Kashmir- through the Lens of History

The wheel has turned full circle. Dr. Shyama prasad Mukherjee, the founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, was a severe critic of the decision to grant special status to Jammu & Kashmir by incorporating Article 370 in Indian constitution. He was refused permission to visit Kashmir in 1953 to support the Praja Parishad which was established by Jammu’s majoritarian Hindu population as a challenge to National Conference. Praja Parishad raised the slogan for one nation, one constitution, one flag and one Prime Minister in order to raise their voice against the special status given to Kashmir. Dr. Mukherjee was arrested while entering Kashmir without valid permit. He died mysteriously, while in custody, on 23rd June. Came 5th August, 2019. Home Minister, Amit Shah snapped the seventy year old Gordian knot with one stroke, and with that, claims BJP that they have fulfilled the dream of its founder Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee.

Kashmir Just after independence

Modern Kashmir’s history dates back to 1846, when Gulab Singh purchased the Kashmir valley from East India Company on payment of Rs. 75 lakh and established Dogra regime. Gulab Singh was granted autonomy except defence and foreign affairs which continued to be under British paramountcy. In course of time, he acquired Gilgit-Baltistan region. Ladakh was already with the Dogras before they got hold of the valley. By the end of 19th century, Jammu & Kashmir shared border with Afganistan, Tibet and Sinkiang province of China. The strategic importance of J & K acting as a buffer state between China, Russia (only a small strip of land in Afganistan separated Russia and Kashmir) and Tibet (still independent) was enormous. At the time of independence and creation of Pakistan, J & K was ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh, the great grand son of Maharaja Gulab Singh. The state had a predominantly Muslim population which made Mohammad Ali Jinnah to think that it should join Pakistan after partition.

Jammu and Kasmir before it was annexed to India. Gilgit region was leased out to British by Maharaja. Major Brown who was looking after the Gilgit decided to join Pakistan.

Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s Home Minister, was inclined to give away Kashmir to Pakistan, if Pakistan abandoned its claim on Junagarh. Junagarh was a state which had a majority Hindu population under Muslim ruler. When Jinnah refused to relinquish his claim on Junagarh, Patel decided to stake India’s claim on J & K. But Maharaja Hari Singh had other idea. He refused to accede to either India or Pakistan. He wanted J & K as an independent country. In the mean time, Sheikh Abdullah had established National Conference. He demanded complete transfer of power to the people of Kashmir. According to him, it was not the Maharaja but the people of Kashmir who should decide their fate, whether to merge with Pakistan or India.

Dramatic development in the valley

In September 1947, Nehru confided to Patel that he was not feeling at ease with the attitude of Maharaja Hari Singh who had been procrastinating on his decision to join India. He suspected that something serious was brewing up from Pakistan. Patel wanted to annex J & K without delay, otherwise, it would seriously jeopardize India’s balance of power in the region. Nehru was toying with the idea to remove Hari Singh and install Sheikh Abdullah as the head of the state with guarantee of some sort of autonomy to the state. Nehru drew enmity with Hari Singh when he was arrested in 1946 while entering the valley to meet Sheikh Abdullah. On the other hand, he was impressed with the secular ideology and rising popularity of the Sheikh in the valley. The two leaders met first time in 1937 and both of them seemed to have developed a mutual admiration for each other on various sociopolitical issues. In 1939, Sheikh decided to rename his party from Muslim Conference to National Conference to include Hindus and Sikhs as members of the party. Inspired by India’s Quit India Movement, Sheikh Abdullah led a massive quit Kashmir movement against Hari Singh in 1946. Sheikh was arrested. Nehru supported Sheikh Abdullah wholeheartedly, which antagonized Maharaja so much that he got him arrested in Kashmir. That he regretted Nehru’s arrest a year later after Kashmir joined India was another story. With the bonhomie between Nehru and Sheikh growing stronger and Sheikh opposing him tooth and nail in the valley, Maharaja now (in 1946) loathed the idea to join India. If he joined India, Sheikh Abdullah’s National conference would slowly unseat him with the backing of Nehru. The question of joining Pakistan would endanger the status of Hindu minority population of J & K, as Pakistan had been carved out on religious line . Maharaja, including his council of ministers, decided to remain independent. Maharaja stated that he wanted to keep friendly relationship with both India and Pakistan. His dream was to make Kashmir the Switzerland of of the East.

