Chennai: Reading this scholarly 236-page work, ‘Kashmir- Glimpses of History and the Story of Struggle’, by former Union Minister, an articulate and soul-searching parliamentarian from Kashmir, Saifuddin Soz, in suggesting a ‘way forward’ to resolving a highly complex political issue for over seven decades now, one is reminded of the great philosopher of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s approach to seemingly intractable philosophical issues.
The ‘later Wittgenstein’ in philosophical circles is credited with the famous view that most philosophical problems dogging the human mind would simply disappear if only one could “remind people” of how language is actually used in cultures. Philosophy for the ‘later Wittgenstein’ was like revisiting an old, historic town, its lanes and by-lanes, to remind ourselves of the usage of language. Once we give ourselves these “reminders” (of the past), at least the philosophical puzzles should vanish, so thought Wittgenstein, still celebrated as a great thinker.
Saifuddin Soz’s lucidly written chronicle and reflections on the Kashmir problem seems to falls into that classical thought pattern. The first half of his book is a studied, well annotated re-articulation of the historic and cultural roots of the Kashmiri people and its society right up to modern times and the circumstances in which J and K acceded to Union of India in 1947. The second half is how the understanding of that “past” could be a searchlight to resolving the present political crisis in a pragmatic, realistic way that satisfies all stakeholders in J and K. And in all this, the larger secular, pluralistic cultural legacy of Kashmir stands out, a vision that defined the Jawaharlal Nehru-Sheikh Abdullah equations, notwithstanding the painful and tragic developments J and K has seen post-1947.
The author very fairly records that in recent years two former Prime Minister, Atal Beharji Vajpayee and Dr Manmohan Singh tried their best to take forward the wisdom of the Kashmiri past to resolve the issues by simultaneously engaging with Pakistan, even while trying to normalize the ground situation. But both efforts remain as unfinished projects, while Kashmir 2018 is again on a precipice.
Quoting a variety of accounts, historical, literary and archaeological sources from pre-historic to modern times, from Kalhana’s ‘Rajatarangini’ - the author says Kashmir’s recorded history dates back to at least 3,000 BC-, Saifuddin Soz takes the reader through at least three great cultural legacies that modern Kashmir has inherited over the centuries. There has been a Sanskritic past, primarily Vedic-rooted ‘monastic theism’ known as ‘Kashmir Shaivism’, which was later impinged upon by Buddhism.
There are accounts to suggest that the ‘Mahayana (the nobler northern school) of Buddhism’ was founded in Srinagar in AD 100. There was then a Persian legacy when Islam came to Kashmir during the second half of the 14thcentury. The author has tried to show how “Kashmir Shaivism is very close to Islam”, and quotes scholars to say how “Kashmir accepted Islam, not as a negation but as a culmination of a proud spiritual heritage.” For Islam “was never introduced in the Valley” by a conqueror like Mahmud or by a military general but “by a simple Faqir (Bulbul Shah), whose simplicity and piety impressed the sovereign.”
Saifuddin Soz then dwells on the “bleak period” in Kashmir history under the Afghan rule (1752-1859). Kashmiris felt “so terrorized in their own land” that they voluntarily invited the Sikhs (1819-46) to come and set right things. “Kashmiris also fought the Dogra rulers who were autocratic and imposed an exorbitant tax burden.” “The Treaty of Amritsar signed by the British and Mahraaja Gulab Singh in 1846 proved to be the final nail in the coffin of Kashmiris’ subjugation (when Kashmir was reportedly sold for just Rs.75 lakh by the British).” It eventually culminated “in the 1931 revolt under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah (founder-leader of the National Conference)”, as Soz puts it.
The significance of reminding the present generation of this vast historic-cultural backdrop is for the author to explain the basis of ‘Kashmiriyat’, a cultural framework that has stood the test of time. “The pluralism of Kashmir is far bigger than mere secularism,” writes Saifuddin Soz, adding, how under the Sufi influence, an assimilative culture had taken roots. “This unique and integral part of pluralism of Kashmir defines the most important element of Kashmiriyat,” emphasises the author. He details how two unique personalities to Kashmir, Lal Ded and Sheikh Nooruddin were the “two torchbearers of Kashmiriyat”. These two women saints weaved a harmonious spiritual-philosophical fabric-, even if they were not contemporaries-, which ‘resonates’ in the valley even today.
The author thus alludes to a mindset that forgetting Sufi tradition’s contribution to the tolerance and pluralistic ethos of Kashmir- that the message of different religions is fundamentally the same-, is now pushing a festering political issue into a dangerous dichotomy of religious polarization. That is why the understanding of Kashmir’s past in the proper perspective is so important for the author in moving forward to finding a lasting, peaceful solution to J and K’s political problems now.
The author meticulously goes over the birth of the National Conference under Sheikh Abdullah and traces in good detail the historical circumstances including the British Partition of the subcontinent, events leading to the “Delhi Agreement of 1952”, how a ‘special constitutional arrangement was evolved’ and provided for in Article 370 of the Constitution. He then points out how when Sheikh Abdullah was trying to give a “final shape to the constitutional relationship with the Union of India”, some “small minds” in Sheikh’s own party and in New Delhi sowed the seeds of how he toyed with the sole idea of an “independent Kashmir”.
Sheikh Abdullah’s subsequent arrest, the long years of incarceration, how Nehru’s last gambit for a peaceful political solution was cut short by his death and what it did to J and K’s politics later, the rise of armed militancy in the late 1980s’ and its aftermath, the ‘exodus’ of the Pandits, have all been dispassionately elucidated.
Notwithstanding few controversial remarks he has recalled involving former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf before and after the Agra Summit, Saifuddin Soz is very clear that the ‘way forward’ needs to include New Delhi talking to the Hurriat groups in Kashmir, even while the Governments of India and Pakistan should strive to settle the Kashmir dispute” in the backdrop of the ‘Musharraf- Vajpayee-Manmohan formula’.
Soz also places on record that the Centre must take “serious note” of what former Home Minister P Chidambaram had to say “in openly voicing the need for revoking the draconian Armed Forces Special Purposes Act (AFSPA) in public interest,” and that political problems need to be resolved politically. Mutual trust and dialogue, but not force or religious polarisation, is the way to heal a ‘wounded’ Kashmir in the author’s ultimate analysis. The book is a must-read for all those who wish to understand J and K in the contemporary context....