Recent statements by National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have brought the spotlight on two erstwhile positions in Jammu and Kashmir — J&K Prime Minister and Sadr-e-Riyasat (President of the state).
Following a statement by BJP president Amit Shah that Article 35A may be abrogated by 2020, Omar referred to the time when J&K had its own Sadr-e-Riyasat and Prime Minister. “Inshallah, we will also get that back,” he said. Modi subsequently criticised Omar at a rally and also tweeted: “National Conference wants 2 PMs, 1 in Kashmir & 1 for rest of India… Till Modi is there, no one can divide India!”
J&K Prime Minister
J&K had its own Prime Minister and Sadr-e-Riyasat until 1965, when the J&K Constitution was amended (Sixth Constitution of J&K Amendment Act, 1965) by the then Congress government, which replaced the two positions with Chief Minister and Governor respectively.
The first Prime Minister of J&K, appointed by Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh, was Sir Albion Banerjee (1927-29). The state had nine more Prime Ministers before Independence. The first after Independence was Mehr Chand Mahajan (October 1947-March 1948). He was replaced with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who until then had been Head of the Administration.
When Abdullah was arrested under Jawaharlal Nehru’s orders on August 9, 1953, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was appointed Prime Minister of J&K. The next two J&K Prime Ministers were Khwaja Shamsuddin (1963-64) and Congress leader Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq (until March 30, 1965).
It was during Sadiq’s tenure that the Centre replaced the two posts. In fact, Sadiq became the first Chief Minister of J&K, serving until December 1971.
The J&K Constituent Assembly was constituted in September 1951 and dispersed on January 25, 1957. The J&K Constitution was adopted on November 17, 1956 but came into effect only on January 26, 1957.
On June 10, 1952, the “Basic Principles Committee” appointed by the J&K Constituent Assembly recommended that “the institution of hereditary rulership shall be terminated” and “the office of the head of the State shall be elective”. Two days later, the Constituent Assembly unanimously adopted the report. The Constituent Assembly resolved that the head of state, named Sadr-e-Riyasat, would be elected by the Legislative Assembly for a term of five years and recognised by the President of India.
The Centre did not agree initially because it “impinged upon the provisions of Article 370” where the Maharaja, acting on the advice of the council of ministers, was recognised as the head of state. After negotiations, the matter was resolved on July 24, 1952, when New Delhi agreed to allow J&K to recognise an elected Sadr-e-Riyasat instead of an appointed Governor. Only a permanent resident of J&K could become Sadr-e-Riyasat. Once elected by the Legislative Assembly, the Sadr-e-Riyasat had to be recognised and then appointed by the President of India.
On the recommendation of the J&K Constituent Assembly, the President issued a Constitution Order on November 17, 1952 under Article 370 saying that the state government means the elected Sadr-e-Riyasat, acting on the aid and advice of council of ministers. The one compromise that the J&K leadership made was to elect Maharaja Hari Singh’s son and regent since 1949, Karan Singh, as the first Sadr-e-Riyasat.
Karan Singh has been the only Sadr-e-Riyasat, serving from November 17, 1952, until the post was abolished and replaced with the centrally nominated Governor on March 30, 1965. In fact, Karan Singh became the first Governor too.
The Sixth Amendment to the J&K Constitution, carried out in 1965, made a fundamental change to its basic structure. Under Section 147, an amendment is to be assented by the Sadr-e-Riyasat after a Bill is passed by a two-thirds majority of the House, while Section 147 itself cannot be amended by the state legislature, and neither can an amendment that changes the provisions of Constitution of India as applicable in relation to J&K. Sadr-e-Riyasat, however, was replaced with Governor across the J&K Constitution, except in Section 147 which could not be amended. This has led to the existence of two kinds of heads of state in the Constitution — Sadr-e-Riyasat as well as Governor. In 1975, a Presidential Order issued under Article 370 barred the J&K Legislature from making any change to the J&K Constitution regarding appointment and powers of the Governor.
In December 2015, the J&K High Court ruled that the conversion of the post of Sadr-e-Riyasat into Governor was unconstitutional. “The ‘elective’ status of Head of the State was an important attribute of Constitutional autonomy enjoyed by the State, a part of ‘Basic Framework’ of the State Constitution and therefore not within the amending power of the State legislature,” the judgment said. It added: “In terms of aforestated amendment Governor is appointed by the President and is to be Head of the State. The office of Head of the State in wake of amendment ceases to be ‘elective’. The Sixth Amendment therefore did not merely change the nomenclature, but the eligibility, mode and method of appointment of Head of the State.”
J&K’s major parties, especially the National Conference whose founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah played a key role in the state’s accession in 1947, have been demanding restoration of J&K’s autonomy to its original status as agreed during the 1947 negotiations. In 2000, when the NC was in power after having won with a two-thirds majority in 1996, the Legislative Assembly passed a State Autonomy Report, seeking restoration of the state’s autonomy to the 1953 position, which would have meant restoration of the Prime Minister and Sadr-e-Riyasat positions. The then Vajpayee government summarily rejected the resolution passed by the Assembly.