The Sheikh vs The Pandit The roots of the Kashmir Dispute

Ghalib’s couplet accurately sums up the roots of the Kashmir dispute. It also provides a clue to the ever deteriorating situation there. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s Kashmiri nationalism clashed with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s Indian nationalism. The clash was inherent in their relationship even at the best of times. Nehru arrogantly spurned conciliation and resorted to brute force, with the aid of the army, by ousting Abdullah from the office of Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir on 9 August 1953 and imprisoning him for eleven years. What is little known is that he submitted his prisoner and erstwhile friend to hardships; denying visitors access to him and foisting a conspiracy case which he knew to be false – plotting for accession to Pakistan.
To all outward appearances,. India has rivetted its control over the State after the Sheikh’s ouster. But today, more than even before, grim realities have surfaced to the shock of many to demonstrate that Kashmiri nationalism is very much alive and kicking despite New Delhi’s repressive policies and the army’s sustained record of outrages. India – its government, most in its media especially TV, and academia and its stooges in Kashmir who have feasted themselves on the crumbs New Delhi throws at them from the high table, prefer to envelop themselves cosily in a state of denial. The reality is unbearable to witness – India governs Kashmir against the wishes of its people. They reject the very legitimacy of its rule. As Mir Qasim, installed as Chief Minister by elections which he admitted were rigged and who had supported Abdullah’s ouster in 1953 wrote: “They clearly say that they would not like to remain in India. They would like to go out of India. They ask for a plebiscite so that they will be allowed to answer whether they want to remain in India or go out of India”. ( Mir Qasim: My Life and Times; 298).
It was left to one of India’s foremost public intellectuals, Ashok Mitra, former Finance Minister of West Bengal, to rip apart the veil of falsehood and expose the havoc India’s policies have wreaked. “Behind the façade of the constitutional apparatus rests the nitty-gritty of rude fact: the Valley is an occupied territory; remove for a day India’s Army and security forces and it is impossible to gauge what might transpire at the next instant. Some of the stone-pelters may nurse illusions about Pakistan, some may think in terms of a sovereign, self-governing Kashmir, but they certainly do not want to be any part of India … the great Indian nation, with its load of civilization stretching 5000 years, is extraordinarily mum.
The debauching of civilization in Kashmir, no matter what its underlying reason, creates no ripples. One is suddenly hit by a fearsome realisation Indians by and large do not perhaps feel at all, this way or that, about the Valley’s people. In other words, the Indian nation is alienated from Kashmir.” (The Telegraph, 27 August 2010).
Mehbooba Mufti, head of the PDP-BJP coalition in the State, loftily declared, on 19 April, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that “there is a pain in the hear of Kashmiris and we all have to heal it together”. What she added indicates all too well that the causes of the pain elude her. She cited “several tragic incidents in the past … and more recently in Handwara where innocent people were fatally caught in the vortex of violence” (Yusuf Jameel; Asian age, 20 April 2016; italics mine, throughout). – “Caught”; not shot at. Earlier on 26 March, she spoke of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s “mission of development and peace” (Peerzada Ashiq, The Hindu; 27 March). She refuses to know why her people are in pain. 
Contrast this with Nirupama Subramanian and Bhasaarat Masood’s four reports in Indian Express, 20-23 April 2016), one of the most honest reports we have had in recent years. “When the Army does an encounter they come in hundreds for one militant hiding in a house. Then they destroy the house. They use heavy shells and mortars”, a girl student in Anantnag told them. Destruction of a whole house to get catch a solitary militant is an established practice in Kashmir alone, never attempted in Punjab.  
 A teacher in Tral warned “don’t blur the lines between our grievances and our aspirations. Aspiration is azadi. Grievances are like Centre does not hand over power projects in Kashmir to the State Government. Our development needs and separation are two different things. We vote for development but azadi will not come without talking with Pakistan.”
