On Kashmir

In the Sunday Times of India, Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar puts forth a radical proposal – holding a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir. “As a liberal, I dislike ruling people against their will,” he writes, and then-

I was once hopeful of Kashmir’s integration, but after six decades of effort, Kashmiri alienation looks greater than ever. India seeks to integrate with Kashmir, not rule it colonially. Yet, the parallels between British rule in India and Indian rule in Kashmir have become too close for my comfort.

We promised Kashmiris a plebiscite six decades ago. Let us hold one now, and give them three choices: independence, union with Pakistan, and union with India. Almost certainly the Valley will opt for independence. Jammu will opt to stay with India, and probably Ladakh too. Let Kashmiris decide the outcome, not the politicians and armies of India and Pakistan.

In his argument he touches upon many issues, particularly Kashmir’s parallels with Junagadh and our failure in upholding democracy in the state (elections having been rigged many times, for example). But there are somethings that cannot be ignored – geopolitics, for one, and the traditional Indian and Pakistani positions.

The history
(I quote liberally from two chapters of Jawaharlal Nehru – A Biography, by Frank Moraes.)

On August 15, 1947, all princely states except Junagadh, Kashmir and Hyderabad had acceded to India. Junagadh and Hyderabad were completely surrounded by India whereas Kashmir was surrounded by no less than five different countries – China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Russia. And their stories are by now well known. Junagadh and Hyderabad were provinces with Muslim rulers but a substantial Hindu population whereas Kashmir had a Hindu monarch who ruled over a sizable Muslim population. Mountbatten had already warned the princes of the various states about the accession, saying “You cannot run away from the Dominion Government which is your neighbour any more than you can run away from the subjects for whose welfare you are responsible.” Meaning, while the ruler could decide whom to join, he should consider where his state was located and also the opinion of his citizens.

“There are certain geographical compulsions which cannot be evaded,” Mountbatten had further warned. The Nawab of Junagadh, however, chose to ignored this and decided to merge his state into Pakistan. India protested, a plebiscite was held, and Junagadh joined India. Regarding Hyderabad, the position taken by the Nizam was comical to say the least. He thought the state could remain independent. And he dillydallied while the Razakars inflicted a reign of terror within the state as well as on Indian villages bordering the state. He wanted a plebiscite to be held in such circumstances. Nehru smashed the fiction of an independent Hyderabad in a statement which ended with “Historically, Hyderabad has at no time been independent. Practically, in the circumstances of today, it cannot be independent.” On the plebiscite, India felt that if it had to be a fair one, the terror had to stop and the Indian Army attacked Hyderabad. The Nizam agreed to surrender, order was restored, the Nizam agreed to accept the Indian constitution and he was justly compensated. “By no principle as accepted by India and Pakistan, neither by virtue of contiguity of territory, of the State’s communal composition or a popular verdict could either Hyderabad or Junagadh claim to have acted rightfully,” Moraes says about the dual fiasco.

How do these incidents influence the question of Kashmir? They do because, while unlike Junagadh and Hyderabad, Kashmir enjoys a geographical contiguity with both countries – India as well as Pakistan, it had a Muslim majority. In spite of Hari Singh’s accession to India, a plebiscite could have been held there as was done in the case of Junagadh, and India promised the same, the only condition being restoration of peace.

The problem began, however, with the attitude of the king, and I quote Mountbatten from Moraes’ book –

“Had he acceded to Pakistan before August 14, the future Government of India had allowed me to give His Highness an assurance that no objection whatever would be raised by them. Had His Highness acceded to India by August 14, Pakistan did not then exist, and therefore could not have interfered. The only trouble that could have been raised was by non-accession to either side, and this was unfortunately the very course followed by the Maharaja.”

So Hari Singh did nothing, and Pakistan decided to force his hand by enforcing an economic blockade and also by sending in marauders from across the border. By the time he realized the gravity of the situation, things were beyond redemption. He did sign the instrument of accession and Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference too agreed with the idea, the Indian army did land in Kashmir and fought the tribals who were led by officers from the Pakistani army (Pakistan had the gumption to deny their involvement), but Pakistan now controlled half the state.

