On September 21, 2023, Kashmir-based pro-autonomy and pro-Article 370 National Conference’s vice-president and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, opined that “any attempt to play around with the Constitution of India will not be good for the country as it cannot be amended so easily.”
“The Constitution cannot be changed easily. To change the Constitution, you need a two-thirds majority. As far as I know, there has been no vote either in the Lok Sabha or in the Rajya Sabha about removing such words (socialist and secular),” he, in fact, said in response to a reporter’s question on the Congress alleging that the words “socialist” and “secular” have been dropped from the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. Omar Abdullah said so while talking to reporters in the Kashmir’s Handwara.
“If that is correct, then we have no objection. But if they are playing with the Constitution, then, forgive me, it will not be good for the country because we have always said that if Jammu and Kashmir has acceded to India, it has acceded to Mahatma Gandhi’s country, and not the country of the RSS or Sangh Parivar,” Omar Abdullah also said (Daily Excelsior, Jammu, Sep 22, 2023).
What Omar Abdullah said about secularism and socialism and why Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India was as amusing as it was atrocious. The truth is that the secularism and socialism and the National Conference are two different things and that the National Conference never ever appreciated the concept of secularism.
Omar Abdullah’s grandfather Sheikh Abdullah had founded the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference on June 11, 1939. Actually, he renamed his All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference (1932) as the All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference in 1939.
That the National Conference was opposed to the idea of incorporating the words “socialist” and “secular” in the Preamble of the now defunct Jammu and Kashmir Constitution of 1957 could be seen from the February 17, 1977 Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir (Sixteenth Amendment) Act, 1977.
The amendment, inter-alia, read like this: “Amendment of section 52 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir – (I) In sub-section (I) of section 52 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, for the words ‘five years’ the words ‘six years’ shall be substituted…The amendment made by sub-section (I) to section 52 shall apply also to the Legislative Assembly in existence on the date of coming into force of this Act without prejudice to the power of the State Legislature with respect to the extension of the duration of the Legislative Assembly under the proviso to that sub-sections (The Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, Jan 1, 2009, P. 122). In other words, the amendment increased the life of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly from five years to six years.
Under what circumstances the Sheikh Abdullah Government amended the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution or why did the Sheikh amend it? It needs to be underlined that the Sheikh Abdullah Government amended the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution in the wake of the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution of India.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was unseated by the Allahabad High Court in 1975, had imposed emergency on June 1975. She amended the Constitution of India to save her government. The 42nd amendment, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on November 2, 1976 and Rajya Sabha on November 11, 1976, — apart from enhancing the life of the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies from five years to six years – also incorporated the words “socialist” and “secular” in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. Besides, the amendment, which withdrew all fundamental rights, also changed the words in the Preamble of the Constitution “unity of the nation” to “unity and integrity of the nation”. The President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad gave his assent to the amendment on December 18, 1976, which was notified in The Gazette of India on the same day.
In 1977, general elections were held and Indira Gandhi Government was booted out of power. It was replaced by the Morarji Desai-led Janata Party Government. After the formation of the government, Prime Minister Morarji Desai brought about the 43rd and 44th Amendments in 1977 and 1978, respectively, to restore the pre-1976 position.
Did the Sheikh Abdullah Government incorporate the word “socialist”, “secular” and “unity and integrity of the nation” in the Preamble of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and restore the pre-1977 position in J&K? It didn’t incorporate all these words in the Preamble of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution; it only enhanced the life of the Legislative Assembly from five years to six years. Not just this, it also did not decrease the life the Legislative Assembly from six years to five years as was the case before.
All this should set the record straight and establish that the whole approach of Omar Abdullah to secularism and socialism is highly questionable. In fact, his approach could be legitimately dismissed as mischievous.
But it’s not just the National Conference which despises the words “socialist” and “secular”. The fact of the matter is that the attitude of all the Kashmir-based parties, including the Congress, the People Democratic Party, the CPI, the CPIM and the People’s Democratic Front (PDF), to the words “socialist” and “secular” is the same. And, this can be seen from what happened in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly in March-April 2007 under the Congress leader and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad.
In the budget session of 2007, Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party moved a Private Member’s Bill seeking incorporation of the words “secular” and “socialist” in the Preamble of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution. What happened? All the Kashmir-based law-makers belonging to all the Kashmir-based political outfits, including the Congress, rejected outright the Panthers Party’s Private Member’s Bill (J&K Legislative Assembly proceedings, Mar-Apr 2007).
Such was the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. No wonder then that the Narendra Modi Government changed the whole course of political history of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh on August 5-6, 2019 by reading down the separatist Article 370, abrogating discriminatory Article 35A and creating out of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State two Union Territories – Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Union Territory of Ladakh.