A 29-year old teacher said that the bridges between India and Kashmir “have been burnt forever”. For, the bottom line is “India does not trust Kashmiris and Kashmiris don’t trust India”. The situation deteriorated steeply since the outbreak of militancy in 1989. But its roots lay in the clash of Kashmir and Indian nationalism in 1947. In a real sense, there is no alienation of people from the Union; alienation implies previous affection that the people of Kashmir never had for India not even at the time of the accession as both Abdullah and Nehru knew very well. Reflecting popular opinion, the Sheikh was against Kashmir’s accession to India, though he preferred its ideology of secularism to Pakistan’s two-nation theory. Reflecting Indian opinion and his own strong preferences, Nehru would have nothing but its accession to India. Both knew what the Kashmiris thought and felt, hence India’s initial hesitation in forging the accession. The record on views of all three Abdullah, KIashmiris and Nehru speaks for itself.
Sheikh Abdullah’s views :
1. On 19 April 1946 the Sheikh demanded in a telegram to the British Cabinet Mission “a right to independence” because “the Kashmiri nation” resided in “a unique region in India”. This was asserted when the talk was of a federal union, not partition.
2. After the partition, he was released from prison on 29 September 1947. On 3 October he said “we will chose the path which will lead to the independence of … the Kashmiris” (Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah: The Blazing Chinar, Gulshan Books, Srinagar; pp. 256 and 275).
3. On his release from prison Abdullah said “If the 40 lakhs of people living in Jammu & Kashmir are by-passed and the State declares accession to India or Pakistan, I shall raise the banner of revolt and we face a struggle”. Since Maharaja Hari Singh was not going to accede to Pakistan, this was clearly a warning against accession to India. As late as on 22 October 1947, Abdullah’s line was “Freedom before Accession”. It was reflected in his party the National Conference’s organ Khidmat which said on the same day “What the present moment demands and demands urgently is not accession to Pakistan or India but power to the people. Are we going to sell ourselves to the Indian capitalists or the Pakistan Nawabs?” (Quoted in Chitralekha Zutshi; Languages of Belonging; Permanent Black; p. 307; a most insightful work).
4. Abdullah confided to Phillips Talbot, later U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, who was in India from 1939-1948. “He told me that Kashmir would be ‘finished’ if it had to join one Dominion and thereby incur the enmity of the other. What he sought, he said, was an arrangement by which Kashmir could have normal relations with both countries”.(An American Witness to India’s Partition, sage; p. 378). As we shall see this was the lime he pursued right till 1964.
5. Prior to accession to India Abdullah sent one emissary to Pakistan after another, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed and G. M. Sadiq. Neither was allowed to meet Mohammed Ali Jinnah or Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. Only the CM of West Punjab, the Nawab of Mamdot, met them. Strangely, neither admirers nor detractors of Abdullah care to probe into their brief. What was it? It was obviously to fulfil his plans for independence. He had accepted an invitation by emissaries from Pakistan to meet Jinnah after his visit to New Delhi. The tribal raid from Pakistan was launched while Sadiq was in Lahore.
6. Even after the accession the Abdullah pursued his plans, to the knowledge of Nehru, in a talk with Patrick Gordon Walker, Britain’s Commonwealth Secretary, in Nehru’s home on 21 February 1948 – four months after the accession. He reported to London: “7. At this point Nehru fetched in Sheikh Abdullah and said he would leave us to talk together. Just before Nehru left Sheikh Abdullah said he thought the solution was that Kashmir should accede to both Dominions. I had not time to get him to develop this idea before Nehru left the room but questioned him afterwards. He said Kashmir’s trade was with India, that India was progressive and that Nehru was an Indian. On the other, Kashmir’s trade passed through Pakistan and a hostile Pakistan would be a constant danger. The solution therefore was that Kashmir should have its autonomy jointly guaranteed by India and Pakistan and it would delegate its foreign policy and defence to them both jointly but would look after its own affairs. The two Dominions share a common interest in Kashmir and it would serve to unite and link them. I asked whether Nehru would agree to this solution and he said he thought so. He had discussed it with him. … Since drafting the above I have seen Nehru again with reference to paragraph 7 above. He sways that he would be prepared to accept a solution broadly on the lines of that proposed by Sheikh Abdullah.”