Then India, and Nehru, made the mistake of referring the matter to the UNSC, and the Council did not condemn Pakistan’s act of aggression. India was betrayed by the West. And this betrayal showed in one of Nehru’s statements, “It [Kashmir] was only a plaything for them while it was very much in our hearts. They had they audacity to talk of imperialism to us when they were imperialists themselves and were carrying on their own wars and themselves preparing for future wars. Just because India tried to protect Kashmir from territorial invasion, people had the temerity to talk of India’s imperialism!”

This, together with the strategic importance of the state and the idea of Kashmir seceding from India being a blow to Indian secularism (there are a few others), is behind the present Indian position on Kashmir being an integral part of India, and while Hari Singh, and Abdullah and all the politicians who followed have been dreaming of an independent Kashmir, India has never considered it as an alternative.

I don’t think there are many people in India who hold the position that Kashmir should be granted freedom from India. And I have held a similar opinion for a long time – anything except the division of the country. But Aiyar’s column makes one think about it. Kashmir is unlike other states which voluntarily joined India. Pakistani adventurism meant they could never determine their fate. And India went in to protect the state from raiders and never left. As Aiyar suggests, if a plebiscite is held, Jammu and Ladakh will surely agree to join India. And if a 2007 CSDS survey is to be believed, 87% of the people in the valley want independence, not Pakistan. It would mean overturning a 60 year old policy of “no independence” and also doing a rethink on the strategic and economic costs.

Its going to be difficult, however to convince Indians. When Karnataka and Tamil Nadu cannot solve a simple water dispute among themselves and burn buses every time they clash, asking Indians to think about Kashmiris might be asking for the moon, more so when the fires of Amarnath are raging.

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  • Sandip Ghose  On August 19, 2008 at 8:41 am

    co-incidentally (or otherwise) Vir Sanghvi makes an almost identical argument in this Sunday’s HT ( Think, the Unthinkable). thogh many may disagree (even violently at that ) with such a radical view-point, a debate on this issue is long over-due and now is aa good ( or as bad ) a time as any.

    i have added my two penny bit to it in my blog : Politically Incorrect – Common Currency but Separate Cricket Teams at
    http://www.ghoses.blogspot.com which you may care to check-out


