Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi are two Prime Ministers who could have made a positive contribution towards breaking the Kashmir stalemate. Both bungled things further to complicate an already difficult situation.
Victorious in Bangladesh, Mrs Gandhi could have forced a shattered Pakistan to make concessions that would have guaranteed security in the Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir. Instead, she let the wily Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto off at Shimla with barely a slap on the wrist. With his impeccable Hindu nationalist credentials, Mr Modi might have been able to convince the country of the dire need to conciliate opinion in the Vale of Kashmir. Instead, his recent actions pander to the Sangh Parivar’s supremacism to an extent that it might be wondered if the terms of the Instrument of Accession that Maharaja Hari Singh signed on October 26, 1947 have not been violated. The August 5 constitutional changes amount to an admission of failure by Mr Modi to either contain the political discontent or to guarantee security. Since ghar wapsi can’t solve the challenge of the Muslims of the Kashmir Valley, they must be inundated with Hindu settlers to alter the region’s demographic identity.
This unilateral revocation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution damages the relationship both in theory and practice. What makes matters worse is that Union home minister Amit Shah almost surreptitiously introduced his two resolutions and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill. The state was already one of the most heavily militarised regions in the world with the Delhi-nominated administration armed with a plethora of draconian powers. In addition, curfew was imposed and all communications severed so that Kashmiris were calculatedly excluded from vital decisions regarding their future.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s ultra-patriotic militants would like to believe that when British rule ended on August 15, 1947, the entirety of Britain’s Indian empire — the Akhand Bharat of legend and lore — devolved on a mythic Hindu nation. We need to remind ourselves that the territory of the Dominion (and later the Republic) of India consisted of British India as delineated in the Government of India Act 1935 minus the areas that had voted for Pakistan. As the instances of Junagadh and Hyderabad (to say nothing of Travancore) illustrated, and as V.P. Menon’s seminal book on the subject confirms, the princely states did not automatically become Indian. They had to be wooed and won.
Inevitably, the wooing wasn’t always gentle. But if the princely states had been absorbed without the consent of their rulers, India would have been another “prison house of nations” managed by “military-feudal imperialism” which is how Lenin had described Tsarist Russia.
When Jammu and Kashmir did join India, it was in respect of only three subjects — defence, foreign affairs and communications. Article 370 was enacted to give constitutional sanction to this restricted relationship with New Delhi. Neither Hari Singh nor Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, whom he hated but was forced to appoint “prime minister” under pressure from Jawaharlal Nehru, ever contemplated full integration in the sense of the position that states like Madhya Pradesh or Karnataka enjoy in India. It was not until Sheikh Abdullah had been arbitrarily toppled and imprisoned that his obliging successor, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, repaid the Centre by conniving at driving coach and horses through Article 370. As a result, the special status of the former Dogra kingdom whose colourful historical past, geographic spread and demographic variety had prompted Sir Owen Dixon, a United Nations mediator in 1947, to compare it with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was more notional than actual by the time of the recent coup.
Since Article 35A determined who had the right to permanent residence in the state, its abolition could mean that, over time, an influx of Bengalis, Gujaratis and other Indians of all descriptions can edge native-born Kashmiris out of their jobs, homes, agricultural fields and educational opportunities. Similar nervousness about being displaced prompted millions of working and lower middle class Britons to vote against continued European Union membership with its automatic free entry for hordes of European migrants. A similar fear in Singapore explains legislation strictly restricting the property that foreigners are entitled to buy. The special privileges enjoyed by “Sikkim subjects” also reflects the understandable fear of outsiders. As Nar Bahadur Bhandari, Sikkim’s first democratically elected chief minister, had famously put it when faced with the prospect of an influx of settlers from Darjeeling: “We have merged, but will not be submerged.” There is the additional threat in Kashmir to “Kashmiriyat”, the cultural concept which is said to be devoid of the fanaticism of Islamic orthodoxy. Sheikh Abdullah believed it would be better preserved in Jawaharlal Nehru’s secular pluralist India than in theocratic Pakistan.
The trifurcation of the state has been discussed before — it had seemed logical that Hindu Jammu, Muslim Kashmir and Tibeto-Buddhist Ladakh should form separate administrative units. But the reason now seems to be fear, more than anything else. Unable to cope with public disaffection or repulse suspected terrorists from Pakistan, the Centre has introduced various constitutional devices to bring the state under even tighter control. The arguments of tardy investment and job creation, administrative inefficiency and corruption, and the lack of employment opportunities fuelling youth unrest boil down to the single factor of security. New Delhi is unable either to protect life and property or inspire public confidence.
Most Kashmiri Muslims will agree with Sheikh Abdullah’s grandson, former chief minister Omar Abdullah, that the changes amount to “a total betrayal of the trust that the people of Jammu and Kashmir had reposed in India when the state acceded to it in 1947”. Now everyone is waiting to see how Mr Modi’s government copes with the inevitable fallout of an action that amounts to the abolition of Kashmir as the world knew it....