By the end of October the situation changed dramatically in the valley. The Pashtuns from the North Western Frontier Province invaded Kashmir from the western side. Till today it is not clear who instigated the Pashtuns to invade the valley. Some believe that Pakistan precipitated a proxy war to destabilize the region and throw out Maharaja Hari Singh who was not inclined to join Pakistan. Jinnah denied such allegation. Eye witnesses confirmed that Pakistan didn’t directly participate in the invasion, however, logistics were provided by them to help the forward movement of the tribal. Be that as it may, the tribal invasion crushed the hope of independent Kashmir for good. The tribal force moved quickly down to Jhelum Valley. They captured Muzaffarabad (now the capital of Azad Kashmir). In a couple of days, Uri fell to the tribesmen. They captured and plundered Baramula which was hardly 80 kilometers away from Srinagar. Maharaja Hari Singh understood the gravity of situation. He fled to Jammu and sent a message to Delhi for military assistance. Nehru, on the advice of Governor General Lord Mountbatten, assured assistance subject to accession of J & K to Indian dominion. Things moved thick and fast in the next few days. On 26th October Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession in Jammu and next day Indian troops landed in Srinagar.

Instrument of Accession-Page 1
Instrument of Accession-Page 2

The tribal force could not match the military acumen of Air Force and Army. Normal life returned to Srinagar soon after. Indian army captured Baramula on 8th November. Uri fell a couple of days later. However, the military operations were suspended temporarily due to advent of winter in the valley. Indian Army could not proceed towards Muzaffarabad which was still under tribal occupation.

Nehru’s thoughts on Kashmir

Nehru, however, was not feeling comfortable to continue a long drawn battle in the valley. He began his peace initiative by sending Mountbatten to Pakistan to hold discussion with Jinnah. Liaquat Ali Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan was also invited to Delhi. The discussions failed. Indian side proposed to hold a plebiscite which was not acceptable to Pakistan as they feared Muslim population could be influenced by Sheikh Abdullah to be on India’s side. Nehru wrote a letter to Maharaja Hari Singh and suggested four alternatives to solve the Kashmir problem. First option was to go for a plebiscite by which people of J & K would decide whether they would join Pakistan or India. Second option was to make the state independent with its defence looked after jointly by Pakistan and India. Third option was to merge Jammu with India and rest of the state with Pakistan. The last alternative was to integrate Jammu and the valley with India and rest with Pakistan. Nehru strongly believed that a lasting solution would be possible if the fourth alternative was adopted. Ramachandra Guha, while referring to Nehru’s letter, commented: It shows that, contrary to the popular wisdom, the Indian Prime Minister was quite prepared to compromise on Kashmir. (source: India after Gandhi)

Nehru was greatly influenced by Lord Mountbatten and Sheikh Abdullah for his Kashmir policy. He wanted Sheikh Abdullah to form a democratic Government in Kashmir valley. As a matter of fact, Mahatma Gandhi too thought highly about Sheikh. Gandhi, in a meeting in Delhi, spoke about Sheikh: Kashmir cannot be saved by Maharaja. If anyone can save Kashmir , it is only the Muslims, the Rajputs and Sikhs who can do so. Sheikh Abdullah has affectionate relationship with all. Sheikh Abdullah was quite familiar with the valley (India occupied Kashmir) which had 90% Muslim population from Sunni sect, whereas, the Pakistan occupied Kashmir had predominantly Shia population (80% in 1947 since reduced to 40%). Sheikh Abdullah was not interested in the territory beyond Poonch. Maharaja Hari Singh finally accepted Nehru’s proposal to appoint Sheikh Abdullah as his Prime Minister in March 1948. Mountbatten was reprimanded by both Clement Attlee and Winston Churchill for his complicity with Nehru and Sardar Patel to decide on the issue of sending troops to Srinagar. Alex Von Tunzelmann narrated the proceedings of the meeting between Mounbatten and Churchill in her book Indian Summer. In November, while India was fighting war in Kashmir Valley, Mountbatten travelled to London to attend his nephew’s (Prince Phillip) royal wedding. He met Churchill who told him categorically that his sending British soldiers to crush and oppress the Muslims in Kashmir was an act of betrayal. He described Nehru and Patel as enemies of Britain and the Muslims as Britain’s allies. Mountbatten came back to India and mounted pressure on Nehru to take the Kashmir issue to United Nations. India approached UN in January, 1948 with the suggestion to issue directive to Pakistan to clear the northern parts which were occupied illegally by groups loyal to Pakistan. Both British and Americans vigorously supported the Pakistani position. Nehru later regretted to internationalize the Kashmir issue on the advice of Mountbatten.

