New Delhi’s political dyslexia

Dyslexia is a difficulty in determining the meaning of a simple written sentence not because of any visual impairment but because of the brain’s inability to recognize and process symbols. New Delhi’s political dyslexia in Kashmir is akin to this condition since they see the visuals from Kashmir every night on their TV screens. They merely cannot process the information and derive a meaning out of it.

At a recently concluded conference on Kashmir, held in Washington, DC, the veteran journalist, Kuldip Nayar told the gathering that independent Kashmir was not an ideal solution. His subsequent column on the same subject was widely carried by newspapers across Asia. His main argument was that independence for Kashmir is neither possible nor ideal. Some of his and other similarly argued reasons for this line of thinking include: Muslims in India will not remain safe, if Kashmir were to separate; independent Kashmir will be a ‘basket case’ – – unable to survive etc.

Additionally, an independent Kashmir, the argument goes, will fall prey to super power rivalry; neither India nor Pakistan will allow an independent country betwixt them; no new borders can be drawn based on religion; Ladkah and Jammu will not accede to the independence plan, and so on and so forth. These arguments are as old as the Kashmir dispute itself, and have done nothing to convince the Kashmiris to settle for the status quo. The voices of separation from India, regardless of the final destination, have been getting deafeningly louder.

The purpose of these arguments is to create a ‘false dilemma’- – a rhetorical strategy which rules out one of the options as unacceptable and repulsive, while the other is the only one to choose from. Obviously when such a ‘choice’ is made, it is made under the duress of circumstances, not volitionally.

 In relation to Kashmir, the purpose of this line of thinking is to perpetuate the status quo through appeals to so- called Indian exceptionalism, which posits Indian nationalism as uniquely immune to any sub-nationalist demands. Love it or leave it; the only choice for the Kashmiris is to accept Hindustan or prepare for Qabristan. This Hobson’s choice just about explains the jackboot approach to Kashmir. Guess what? It is not working!

To be sure, there are situations when individuals and nations do make such choices. Kashmiri prisoners in the torture chambers ‘confess’- – even falsely- – to avoid torture or death, and Pakistan sided with the America when faced with the “you are with us or against us” post-911 dichotomy. Both the prisoners and Pakistan in their own unique ways faced a dilemma.

Fortunately, for Kashmir there is no such dilemma. There is more than merely one option including the option of independence, accession with India or accession with Pakistan; and for the sake of argument, any variations thereof. What then is not ‘possible’ and ‘ideal’ is the status quo, which translates into Indian control. In any case, for any choice to be made voluntarily, the people of Kashmir must decide which choice to make. It is not for India, Pakistan, or even the UN to decide what is ideal for Kashmir. People are sovereign. They have to decide!

In order to subordinate Kashmiri ethnic-nationalism to Indian nationalism, New Delhi has unsuccessfully tried all means- – fair and foul- – to win over the hearts and minds of Kashmiris since the time of Pandit Nehru who told the Indian parliament on June 26, 1952:
 "If… the people of Kashmir said, ‘we do not want to be with India, we are committed to accept it though it might pain us. We will not send an army against them. We will accept that however hurt we might feel about it. W e will change the constitution, if necessary."

 It is a moot point whether Nehru lied to Kashmiris then or whether they are  being lied to by the opinion-makers now. In either case, they have written their verdict on the wall with blood: ‘Enough is enough! Keep your sermons, and leave us alone!’

As one foreign observer concluded recently, India is forcibly possessing a territory whose people who do not want it there. If the turmoil of the last six decades and the recent years’ Azadi chorus across Kashmir is any indication, India is not a serious contender for Kashmiri hearts and minds.

The critical question in Kashmir is what the former Harvard professor B. P. Mehta- – currently president of the Center for Policy Research, New Delhi, appropriately calls a lack of "voluntary allegiance” to India. The loyalty of Ladakh and Jammu has never been in question; the bee in the bonnet is the ethnic nationalist sentiment in Kashmir and the Muslim majority areas of Jammu. This may be a politically incorrect statement to make but it is, nonetheless, true! Ask the Ladakhis, ask Jammuites. They do not want to have anything to do with Kashmir.

Political scientist Walker Connor, in his studies on nationalism instructively notes: "It is not what is, but what people believe is that has behavioral consequences."
The argument that ‘borders cannot be redrawn’, is a convenient social and political construct that fails scholarly analysis. This mindset needs to change. That national borders continue to be redrawn, as we speak, is evident from the emergence of several free nation- states dotting the globe, Kosovo being the latest addition.

Political scientist Jerry Muller opined in the Foreign Affairs magazine: “It is wishful thinking to suppose that … boundaries [of Federal States such as India and Pakistan] will be permanent". Increased literacy, enhanced political mobilization, and greater urbanization will challenge the “internal structures of the states as well as their borders.”

Add to this the sovereignty- eroding effects of internet connectivity. Remember Facebook? And Orkut? And Twitter?
Kashmir is an unwinnable quagmire for New Delhi. There is no need to feign dyslexia. The sooner we realize people’s enduring sentiment the better for all of us- – in Kashmir and in India.

(The author is a Kashmiri born US-based Citizen Writer. Feedback at tshahgm@gmail.com)