Given the recent brouhaha in JNU, I must state at the outset that the manner in which the Modi sarkar has reacted has undoubtedly been very disproportionate, with male policemen entering girls’ hostels and there being a witch-hunt of sorts in which all left-leaning dissenters are supposedly being bracketed with those protesters in an apparent bid to stifle dissent, and that must absolutely be condemned, but it isn’t surprising from a government that has maintained silence over the Vyapam deaths and acted evasive when farmers were recently committing suicide (and I am not saying that the Congress was any better either). Now, it has come to light that videos showing Kanhaiya shouting anti-national slogans were also doctored. And indeed, the likes of OP Sharma should without doubt be behind bars.
Having said that, as I had mentioned in one of my previous pieces on this portal, some people who shouted extremist slogans in JNU and the Press Club of India deserve the strongest condemnation and have indeed actually further damaged the cause of secularism that they possibly seek to uphold, whoever they may have been. Calling Afzal a martyr by some of the left-leaning students was enough to be problematic to start with. Giving him the halo of martyrdom does not amount to questioning his guilt, but actually endorsing his alleged crime of having attacked our parliament, given that he was no known activist for Kashmir’s ‘freedom’ before his arrest.
While it may indeed be intellectually fashionable to talk about humanism without nationalism (for nation-states are, after all, man-made constructs), till such time as nation-states are real, they need nationalist cohesion for progress and security, and just as loving your family over other humans is not inhuman, nor is identification with one’s country, and those Muslim rightists pleased by strong denunciations of nationalism in general should indeed realise that those critiques would even apply to pan-Muslim nationalism, with territorial nationalism based on a shared political and economic destiny being much more rational, and global pan-Muslim nationalism of the “Muslim ummah” variety is anachronistic, even going by the Muslim scriptures, as I have discussed here (I know that some Muslims would question whether I, as not being a Muslim, can give my own interpretation of Islam, but if non-Muslims are not expected to study and analyze Islam, how do Muslims expect non-Muslims to not have prejudiced views about their faith?). Country-oriented nationalism does not have to be and shouldn’t be the type presupposing the morality of your government in the realms of foreign policy and engagement with secessionist forces to be axiomatic, only complaining about its naiveté or passivity, and one should be open to hearing out counter-narratives, but counter-narratives cannot entail supporting attacking the parliament.
Often, opponents of any kind of statist nationalism cite Tagore and Gandhi to validate their views, but what they do is to present a misinterpreted version of what Tagore and Gandhi said. Tagore did indeed lament as to how the division of the world into nation-states became a cause of antagonism, and how nationalist biases often prevented impartial, humanistic assessments in an era that saw two world wars, but Tagore was very clear on the point that human nature had its doses of both good and bad (in his own words – “We must admit that evils there are in human nature, in spite of our faith in moral laws and our training in self-control”), which is why both good and evil shall always exist, and he did not advocate any utopian ideas of a world without borders, presuming that we can all actually possibly happily have a totally fair and reasonable central government accommodating the concerns of the entire human race with all its diversity, when in reality, provinces within countries also have bitter conflicts over resources, and there will always be administrative demarcations of territory for governance. Tagore pointed out in his popular essay on nationalism–
“I have often been blamed for merely giving warning, and offering no alternative. When we suffer as a result of a particular system, we believe that some other system would bring us better luck. We are apt to forget that all systems produce evil sooner or later, when the psychology which is at the root of them is wrong. The system which is national today may assume the shape of the international tomorrow; but so long as men have not forsaken their idolatry of primitive instincts and collective passions, the new system will only become a new instrument of suffering.”
While Tagore’s writings make it seem that he was against nationalism per se, an analysis would reveal that he was opposed to chauvinistic worldviews of asserting the infallibility of one’s civilisation, refusing to learn from others, and jingoistic antipathy to fellow human beings of a certain other state, but he did identify with and appreciate his Indian identity.