The bloody war that followed

Summer set in and Ice started melting in the valley. The issue of Kashmir still hanging in UNO, India and Pakistan commenced their first battle to take control of Kashmir. Indian forces attacked the southern side recapturing Jhanger and Rajauri. Poonch was freed after a siege over one year. The tribal forces with the backing of Pakistani Army infiltrated to Ladakh region. They captured Drass and Kargil and brought Leh under siege. India’s counter offensive in Ladakh as narrated by Sandeep Bamzai is reproduced below:

On 1 November 1948 while the snow fell and bitter frost and chill enveloped the valleys across the Zoji La, the first offensive was developed by the combined efforts of the Indian Army’s tanks and infantry. General Thimmaya was at the head of the advancing columns and personally visited every section and brought the various columns-armour, infantry and gunners-into proper formation with a view to poise them against the enemy.

Source: Nehru and Kashmir by Sandeep Bomzai
A squadron of Stuart MK-VI tanks were dismantled and physically pushed by the jawans to Zo Zila height. The very appearance of the tanks dampened the morale of the Pakistani soldiers who made hasty retreat. After conquering Zo Zila, Indian troops advanced towards Kargil which was recaptured on 24th November. Thus Indian soldiers cleared the mountain ranges of both sides of Kargil. The defeat of Pakistan Army in Kargil resulted in clearance of the entire Ladakh region including Zanskar, Nubra Valley. While the Indian army was advancing in full swing after recapturing Kargil, Pakistan army retreated and planned to defend Skardu, as that could be the next target of Indian Army.
The Indian army wanted to move on towards Muzzafarabad in the west and Skardu in the north. Nehru’s private Secretary Dwaraka Nath Kachru visited the places and sent personal reports which had been documented. On one occasion Kachru wrote to Nehru, ‘The military operations are going on successfully and according to plan and gradually large areas are being liberated and reclaimed. If, however, the request of General Thimmaya is acceded to and some more troops are loaned to him, we may in the very near future find ourselves in the occupation of Muzzafardabad.’ However, the request was not granted. Indian Army halted its forward movement with substantial portion of western and northern parts of Kasmir still under Pakistani occupation. Ceasefire, finally agreed upon by both sides under UN mediation, was made effective on 5th January,1949, with the condition that Pakistan would withdraw its force and Indian side would keep a minimum strength just to preserve the law and order situation. After completion of the formalities, a plebiscite would be held to determine the future of Kashmir.
The plebiscite could never be held as Pakistan and India refused to comply with the process of demilitarization; India insisting that Pakistan had to withdraw first and Pakistan raising doubt about India’s intention to withdraw subsequently.

Kashmir map redrawn

Before Kashmir was annexed to India, its total area was 2,22,236 Sq. Kilometers. Subsequent to the ceasefire, 45% of Kashmir is under Indian control, 35% under Pakistan control and 20% is under the control of China. Pakistan is occupying the Western Zone known as the Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan region which was leased out to British by Maharaja Hari Singh. Gilgit-Baltistan area was annexed to Pakistan by Major Brown who was the commanding officer in charge on behalf of the British. The total area occupied by Pakistan is 78,000 sq km. China is in possession of Indian territory of Aksai Chin covering an area of about 37,250 sq. km. In addition, Shaksgam valley covering an area of 7000 sq. km ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963.

Abrogation of article 370 does not alter the international boundaries of Kashmir. China maintains that delimitation is yet to be carried out in the northern and eastern part of Kashmir, a view opposed by India.

