Kashmir Problem: Retrospect and Prospect

By K.N. Pandita

Recent visit of 39-member parliamentary delegation led by the Home Minister to Jammu and Kashmir should help parliamentarians and through them larger sections of civil society understand the dimensions of Kashmir issue. Historical run through will help.

Conditions of accession to the Indian Union were laid down by the ruler in October 1947 and not by National Conference. Power was handed over to the National Conference leadership on the basis of its popularity. Formation of a populist but not an elected government by Sheikh Abdullah in October 1947 meant NC endorsed the conditions laid down by the ruler.  It was also stipulated that after the invaders were thrown out of state territory, the Maharaja would resume power, and work out political dispensation of the state. 

NC’s insistence on giving special status to J&K in the Indian Constitution was stubbornly resisted by most of the Congress stalwarts and legal luminaries in the Constituent Assembly.  Even Nehru had to make an effort to convince himself of the logic behind the demand.  Assisted by his lieutenant Afzal Beg, the Sheikh fought his case in the Constituent Assembly actually on regional basis because his delegation had no representative either from Jammu or Ladakh region.

With no experience of how a federation will have to run the practical job of administrating and developing a welfare state out of a country just liberated from colonial rule, NC leadership, in its initial two or three years of power, fancied some vague contours of an autonomous state loosing the sight of vital elements of security and economy on which its existence hinged.

This lay at the root of bizarre events of August 1953. Nobody in New Delhi wanted to usurp constitutional, legal and political rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. But again nobody wanted the State to woefully lag behind other federating units of the Indian Union. Who knew better than Prime Minister Nehru of stark poverty in which the people of the State lived?

A conflict of perceptions was developing in Kashmir.  Congress had fought long national struggle against colonial rule while NC had fought a sub-regional struggle against a local “autocratic” ruler who, at the end of the day, opted for accession to a secular-democratic Indian Union. Some apprehension of passing from the hands of a local Hindu monarchy into those of a Hindu-majority democracy was inherent and had to be assuaged. Indian State consented to J&K having its own constitution. The monarchy was liquidated despite a solemn pledge to reconsider the status of the ruler if he kept away from the State for six months.

For the Indian State the task following the events of 1953 was that of initiating rapid infrastructural development of J&K.  The previous regime had created bottlenecks blocking even small developmental works. It functioned more autocratically than the castigated monarchy.  Food scarcity threatened life in urban settlements to the verge of famine.  It was Bakhshi, the greatest of Kashmiri leaders who delivered the people of the State from penury and frustration.

Still considerate to the Sheikh, Nehru agreed that he meets Pakistani President Ayub Khan to discuss a solution of Kashmir. The Sheikh writes in his biography that Ayub Khan outright rejected the idea of confederation of India, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir.

This was the second time Pakistan rejected independence of Kashmir. The first time was when shortly before the declaration of India’s independence the Sheikh deputed two of his senior party members, Sadiq and Karra, to meet Jinnah in Lahore. They proposed to him that if he agreed to three items namely defence, foreign relations and currency, NC would opt for accession to Pakistan. Jinnah rejected the offer reportedly exclaiming, “Kashmir is in my pocket”. In October 1947 Pakistan tried to take Kashmir by force of arms.

In yet more gestures of goodwill, Indian state entered into several accords with NC leadership apparently conceding much that it thought would give them satisfaction about the perpetuation of Kashmiri identity.

All this shows that the cry for so-called identity, self rule and autonomy is the lingering hangover of the days of past. When the Sheikh assumed power for the second time in 1975, he appointed a cabinet committee to examine where State’s sway had been challenged or eroded. The Committee in its report said that out of 196 items extended to the State 194 had been extended through the channel of State Legislative Assembly and the remaining two items were of very minor nature about taxation etc. The Sheikh shelved the report.

In a televised interview given by Sayyid Ali Shah Geelani to an Indian television channel recently, he said he wanted azaadi from India and then the people would decide whether they wanted to go to India or Pakistan, since independence was not practicable.  As he has risen against India, this eliminates India as an option after Kashmir is freed from Indian presence. The only option that remains is Pakistan. Let those who claim to be struggling for independence enter into a debate with Mr. Geelani. Let ordinary Kashmiri be delivered from confusion.

Separatists in Kashmir would do well to realize that Kashmir is comes under sharp focus while regional strategies are discussed and debated. The time for thinking in narrow terms like ethnicity, religion, language etc. has given place to broad regional perspectives in which major powers are playing big role. A great responsibility devolves on their shoulders. They must take each step with utmost caution and ensure that they are not pushing the community to wall.

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