Kashmir questions-I

The mood of the people of Kashmir has been neglected since 1947. Three questions must be answered honestly and courageously.

THE two-decade old cry for azadi (independence) by the separatists in Kashmir has found a new companion in the refrain by the unionists, which questions the State’s accession to India in 1947. They are not secessionists, only leaders who are responding to the popular mood. The refrain has gone unnoticed just as the people’s mood has been neglected since 1947.

Three questions must be answered honestly and courageously. First, what are the roots for the appeal of independence? Secondly, what were the occasions on which it was raised and why? Lastly, given the realities that rule out independence or any form of Kashmir’s secession from India, are there any lessons from these two questions that can help in a solution to the problem today?

The unionists’ refrain is astonishing in its fervour, repetition and the chorus in which it has been sung by leaders of the National Conference (N.C.) as well as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It does not cast aspersions on their honesty to point out that since the days of the crudely rigged elections are over none can win a mandate without responding to the people’s mood. Have you noted any election candidate attacking the militants?

Now, for the refrain. Farooq Abdullah, the N.C.’s president, said on April 9, 2006: "India has deceived the people of Jammu and Kashmir every now and then during the past 58 years. First it was in 1953, then in 1983 [sic he probably meant 1984] and it is still pursuing the same agenda" (Greater Kashmir, April 10, 2006). Only a few days earlier, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the PDP’s patron, said: "The people of Jammu & Kashmir have never seen their own government since 1947, and they should be given right of self-governance" (Greater Kashmir, April 6, 2006).ÿÿ

On November 19, 2007, reacting to the killing allegedly by the Army of a baker in the Kulgam area, Farooq Abdullah said: "Such incidents make us think again on the righteousness of the decision by our ancestors to accede to India. These incidents definitely give a setback to nationalist parties and recently the killings of two innocent people in Kupwara and Srinagar force us to think whether the signing of the Instrument of Accession by Maharaja Hari Singh and endorsed by my late father, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, was fair or not." He remarked: "If court martial proceedings can be initiated against a Major General for passing comments at a lady Army officer, then why are you silent when it comes to rape and molestation of Kashmiri mothers and sisters?" (Greater Kashmir, November 20, and Asian Age, November 24, 2007).

On December 5, 2007, Farooq Abdullah told the press in Srinagar: "Time and again we have been reminding New Delhi about the Prime Minister’s zero-tolerance pledge on human rights. If innocents continue to be killed, and women are raped, the sadhbhavana [goodwill] campaign [of the Army] will be of zero effect and people might be forced to rethink about the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India in 1947" (Asian Age, December 6, 2007).

On August 26, 2009, on the floor of the State Assembly, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti made an anguished plea: "Sixty years of our suffering should be enough for us to raise the level of debate on Kashmir from petty partisan bickering to an informed joint effort for dignified life." Referring to the arrest of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, she remarked: "Separatist sentiment in J&K cannot be addressed by filling jails or muzzling the voice of dissent." She accused Sheikh Abdullah of "handing over Kashmir to India on a platter" (Asian Age, August 27, 2009). In the same speech, she also said: "We have to find a solution which does not undermine the sovereignty of our country."

On November 1, 2009, the PDP president elaborated on the theme in her address at a party convention. The "accession of Jammu & Kashmir to India" has proved counterproductive. She amplified: "After 1947, we were forced to surrender everything to India, including our water resources. We even lost our own strategic geographical advantage. The State that should have been the hub of activities in Central Asia turned into a landlocked territory. We have been living under an economic and physical siege since the State’s accession to India." She added: "I don’t know what happened in 1947 and who did it". She, however, drew a clear distinction between the PDP’s demand for "self-rule" and secession. "These were two separate concepts" (Greater Kashmir; November 2, 2009).

These remarks expose the intellectual bankruptcy of those who hold that history is irrelevant to Kashmir’s present plight. One has only to walk into any bookshop in Srinagar to realise that the past continues to haunt a people who have produced some outstanding historians. Only if one respects their sentiments can one counsel them, in the same breath, not to allow the past to wreck their future.

Mehbooba Mufti renewed her plea on December 13, 2009. Accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India has proved counterproductive. Other States that acceded to India are developing, while Kashmir has been caged and is being exploited in this or that way. Self-rule (the PDP’s formula) favours "neutralising the negative fallout of the events of 1947 and re-establishing the position of the State as an international trading hub" (Greater Kashmir, December 14, 2009).

Nehru: Words and deeds

These pronouncements reflect a certain mood. These are not seceders, but they have a feeling of having been cheated and wronged. They belong to a region that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described in these words in Parliament on June 26, 1952: "Do not think you are dealing with a part of U.P., Bihar or Gujarat. You are dealing with an area, historically and geographically, and in all manner of things with a certain background. If we bring our local ideas and local prejudices everywhere, we will never consolidate. We have to be men of vision and there has to be a broadminded acceptance of facts in order to integrate really. And real integration comes of the mind and the heart and not of some clause which you may impose on other people…."

This peroration was preceded by these words: "We have declared – and even if we have not declared, the fact would remain – that it is the people of Kashmir who must decide. And I say with all respect to our Constitution that it just does not matter what your Constitution says; if the people of Kashmir do not want it, it will not go there. Because what is the alternative? The alternative is compulsion and coercion, presuming, of course, that the people of Kashmir do not want it. Are we going to coerce and compel them and thereby justify the very charges that are brought by some misguided people outside this country against us? …. Let us suppose there was a proper plebiscite there and the people of Kashmir said, ‘We do not want to be with India.’

Well, we are committed to it, we would accept it. It might pain us, but we would not send an army against them; we would accept that however much hurt we might feel about it and we would change our Constitution about it. We do not think that would happen – that is a different matter" (emphasis added throughout; Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Volume 18; pages 421 and 418).

Nehru imposes a strain on students of Nehrulogy. Did he mean these words? For, at this very time he was pressing the State’s premier, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, in the opposite direction. Nehru’s note of August 28, 1952, from Sonamarg admitted that, contrary to repeated public pledges, he had changed his mind on plebiscite in 1948 and asked the Sheikh to finalise the accession, reminding him that both the United Nations and Pakistan were impotent to prevent that (SWJN; Volume 19; page 322). On August 9, 1953, a little over a year later, the Sheikh was unconstitutionally dismissed from office, arrested and put in prison for 11 years.ÿÿ

The legend grew that he was working for Kashmir’s independence. The charge in his farcical trial in 1958 was that he was conspiring to accede to Pakistan. The truth is that he had attacked Mohammed Ali Jinnah publicly in 1939 and 1944, denounced the two-nation theory and, in 1947, was planning for the State’s accession to India. This brings us to a fact of crucial importance. Unlike the Nizam of Hyderabad, who dreamt of independence as the British were preparing to quit India, the Sheikh did not contemplate independence but democracy in the State and association with the India of Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi as he visualised it. He was vice-president of the Congress’ sister body, the All India State People’s Conference.

If Maharaja Hari Singh had acceded to India without his support, people would have revolted, with the Sheikh as their leader. Unlike Vallabhbhai Patel, Nehru realised that his support was indispensable. But while Jinnah wanted the people minus Abdullah, Nehru won Abdullah and disdained popular support.ÿ
-(To be concluded)
(Courtesy: Frontline)