The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has issued the following statement:
The issue of autonomy and more rights for the states has been a predominant concern for all democratic forces who are committed to federalism. The CPI(M) has consistently maintained that more rights should be accorded to the states and a unitary system will not be able to strengthen Indian unity.
For more than three decades, the demand for states' autonomy has been raised by several political parties. In the 1980s, the Sarkaria Commission on Centre-state relations was setup to go into the question. There have been many proposals for devolving more powers to the states by various state governments and political parties, including the CPI(M).
The successive Central governments have failed to fulfill the demand for a more federal structure; even the Sarkaria Commission report has been ignored. The BJP is a party which has never subscribed to the concept of states' autonomy. The CPI(M) rejects the contention which equates autonomy with separatism.
In the case of Jammu & Kashmir, the demand for autonomy has a specific background. J&K has a special status given the circumstances of the accession of the state to the Indian union. This finds expression in Article 370 of the Constitution. It is the fact that over the years, governments at the Centre have eroded and whittled away the scope and content of autonomy within the ambit of Article 370. There is a recognition of this fact in the Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah Accord of 1975.
The CPI(M) does not subscribe to the scope of autonomy as defined in the resolution adopted by the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly which is going back to the pre-1953 status. Over the decades, the developments in the political system and the political-administrative structure in the country have warranted certain changes which are justified. It is not possible to accept the definition of autonomy which assigns the Centre only external affairs, defence and communications. However, the reality is that even within the ambit of Article 370, there has been a steady erosion of the rights of Jammu & Kashmir.
While the CPI(M) stands for greater autonomy within the scope of Article 370 of the Constitution, it also advocates regional autonomy for Jammu and Ladakh within the state. The National Conference must realise the harm that has been done by allying with a communal party like the BJP which negates Article 370.
The rejection of the resolution adopted by the Jammu & Kashmir state legislature by the Union Cabinet cannot end or detract from the question of providing greater autonomy to Jammu & Kashmir. As for the promise by the Cabinet of devolving greater financial powers to the states, the practice has been the opposite. Only recently, a Presidential Ordinance was issued to amend the terms of the Eleventh Finance Commission to encroach on the rights of the states given under Article 275 of the Constitution.
The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) is of the firm opinion that the question of more autonomy for Jammu & Kashmir must be taken up seriously. The Vajpayee government cannot evade the issue. It must take steps to address the demand and consult all political parties on the matter.