeed the first to raise this demand, during the fifties it demanded that the centre’s jurisdiction should be limited to foreign affairs, defence and communication.

The DMK, after dropping its secessionist ideology in the wake of the enactment of the 16th Constitution Amendment Act in 1963, became the chief spokesman of state autonomy.

The rise of regional parties in various states added a new dimension to this demand. These parties wanted an end to the hegemony of the Union Government and called for restructuring the relations between the Centre and the states with a view to imparting a true federal character to the Constitution.

One can discern the nature and extent of autonomy being demanded from the documents prepared by the non-Congress opposition parties. The Rajamannar Committee report of 1971, the Anandpur Sahib Resolution of 1973, the West Bengal memorandum of 1977, the proceedings of the Regional Council attended by the four southern non-Congress Chief Ministers and proceedings of the 17 Opposition party conclaves — all have made a number of proposals for restructuring the Union-states relations with a view to according greater autonomy to the states.

The Sarkaria Commission of 1987 has made no worthwhile suggestions to impart a genuine federal character to the Constitution. The Amritsar Declaration of 1990 adopted by the Akali Dal (Mann) wants a confederal system which alone would ensure full autonomy to the states.

The political scene has changed radically after the formation of BJP-led NDA government under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee. The BJP-led government has realised the mood and the rising expectations of the people. Enlightened statesmen, academicians and media persons are now fully aware of the present compulsions of having a stable government at the national level.

The regional parties (after giving a fatal blow to the Congress) are now putting pressure on the BJP-led government to grant more powers to the states. The BJP is fully aware of the need for the cooperation of the regional parties not only for remaining in power but also for solving the problems of the people.

All 23 regional parties are equal partners in the BJP-led NDA government. These regional parties have come to realise that a strong India can be built only with their support and cooperation.

The concept of a stronger India can be realised if the states are allowed to become stronger. Nation-building activities by the states will go to strengthen the base of the Indian polity. Only stronger states will be able to build a stronger India.

The tempo of building a stronger India can be initiated by bestowing more powers to the states. The opposition parties are stressing the need for more resources as equal partners with the central government, for creating a stronger India. With the control over only 18 subjects, the USA has achieved the distinction of being a “super power”.

In the USA, the 50 states enjoy full autonomy without interference from the federal government. What harm can happen to India if the Union is empowered to look after only matters of national importance. The collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union (strongly tied to communist ideology) failed to retain its original federal character. Three republics went out of its control and became independent sovereign states by adopting separate Constitutions of their own. The remaining republics have now come to be united under a confederal system that assures full autonomy to the constituent republics.

It is pertinent to mention that a Constitution has to be regarded as a “living document”. The purpose of every Constitution is to be serve the needs of a growing nation. A dynamic Constitution must adjust to the changing needs and requirements of society.

India is not what it was during the 1950s. A lot of changes have occurred in our society, economy and polity. The plural society of India is multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious in character.

In the developing countries of the world, including India, the diverse identities (based on ethnic, religious, linguistic and other primordial loyalties) have come to be mobilised owing to the process of modernisation and political development.

All these diverse identities now want a share in the decision-making process. Because of the capitalist path of development, fruits of economic development have been grabbed by the affluent sections of Indian society. Uneven economic development, regional imbalances and exploitation of the scarce resources to the detriment of regional identities have added to a feeling of deprivation and exploitation among minority groups.

As a consequence of these facts, social culture, religious and regional identities now demand autonomy and the creation of separate homelands. The demand for state autonomy is now being supported by a wide range of political organisations such as the Akali Dal in Punjab, the CPM in West Bengal, the DMK (as also the AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, the Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh, the Assom Gana Parishad in Assam, the Janata Dal in Karnataka and the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Bodoland movement, the Jharkhand movement, the Gorkha League Liberation Movement of Darjiling and the separatist movements in Jammu and Kashmir state and in the north-eastern states, as a matter of fact, are the outgrowth of ethno-religious revivalism in our country. Punjab also passed through a militant movement for over a decade on account of the non-acceptance of the long-pending demands of the Akali Dal. The ruling elite often dubbed them as posing a threat to national unity and integrity.

