Some people leave their imprint on history by reshaping the society they were born in. B R Ambedkar was one such charismatic figure, whose social, political and economic visions continue to influence the times. The nation celebrated his birthday on Tuesday.
As chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, Ambedkar had a meticulous approach towards making India a just society and strengthening national integrity and sovereignty. His statesmanship is reflected in his sympathetic approach towards the Buddhists and Hindus of Jammu and Kashmir and in his disagreements with the then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Babasaheb was reluctant to accept Nehru’s advocacy for special status to J&K. Sardar Patel took the responsibility for unifying the nation and accordingly, he integrated 545 princely states to the Union of India. In the case of J&K, Nehru took a personal interest. In a letter to Maharaja Hari Singh of J&K, Nehru explains why the unification acceptance formula extended to all of India is unfit for J&K: The kingdom of J&K was an exception to other princely states since it had a Hindu ruler while a majority of subjects were Muslims.
Nehru thought that the Muslims of J&K will oppose accession to India. Ironically, the Muslim League, which was pushing the case of Pakistan, had lost the provincial elections to the Congress in the Muslim-majority area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and failed to win in Punjab. When these two Muslim majority regions could reject the League, why would the Muslims of J&K advocate for integration with Pakistan?
Some historians have argued that Nehru saw an opportunity to polish his image as a liberal politician and become a world leader by sidelining Raja Hari Singh in favour of Sheikh Abdullah. In return, Abdullah demanded the prime ministership of J&K. He also insisted on a special status for J&K, which provided for a separate constitution and a flag. This approach turned out to be disastrous for the state.
Nehru then asked his confidante, N Gopalaswami Ayyangar, minister without portfolio in the interim government, to prepare and move the necessary legislation to grant special status to J&K. After consultations with Constituent Assembly members Sheikh Abdullah, Mirza Mohammed Afzal Beg, Maulana Mohammed Syed Masoodi and Moti Ram Baigra, Ayyangar came up with the draft of Article 306 A, which provided special status to J&K.
On October 17, 1949, when Nehru was in the US, Ayyangar introduced the motion for insertion of Article 306A in the Constituent Assembly. The motion was adopted the same day after a brief discussion and later, it was renumbered Article 370 at the revision stage. Ambedkar refused to attend the session that passed the motion.
Addressing Parliament on October 10, 1951, Ambedkar, who had by then quit the Cabinet, criticised Nehru’s foreign policy, especially the decision to take J&K to the UN. Ambedkar said: “Every country in the world was our friend. Today, after four years, all our friends have deserted us. We have no friends left. We have alienated ourselves. We are pursuing a lonely furrow with no one even to second our resolutions in the U.N.O. When I think of our foreign policy, I am reminded of what Bismarck and Bernard Shaw have said. Bismarck has said that ‘politics is not a game of realising the ideal. Politics is the game of the possible’. Bernard Shaw not very long ago said that good ideals are good but one must not forget that it is often dangerous to be too good. Our foreign policy is in complete opposition to these words of wisdom uttered by two of the world’s greatest men.”
Ambedkar expressed his sympathy with the Hindus and Buddhists of J&K. He said: “What I am afraid of is that in the proposed plebiscite, which is to be an overall plebiscite, the Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir are likely to be dragged into Pakistan against their wishes and we may have to face the same problems as we are facing today in East Bengal.”
Ambedkar felt the special status provision of J&K will create another sovereignty within sovereign India, which can be detrimental to the unity and integrity of the Indian Republic. The implementation of Article 370 provided for a separate flag, a separate constitution, brought about the feeling of separatism, self-rule, autonomy, regional autonomy for misleading the youths and ultimately gave birth to terrorism, corruption and misgovernance in J&K.
In August 2019, the Modi government took the bold decision to correct the historical wrong by scraping Article 370. Now the people of erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir are experiencing a new dawn of vision-oriented development. It has paved the way for the implementation of nine constitutional amendments and 106 other laws in J&K. The implementation of legislation, including the Right to Education, Whistle-blower Protection Act, and the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, and ensuring political reservation for the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes, will ensure better life and opportunities for the people.
This article first appeared in the print edition on April 15, 2020 under the title ‘Babasaheb and Kashmir’. The writer is Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises.