Historical Document: Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah’s Speech in the Constituent Assembly

Excerpts from the speech delivered on 5th November 1951.

We must remember that our struggle for power has now reached its successful climax in the convening of this Constituent Assembly. It is for you to translate the vision of New Kashmir into a reality, and I would remind you of its opening words, which will inspire our labors: 

 “We the people of Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh and the Frontier regions, including Poonch and Chenani Illaqas commonly known as Jammu and Kashmir State in order to perfect our union in the fullest equality and self-determination to raise ourselves and our children forever from the abyss of oppression and poverty, degradation and superstition, from medieval darkness and ignorance, into the sunlit valleys of plenty, ruled by freedom, science and honest toil, in worthy participation of the historic resurgence of the peoples of East, and the working masses of the world, and in determination to make this our country a dazzling gem on the snowy bosom of Asia, to propose and propound the following constitution of our State.’ 

This was passed at the 1944 session of the National Conference in Srinagar. Today, in 1951, embodying aspirations, men and women from the four corners of the state in this Constituent Assembly have become the repository of its sovereign authority. This Assembly, invested with the authority of a constituent body, will be the fountain-head of basic laws laying the foundation of a just social order and safeguarding the democratic rights of all the citizens of the State. 

You are the sovereign authority in this State of Jammu and Kashmir; what you decide has the irrevocable force of law. The basic democratic principle of sovereignty of the nation embodied ably in the American and French Constitutions, is once again given shape in our midst. I shall quote the famous words of Article 3 of the French Constitution of 1791: 

“The source of all sovereignty resides fundamentally in the nation…Sovereignty is one and indivisible, inalienable and imprescriptable. It belongs to the nation.”

We should be clear about the responsibilities that this power invests us with. In front of us lie decisions of the highest national importance which we shall be called upon to take. Upon the correctness of our decisions depends not only the happiness of our land and people now, but the fate as well of generations to come. 

What then are the main functions that this Assembly will be called upon to perform? 

One great task before this Assembly will be to devise a Constitution for the future governance of the country. Constitution-making is a difficult and detailed matter. I shall only refer to some of the broad aspects of the Constitution, which should be the product of the labors of this Assembly. 

Another issue of vital import to the nation involves the future of the Royal Dynasty. Our decision will have to be taken both with urgency and wisdom, for on that decision rests the future form and character of the State. 

The Third major issue awaiting your deliberations arises out of the Land Reforms which the Government carried out with vigor and determination. Our “Land to the tiller” policy brought light into the dark homes of the peasantry; but, side by side, it has given rise to the problem of the landowners demand for compensation. The nation being the ultimate custodian of all wealth and resources, the representatives of the nation are truly the best jury for giving a just and final verdict on such claims. So in your hands lies the power of this decision. 

Finally, this Assembly will after full consideration of the three alternatives that I shall state later, declare its reasoned conclusion regarding accession. This will help us to canalize our energies resolutely and with greater zeal in directions in which we have already started moving for the social and economic advancement of our country. 

To take our first task, that of Constitution-making, we shall naturally be guided by the highest principles of the democratic constitutions of the world. We shall base our work on the principles of equality, liberty and social justice which are an integral feature of all progressive constitutions. The rule of law as understood in the democratic countries of the world should be the cornerstone of our political structure. Equality before the law and the independence of the judiciary from the influence of the Executive are vital to us. The freedom of the individual in the matter of speech, movement and association should be guaranteed: freedom of the press and of opinion should also be features of our Constitution. I need not refer in great detail to all those rights and obligations, already embodied in New Kashmir, which are Integral parts of democracy which has been defined as ‘an apparatus of social organization wherein people govern through their chosen representatives and are themselves guaranteed political and civil liberties”. 

You are no doubt aware of the scope of our present constitutional ties with India. We are proud to have our bonds with India, the goodwill of those people and government is available to us in unstinted and abundant measure. The Constitution of India has provided for a federal union and in the distribution of sovereign powers has treated us differently from other constituent units. With the exception of the items grouped under Defense Foreign Affairs and Communications in the instrument of Accession , we have complete freedom to frame our Constitution in the manner we like. In order to live and prosper as good partners in a common endeavor for the advancement of our peoples, I would advise that, while safeguarding our autonomy to the fullest extent so as to enable us to have the liberty to build our country according to the best traditions and genius of our people, we may also by suitable constitutional arrangements with the Union establish our right to seek and compel Federal cooperation and assistance in this great task, as well as offer our fullest cooperation and assistance to the Union. 

Whereas it would be easy for you to devise a document calculated to create a frame work of law and order, as also a survey of the duties and rights of citizens. It will need more arduous labor to take concrete decisions with regard to the manner in which we propose to bring about the rapid economic development of the State and more equitable distribution of our national income among the people to which we are pledged. Our National Conference avows its faith in the principal that there is one thing common to men of all castes and creeds, and that is their humanity. That being so, the one ailment which is ruthlessly sapping the vitality of human beings in Jammu & Kashmir is their appalling poverty, and if, we merely safeguard their political freedom in solemn terms, it will not affect their lives materially unless it guarantees them economic and social justice. New Kashmir contains a statement of the objectives of bur social policy. It gives broadly a picture of the kind of life that we hope to make possible for the people of Jammu & Kashmir and the manner in which the economic organization of the country will be geared to that purpose. These ideals you will have to integrate with the political structure which you will devise. 

The future political set-up which you decide upon for Jammu & Kashmir must also take into consideration the existence of various sub-national groups in our State. Although culturally diverse history has forged an uncommon unity between them; they all are pulsating with the same hopes and aspirations, sharing in each others joys and sorrows . While guaranteeing this basic unity of the State, our constitution must not permit the concentration of power and privilege in the hands of any particular group or territorial region. It must afford the fullest possibilities to each of these groups to grow and flourish in conformity with their cultural characteristics without detriment to the integral unity of the State or the requirements of our social and economic policies. 

Now let us take up an issue of basic importance which involves the fundamental character of the State itself. As an instrument of the will of a self-determining people who now become sovereign in their own right, the Constituent Assembly will now re-examine and decide upon the future of the present ruling dynasty, in respect of its authority. 

It is clear that this dynasty can no longer exercise authority on the basis of an old discredited Treaty. During my trial for sedition in the “Quit Kashmir” movement, I had clarified the attitude of my party when I said: 

“The future constitutional set-up in the State of Jammu & Kashmir cannot derive authority from the old source of relationship which was expiring and was bound to end soon. The set-up could only rest on the active will of the people of the State, conferring on the head of the State the title and authority drawn from the true and abiding source of sovereignty, that is the people.” 

On this occasion, in 1946, I had also indicated the basis on which an individual could be entrusted by the people with the symbolic authority of a Constitutional Head: 

“The State and its Head represent the constitutional circumference and the center of this sovereignty respectively, the Head of the State being the symbol of the authority with which the people may invest him for the realization of their aspirations and the maintenance of their rights”. 

In consonance with these principles, and in supreme fulfillment of the people’s aspirations, it follows that a Constitutional Head of the State will have to be chosen to exercise the function which this Assembly may chose to entrust to him. 

So far as my Party is concerned, we are convinced that the institution of monarchy is incompatible with the spirit and needs of modern times which demand an egalitarian relationship between one citizen and another. The supreme test of a democracy is the measure of equality of opportunity that it affords to its citizens to rise to the highest point of authority and position. In consequence monarchies are fast disappearing from the world picture, as something in the nature of feudal anachronisms. In India, too, where before the partition, six hundred and odd Princes exercised rights and privileges of rulership, the process of democratization has been taken up and at present hardly ten of them exercise the limited authority of constitutional heads of States. 

After the attainment of complete power by the people, it would have been an appropriate gesture of good will to recognize Maharaja Hari Singh as the first constitutional Head of the State. But I must say with regret that he has completely forfeited the confidence of every section of the people. His in capacity to adjust himself to changed conditions and his antiquated views on vital problems constitute positive disqualifications for him to hold the high office of a democratic Head of the State. Moreover, his past actions as a ruler have proved that he is not capable of conducting himself with dignity, responsibility and impartiality. The people still remember with pain and regret his failure to stand by them in times of crisis, and his incapacity to afford protection to a section of his people in Jammu. 

Finally we come to the issue which has made Kashmir an object of world interest, and has brought her before the forum of the United Nations. This simple issue has become so involved that people have begun to ask themselves after three and a half years of tense expectancy. “Is there any solution ?” Our answer is in the affirmative. Everything hinges round the genuineness of the will to find a solution. If we face the issue straight, the solution is simple. 

The problem may be posed in this way. Firstly, was Pakistan’s action in invading Kashmir in 1947 morally and legally correct, judged by any norm of international behavior ? Sir Owen Dixon’s verdict on this issue is perfectly plain. In unambiguous terms he declared Pakistan an aggressor. Secondly, was the Maharajah’s accession to India legally valid or not ? The legality of the accession has not been seriously questioned by any responsible or independent person or authority. 

These two answers are obviously correct. Then where is the justification of treating India and Pakistan at par in matters pertaining to Kashmir ? In fact, the force of logic dictates the conclusion that the aggressor should withdraw his armed forces, and the United Nations should see that Pakistan gets out of the State. 

In that event, India herself, anxious to give the people of the State a chance to express their will freely, would willingly cooperate with any sound plan of demilitarization. They would withdraw their forces, only garrisoning enough posts to ensure against any repetition of that earlier treacherous attack from Pakistan. 

These two steps would have gone a long way to bring about a new atmosphere in the State. The rehabilitation of displaced people, and the restoration of stable civic conditions would have allowed people to express their will and take the ultimate decision. 

We as a Government are keen to let our people decide the future of our land in accordance with their own wishes. If these three preliminary processes were accomplished, we should be happy to have the assistance of international observes to ensure fair play and the requisite conditions for a free choice by the people. 

Instead invader and defender have been put on the same plane. Under various garbs, attempts have been made to sidetrack the main issue. Sometimes against all our ideals of life and way of living attempts divide our territories have been made in the form of separation of our state religion-wise, with ultimate plans of further disrupting territorial integrity. Once an offer was made to police our country with Commonwealth forces, which threatens to bring in Imperial control by the back door. Besides the repugnance which our people have however, to the idea of bringing foreign troops on their soil, the very presence of Commonwealth troops could have created suspicions among our neighbors that we were allowing ourselves to be used as a base of possible future aggression against them. This could easily have made us into a second Korea. 

The Cabinet Mission Plan has provided for three courses which may be followed by the Indian States when determining future affiliations. A State can either accede to India or accede to Pakistan, but failing to do either, it still can claim the right to remain independent. These three alternatives are naturally open to our State. While the intention of the British Government was to secure The privileges of the Princes, the representatives of the people must have the primary consideration of promoting the greatest good of the common people. Whatever steps they take must contribute to the growth of a democratic social order wherein all invidious distinctions between groups and creeds are absent. Judged by this supreme considerations, what are the advantages and disadvantages of our State’s accession to either India or Pakistan or of having and independent Status. 

As a realist I am conscious that nothing is all black or all white, and there are many facts to each of the propositions before us. I shall first speak on the merits and demerits of the State’s accession to India. In the final analysis, as I understand it, it is the kinship of ideals which determines the strength of ties between two States. The Indian National Congress has consistently supported the cause of the State’s peoples’ freedom. The autocratic rule of the Princes has been done away with and representative government have been entrusted with the administration. Steps towards democratization have been taken and these have raised the people’s standard of living, brought about much-needed social reconstruction, and above all built up their very independence of spirit. Naturally, if we accede to India there is no danger of a revival of feudalism and autocracy. Moreover, during the last four years the Government of India has never tried to interfere in our internal autonomy this experience has strengthened our confidence in them as a democratic State. 

The real character of a State is revealed in its Constitution. The Indian Constitution has set before the country the goal of secular democracy based upon justice, freedom and equality for all without distinction. This is the bedrock of modern democracy. This should meet the argument that the Muslims of Kashmir cannot have security in India, where the large majority of the population are Hindus. Any unnatural cleavage between religious groups is the legacy of Imperialism, and no modern State can afford to encourage artificial division if it is to achieve progress and prosperity. The Indian Constitution has amply and finally repudiated the concept of a religious State, which is a throw back to medievalism, by guaranteeing the equality of rights of all citizens irrespective of their religion, color caste and class. 

The national movement in our State naturally gravitates towards these principles of secular democracy. The people here will never accept a principle which seeks to favor the interests of one religion or social group against another. This affinity in political principles, as well as in past association, and our common path of suffering in the cause of freedom, must be weighed properly while deciding the future of the State. 

We are also intimately concerned with the economic well-being of the people of this State. As I said before while referring to constitution-building, political ideals are often meaningless unless linked with economic plans. As a State, we are concerned mainly with agriculture and trade. As you know, and I have detailed before, we have been able to put through our “land to the tiller” legislation and make of it a practical success. Land and all it means is an inestimable blessing to our peasants who have dragged along in servitude to the landlord and his allies for centuries without number. We have been able under present conditions to carry these reforms through, are we sure that in alliance with landlord-ridden Pakistan, with so many feudal privileges intact, that the economic reforms of ours will be tolerated. We have already heard that news of our Land Reforms has traveled to the peasants of the enemy-occupied area of our State, who vainly desire like status, and like benefits. In the second place, our economic welfare is bound up with our arts and crafts. The traditional markets for these precious goods for which we are justly known all over the world, have been centered in India. The volume of our trade, in spite of the dislocation of the last few years, shows this. Industry is also highly important to us. Potentially we are rich in minerals, and in the raw materials of industry; we need help to develop our resources. India, being more highly industrialized than Pakistan, can give us equipment, technical services and materials. She can help us too in marketing. Many goods also which it would not be practical for us to produce here for instance sugar, cotton, cloth, and other essential commodities, can be got by us in large quantities from India. It is around the efficient supply of such basic necessities that the standard of the man in-the-street depends

I shall refer now to the alleged disadvantages of accession to India. 

To begin with, although the land frontiers of India and Kashmir are contiguous, an all-weather road-link as dependable as the one we have with Pakistan does not exist. This must necessarily hamper trade and commerce to some extent particularly during the snowy winter months. But we have studied this question, and, with improvements in modern engineering, if the State wishes to remain with India the establishment of an all-weather stable system of communication is both feasible and easy. Similarly, the use of the State rivers as a means of timber transport is impossible if we turn to India, except in Jammu where the river Chenab still carries logs to the plains. In reply to this argument, it may be pointed out that accession to India will open up possibilities of utilizing our forest wealth for industrial purposes and that, instead of lumber, finished goods, which will provide work for our carpenters and laborers, can be exported to India where there is a ready market for them. Indeed in the presence of our fleets of timber carrying trucks, river-transport is a crude system which inflicts a loss of some 20% to 35%, in transit. 

Still another factor has to be taken into consideration. Certain tendencies have been asserting themselves in India which may in the future convert it into a religious State wherein the interests of Muslims will be jeopardized. This would happen if a communal organization had a dominant hand in the Government, and Congress ideals of the equality of all communities were made to give way to religious intolerance. The continued accession of Kashmir to India should, however, help in defeating this tendency. From my experience of the last four years, it is my considered judgment that the presence of Kashmir in the Union of India has been the major factor in establishing relations between the Hindus and Muslims of India. Gandhiji was not wrong when he uttered words before his death which paraphrase, “I lift up mine eyes into the hills, from whence cometh my help.” 

As I have said before, we must consider the question of accession with all open mind, and not let our personal prejudices stand in the way of a balanced judgment. I will now invite you to evaluate the alternative of accession to Pakistan. 

The most powerful argument which can be advanced in her favor is that Pakistan is a Muslim State, and, big majority of our people being Muslims the State must accede to Pakistan. This claim of being a Muslim State is of course only a camouflage. It is a screen to dupe the common man, so that he may not see clearly that Pakistan is a feudal State in which a clique is trying by these methods to maintain itself in power. In addition to this, the appeal to religion constitutes a sentimental and a wrong approach to the question. Sentiment has its own place in life but often it leads to irrational action. Some argue, as supposedly natural corollary to this, that on our acceding to Pakistan our annihilation or survival depends. Facts have disproved this, right-thinking men would point out that Pakistan is not an organic unity of all the Muslims in this sub- continent. It has on the contrary, caused the dispersion of the Indian Muslims for whose benefit it was claimed to have been created. There are two Pakistans at least a thousand miles apart from each other. The total population of Western Pakistan which is contiguous to our State, is hardly 15 million. While the total number of Muslims, resident in India is as many as 40 million. As one Muslim is as good as another, the Kashmiri Muslims if they are worried by such considerations should choose the forty millions living in India. 

Looking at the matter too from a more modern political angle religious affinities alone do not and should not normally determine the political alliance of States. We do not find a Christian bloc, a Buddhist bloc, or even a Muslim bloc, about which there is so much talk nowadays in Pakistan. These days economic interests and a community of political ideals more appropriately influence the policies of States. 

We have another important factor to consider, if the State decides to make this the predominant consideration. What will be the fate of the one million non-Muslims now in our State ? As things stand at present, there is no place for them in Pakistan. Any solution which will result in the displacement or the total subjugation of such a large number of people will not be just or fair, and it is the responsibility of this House to ensure that the decision that it takes on accession does not militate against the interests of any religious group. 

As regards the economic advantages. I have mentioned before the road and river links with Pakistan. In the last analysis, we must however remember that we are not concerned only with the movement of people but also with the movement of goods and the linking up of markets. In Pakistan there is a chronic dearth of markets for our products. Neither, for that matter, can she help us with our industrialization, being herself industrially backward. 

On the debit side we have to take into account the reactionary character of her politics and State policies. In Pakistan we should remember that the lot of the States’ subjects has not changed and they are still helpless and under the heel of their Rulers, who wield the same unbridled power under which we used to suffer here. This clearly runs counter to our own aspirations for freedom. 

Another big obstacle to a dispassionate evaluation of her policies is the lack of a constitution in Pakistan. As it stands at present, this State enjoys the unique position of being governed by a Constitution enacted by an outside Parliament which gives no idea whatsoever of the future shape of civic and social relations. It is reasonable to argue that Pakistan cannot have the confidence of a freedom-loving and democratic people when it has failed to guarantee even fundamental rights of its citizens. The right of self-determination for nationalities is being consistently denied and those who fought against Imperialism for this just right are being suppressed with force. We should remember Badshah Khan and his comrades who laid down their all for freedom, also Khan Abdus Samad Khan and other fighters, in Baluchistan. Our national movement in the State considers this right of self-determination inalienable, and no advantage, however great, will persuade our people to forego it. 

The third course open to us has still to be discussed. We have to consider the alternative of making ourselves an Eastern Switzerland, of keeping aloof from both States but having friendly relations with them. This might seem attractive in that it would appear to pave the way out of the present deadlock. To us as a tourist country it could also have certain obvious advantages, but in considering independence we must not ignore practical considerations. Firstly, it is not easy to protect sovereignty and independence in a small country which has not sufficient strength to defend itself on our long and difficult frontiers bordering so many countries. Secondly we must have the goodwill of all our neighbors. Can we find powerful guarantors among them to pull together always in assuring us freedom from aggression? I would like to remind you that from August 15 to October 22, 1947 our State was independent and the result was that our weakness was exploited by the neighbor with invasion. What is the guarantee that in future too we may not be victims of a singular aggression. 

I have now put the pros and cons of the three alternatives before you. It should not be difficult for men of discrimination and patriotism gathered in this Assembly to weigh all these in the scales of our national good and pronounce the well being of the country lies in the future. 

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