7. In New York as a member of the Indian delegation to the security Council, Abdullah approached the U.S.’ Permanent Rep-representative to the U.N., Warren Austin, on 28 January 1948, who recorded: “It is possible that principal purpose of Abdullah’s visit was to make clear to US that there is a third alternative, namely, independence. He seemed overly anxious to get this point across, and made quite a long and impassioned statement on the subject. He said in effect that whether Kashmir went to Pakistan or India the other dominion would always be against solution. Kashmir would thus be a bone of contention. It is a rich country. He did not want his people torn by dissension between Pakistan and India. It would be much better if Kashmir were independent and could seek American and British aid for development of country.” (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1948 South Asia, p. 292).
8. Abdullah even sought out the Pakistan’s delegates. He complained to President Ayub Khan, when they met in Rawalpindi on 26 May 1964, that they “would not even talk to him. … When he went to the Security Council the second time, he did meet Choudhry Muhammad Ali and told him that the only way to get the Indians out of Kashmir was to agree to independence of the State”. (Altaf Gauhar; Ayub Khan; p. 264).
9. The Sheikh spoke to the U.S. Ambassador to India, Loy Henderson, in Srinagar. He reported to the State Department on 29 September 1950: “In discussing future Kashmir, Abdullah was vigorous in restating that in his opinion it should be independent; that overwhelming majority population desired this independence; and that he had reason to believe that some Azad Kashmir leaders desired independence and would be willing cooperate with leaders National Confederation if there was reasonable chance such cooperation would result in independence. Kashmir people could not understand why UN consistently ignored independence as one of possible solutions for Kashmir. It had held special Assembly to deal with independence for Palestine which was smaller in area and population and less economically viable than Kashmir. Kashmir people had language and cultural background their own. Their Hindus by custom and tradition widely differed from Hindus India, and outlook and background their Moslems also quite different from Moslems Pakistan. Fact was that population Kashmir homogeneous in despite of presence of Hindu minority.
   “When I asked Abdullah if he thought Kashmir could remain stable independent country without friendly support India and Pakistan, he replied negative. In his opinion independent Kashmir could exist only in case it had friendship both of India and Pakistan; in case both these countries had friendly relations with each other; and in case US through UN or direct would enable it, by investments or other economic assistance, to develop its magnificent resources. Adherence Kashmir to India would not lead in foreseeable future to improving miserable economic lot of population. There were so many areas of India in urgent need of economic development he was convinced Kashmir would get relatively little attention.” (FRUS, 1950, Vol. 5; p. 1434).
10. Abdullah was quite open about his aims as Nehru well knew. He went public in an interview to Michael Davidson of The Scotsman published on 14 April 1949. He said: “ ‘Accession to either side cannot being peace’. He declared, ‘We want to live in friendship with both Dominions. Perhaps a middle path between them, with economic co-operation with each, will be the only way of doing it. But an independent Kashmir must be guaranteed not only by India and Pakistan but also by Britain, the United States and other members of the United Nations. Would an independent Kashmir, I asked him, a kind of Himalayan Switzerland, be feasible and constructive? Those areas of the present State which bordered India asnd Pakistan and which had no affinity ies with the people of the Vale could fall naturally to the Dominion with which they were related by race or religion – the Poonchis, who are Moslem Punjabis, belong obviously to Pakistan, and the Hindus of Jammu, Rajput-Dogras are surely Indians.