On the other hand, these varied identities have been the victim of deprivation and suffering at the hands of the ruling elite. A way has to be found to pacify these identities. The foundation of a strong nation can be laid only if sub-national ties are accorded a due place by ensuring them a sufficient dose of autonomy.

The con0stitution of the country is to serve the needs of the society. It is not regarded as a “holy book” which ought to be worshipped by everybody. The Constitution is a means and the end is the achievement of the well-being of a growing nation.

A time has come to establish a true federal system which would strengthen the bonds of mutual cooperation, amity and friendship between the Centre and the states. We should learn a lesson from the past experience of a monolith Centre which was responsible for creating fissures among the different regions and regional identities of our plural society, on the one hand, and intensified bitterness among the states and with the Union Government, on the other.

The past policy of divide and rule has to be replaced by laying the foundation of cooperative federalism.

India will be able to regain its past glory as a nation, if we allow due autonomy to the states. The delegation of powers to the people will strengthen the unity and integrity of India.

The Centre, should retain only matters of national importance and the states should be granted maximum powers (with adequate financial autonomy). All provisions which encroach upon the autonomous functioning of the states should be deleted.

The writer is a Professor of Political Science, Punjabi University, Patiala.


What the Rajamannar Committee said

The Rajamannar Committee on Centre-State Relations, set up by the Tamil Nadu Government on May 27, 1971 recommended the constitution of a high-power commission to redistribute powers between the Centre and the states. The committee also suggested immediate formation of an inter-state council as provided for under Article 263 of the Constitution; abolition of the Planning Commission as at present constituted and its replacement by a wholly new one to be created with a statutory basis under a Parliamentary enactment and free from control by the Central executive; widening of the states to include the corporation capital value of assets in the divisible pool; repeal of the Industries (Development and Regulation) Act of 1951, with a new Act providing for control by the Centre of only industries of national or all-India character, and conferment of industrial licensing powers on the states.

The committee, headed by a former Chief Justice of Madras, Dr P.V. Rajamannar, was set up by the state government in September, 1969, to examine the entire question regarding the relationship that should subsist between the Centre and the states in a federal set-up and to suggest amendments to the Constitution to secure to the states the utmost autonomy. The three-member committee consisted of, besides Dr Rajamannar, the former Vice-Chancellor of Madras University, Dr A Lakshmanaswamy Mundoar, and a former Chief Justice of Andhra, Dr P. Chandra Reddy.

The committee’s recommendations, most of which were obviously drastic and far-reaching, stemmed from its conviction that though the Constitution set up a federal system, there were admittedly several provisions that were clearly inconsistent with the principles of federation. There were unitary trends and in the allocation of powers there was a strong bias in favour of the Centre. In an ideal federation the national and state governments existed on a basis of equality and neither had the power to make inroads on the definite authority and functions of the other unilaterally — whereas in India the national government was vested with powers on certain occasions to invade the legislative and executive domains of the states.

The committee summed up that “there is a theme of subordination of the State running right through the Constitution.”

Quite apart from some provisions of the Constitution conferring special powers on the Centre, factors like one-party rule, both at the Centre and in the states, inadequacy of the states’ own fiscal resources and consequent dependence on the Centre for financial assistance and the institution of Central planning and the role of the Planning Commission had, in the committee’s view, contributed to the “perpetuation and growth” of unitary trends.

Inter-state council proposed: Following this line of argument, the committee asked for the “omission” of Articles 256, 257 and 339 (2), which empower the Central executive to issue directions to the state governments — or, alternatively, to ensure that no direction under any of these Articles is issued except in consultation with “and with the approval of” the inter-state council.

The committee said that the inter-state council should be composed of the Chief Ministers of states or their nominees, “all States having equal representation,” with the Prime Minister as the chairman; and no other Minister of the Central Cabinet should be a member of the council. Every Bill of national importance and likely to affect the interests of one or more states should be placed before Parliament at the time of introduction of the Bill. Also it “should be definitely provided” that before the Central government takes any decision of national importance or affecting one or more states, the council would be consulted. Exceptions may be made “probably” in regard to subjects like defence and foreign relations, but even in such matters the Central government’s decision should be placed before the council without delay.

Financial relations: The committee’s recommendations on financial relations between the Centre and the states — “and these are the most important part of our report,’ according to Dr Rajamannar — were designed “to secure for the States a larger devolution of taxes than at present so that in actual practice the need for grants-in-aid under Article 275 either disappears or is minimised.”

The committee sought to widen the base of devolution of resources to the states by adding corporation tax, customs and export duties and the tax on the capital value of assets in the divisible pool. Even in regard to the grants by the Centre to the states, the committee wanted an independent and impartial body such as the Finance Commission to be in charge of the distribution.

To ensure real autonomy for the states and what the committee’s chairman described as ideal federalism, the committee also suggested the transfer of a number of items not only from the Concurrent to the State List in the Seventh Schedule but also from the Central to the State List.

— Asian Recorder, 1971


On the Sarkaria Commission

Justice R. S. Sarkaria presented the report of the commission on Centre-state relations, headed by him, to the Prime Minister, Mr Rajiv Gandhi, in New Delhi on October 27, 1987.

The sizeable document, the product of four years of labour, contains recommendations of changes in the existing arrangements between the Centre and the states necessary, in its view, to remedy the problems arising from the present relationship.

The commission was appointed on June 9, 1983, by the late Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, in the wake of the Telugu Desam movement which reduced the Congress in the state to a shambles.

Later, however, the Anandpur Sahib resolution of the Akali Dal demanding more powers for Punjab came to acquire importance in the commission’s investigations. The Centre agreed to refer the document to this commission in terms of the Punjab accord between Mr Rajiv Gandhi and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, though, during the 1984 election campaign, the Prime Minister had dubbed it a secessionist document.

The terms of reference of the commission had come under severe criticism of Opposition parties because of the limits that were sought to be imposed on the commission’s framework of investigation. The terms laid down that in making its recommendation, the commission “will keep in view the social and economic developments that have taken place over the years and have due regard to the scheme and framework of the Constitution which the founding fathers have so sedulously designed to protect the independence and ensure the unity and integrity of the country which is of paramount importance for promoting the welfare of the people.”

The commission, whose appointment initially appeared to be an act of expediency under pressure of regional demands from the states, gradually gained importance as one doing work of permanent value. Its activities depth with the appointment of two more members, Mr B. Sivaraman and Dr S. R. Sen. In view of the wide dimensions of its investigations, the commission’s term had to be extended five times.


In its unanimous report, the Sarkaria Commission said that there was no need to amend the Constitution to give more powers to the states because it already had provisions to allow them freedom in their spheres.

The commission, however, pointed out that the Centre had been usurping the states’ prerogatives, poaching on their sphere, and violating the letter and spirit of the Constitution by expanding the concurrent list at the expense of the state list of subjects.

The commission cited central notifications, for example, on industry, to prove how the Centre had slowly taken over more than 85 per cent of the industry, while the states were fairly autonomous in the initial years of the Constitution’s operation.

The commission came down heavily on the way the Central government had operated Article 356, assuming power in the states on the ground that the constitutional machinery had failed. This arbitrary and haphazard way of action created suspicion of political considerations: the commission, therefore, suggested the codification of rules that should guide the state Governors. The commission asked for the codified rules to be incorporated in the Constitution so that any violation could be challenged in a court of law. (At present the Centre is not answerable for having imposed its rule on a state nor is the state Governor for any action that he may claim to have taken in “the exercise and performance of the powers” he has.) One specific recommendation of the commission was to constitute an inter-state council, as provided under Article 263 in the Constitution. The commission expressed its disappointment that the government had not done so even after 38 years of ‘the Constitution coming into operation. A permanent secretariat and series of sanding committees were proposed to help the inter-state council to maintain constant touch with the Centre and the states.

(The inter-state council, under the Constitution, is charged with the duty of (a) inquiring into and advising upon disputes which may have arisen between states, (b) investigating and discussing subjects in which some or all of the states, or the union and one or more of the states have a common interest: or (c) Making recommendations upon any such subject and, in particular, recommendations for the better co-ordination of policy and action with respect to that subject.)

The commission at many places in its report commended the resilience of the Indian Constitution as compared to the US Constitution. But it regretted that too many constitutional amendments had been affected and they had at times defeated the original purpose.

The four- volume report did not contain any summary. The commission apparently believed that any summary would unwittingly lay emphasis on some points; it wanted the whole report to be read to appreciate the conclusions in their proper perspective.

— Asian Recorder, 1987


Delhi durbar
Separation pangs over new states

THE passage of the Bills for the creation of the new states of Uttaranchal, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand turned out to be an emotional affair for several members. While the creation of the new states was a cause for happiness for most members, several MPs were sad that they would be separating from their mother state. Veteran MP and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shyama Charam Shukla said he was sad that he would be separating from friends and families he had known for the last more than four decades. Samata Party’s Prabhunath Singh said the division of Bihar was like cutting his heart into two. It was difficult to imagine that the land where one roamed bare feet would undergo a change in its identity. Yet he said he was supporting the move as his party had decided so.

There were some MPs who were very happy with the creation of the new states. There was light-hearted speculation on who would be the chief ministers of the new states. One MP was seen complimenting Mr Ajit Jogi of the Congress over the creation of Chattisgarh. He felt Jogi was a natural choice for the chief ministership of the proposed state.

To yield or not to yield

The personal statement made by the former Law Minister, Mr Ram Jethmalani, in the Rajya Sabha earlier in the week did not go without its light-hearted moments, besides the expected attack from the accomplished lawyer.

There were times when members from the Opposition wanted certain clarifications from the former Law Minister but the Chairman, Mr Krishan Kant, did not let that happen.

On one particular occasion, a Congress member was insistent and wanted to raise a point of clarification. The Chairman replied that the speaker was “not yielding” even though the former Law Minister had taken his seat.

When the particular Congress member pointed out that the speaker was yielding, the Chairman replied: “I am not letting him yield”. So when Mr Jethmalani got up again to speak, he thanked the Chairman for not letting him yield.

The Chairman was not giving up here and shot back, “I will make you yield, when it will be required,” evoking laughter from the members.

Setting an example

The Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and former Union Minister, Mr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, can be very vociferous and with his oratorial skills dominate the entire proceedings in the Lok Sabha. It was during one such day when the former Minister was in full cry that a large number of children from various schools had come to watch the proceedings of the House. Realising that Mr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was getting carried away by rhetoric, the Speaker decided to capitalise on the childrens’ presence to restrain the RJD leader. He reminded Mr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh that the children were watching him and he should look towards them. Unmindful of the curious onlookers, the RJD leader ignored the Speaker’s advice and continued with his tirade.

Caught napping

The Parliament security was caught napping by some enterprising farmers from Udhamsingh Nagar last week. The Sikh community in Udhamsingh Nagar was quite agitated over the inclusion of the district in the proposed Uttaranchal and they decided to carry their protest right to the doorstep of Parliament. Posing as ordinary visitors, a large number of Sikh farmers descended inside Parliament complex and started raising slogans outside the main foyer. It took some time for the security to react but by then the farmers had made their point.

Nothing amiss or found?

While making a presentation on the functioning of human rights cells at a meeting of DGPs, IGPs and special rapporteurs here, the Inspector General of Police, Chandigarh, Mr Bhim Sain Bassi, found himself cornered by the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, Justice J.S. Verma. After enumerating factors that favour protection of human rights in Chandigarh, Mr Bassi assured the Commission that the administrator was very interested in the human rights scenario. He went on to say y that the administrator of Chandigarh paid surprise visits to some police stations at night but did not find anything amiss. To this, Justice Verma enquired: “Nothing amiss was there or nothing amiss was found.”

Germany’s legacy

The Berlin wall may have fallen but Germany still has a problem coping with its legacy. At a function here last week to launch the logo of a forthcoming German festival in India, scribes were curious to know if the organisers would highlight Karl Marx and his works during the event. The German spokesperson was a trifle uneasy with such questions and was found groping for an answer. When the scribes persisted, the exasperated spokesperson said his country was still in the process of sorting out the legacy of Marx. “Give us a little time”, he pleaded.

