Indian-held Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah ruffled quite a few feathers when he said what must have appeared as heresy to New Delhi.
Speaking in the legislature of the disputed territory on Thursday, the chief minister scuttled the very basis of the Indian case in Kashmir when he emphasised two points: one, Jammu and Kashmir never merged with India and two, it was an international dispute. No wonder this earned him the immediate wrath of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, which accused him of being anti-national. Mr Abdullah said Kashmir was a dispute between two neighbours and the explosive situation in the valley needed a political solution. This extraordinarily blunt talk goes against New Delhi’s decades-old official line — that Kashmir is an ‘integral part’ of India. While the analogy he drew between Kashmir on the one side and Hyderabad and Junagadh on the other doesn’t concern us here, what deserves to be noted is the background against which Mr Abdullah seems to have been forced to utter words that under normal circumstances he would not have considered prudent to go public with. But such is the impact of the protests now rocking Indian-held Kashmir that the chief minister had no choice but to say something off the beaten track to serve as a sop to the valley’s angry youth.
One major concern for Mr Abdullah must be the realisation that men like him are in danger of being swept away if they do not appear to be sympathetic to the current sentiments in Kashmir, the people’s total disillusionment with Indian rule and the fatalities which have reached more than 100 since the current wave of protests began on June 11. That he was critical of the Indian authorities’ reliance on force to tackle the protests was obvious when he said the situation needed a political solution. Kashmir, he said, was a political issue, and “it cannot be addressed through development, employment and good governance”. This is the crux of the matter. The political issue Mr Abdullah spoke of revolves around a principle which cannot be denied to the Kashmiri people — their right to self-determination.