Even footnotes of history have great lessons. It depends, how you take them. I was reminded of these lessons, while hearing an important Indian historian, Mridu Rai, author of classical work on Kashmir, Hindu Rulers Muslim Subjects: Islam, Rights and History of Kashmir. The author of this iconoclastically honest work on the Dogra rule that ‘contextualizes, scrutinizes the political and regional identity of Kashmir’ and largely enables one to understand the post-1947 political phenomena was disallowed to deliver her talk on a thought provoking subject, “Languages of Violence, Languages of Justice: the State and Insurgent Kashmir". The academic discourse and interaction was to be held in a hotel. The authorities stopped her from reaching to over two hundred select gathering of University teachers, authors, writers, columnists, journalist, scholars and students on the pretext that meet inside the hotel halls was in violation of section 144 that is almost ‘permanently’ in force ’ in Kashmir now for over two decades.
Here, I am not entering into a debate if this section of CRPC, a British legacy could be invoked inside a hotel room against an academic activity or not. That I leave to legal luminaries to write or talk about or even seek an interpretation from the apex court. Nevertheless, an academic discourse can be counted as a “riot” as BBC’s Andrew North, South Asia correspondent tweeted "Why did Kashmir government use anti-riot law to stop an academic talking in Srinagar? As many important academicians and intellectuals across the globe putting a question mark on Indian democracy wrote on social network, the historian ostensibly, would not have been denied space to articulate her views on a subject of her specialization by administration without approval from man at the top. Shrinking space or denying it for genuine academic, intellectual and political dissent seems to have been adopted as the State policy. Couple of weeks back release of a five volume book on history of Kashmir was stopped. Interestingly, its sales of the book got boosted, in a fortnight a second edition was published.
Free and frank academic and intellectual discourses are a way forward towards resolving the complex political problems or disputes and bringing in lasting peace in any region. The State to use New York Times writer, Chris Hedges phrase by ‘locking out the voice of dissent’ not only perpetuates the uncertainties and suffering of the people but also adds complexity to the problems. In Jammu and Kashmir, historically, the democratic temperament was never allowed to strike its roots or for that matter, the voice of dissent was always denied the due space. Strangely, during past sixty five years it was done by leaders who vowed to ensure liberty and freedom to the people of the state. The question that bothers even average thinking mind is why these leaders denied fundamental rights and breathing space to the people of the land and also turned as their persecutors. A friend, an important student leader of his times born in a political family that has had pioneering role in the 1931 struggle against feudal and autocratic rule in thirties had an answer to this question. ‘These leaders became tormentors of their own people to please the real power centres for remaining in power but paradoxically after doing the job to satisfaction of the masters like a used cartridge they were thrown in trashcans. And they suffered nemesis.’
That reminded me, it has not only been Birbal Dhar who invited and escorted Ranjit Singh army to Kashmir in 1819 for creating havoc here who suffered divine retribution later on when the same army confiscated his estates, imprisoned him where he died in most pathetic condition. Or as Lord Birdwood writes it, “The Maharaja’s accession has been used as legal foundation for India’s claim on Kashmir. Yet on 2oth June 1949 he was forced to his final surrender when he left the state for Bombay. Having used the ruler conveniently to satisfy legal obligations, New Delhi lost interest in his fate.” The post-1947 period is full of stories were leaders, who worked against wishes of their own people, persecuted them, snatched their fundamental rights, denied space to the voices of dissent, gagged press and fettered goddess of democracy for pleasing the big bosses and ultimately in the words of Emerson, ‘Nemesis had her due’. Those, who have studied role of Sheikh Abdullah in 1947, a bit in depth or have read his autobiography between the lines will appreciate that for scoring points with the Congress leadership he tried to be smarter than the Maharaja and his Prime Minister, Meher Chand Mahajan in pleading before Gandhi, Nehru and Patel for sending troops to Kashmir. (See Blazing Chinar page 290-293).
In recognition of his services, when the Congress leadership got him installed as the Administrator under the Maharaja, he was totally indifferent towards the massacre of Muslims in Jammu. When Krishen Dev Sethi drew his attention towards the suffering Muslims and demographic change in Jammu, maintenance of which he believed was important for persevering secular fabric of Jammu. “Abdullah was annoyed with him and told him why should I bother for Jammu Muslim- they never recognized me as their leader.” (Yad-e-Rafta by Krishen Dev Sethi page 36). Just after five years, Sheikh Abdullah was deposed by his friend Jawaharlal Nehru and subjected to eleven years’ incarceration. Same fate was met by Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad after his inglorious exit from office after having humiliated, tortured and persecuting fellow citizens to the satisfaction of Nehru. Last days of G.M. Sadiq where no better than those of Bakshi. After doing his assignment of facilitating Indira-Abdullah Agreement in 1975, I am personal witness, how Syed Mir Qasim was humiliated and discarded as political vestige and made to take shelter in M.Ps house on Lodi Road.
Let me reiterate, what I said at the start of this column, history has lesson- in our case for those in ‘power politics’, don’t work against democracy and interest of your people.