On 28th August, 1959, Nehru made a startling announcement in Lok Sabha about Aksai Chin: Some reports reached us between October 1957 and February 1958 that a chinese detachment had crossed the international frontier and visited Khurnak Fort, which is in the Indian territory…… The Chinese claimed that part of the territory was theirs……..We sent a further note to them expressing surprise at this claim and giving them the exact delineation of the traditional international frontier in this sector…..No reply has so far been received. He further added: This area is practically uninhabited. It is mountainous, even the valleys are at a height of 13,000 feet. The exact time when Aksai Chin was annexed by China has not been disclosed till date. Three days later, Nehru further disclosed that China had already built a 1200 kilometer road, connecting Xinjiang and Tibet, which passes through Aksai Chin.

As the border dispute with China was taking an ugly turn it was necessary to sort out the differences through diplomatic channel. The two sides finally agreed to meet in 1960 to resolve the border dispute. The Chinese premier Chou En-Lai had a marathon discussion with Nehru in New Delhi in the month of August, 1960. Chou En-Lai insisted that delimitation had never been carried out either on the eastern sector or on the western sector, whereas, Nehru referred to the existing Mcmahon line demarcating the respective territory of India and China. Finally the Chinese premier offered to maintain status quo which meant that both sides would accept the border in line with the areas under their administrative control. It was evident, China was more interested to retain control over Aksai Chin to facilitate quick movement of their supplies and troops to Tibet from XinJiang region. As a quid pro quo, they would not claim NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) on the eastern sector. With this, the border dispute could be resolved once for all between the two nations.

Nehru had a great opportunity to resolve the border dispute with the Chinese Premier, nevertheless, he refused to budge probably because he was apprehensive about the backlash from the right wing parties . An amicable solution of border dispute in 1960 with China was possibly the best course of action to prevent the Sino-Indian war of 1962.

Autonomy Vs Integration-A never ending debate

Now that India and Pakistan agreed to withdraw their respective troops behind UN monitored ceasefire line, it was time for Nehru to settle the future of Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah was firmly on the saddle as the first Prime Minister of J & K. Sheikh wanted Kashmir to be part of India, because he thought, and therefore, convinced the people of Kashmir (Valley) that full freedom was impractical and joining Pakistan was against the secular principles of National Conference. But Kashmir needed more autonomy with respect to the other states of India. Therefore, he proposed to have a separate Constituent Assembly for the state to draft its own constitution. Delhi Agreement of 1952 was historic. The state was already accorded (1949) special status under article 370. J & K was now given separate constitution and flag of its own. The head of the state and Government would be called Sadar-e-Riyasat and Prime Minister respectively. Special permit would be required to enter the state. Matters relating to defence, foreign affairs and communication would be dealt by the centre. In addition, Artcle 35 A was enacted in the Indian constitution in 1954 through a Presidential order to define permanent residents of the state and empower them with certain special privileges, such as, purchase of land and property in the state, right to vote and contest election, seek Government employment. Non permanent residents were not entitled to these benefits.

Artcle 371

J & K was not the only state which enjoyed some special privileges. Artcle 371 of Indian Constitution also gives certain special privileges to some of the North Eastern states to retain their ethnic character. Artcle 371 A states that no act of parliament will apply to Nagaland relating to religious and social practices of Nagas and ownership of transfer of land and resources, which means state legislature alone can take decisions in all such matters. Artcle 371 G with similar provisions is applicable for Mizoram. Article 371 F and 371 H with special provisions apply to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh respectively. Indian citizens need Inner Line Permit to enter Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.

Dilution of Article 370

A number of steps were taken by the union Government during the period from 1953 to 1975 to extend various provisions of Indian Constitution which have made significant erosion in the state’s autonomy. Some of these are listed below.

(i) In 1958 all India services (IAS, IPS) were introduced. The functions of C & AG were also extended to J & K.

(ii) In 1960 the state was brought under the jurisdiction of Supreme Court.

(iii) In 1964 Articles 356 and 357 of the constitution were made applicable to facilitate imposition of President’s rule during emergency

(iv) In 1965, the posts of Sadar-e-Riyasat and Prime Minister were replaced by Government and Chief Minister.

(v) In 1966 provisions related to direct election to Lok Sabha were made applicable.

(vi) In 2017, GST which was introduced in the state one week after its implementation in rest of India, in a way, destroyed the state’s fiscal autonomy.

Who robbed Kashmir of its autonomy?

History has been too unkind to the people of Kashmir. There is a plethora of histories written on Kashmir and its people and almost all historians are unanimous in their opinion about exploitation of the Kashmiris due to relentless nonnative rule. A peek into the history makes it evident that Kashmir’s people never enjoyed freedom and autonomy. Ever since the annexation of Kashmir by the Mughals in 1589, the region has never been ruled by Kashmiris themselves. After Mughals came the Afgans and after Afgans came the Sikhs. Dogras ruled the state for hundred years until India and Pakistan took over. Kashmir was virtually treated as commodity when Dogras purchased the valley from British by paying Rs. 75 lakh. India and Pakistan decided to divide the state into two slices and kept one each to fulfill their own ambition of territorial expansionism.

Years of exploitation and oppression by the foreign rulers perhaps silenced the valley people. When Maharaja Hari Singh was undecided about his decision whether to join Pakistan or India, the people of Kashmir didn’t express their opinion. When Pashtuns infiltrated Kashmir and defeated Maharaja’s force, they neither fought against them nor did they extend their arm of friendship to the intruders. When Kashmir was annexed to India and Sheikh Abdullah compromised with Delhi for truncated autonomy of the valley, they didn’t raise their voice. Each of the three top leaders, Sheikh Abdullah, Pandit Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, played a distinctive role in shaping the future of Kashmir.

Sheikh Abdullah

By the time India was independent Sheikh became an undisputed leader of the valley. He had already called for freedom from the kingdom and establishment of democratic set up in the valley. Kashmiris were ignorant about their right to participate in the democratic process. Sheikh made an immense contribution to the people of Kashmir to propagate the principles of secularism, pitfalls of the Dogra dynastic rule and establishment of a democratic set up. But Sheikh Abdullah was quite vacillating in his character, which had often been reflected in his decision making. In stead of earning a special status for Kashmir, he could have easily fought for independence of Kashmir in 1948 when he had the mass support behind him. Sheikh, in consultation with his friend Nehru decided to choose the easier option to become Prime Minister of the partitioned state with truncated autonomy. Azad Kashmir had shia dominated Muslim population and Sheikh had little influence on them. He advised Nehru not to proceed beyond Poonch and be content with the territory that Indian Army could recapture till December 1948. His sole objective was to oust Maharaja Hari Singh and compromise on the principle of complete autonomy of the valley. When he realized his mistake in 1953 and started having dialogue with the Americans for economic assistance for an independent valley, it was too late. He was imprisoned by his long time friend and guide Pandit Nehru. Sheikh, later on, repented his act of compromise in the Delhi Agreement of 1952.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Nehru was a Kashmiri himself, so he had always been sentimental about Kashmir issue. His decision making process on Kashmir was greatly influenced by emotions rather than logic and visionary strategy. Such intense was his love for the valley that once he confided to Edwina Mountbatten: Kashmir affects me in a peculiar way; it is a kind of mild intoxication-like music sometimes or the company of a beloved person. (Source: Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelman). Nehru wanted Kashmir to be an integral part of India, but he was always fearful about staging a war which would undermine his stature as a peace loving person. How beautifully Alex Von Tunzelman has described the momentous decision of sending troops to the valley on the 26th of October when J& K acceded to India. Nehru, Mountbatten, Sam Manekshaw, Patel were debating in a meeting in Delhi about sending troops to Srinagar. Nehru, as usual (as told by Manekshaw to Ms. Tunzelman), was attempting to contextualize the Kashmir situation, talking about it in relation to Russia, the US, the UN. Eventually Patel exploded: Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir or do you want to give it away? Nehru replied: Of course, I want Kashmir. Before he could add anything else, Patel turned to Manakshaw, and said: You have your orders. It was Patel who went off to All India Radio and ordered a command requisitioning private aircraft. It was Patel who organized the fly-in of Indian troops to Kashmir the next day. Only later did Mountbatten realize that the Home Minister must have had the whole operation planned in advance.

Nehru never wanted full autonomy of Kashmir. On more than one occasion he had shown his apprehension about the stability of an independent Kashmir. An independent Kashmir could be usurped by Pakistan and ultimately become ‘an exploited part of that country’. People may argue- why did Nehru favour a plebiscite in the Indian part of Kashmir? Nehru had two objectives in mind-One, he was quite confident of the result of a plebiscite in Indian part due to the enormous influence Sheikh commanded over the people in the valley; and two, Volunteering a democratic process would magnify his image, for sure, at the global level. After the imprisonment of Sheikh Abbdullah in 1953, when he expressed bitterness about Delhi agreement and started talking about an independent Kashmir, did Nehru backtrack his opinion on plebiscite.

Two of the greatest follies about Nehru’s Kashmir policy, however, had not been his own: one, internationalizing the matter by referring it to United Nations, which he did on the advice of Mountbatten and, two; not sending reinforcement to the Kargil sector and Poonch, when General Thimaaya had a definite plan of forward movement to Skardu in the North and Muzaffarabad in the west. This he did on the advice of Sheikh who never wanted his territory beyond Poonch.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah

If Sheikh Abdullah never relished the idea to join Pakistan, Jinnah always expressed his displeasure about Nehru’s decision to make him at the helm of Kashmir affair. Jinnah always played his Islamic card. At the time of partition he had been confident of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan (not independence) because of its Muslim majority and geographical location. When Kashmir decided to join India, he felt kind of deceived by the Maharaja and the British (more precisely Lord Mountbatten).

Kashmir could have easily acceded to Pakistan in stead of India in October 1947. Mehr Chand Mahajan was the Prime Minister under Maharaja Hari Singh when the Instrument of Accession was signed. Meher Chand Mahajan, in his autobiography, Looking Back, has written what transpired among Nehru, Patel, Sheikh Abdullah and him on 26th October in Nehru’s residence. On 24th October, Ram Lal Batra, the Deputy Prime Minister of Kashmir arrived in Delhi with Maharaja’s consent letter for accession provided military assistance was extended immediately. Nehru didn’t take any decision till 26th when Mahajan air dashed to Delhi with the SOS from Maharaja. In the meeting, Mahajan told the Indian Prime Minister: Give Army, take accession and give whatever powers you want to give to the popular party (National Conference), but the Army must fly to Srinagar this evening. I have the orders to go to Pakistan in case immediate military aid is not given. Nehru became so upset that he immediately retorted back: Mahajan, go away. Mahajan got up and and was about to leave the room when sardar Patel said: Of course, Mahajan, You are not going to Pakistan. Just then a piece of paper was passed over to Nehru. Nehru read it out loudly: Sheikh Sahib also says the same thing. Sheikh was sitting in the adjacent room and was hearing all the conversation. Nehru then told Mahajan to wait for a decision of the Defence Council meeting (which was held later in the day).

Whether or not Abdullah was India’s man, he certainly was not Pakistan’s. in April 1948, he dismissed Pakistan as a theocratic state and the Muslim League as pro-prince rather than pro-people. When a diplomat in Delhi asked Abdullah what he thought of the option of independence, he answered that it would never work as Kashmir was too small and too poor. ‘Besides, Pakistan would swallow us up.’ (Source: India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha)

Eroding Kashmiriyat in the valley

Having said that an independent Kashmir was never in the agenda of the policy makers, and neither was it thought to be an option by the people of valley, it’s necessary to analyse what transformed the valley into a chaotic cauldron over the last three to four decades. Relationship between Nehru and Sheikh was turning sour a few months after signing the Delhi Agreement. Sheikh Abdullah who once stated that independent Kashmir was not in his agenda, started talking about bidding goodbye to the Delhi Government. His meeting with US Political Analyst Adlai Stevenson added some more spices to the discussions over coffee in the political circles of Delhi. The talks disturbed Nehru who confided to his sister Ms Vijay Laxmi Pandit that he was not feeling comfortable with the behaviour of his long standing friend. Nehru finally got the recalcitrant Sheikh Sahib imprisoned in 1953 and replaced him with Bakshi Gulam Muhammad. Kashmir was never at ease with the new head of the state. The ten years of his administration was marred by sporadic violence and riots, the worst of which was the theft of a relic from Hazratbal mosque.

One of the greatest contribution of Sheikh Abdullah to the Kashmiri people was his land reform. With the new land holding restriction in place, the zamindars could hold land up to 22 acres. The peasant class was immensely benefited. The people who were oppressed by the landlord class for centuries became the owners of land and this change had an electrifying effect among the downtrodden people of the valley. Slowly a transformation was taking place in the valley. Kashmiris became aware of their democratic rights of which they were deprived of until yesterday. A nationalistic feeling for the state was taking shape among the common people. The rise of National Conference, removal of Maharaja from the seat of power, uprising of home grown leaders, owning a flag and constitution, exercising adult franchise to elect representatives to the assembly-all these created a constitutive identity known as Kashmiriyat. Sheikh Abdullah and other leaders of National Conference nurtured the idea of Kashmiriyat through political rallies, speeches, religious sermons, newspaper articles, educational institutions.

The testimony of Kashmiriyat could easily be perceived during 1965 Indo-Pak war. Hazratbal incident led to Muslim uprising in the valley, which was wrongly construed as support for Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan by Ayub Khan. Radio Pakistan announced that a popular uprising had broken out in the valley. In August 1965, Pakistan masterminded infiltration of thousands of troops into the Kashmir valley to incite a popular rebellion against the Indian Administration. However, in stead of getting any support from the people of the valley, their effort was thwarted, so much so that some of the intruders were handed over to the Indian Army. The refusal of Kashmiri Muslims to support the intruders was the manifestation of Kashmiri nationalism which was notably missing during the Pashtun invasion of 1947.

The situation of the valley underwent drastic changes from the mid eighties due to certain internal and external factors out of which the following three are considered to have impacted maximum on the peace and stability of the valley. First was the election of 1987. Muslim United Front and National Conference in alliance with Congress were fighting the election. The election was marred by rampant rigging, manipulation under the direct influence of Rajiv Gandhi Government at the centre. The game plan was to make Farooq Abdullah the Chief Minister who was considered subservient to the Congress party. MUF was was the coalition of like minded Muslim parties which came together in 1987 and which, as many predicted, would win the mandate. The MUF leader, Mohammad Yousuf Shah, was falsely implicated in the rigged election. He was subsequently imprisoned. Kashmiris observed with horror how democratic principles were throttled. The unfortunate rigging gave rise to a number of militant outfits, notable among them were Hizb-Ul-Mujahedin and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).

Second was the operation Tupac launched by ISI of Pakistan in 1988. Under this scheme, instead of sending troops into the valley, it started brainwashing the local youth to resort to violence against the armed forces of India. These young Kashmiri Jihadis were trained with modern weapons in Pakistan and sent back to Kashmir to cause disintegration of India. General Zia-Ul-Haq laid out the evil designs of this proxy war in a secret meeting in Islamabad in 1988: There should be no mistake, our aim is totally clear and strong liberation of Kashmir valley. We cannot allow our Kashmiri brethren to remain with India for a long time. Though the people of the valley are mentally and physically with us, but they are very simple minded people and, therefore, they cannot fight like punjabis and Afganis against foreign rule.(Source: Memorial of Mistakes converted Kashmir- A bitter saga of Religious Conversion by Narender Sehgal). ISI has been successful in taking youths from Kashmir to training camps set up in Pakistan to train them in sophisticated weapons. But the biggest success of operation Tupac is that it could change the mindset of the youths to act against the establishment and take up arms against those who are anti-jihadis. Violence erupted in several parts in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Social cohesion was under huge stress. Thousands of Kashmiri pandits fled the valley for fear of life. Kashmir valley virtually witnessed an ethnic cleansing in 1990.

Third issue was the rise of separatist movement called Hurriyat (meaning liberty). ISI played an active role in the formation of Hurriyat conference in 1993. According to the Hurriyat conference, J & K is a disputed territory and India’s control over it is not justified. One faction of Hurriyat advocates the idea of independent Kashmir, whereas, the other faction views Kashmir as part of Pakistan. The turn of events in the last thirty years or so have made Kashmir a battleground of competing ideologies. The Kashmiriyat which was once inculcated among the people of the valley, is giving way to Islamic fundamentalism. The community known for its secular principles, liberal ethos, nationalistic fervour is slowly abandoning the core of syncretism.

