These are baffling questions. But not that arcane these cannot be answered. Who is culpable for perpetuating uncertainty in our state? Who is responsible for adding complexity to otherwise a simple issue of determining future of a state at the birth of India and Pakistan as independent dominions? Who is responsible for adding one after another carmine page to our history? Who is responsible for bringing the South Asian region to the brink of a nuclear holocaust and denying teeming millions living in the sub-continent basic amenities of life?
Procrastination is the most hated word in Kashmir. It undoubtedly has played havoc with the lives of the people of the State but the question is who is responsible for having allowed this word attaining permanence in the lexicon of New Delhi state policy towards the resolution of the dispute that has caused three wars in the region. I for one see people from my own fraternity greatly responsible for this. Had media in India played a devil’s advocate perhaps the situation would not have come to this impasse and South Asia would have long ago embarked on the path of peace, progress and prosperity.
India and Pakistan at their birth inherited many acrimonious legacies of the All India Congress and the Muslim League politics. Of these press was the most important. It is a hard reality that press overwhelmingly in undivided India suffered a divide and the struggle of people of Jammu and Kashmir for ending autocracy and feudalism was no exception to this division. In 1931, when Kashmir Struggle entered into an important phase and it assumed the dimension of people movement for ending feudal autocracy and its brutal tax system the press in India in support to this movement was as divided as it was in its support to the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. The Punjab press; more particularly the newspapers published from Lahore became the voice of Kashmir, a show window to the outside world with regard to happenings in Kashmir. It was these newspapers that triggered protest rallies against killings of people outside Central jail not only in Lahore but in other parts of India. As against this the newspapers published from Jullundur including newspapers like the Tribune that were published from Lahore owing their allegiance to the Indian National Congress were not only critical of the people of the state for rising against the feudal rulers but also asked the feudal rulers to suppress people through brute force. This policy of Jullundur and New Delhi press towards struggle against feudal autocracy did not change even after the birth of the National Conference and All India Congress leaders turning votaries of this party. And this divide persisted even after the British departing from the sub-continent lock, stock and barrel. After the birth of the Kashmir dispute in 1947 this divide continued as a legacy.
The newspapers in New Delhi and other parts of India took the official line. It were not facts with regard to Kashmir dispute that dictated the reports, editorials and columns of the newspapers instead it was the White Paper published by the Government of India that was adopted as the Bible on Kashmir by press men. The newspapers in New Delhi tuned their policy to the official handouts on Kashmir and I have not come across any independent voice on Kashmir at the time of birth of the dispute. In 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru at the top of his voice stated that India ‘did not believe in forced marriages’ and pledged to Indian Parliament and to the people of the state at the Lal Chowk, Srinagar that they would be given an opportunity to decide their future. Notwithstanding majority of newsmen and opinion makers at that time being convinced that if a referendum was held it would go in India’s favor, however none raised his voice against Nehru backtracking from his commitments.
Sheikh Abdullah in 1947 was hailed as hero, an emblem of religious tolerance, an embodiment of Kashmir’s five thousand years history and a Gandhian in true sense by New Delhi newspaper. In 1952, when he fell apart from Nehru he was portrayed as the ugliest creature by the same media. Forty eight years after many top opinion makers have been questioning his deposition in 1953 and denouncing it as Nehru’s blunder but at the time the newspapers had overwhelmingly supported the action. In the post 1953 scenario when he led the movement for right to self-determination under the canopy of the Plebiscite Front tycoons of Indian journalism like Gira Lal Jain and Karanaji left no stone unturned to pin him down and denounce his as an ‘American stooge’. Till his last days Sheikh was wary about the role played by what he called “Delhi Hindu Press”.
Had media questioned Jawaharlal’s Kashmir policy and built a public opinion against his backtracking from the commitments made to people of Jammu and Kashmir, Indian Parliament and comity of nations the situation in the region would not have been brought to precipice of nuclear war. The 1965 war and the wars after would not have been there at all. Had New Delhi Press told people in India that how as a nation they were paying badly for the perpetuation of Kashmir problem? How this dispute was consuming the rights of millions in India more particularly in backward and tribal areas to progress? How millions living below poverty line were paying badly for wrong policies of their leaders perhaps the dispute would have been resolved long before. Instead, many media mandarins took to jingoistic writings on Kashmir prejudicing public mind. And during Nehrurian era whenever prospectus for resolution of Kashmir problem brightened some over-zealous with their jaundiced commentaries spoiled the opportunities.
The story of media reporting from Kashmir even during second half of seventies and early eighties has been bizarre. The New Delhi newspapers had earned a dubious distinction for its biased reporting what then India Today editor Arun Shourie had called as ‘magical figure of three hundred. In the post 1990 scenario it was not surprising to see small time reporters coming up with far from truth stories but even big names stooping very low and contorted and distorted facts There were lots of commentaries in Indian press on the rise of militancy in Kashmir but overwhelmingly these commentaries or analysis where based on the premise that this had been caused due to problem of unemployment and the flawed 1987 elections. Hardly any top journalist ever tried to look at Kashmir beyond the official versions and none ever tried to analyze the developments in the state objectively and tell people truthfully that the root cause was in the non-resolution of the problem. As against notwithstanding Kashmir not getting substantial attention in the international media the reports carried in the Western media have been largely objective. I have done a comparative study of reporting, editorials and commentaries about Kashmir during 1993 to 1995 in Indian Press and the Western Press. The reports in American and European newspapers are not only far better but also highly objective.
At the turn of century Kashmir remained tagged to the India and Pakistan relations and after 2004, it got drowned in the cacophony of the four point formula. In the post 2008 scenario there has been a paradigm shift in Indian media more particularly amongst the opinion makers. This shift is a positive development that holds promise for unburdening people in the region of the past prejudices about Kashmir and if sustained and strengthened it will go a long way in bringing lasting peace in the region and ending uncertainties in Jammu and Kashmir.
(Adopted from a paper on Role of Media In Kashmir Dispute)
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