Talk of declaring and celebrating November 17 as the republic day of Kashmir is making rounds in Srinagar once again. It began last year when some people started preaching what was meant to kill many birds with one stone. For one, putting Kashmir’s in good humor about having a republic of their own. Were Kashmir’s to believe in this stuff and nonsense, it would logically follow that Kashmir was not an International Sovereignty Dispute but an “independent republic”.
And in the absence of a Dispute over Kashmir, the question of Pakistan being a party would not arise. If this were to happen, it would be a total victory for India; its sovereignty over Kashmir would be established for good; and more important, the myth that Kashmir was a “republic” would soon evaporate into thin air. Kashmir would become India’s dependency without countenance. In order to understand the real significance of November 17, it would be necessary to understand how and why attempts were made to suppress the sovereignty-wise disputed nature of Kashmir; and to deny Pakistan the status of being a party to it. It so happened that on January 5, 1949 the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan, UNCIP, adopted a resolution stating that the question of the accession of Kashmir to India or Pakistan would be decided through a plebiscite for which purpose the UN Secretary General would nominate a Plebiscite Administrator (PA) who would be appointed by the Government of Kashmir (Maharaja Hari Singh) as such with full powers. This meant that the Maharaja would first dismiss his Interim Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah; formally appoint the PA with full powers; and then himself step aside.
When on 22 March 1949 the UN Secretary General nominated Chester Willian Nimitz of USA for the post of PA, Maharaja Hari Singh did not issue formal appointment orders in his favour. Instead, he issued a Proclamation on 20 June 1949 appointing his 18-year old son, Karan Singh, as Regent(Deputy Maharaja) and himself quit the State never to return. At this time Sheikh Abdullah and party be-fooled the Kashmir’s that they had rid them of Dogra rule by forcing Hari Singh out of the State – the newly established Regency notwithstanding. The myth that Plebiscite could not be conducted because Pakistan did not withdraw from Azad Kashmir was meticulously created and propagated by India to hide its own role. The Indian Government had forced Maharaja Hari Singh not to appoint Chester Nimitz as PA. Pakistan was required to withdraw its forces from Azad Kashmir only after the appointment of PA so that the latter could keep the region under his surveillance post-Pakistani withdrawal.
After the abdication of Maharaja Hari Singh in June 1949 the Regent Karan Singh was the head of the Kashmir Government. He was required to appoint Chester Nimitz as PA. He didn’t. So after waiting for some time the UNCIP reported on 12 December 1949 to the Security Council of the UN that they could not move ahead in their task in Kashmir. The Security Council appointed on 17 December 1949 its own President, General McNaughten of Canada, as Mediator between India and Pakistan. McNaughten submitted his proposals to the parties to Kashmir Dispute so that a Plebiscite could be conducted. But the Indian Government had their own game to play, and therefore, it showed little enthusiasm on the issue. On 14 March 1950, the Security Council appointed Owen Dixon of Australia as the new Mediator.
Meantime, the Indian State proceeded to completely sideline Pakistan and the UN. It changed the relationship between the Indian State and Kashmir from temporary Instrument of Accession to that of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Article 370 envisaged the convening of a Provincial Constituent Assembly for Kashmir to decide the future of the State.
“The concept of the Constituent Assembly,” acknowledges Regent Karan Singh in his autobiography The Heir Apparent, “to frame a constitution for the State was part of a broader political strategy to make the question of plebiscite redundant(p.123).” Therefore, Article 370 and the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir were parts of a plan against Kashmir’s to sideline Plebiscite, Pakistan and UN. Karan Singh the saint was party to this fraud; and so were the National Conference Party who were, through the device of an election in October 1951 in which no one was allowed to contest against them nor was anyone allowed to vote, converted into Constituent Assembly Members. They were so ruthless that they even back stabbed Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, their leader and benefactor, who had raised them from non-entities. At the bidding of their New Delhi paymasters they put him in jail for more than 10 years and forced him to spend years in exile.
Behind the back of their leader, this unelected Constituent Assembly adopted a constitution on November 17, 1956 describing Kashmir as an integral part of India which actually was internationally disputed sovereignty-wise and recognized as such by international community.
Meantime, the UN Mediator Owen Dixon submitted his proposals in August 1950 for resolution of Kashmir Dispute but the Indian State and their National Conference Party, its fifth column in Kashmir ,diverted the attention of Kashmiris from Plebiscite to that of abolition of jagirdari(feudalism). Consequently even Dixon could not achieve anything. He left the sub-continent on 23 August 1950 to be succeeded as Mediator in March 1951 by Frank Graham of USA. Frank Graham submitted his final report on Kashmir to the Security Council on 27 March 1953. He recommended the conduct of a Plebiscite by a Plebiscite Administrator to be appointed in place of Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah. Both Sheikh Abdullah and the Indian State refused to comply.
However, by now the Indian State and Sheikh Abdullah were at loggerheads. Sheikh Abdullah wanted to set up an autonomous State within India. The Indian State wanted to merge Kashmir with itself. At this time, August 1953, the Kashmir Constituent Assembly helped the Indian State by conspiring against Sheikh Abdullah. The net result of the conspiracy was that the Constituent Assembly now headed by G. M. Bakshi jailed Sheikh and proceeded with drafting a constitution of Indian State’s choice. This constitution, passed on November 17, described Kashmir, including its Pakistani administered parts, as an integral part of India. Such was the role of this Constituent Assembly and such be the significance of November 17.
But, at this time the Constituent Assembly did not dare to dissolve the autonomous status of Kashmir for the reasons that UN and Pakistan were opposed to the notion of being sidelined and to the complete merger of Kashmir with Indian. In 1964 the Legislative Assembly which had succeeded the Constituent Assembly in 1957 wound up the autonomy when it concurred to the extension of Articles 356 and 357 of Indian Constitution to Kashmir empowering the President of India to dismiss Kashmir Government without reference to Kashmir Assembly.
One may therefore judge for oneself what November 17 really signifies for Kashmir.