Intro: Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP) moved a bill demanding amendment of the Preamble of the State constitution by inserting “to constitute Jammu and Kashmir into a Socialist Secular State” in the J&K Preamble.
During the just concluded Legislature session in Srinagar, under Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, the National Conference (NC) has once again shown that the party has no respect for secularism and the word secular. Of course, he was aided in his venture by the state Congress, just as his grandfather, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, was helped in a similar exercise four decades ago by late Indira Gandhi.
The two parties, the NC and the Congress (coalition partners in Jammu and Kashmir), apparently have scant regard for the concept of secularism- a cornerstone of Indian ethos and the soul of Indian Constitution. For them, secular and secularism are not sacred, but just words to browbeat some of their opponents with.
The two parties never tire of dropping the words secular and non-secular (or communal) on any given opportunity as a lip service to mainly target Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) credentials. But when it comes to exhibiting their credentials by including the word secular in the Preamble of the J&K Constitution, they develop cold feet and defeat the Bill, and show their true colour.
It bears mention here that a private member had introduced a Bill to introduce the word “secular” in the Preamble of the Constitution of J&K, in an apparent attempt to bring it in sync with the Indian Constitution. However, the ruling coalition government, of the NC and the Congress, conspired together to defeat the Bill brazenly. Law Minister in the coalition government, Mir Saifullah, turned down the plea of the pilot of the Bill, Mr Harsh Dev Singh of the Panthers Party, to support its passage. Earlier, the Bill had remained in the cold storage for a long time having been assigned to a House Committee, which hardly ever met, during the many years it was supposed to deliberate on the issue.
Harsh Singh recalled that Mir was a member of the select committee which had handled the Bill. He claimed that Mir was very supportive of the Bill when he was an ordinary MLA but appears to have changed tracks after becoming the Law Minister.
The Speaker, Mubarak Gul, had a very interesting take on the whole issue. While declaring that the Bill was irrelevant, Gul declared that had J&K not been secular, it would have gone to Pakistan!
Going a step further, Mr Gul credited Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah as being the politician who had made J&K secular! In this, he appeared to be clearly speaking as a NC leader and, not as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly- the post he is supposed to occupy independently, without exhibiting party loyalties. Alas, such lofty practices appear to be drowned in the partisan debate about the issue in the Legislative Assembly of J&K.
Under 42nd Constitutional Amendment brought in by Indira Gandhi during Emergency, in the Preamble, the characterisation of India as ‘Sovereign Democratic Republic’ was changed to ‘Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic’. Two words, socialist and secular, were added to the Preamble of the Indian Constitution which had not existed in it, till then.
These changes are missing from the Preamble of the J&K Constitution, as Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, who was ruling the state when these changes were introduced did not incorporate them in the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir.
It bears mention here that under the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord, Sheikh had become the chief minister of J&K with the help of the Congress. He did not have MLAs but all the Congress MLAs were tasked by Indira Gandhi to support his government. She unseated the duly elected Congress CM of the day and annointed Sheikh as the CM of the state.
The Congress had given a two-thirds majority to Sheikh Abdullah in the Legislative Assembly on a platter. Yet, it never asked him to add the word “secular” to the Preamble of the J&K Constitution. This despite the fact that the word could have been easily incorporated into the Constitution given the clamour the Congress and the NC of the Abdullahs often make about the word. -Sant Kumar Sharma (The writer is a Jammu based—senior columnist)