The election results in Jammu and Kashmir have brought to the forefront an issue that has dogged Kashmir’s relations with the rest of India ever since Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession. It is, ‘which part of the state will dominate policy-making —Jammu or Kashmir?
In the hundred years before Independence, it was the Dogras from Jammu. Prior to that, while Jammu was squarely a part of the Mughal and later Sikh empires, Kashmir had been ruled for more than five hundred years by a succession of invaders, ranging from Afghans to Sikhs.
In 1947, therefore, the feeling of disempowerment was far more acute in Kashmir than in Jammu. It was assuaged only when Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference came to power in 1947. Sheikh Abdullah’s 1945 war cry of ‘Down with Dogra rule’ was not a repudiation of ‘Hindu’ rule, but of domination by rulers from Jammu. The National conference, and indeed the Sheikh’s, endorsement of the Maharaja’s accession to India was wildly popular in the valley because it shifted the base of power in the state from Jammu to Kashmir. To the educated, politically sensitive sections of the Kashmir’s population, this was ‘independence’ after more than 500 years of enslavement.
The need to empower Kashmiris explains Sheikh Abdullah’s lack of interest in recovering Gilgit, Skardu and “Azad’ Kashmir from Pakistan. He knew only too well that this would make Kashmir’s pre-eminance harder to sustain.
The roots of Abdullah’s growing disenchantment with India in the six years that followed Accession and his eventual, disastrous imprisonment, lay in Nehru’s failure to understand that waiting for Pakistan to vacate POK before holding a plebiscite was endangering not only its outcome but also Kasmir valley ( and the NC’s) control over the state. He was privy to the fact that Pathans made up only a fifth of the ‘Raiders’ from Pakistan and that more than two-fifths had come from POK. So had Nehru gone ahead with a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference would have been happy as clams because it would not only have fully legitimized the Accession in the part India controlled, but also Kashmir’s domination of Jammu in Indian Kashmir.
The reason why the Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad’s government rigged every election in the valley from 1957 till 1972 was its need to maintain its dominance of the state in the face of declining popularity. The suppression of dissent in the valley that this entailed led to the uprising of 1990.
The insurgency, however, broke Kashmir’s hold over Jammu. In the ensuing decade Jammu’s politics became detached from those of Kashmir and became those of the mainland. This parting of the ways, first vividly demonstrated by Jammu’s blockade of Kashmir in July 2008, reached its consummation this week.
Today the polarization between Jammu and Kashmir is almost complete. This has confronted the PDP and BJP with an extraordinary challenge, but also a unique opportunity. To its credit the PDP has been the first to realize that running a stable, functionally efficient and politically equitable government will not be possible if the polarization is not reversed. This requires cooperation – preferably a coalition – between the PDP and the BJP. But a coalition can only take shape if there is a broad agreement on the principles and goals of governance.
To the PDP the irreducible minimum is for the BJP to respect Jammu and Kashmir’s ethnic and religious diversity, explicitly distance itself from communal polarization in Kashmir and other parts of India, and avoid any attempt to change Kashmir’s special position within the Indian constitution.
Since the BJP’s main concern at the moment is to capture the chief ministership, and since Mufti Sayeed had shown in 2002 that he is not averse to sharing the chief ministership of the state, a deal is possible. But for this the BJP must agree to the basic principles of governance that Mufti has outlined.
This would have posed no problem for Mr Vajpayee, but today’s BJP is a different party in all but name. For Modi, therefore, stepping back from the programmes of communal polarization that the Sangh Parivar’s hardliners have let loose on the country, and resuming a constructive dialogue with Pakistan will be a supreme test of leadership.
It will also be a test of his sagacity. For Pakistan’s encounter with the most bestial face of has become a defining moment for its government and army. The Nawaz Sharif government has shed the last vestiges of its ambivalence towards Islamist terrorism, and declared an all-out war on it within Pakistan. It has lifted a six-year moratorium on the death sentence with the specific purpose of putting terrorists it held in its jails to death.
Around 500 terrorists are likely to be executed in the next few weeks. It is also revising its criminal code to award harsh punishment to terrorists, and is setting up special military courts for their speedy trial.
This is part of a comprehensive strategy that is designed to cut off all the insurgents’ sources of income including donations to charities under whose rubric they received their funds. The government also intends to enact a ban on religious persecution and punish the abuse of the internet for the glorification of terrorism and organizations sponsoring it.
The trigger was undoubtedly the killing of 133 children in a Peshawar school, but the demand to lift the moratorium had in fact been made by the army chief Gen Raheel Sharif, before this barbaric attack. Thus although it has done so for its own reasons, Pakistan is on the point of meeting Mr Modi’s demand that it should stamp out terrorism within its own country in order to build lasting good relations with India.
In the coming two years Pakistan will need all the help—military and economic– it can get. India could provide some of it indirectly by enabling it to move its troops from the Indian to the Afghan border. This would go a long way towards healing the scars of Partition. But even if does not, India will still be much better off with a stable Pakistan that is no longer hosting terrorists, than it is today.