Making Kashmir independent is no longer a wise decision

The ideal solution to Kashmir problem is to merge the valley with Azad Kashmir and make it an independent country, while maintaining status quo with Jammu, Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan. But in geopolitics idealism doesn’t often work. The decision has to be taken after a due diligence considering the presence of other stake holders of the region. The prevailing situation in the northern and western part of Kashmir has made the valley strategically more important for India. In 1947, Indian think tank never thought about the importance of Kashmir from geopolitical perspective. Even if we consider to grant full autonomy to Kashmir from humanitarian perspective, it could prove to be a disastrous decision from strategic view point.

Strategically Kashmir is surrounded by three nuclear powered countries. The mountain ranges along with the line of control works as the first line of defence, without which Himachal Pradesh and the plains of Jammu and Punjab will be under direct threat from Pakistan. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will provide China direct access as the route passes through Gilgit-Baltistan. Most important issue is the water resource. Three out of six rivers, which run through Pakistan, originate from Kashmir, as a result of which Pakistan’s agriculture depends, to a great extent, on the water flowing from Kashmir valley. India must never lose the relative advantage of water resources by holding onto Kashmir valley and using it as a diplomatic checkmate if situation so warrants. India can never leave Siachin Glacier which is acting as a buffer zone in the Northern Frontier.

Was it necessary to rescind Aritcle 370?

Having said that, the question still remains about the purpose of the Government towards abrogation of Article 370, when much of it has already been diluted over the years, and provisions of Article 371 give certain special powers to other states as well. In a federal structure, it’s an universally accepted principle to load certain areas with special privileges based on ethnic, cultural and social milieu. While debating in the parliament to repeal Artcle 370, Home Minister said, ‘They are correcting a historical blunder.’Perhaps the Government’s principal agenda was to rescind Artcle 35 A to facilitate people to buy property and settle down in J & K with the objective to change the demographic structure of the state. However, the special Provision relating to ownership of property by the residents of the state under Artcle 35 A existed long before Kashmir was annexed to India. In fact Maharaja Hari Singh introduced this provision in 1927, which got incorporated in Indian Constitution in 1954 to maintain status quo ante. Abrogation of Article 370 has integrated Kashmir to India, but it hasn’t changed the geographical location, as a result of which expecting any deescalation of terrorist activities all of a sudden is an impetuous thought. Pakistan’s sinister design of operation Tupac can gain momentum with the tacit support of China and active support of Jihadi militants from the backyard of Kashmir. Let’s not expect any abatement in churning out Jihadis from the terror facotries of Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has stated that Kashmiris were so long deprived of the benefits of development. In his outreach to Kashmiris, he has assured that integration will lead to greater investment in infrastructure and industries which will generate employment and improve the purchasing power of the people. However, no Government in the world, howsoever strong it may be, is in a position to put a stop to the Fidayeen attack. We mustn’t also forget the threat from Talibans after US decide to withdraw their troops from Afganistan. We are not aware if the BJP Government at the centre has drawn up a meticulous counter-offensive plan to deter such menacing activities. Decision so important as this should have been preceded by a due diligence exercise without which it could prove to be yet another tactical blunder.

Conclusion

Prime Minister Vajpayee once (in 2003) said: Issues (on Kashmir) can be resolved if we are guided by three principles of Insaniyat (humanity), Jamoohriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat. The present think tank of BJP hasn’t been guided by the Bajpayee doctrine. History will never be kind to us if a decision is taken without giving a thought to the possible impact it could have on the various stake holders (Kashmiris are important stake holder). Rajiv Gandhi made a blunder by amending the constitution to deny the entitlement of alimony to Shah Banu in order to uphold the provision of Sharia. Only months later, he created another blunder to restore the balance between the two communities by opening the lock of Ayodhya temple. The country is still suffering from its aftermath. Maintaining status quo doesn’t mean indecisiveness, rather it proves to be a judicious decision after considering various pros and cons. Today, the Kashmiriyat has sunk into oblivion; Insaniyat has lost its significance; let’s at least make a last ditch effort to restore Jamoohriyat.

P

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