Shriman Shrimati

Dealing with a couple in workplace can be a daunting task for the managers. This was demonstrated in the Rajya Sabha last week when the Chair had to decide whether to call Mr Swaraj Kaushal or his wife Sushma Swaraj. Both husband and wife were on their feet trying to catch the attention of the chair. Rattled by the vocal competition between the couple, the chairperson asked Mrs Swaraj whether he should ask her husband to speak first? Contrary to expectations Mrs Swaraj chose to depart from the stereotype reply and insisted that she be given the right of way.

(Contributed by Satish Misra, T.V. Lakshminarayan, Girija Shankar Kaura, Tripti Nath, Prashant Sood and P.N. Andley).


by Harihar Swarup

Dar — “human face” of the Mujahideen

ABDUL Majid Dar was little known outside Kashmir till he created the big bang by announcing a unilateral ceasefire by Hizbul Mujahideen. Commander-in-Chief of the biggest militant outfit, having an estimated strength of 2000 of 3000 ultras, Majid Dar, a son of the soil, will never like to leave the village where he was born; can never forget the apple orchards, the bubbling stream, the fresh air and the Kashmiri folklore. Forty-year old Majid Dar, say even his adversaries, is the “human face” of the hitherto dreaded Mujahideen. When an advocate, Habibullah Mircha, a close relative of the Congress leader Mr Ghulam Rasool Kar, was gunned down by his cadres, he was wild with rage and reprimanded them that he would not tolerate killings of the innocent. He has often been quoted as saying: “We have families and relatives here and we have to respect their feelings”.

Hailing from Sopore, known as “the apple town”, of Baramula district, circumstances forced him to take to the gun 11 years back. The experience of assembly elections in 1987 changed the course of his life. He did not contest himself but worked zealously for Syed Salauddin, now Hizbul’s chief, staying in Pakistan. Reports say Salauddin then swore by the Indian Constitution. From all accounts elections were rigged and the National Conference nominee, Mr Mohiuddin Shah, now Chairman of the Autonomy Committee, romped home when his defeat looked certain. Both Salauddin and Dar were thoroughly demoralised, saw no hope of the situation changing in future and turned to militancy.

Angry young men, as both were, crossed over to Pakistan where they were given shelter, money, sympathy, tall promises and, evidently, subjected to intense religious indoctrination. Their trust with destiny began and it took them a decade to realise that the gun is not the solution to the Kashmir problem. In the 11-year long militancy, Hizbul is known to have lost 15,000 men. Both Salauddin and Dar sojourned most of the time in occupied Kashmir, trained and motivated Hizbul cadres and might have crossed over incognito several times in the valley. Officially, Majid Dar is known to have visited the valley in 1998 and 1999 for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation and plugging the loopholes in the operation. He noticed that the people, by the large, have been fed up with violence, disillusioned with militancy and convinced that the gun would lead them nowhere. Also foreign mercenaries took to extortion and, unlike Hizb’s Kashmiri cadres, were inhuman and hardly discriminated between Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris when it came to hush money. In Majid Dar’s own words: “I spent three months here with field commanders to gauge public opinion. Everybody, from political parties to the media, favoured peace talks. So we decided to take this historic step”.

The Hizbul leadership comprising Salauddin and Majid Dar could see the changing mood in the valley, gradually developed differences with other Pakistan-based militant outfits on the question of further pursuing the violent struggle. The spate of killings let loose by Lashkar-e-Toiba and other militant set-ups following the declaration of ceasefire by Majid Dar has evoked the sharpest-ever reaction from the Hizbul’s commander. Mark his words: “Brutal killings of innocent and unarmed civilians is the best proof of acts of terrorism” and those who indulge in this type of acts “have no love for the freedom of the people of Kashmir”. Also expressions like “Islam does not allow killing of unarmed and innocent persons” and attributing the killings to those “who have used the movement to make ill-gotten money” manifest the change of heart in the Hizbul’s rank and file.

