Across the chasm of time and space, I heard the lamenting voice of Arthur Moore, possibly the most famous of the Statesman’s editors, as Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury’s words spelt disaster, and Saugata Roy, the Trinamul Congress MP who held ministerial jobs under Charan Singh and Manmohan Singh, spoke in the deadly tones of doom. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru hovered approvingly behind Moore, whose counsel of reason demands to be heard with respect as a wounded India desperately seeks a solution. I was participating in a discussion on “India’s options in dealing with Pakistan and cross-border terror” organised by the West Bengal Federation of United Nations Associations. The two eminent panellists were too responsible to recommend outright hostilities like some TV anchors and newsreaders ever since the Uri massacre. If they had any influence on policymaking, the two nations would not only have been at war by now but utterly destroyed since nuclear fallouts respect no artificially drawn borders meandering across the plains of Punjab or the Rajasthan desert.
But stopping short of war, the former Army Chief recommended a tit-for-tat response in which India might train fidayeen to pay Pakistan back in its own coin in places like Balochistan. Taking a more sophisticated — if more dismal — view of history, the Trinamul Congress MP maintained that India would never give up Kashmir, and Pakistan would never stop trying to seize it. Failing to do so through war or diplomacy, Pakistan would continue to inflict on India what the Chinese called lingchi, or death by a thousand cuts. Both views reflected the national mood and resonated well with the audience. A retired senior IAS officer may have spoken for the rest when he proposed that Narendra Modi should emulate George W. Bush Jr’s retaliation over 9/11. President Bush had carried the punishment campaign into enemy territory and added to our political vocabulary that ominous phrase “regime change”, which spelt havoc for Afghanistan and Iraq.
Students of history will hear in that passion for vengeance echoes of Cato the Elder, the 2nd century Roman politician who began every speech with “Delenda est Cartago (Carthage Must Be Destroyed)”. It’s at times like this that a country needs leaders of mature wisdom who can look beyond the dark turbulence of surrounding waters to the shining sands of distant shores. Two incontrovertible truths dominate the horizon like ancient but immoveable rocks. First, come what may, India and Pakistan must live together. Geography allows no alternative. Neighbours must always remain neighbours, and it’s in their own ultimate interest to be good neighbours. Second, the state of Jammu and Kashmir must be pacified. Pakistani terrorists don’t attack on the borders of Gujarat, Rajasthan or Punjab. They do so in Kashmir because they feel assured of a welcome there. Without that running sore (to repeat Napoleon’s term for the resistance in Spain), the Pakistanis would have no excuse for intrusion. It was with these considerations in mind that Nehru had confessed to Selig Harrison of the Washington Post: “Confederation remains our ultimate goal”.
That was in 1962, 14 years after Moore spoke to Gandhi about his plan for Kashmir to “be treated as an equal third party” in “a federated Commonwealth state, with common foreign affairs, common defence, and such finance as concerned these subjects, but all three to be separate self-governing states”. Nehru thought a federal link would repudiate the two-nation theory, which he had always found repugnant. It would satisfy Jammu and Kashmir’s demand for a recognised separate identity, and also provide an answer to East Bengal’s growing irredentist feelings. He may even have sent Sheikh Abdullah to Pakistan in May 1964 to broach these ideas. Nehru’s mention of federalism to Harrison was off the record for he knew that premature publicity would raise Pakistani hackles. It did just that, and Field Marshal Ayub Khan was later to claim that he rejected Sheikh Abdullah’s proposed confederal arrangements among India, Pakistan and Kashmir. He saw it as a ruse for Indian domination. In any case, Nehru’s death on May 27, 1964 put an end to both the visit and the negotiations.
A shattered Abdullah flew back to New Delhi for the Prime Minister’s cremation. Arthur Moore, an Ulsterman who was editor of the Statesman from 1932 to 1942 when he was sacked under pressure from the Viceroy, was convinced federation was the only way out for the subcontinent. He had been converted to the one-world theory in the l930s and proposed self-government for India in an article in the Manchester Guardian in October 1938 titled “A Federal British Commonwealth”. The British authorities were not pleased when Moore urged the federation of transport and communications under a single command with the warning, “We must federate or perish”.
After Independence, he applied the principle to practical politics, and argued that the Kashmir problem, which he saw as “the great test for Nehru’s statesmanship”, might lend itself to a federal solution. Gandhi “was much interested” in his views and asked him to get Nehru’s opinion. Moore was about to do so when tragedy struck — the Mahatma was assassinated. But when Moore could raise the matter, Nehru didn’t dismiss it with a “no”. He replied that “the time is not yet.” As Moore warned: “Pakistan canal disputes, boundary disputes, displaced persons disputes — all these may be solved; trade between the two countries may be developed; but there will never be satisfactory relations between India and Pakistan till the Kashmir issue is amicably settled.” That sad truth, as relevant today as in 1948, demands an imaginative far-reaching vision. Kashmir is the great test for Narendra Modi’s statesmanship, as it was for Nehru’s.