“Abdullah replied: ‘Yes, independence-guaranteed by the United Nations – may be the only solution. But why do you talk of partition? Now you are introducing communalism and applying the two-nation theory to Kashmir – that communalism which we are fighting here. I believe the Poonchis would welcome inclusion in an independent Kashmir; if, however, after its establishment, they chose to secede and join Pakistan. I would raise no objection.
“I want a solution that is fair to all three parties – Pakistan, India, and the people of Kashmir. But we won’t submit to a communal solution. There has never been a religious problem in the Vale of Kashmir. Hindus and Muslims, we are of the same racial origin, we have the same customs, wear the same clothes, speak the same language. In the street, you cannot distinguish between Moslems and Brahman Pandits. Why, we even have a Mosque in the wall of which a Hindu temple has been built. In Kashmir we have Hindu and Sikh refugees from West Punjab and Moslem refugees from East Punjab. …
“When the Kashmir Moslem Conference also turned communally-minded, most of us Kashmiris left to form a National Conference, a non-sectarian movement conforming with the secular principles of the Indian Congress. Naturally we sympathise rather with India than with Pakistan. …
“Religions have never been a cementing force, the Sheikh declared. Christians fight Christians in Europe; Japanese fight Chinese; Turkey wants to be Europeanised; Moslems have warred against Moslems. Socially and nationally there are more compelling interests, economic and ideological. The first task for the Kashmiris, Hindus, and Moslems is to win internal liberation from exploitation.” (The writer is indebted to Andrew Whitehead for the text of the interview). The interview had Vallabhbhai Patel foaming at the mouth. (Durga Das; Sardar Patel’s Correspondence; Navjivan Publishing House; Vol.1; pp. 266-271).

Nehru’s Views :  It is important to note that Nehru tried to secure Kashmir’s accession to India while Sheikh Abdullah was still in prison, regardless of his wishes or those of the people of the State. His stand was revealingly summed up in the blunt pithy assertion to Liaquat Ali Khan “I want Kashmir” (Lionel Carter (Ed.); Weakened States Seeking Renewal: British Official Reports from South Asia, 1 January – 30 April 1948; Manohar; Part I; pp. 176 and 416. An invaluable collection of 2 Vols.). Even before the Partition Plan was announced on 3 June, 1947, he began his campaign with a mention of Kashmir as “a difficult problem” at a formal meeting with Mountbatten and advisers on 22 April 1947.
He followed it by a long note to Mountbatten on Kashmir dated 17 June 1947 in which he concluded: “If any attempt is made to push Kashmir into the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, there is likely to be much trouble because the National Conference is not in favour of it and the Maharaja’s position would also become very difficult. The normal and obvious course appears to be for Kashmir to join the constituent Assembly of India. This will satisfy both the popular demand and the Maharaja’s wishes. It is absurd to think that Pakistan would create trouble if this happens.” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Vol. 3, p. 229). Pakistan did not count. He lavishly praised the Sheikh. On 4 July he wrote to the Maharaja, whom he detested, requesting a meeting and suggesting accession “I appreciate your difficulties” (ibid., p.253). No talk here of releasing Abdullah.
The sinister aspect of the plan became apparent when he Maharaja asked for a standstill agreement on 12 August 1947. Pakistan agreed India declined and asked for negotiations. Nehru had himself revised the draft standstill agreement with all the States to include “foreign affairs” (item 7); a virtual Instrument of Accession. Had the Maharaja agreed, Abdullah would have been confronted on his release from prison, the very next month, with Kashmir’s accession to India – behind his back. So much for respect for the popular will.
Nor were Nehru’s later references to the Sheikh justified. His following was confined to the Valley. In Jammu and the present Pak administered Kashmir Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas’ Muslim Conference held sway. Even in the Valley Abdullah’s voice was not decisive on the crucial issue of accession (Vide Ian Copland’s essay “The Abdullah Factor: Kashmir Muslims and the Crisis of 1947”. The people followed him upto Kohala (i.e. locally) and Jinnah beyond it.