Independent Kashmir: Perspectives before division

It appears from the record that prior to the division of Kashmir under the armies of India and Pakistan in October 1947 the political space of the ‘Jammu and Kashmir and Tibet Ha’ state although characterised by the full spectrum of modern popular politics was not penetrated by the ‘accession’ ideology. From far left communists to far right Hindu and Muslim religious based parties campaigned for a Kashmir of their likings with varying degrees of support. Till 1940s there was no question of accession to any country and the popular political space was contested by the forces claiming to be striving for constitutional democracy, social revolution and religious politics with or without Maharaja or monarchy.

In the years before invasion, the National Conference was by and large the largest popular party followed by the Muslim conference and Mazdoor Kissan Conference. However, it must be noted that only few years after the emergence of Popular politics, the then Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh agreed to reform the system of governance by introducing partially elected assembly and greater role of emerging politicians in the state affairs. Later he also agreed with the leadership of Muslim and National Conference, the two leading Kashmiri political parties of the time to work for a British style multiparty constitutional democracy with Maharaja as figurehead of the state. This was endorsed in the New Kashmir Manifesto of National Conference. However, I have so far could not find any information about the nature and status of the agreement and why it was not acted upon? From the events that followed it seems that the leadership of both Muslim and National Conference betrayed Maharaja on that. For he carried on the route to independence but the politicians drifted away from him to the ranks of the Indian National Congress and the Pakistan Muslim League.

However, as we now know there were different views and approaches within the Kashmiri as well as the Indian political parties about the future Kashmir. For example the Indian National Congress leaders Nehru, Patel and Menon had different approaches to Kashmir and so did the Jinnah and most other leaders of the Muslim League. As late as 11th July 1947 QeA M.A. Jinnah advised the Kashmiri delegate of Muslim Conference consisting of Acting general Secretary M IShaq Qureshi and Acting President Choudhary Hameed Ullah to support Maharaja Hari Singh’s position of independent Kashmir. As narrated by M Ishaq Qureshi, the acting secretary generalof Muslim Conference, it was on the advice of Mr Jinnah that he and Choudhary Hamidullah, the acting President of the party called the party meeting and passed a resolution for independent Kashmir on 18th July 1947. This resolution got buried deep down in the rubbles of Kashmiri history. The history that has been controlled and distorted by the occupying forces in the Pakistani occupied areas promote the resolution adopted next day by some of those senior Muslim conference leaders who were not happy with earlier Independence resolution and passed accession to Pakistan resolution at Sardar Ibrahim’s residence. In 1946 the Mazdoor Kissan Conference which was for independent Kashmir also changed its position for accession to Pakistan in light of the material changes in the situation.

In this context it can be claimed that the years prior to these later days of confusion and accession, the following four perspectives of independent Kashmir can be traced and identified. Only for the purpose of analysis they can be described as:

1. The Official National Perspective;

2. The Popular National Perspective;

3. The Progressive National Perspective and;

4. The Religious National Perspective.

Like all social phenomena these perspectives on the ground or in reality were not as clearly and sharply separated and detached from each other but clearly had some distinguishing features which are very briefly presented below for the interest of social science students who can perhaps explore and elaborate them further.
The Official National Perspective or National Perspective ‘from above’

Firstly, there was the official government perspective led by the Maharaja or (Monarch) Hari Singh. This can be called Official Perspective that was rooted mainly in the interests of government elites comprising primarily of Maharaja’s family, his Dogra Clan and the wider Raja Baradari that also included Muslims mainly of Jammu along with Pundits of the Valley. Initially its goal was the continuity of Maharaja Rule however with the power of popular politics grown out of Maharaja Government’s control he agreed to play the symbolic head of state governed by a popularly elected government by the state subjects, the citizens of the state. This perspective also spoke for and incorporated most of the Hindu voices and concerns of the state but more likely the Hindus and some Muslims of the higher socio-economic status and classes. Regionally the epicenter of this perspective was the Jammu City but during the 101 years of Maharaja Rule, the notion of Independent Kashmir under Maharaja was supported by most of the government departments and officers across the state including the followers of all religions of the state but of course with special and superior status for the Hindus and more specifically Dogra Hindus. The most prominent feature of this perspective and contribution to the state and nation building process was the State Subject legislation that defined the citizenship of the Kashmir state. The National identity shaped by this perspective was the Riyasati or State identity with Kashmiri as the most prominent and at times defining component of the state.
The National Popular Perspective or National Perspective ‘from below’.

The National Perspective was emerged out of and shaped by the popular movement that surfaced for the land and employment rights with focus, initially, on the Muslim population but gradually encompassing all citizens of the state to be headed by Maharaja but governed by the National Government. In this respect this perspective can be seen as the merger of two politics, the hereditary politics of Maharaja System ‘from above’ and the popular politics of peasants, workers and middle classes ‘from below’. The epicenter of this perspective can be traced down to the Muslims of Srinagar and Jammu but it spread across the state into various regional, religious, linguistic and class formations or social groups and identities through the popular politics that gripped the entire state in the two decades before the division of the state under Indian and Pakistani occupation in 1948. The defining feature of this perspective was the New Kashmir manifesto that incorporating the State Subject provided grounds for the modern politics and governance in Kashmir State. The National Identity here was clearly the Kashmiri identity but not as a linguistic or cultural identity confined to the Kasher Valley but a political national identity rooted in the State Subject encompassing all regions, religions and languages of the State.
The Progressive National Perspective

The Socialist perspective can be seen and described as the offshoot of National Perspective and was emerged out of the disappointment with the inability of National Conference to deliver on its promises and manifesto and or from this perspective due to the authoritarian and undemocratic style of the leader of National Perspective Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. The epicenter of this perspective was in the left intellectual circles of Srinagar led by Prem Nath Bazaz and radical peasants of Valley’s rural areas led by Abdusalam Yatoo. The most prominent achievement of this perspective been the notion of ‘Azad Kashmir’ coined during its convention on 12th May 1946 in Kaba Marg Village of Annant Naag. It is explained in ‘Azad Kashmir: a Socialist Democratic Conception’ by Prem Nath Bazaz published in 1951.
The Religious Perspective

Fourth perspective that can be traced during those active and hectic years of popular politics is the Islamist perspective led by Mirwaiz Moulvi Muhammed Yosaf. Again this perspective was a reaction to the rise of National Perspective led by Srinagar’s secular middle classes that posed challenge to the historical domination of Mirwaiz institution amongst the Muslim masses. Initially this perspective had the upper hand within the Muslim Uprising but with the argument of secular and national politics gaining ground and eventually achieving clean sweep and converting Muslim Conference to National Conference, the Islamist perspective became marginalized and reduced to Mirwaiz institution represented in the political space by Azad Muslim Conference led by Mirwaiz Yosuaf. However, it gained significance when the Jammu Muslims feeling subdued in Jammu re-formed the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference under the instructions of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan of All Indian Muslim Leafue in 1942. Now its epicenter shifted to Jammu Muslims. The defining achievement of this perspective for the distinct identity of the state and nation building process can be seen as the resolution for independent Kashmir on 18th July 1947.

(What happened to each of these perspectives following the invasion in 1947? Read that in next article )

The author is a UK based Kashmiri writer. Email: