When Jammu & Kashmir comes under President’s rule later this month, it will be for the first time since October 9, 1996, when the Farooq Abdullah-led National Conference took over at the end of six years of direct central rule. The state has been under central rule eight times, and moved from Governor’s rule to President’s rule (after six months) on two of those occasions. This will be the third time.
Until March 30, 1965, the state did not have a Governor or Chief Minister; it had a Sadre Riyasat (President of the State) and a Prime Minister. In 1953, months before J&K’s Constituent Assembly ratified the state’s accession to the Indian Union, then J&K Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was removed and arrested. In another blow to the state’s autonomy, New Delhi renamed the positions of Sadre Riyasat to Governor and Prime Minister to Chief Minister while Abdullah was in jail and his party was literally running a campaign for self-determination for J&K under the Plebiscite Front banner.
Unlike the Governor, who is the Centre’s nominee, Sadre Riyasat was a constitutional position elected by the J&K legislature and drew his powers from J&K’s own Constitution, signed into law in 1957 by then Sadre Riyasat Dr Karan Singh. Even after the post was abolished, the centrally nominated Governor continued to enjoy powers that his/her counterparts elsewhere did not. Governor’s rule is one of them. In other states, the Centre invokes Article 356 to impose President’s rule; in J&K, under Section 92 of the J&K Constitution, the Governor can rule for six months with a set of powers, the only requirement being the President’s consent.
Governor’s rule was imposed for the first time on March 26, 1977, when the Congress withdrew support to Abdullah, the then Chief Minister. The Congress wanted to move a no-confidence motion but Abdullah recommended dissolution of the Assembly and fresh elections; then Governor L K Jha put the state under Governor’s rule. This lasted for 105 days until Abdullah was reelected.
The first spell of President’s rule was in 1986. Abdullah’s son-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Shah split the National Conference legislature party, leading to the dismissal of then CM Farooq Abdullah, and became CM of a Congress-supported NC rebel government. This was Jagmohan’s first term as Governor, sent by the Congress government in New Delhi. Facing a public backlash, the Congress eventually withdrew its support, leading to Governor’s rule, followed by President’s rule.
The longest spell of central rule, from 1990, came after a separatist movement and breakdown of the state machinery led to the resignation of CM Farooq Abdullah. New Delhi sent Jagmohan as Governor again, but his iron-fist policies failed to quell the movement, and he was replaced. President’s rule was repeatedly extended until October 1996. Cajoled by New Delhi with promises of restoration of autonomy to J&K, NC agreed to contest polls and Farooq Abdullah returned as Chief Minister.
“In Governor’s rule, lawmaking power, financial power, budgetary sanction, all these powers are with the Governor. Once President’s rule is imposed, lawmaking power is transferred to Parliament, the Budget is also passed by Parliament,’’ said Abdul Rahim Rather, veteran NC leader and author of the State Autonomy Report. “If they pass the budget before December 19, it is well within the powers of the Governor. After that, the power would be shifted to Parliament.”
He said although the Centre needs Parliament’s approval for extending President’s rule, it hasn’t taken that route earlier. “It is unconstitutional but they have done it several times after they imposed direct rule in 1990,’’ he said. “… They didn’t go to Parliament. They extended it though presidential (executive) orders under Article 370,” he said. “We raised it in our State Autonomy Report which was passed in the Assembly.”
Constitutional expert A G Noorani writes: “The state is put in a status inferior to that of other states. One illustration suffices… Parliament had to amend the Constitution four times, by means of the 59th, 64th, 67th, and 68th amendments, to extend President’s rule imposed in Punjab on May 11, 1987. For the State of Jammu and Kashmir, the same result was accomplished, from 1990 to 1996, by mere executive orders under Article 370.”
Noorani gives another illustration. On July 30, 1986, the President issued an executive order under Article 370 extending Article 249 to J&K which “empowers Parliament to legislate even on a matter in the State List on the strength of Rajya Sabha resolution”. Concurrence to this presidential order was given by Centre’s own appointee, Governor Jagmohan.
“I think that after the state comes under President’s rule, Article 249 comes into play,’’ said Justice (retired) Hasnain Masoodi.
Rather said he and his party colleague Mohammad Shafi had challenged the extension of Article 249 in J&K High Court. “Our petition is still pending. Parliament cannot legislate in areas that are in our state list because its own appointee cannot give consent on behalf of an elected state government.”
PDP patron Muzaffar Hussain Baig, a lawyer, said: “When President’s rule is promulgated… the Governor has to seek clearance for every important decision from the Centre. When the Governor suspended the Assembly or later dissolved it.., he derived powers from the J&K Constitution”.
Baig said the ordinances issued by the Governor will lapse unless the Assembly adopts them. “But once President’s rule is here, he has to take clearance from the central government for any new ordinances. It is done through the President who sends it to the Home Ministry. That is the way,” he said.