  • Moharkan  On August 19, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Kashmir- India – Pakistan – Amarnath shrine – UNO
    Allotment of land to Amarnath shrine board is a non-issue. The site of Shiva Lingam was discovered by a Muslim Family (Malik’s), who took care of the place for more than a century. Episodes of 1931, 1947, 1965 and militancy from 1989 onwards did not disturb the smooth conduct of yatra as it was being managed locally with active support from local Muslims. Lately state Govt; had appointed D.C. Islamabad (Anantnag) J&K as the Nodal Yatra Officer and Yatries had no complaints under that arrangement. Vagary of weather in 1996 which resulted in loss of life was made an excuse for the creation of Shrine Board under chairmanship of Governor, the purpose whereof was un-explainable. Recently Land was allotted temporarily to the shrine board by the state Govt; in good faith but an inefficient and arrogant public servant, Mr. Arun Kumar, the then CEO of the shrine board unnecessarily made some foolish statements in a press conference which were far from facts that created the ugly situation we are facing today. Since Amarnath Shiv ligam is a pious place of Kashmiri Pandits the shrine Board should be reconstituted from the learned priests from this community residing in Kashmir or outside for performance of religious rites by indigenous pandits. No politician from Kashmir, Jammu, New Delhi or elsewhere should be associated with the board. If the State Govt; agree to provide the required logistic support to the yatries, it is not understood as to why anybody should still harp on allotment of land to the shrine board. Discrimination alleged by a section of Jammuvites has nothing to do with the allotment of land to the shrine board. Kashmiri Pandits migrated under a criminal conspiracy by Indian intelligence agencies under stewardship of a criminal Jagmohan, then Governor of J&K for the genocide of Muslims in Kashmir, who were up for attaining freedom. It needs to be understood that J&K State is a disputed territory and the case was taken by India to UNO. Three wars have been fought by the two nuclear countries India & Pakistan and UN passed three resolutions on resolution of Kashmir problem which were accepted by both India & Pakistan. United Nations Military Observers Group (UNMOGIP) is active in J&K for the last sixty years. Kashmiries ask both the countries to implement UN resolutions and full fill their promise of right of Self determination to them guaranteed by UNO as to whether they want to accede to India or Pakistan. Not only Indian people but the entire human civilization more importantly the intelligentsia of world’s political and economic powers needs to understand this factual position. As on date the position is that India & Pakistan both are the occupation forces in their respective administered areas. Statements made either by Indian or Pakistani Govt. Officials or politicians are meaningless unless concrete steps are taken for settlement of the main K issue. As regards raising of pro-pakistan, pro-India, pro-independence slogans or hoisting of the flags of their choice in any part of J&K State by any section of people, this cannot be treated as anti-national or secessionist. Economic blockade of the valley by Amarnath Sangarsh Samiti has been a foolish idea of saffron brigade which has only added fuel to the fire. We should have tolerance for others’ view point. Until and unless the main Kashmir issue is resolved amicably we shall have to face this type of music. We have to mind it that the Kashmir issue cannot be solved militarily but it has to be resolved amicably by India & Pakistan keeping in view the aspirations of all sections and regions of the J&K state. The use of excessive force by Army & CRPF in Kashmir with intention to kill innocent un-armed protestors and special treatment to rowdy fanatics in Jammu with tridents and petrol bombs in their hands enforcing blockade of national highway, causing loss to railways and properties of Muslims and State Govt; speaks volumes about the inner policy of the Govt; of India and no Indian should have grouse as to why every kashmiri male. Female and child is today on the roads demanding for Freedom and opening of Muzafferabad road. We have to understand that we have wasted more than six decades. We should now find a solution to this problem before it is too late. That way we will be doing a great service to the people of India, Pakistan and J&K as we will be saving billions of Rupees on defense which could be conveniently spent for removal of poverty and development of people in this entire region. International community & UNO need to not to be silent spectators and they need to play a positive role for immediate implementation of UN resolutions on Kashmir or finding any other Just and amicable solution to this problem. Mr Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General, UNO should open his eyes and ask for complete details about millions of people who have thronged themselves in front of the office of UNMOGIP in Srinagar Kashmir on 18th August 2008 to present Memoranda addressed to him asking for resolution of Kashmir Problem. Amnesty International, Asia Watch & all Human Rights Organizations are duty bound to check Human rights violations in Kashmir.

  • aristotlethegeek  On August 19, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    Read a para from Sanghvi’s article (Think the Unthinkable) on another blog after writing the post, and the complete article later on. It might be a coincidence, but I think most people are now fed up of the whole Kashmir problem, the Amarnath fiasco being the straw that broke the camel’s back. Hence the Indians-are-footing-the-bill-and-dying-there-for-no-reason-and-if-they-don’t-want-to-stay-with-us-then-why-should-we-bother argument.

    Maybe its time to let Kashmir go. Before that, however, we need to secure access to Ladakh (don’t want China moving into Ladakh claiming its part of Tibet, or another East and West Pakistan situation) and also make an agreement for the Amarnath pilgrimage to continue.

    The UN is not going to do anything. They lost the plot and India’s sympathies the day they equated India and Pakistan. And they wouldn’t dare come into the picture. Do you see them inquiring into Tibet, for example?

    The plebiscite that was promised 60 years ago was conditional on the withdrawal of both forces from the State, and that is not going to happen anytime soon. In any case, demographics have changed too much on both sides of the border for a plebiscite based on the original premise to be of any consequence. Aiyar’s plebiscite and Sanghvi’s referendum ideas relate to the population of Indian J&K and are not based on the original one. As for special treatment to trishul carriers and stone pelters, they have always had a special exemption in India – the Indian government has always behaved as if mobs, particularly of the religious and parochial variety, are above the law.

    Anyway, Amarnath or no Amarnath, and regardless of the politics of the Hindu Right (with Kashmiri leaders pouring fuel into the fire, you will agree), we are at a tipping point. Even if the Amarnath issue is resolved, and I don’t know how that is going to happen, Indian politicians will have to sit down and think about the future. Ironically, the strongest chance for the resolution of the issue lies with a BJP-led government at the Center. The Congress or any “third front” government will not have the b**** to deal with the issue.

    Kashmir might want to be a South Asian Switzerland, but its strategic importance cannot be underestimated, and ultimately, any decision on Kashmir will be taken in this context.

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