So upset were the Pakistan-based militant organisations at Hizbul’s declaration of ceasefire that the United Jehad Council (UJC), an umbrella organisations of 17 separatist groups, sacked Salahuddin, who headed the UJC, and dubbed him and Majid Dar as traitors. Dar has, in fact, been emerging as the key figure in the proposed peace talks with the Centre. His authority was evident when he nominated Fazal Haq Qureshi, a local Kashmiri of standing and known integrity, as a member of the negotiating team even bypassing Salahuddin. Dar may gradually replace the three-member team, nominated in Pakistan.

Dar was born in Sopore and his father was a middle-class trader. He is a matriculate and basically a product of the Jamiat-e-Islami Madarsa. He later became an activist of the organisation while, simultaneously, helping his father in the business. He had a long association with Shabir Shah’s People’s League which split several times. Majid Dar, along with like-minded persons, formed the Tehreek-e-Jehadi Islami (TJI), a militant organisation. That was the year 1989 and the gun culture had started making inroads in the valley. Hizbul was, in fact, formed to neutralise the JKLF and its students wing who had become powerful. Dar merged his TJI with the Hizbul and since then the outfit has become quite formidable. Dar was among the first batch of Kashmiri youths to cross over to Pakistan and received intensive arms training their.

Majid Dar is now a changed man having seen the futility of militancy. Whatever may be the outcome of the proposed peace talks, he is the future leader of Kashmir.


UN body slams Aboriginal policy
From Matthew Brace in Sydney

AUSTRALIA has come under renewed fire from the United Nations for the way it treats its Aboriginal population. A report by the UN’s Human Rights Committee released at the weekend chastised Australia for its mandatory sentencing laws — the compulsory jailing of offenders for minor crimes.

Australia was also accused of failing to fully compensate the victims of the “stolen generation” — Aborigines who were forcibly removed from their families and brought up in white households.

The report added that the high levels of social exclusion and poverty facing indigenous people were a matter of urgent concern, and that the present levels of protection and promotion of traditional Aboriginal forms of economy and sites of religious or cultural significance were inadequate.

The Australian Government came out fighting with the attorney-general, Daryl Williams, saying that the administration had every reason to be proud of its human rights record. “The government does not agree that many of the steps suggested by the committee are either necessary or desirable,” he said.

Many Australians have been calling on the government to do more to bring white and Aboriginal communities together, and to work towards a coalition. Thousands walked across the Sydney Harbour bridge two months ago to protest at the lack of governmental action.

Some believe an apology is needed from the government for victims of the stolen generation, but the Prime Minister, John Howard, has steadfastly refused, saying that the government is not liable for the acts of previous administrations.

Some Australians and media commentators reacted angrily to the UN’s criticism, accusing it of trying to portray the country as an international pariah, such as South Africa under apartheid.

However, a leading indigenous rights group, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, said the government should see the report as a positive document that could help it to comply with international treaties.

The report praised Australia for enacting some anti-discrimination laws and for partially helping those taken away from their homes as children. But it clearly levelled its sights at mandatory sentencing, currently active in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Juveniles (under-17) convicted of their third home burglary get a 12-month minimum sentence in Western Australia. Juveniles aged 15-16 who have already been convicted of a property offence get a minimum 28-day sentence in the Northern Territory. Adults get at least 14 days for a first property offence in the Northern Territory, 90 days for a second and one year for further offences.

The report said: “Legislation regarding mandatory imprisonment, which led in many cases to imposition of punishments that were disproportionate to the seriousness of the crimes committed and would seem to be inconsistent with the strategies adopted by the state [Australia] to reduce the over-representation of indigenous persons in the criminal justice system, raised serious issues of compliance with ... the [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights].”

Arrests of Aborigines are currently more than four times those of whites in the Northern Territory. “In addition, the mandatory detention under the migration act of ‘unlawful non-citizens’, including asylum-seekers, raised question of compliance with covenant,” said the report.

The UN criticism comes just a couple of weeks after it emerged that British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie Booth, in her role as a queen’s counsel [advocate], was involved in presenting a case before the same committee, on behalf of Aborigines from the Northern Territory imprisoned for minor property offences.

Irked by the case, Mr Howard accused the UN of butting its nose into Australian affairs. He will no doubt be further perturbed by this weekend’s UN report.

— By arrangement with The Guardian

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