Likewise, as for Gandhi, while he disliked the institution of the state as an instrument of violence, he did consider the state to be a necessary evil (for human beings do need to be regulated to check crime at the very least), and suggested a decentralised state pattern based on indirect elections in the form of concentric circles with the village at the centre, but not doing away with the idea of government. Gandhi even supported state coercion in the context of land reforms, though he wanted the land reforms to be voluntary as far as possible, and Gandhi too, like Tagore, did identify with and appreciate his Indian identity.
And yes, if statist nationalism of any kind is supposedly always a bad thing, then so is the Kashmiri separatist movement that strives to create a nation-state or has affinity to the Pakistani state. And their brand of nationalism, on the whole, isn’t secular (Geelani has openly condemned separation of religion and state, and even the more moderate separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq have, in their public utterances, displayed contempt towards Jews, converts to Christianity, and those who are in his view adherents of the deviant sects of Islam, other than making patriarchal statements) and is not in favour of modern freedoms and gender equality, despite some pretensions to the contrary and some genuine exceptions. From girls’ rock bands shutting down to molestations of girls participating in a marathon alongside boys to no cinema halls functioning in the valley owing to militants’ diktats, that actually represents the true face of Kashmiri ‘freedom’ but what Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz has called the “regressive left” just simply fails to see it, and many other well-intentioned people are often ignorant of the facts and form an opinion seeing only a part of the picture. Even if you declare the Indian state (and not the nation in general) established under the constitution to be your enemy, which is different from criticizing a specific political leader or party, that is an abuse of freedom of speech when you claim it under the same constitution. We didn’t see the free speech fundamentalists routing for those shouting those slogans routing for the likes of Kamlesh Tiwari arrested for outraging Muslim religious sentiments.
For those questioning the judicial verdict, the Supreme Court did not declare that they were awarding the death penalty to Afzal only on the basis of “collective conscience” and without evidence. There was a reference to “collective conscience” to justify awarding him the death penalty rather than a life term, and that had no relevance to establishing his guilt, which was based on evidence admissible under the Indian Evidence Act.
Whether one thinks the judgment was good in law or not is another debate which someone can initiate only after having read the entire lengthy judgment (and not just by listening to what Guru’s lawyers who lost the case or activists for Kashmir’s ‘freedom’ have to say), but it would be totally wrong to cast aspersions on the Indian judiciary as a whole, thanks to which many innocent civilians – Muslims, Adivasis and others – wrongly framed as terrorists, have been exonerated, including two people even in connection with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, and even Kashmiri Muslims were acquitted in connection with a terrorist attack in Lajpat Nagar in Delhi in 1984. It is the judiciary which has convicted hundreds of rioters in connection with the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 (in cases relating to massacres such as in the Best Bakery, Ode, Sardarpura and Naroda Patiya), hundreds in connection with the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 (though some prominent politicians in connection with the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 are indeed yet to be convicted) and the anti-Christian riots in the Kandhamal district of Odisha in 2008 (in which MLAs like Manoj Pradhan were convicted), and recently, it upheld the right of the Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai to travel abroad and even struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, a UPA legacy the Modi sarkar was shamelessly seeking to retain, as unconstitutional.
Besides, a letter supposedly written by Afzal Guru acknowledging his crime has been verified as being written by him by his own brother, and there are indeed several other such letters too. He even gave interviews acknowledging his guilt, as you can see here and here. P. Chidambaram’s recent statement was most likely politically motivated, given that Rahul Gandhi was being attacked for associating with the pro-Afzal folks, and though the party as a whole disassociated from Chidambaram’s statement, which it had to for Afzal was hanged in their tenure, the Congress often likes to speak in multiple voices to please all kinds of people, as does even the BJP.
While those hailing Afzal have damaged the image of secularists, it doesn’t mean that we ought to renounce secularism. In fact, after the partition, if there is any basis for India to claim Kashmir as its part, it is, in fact, secularism, and it is ironic how some Hindu rightist loonies tell Indian Muslims that they have no place in India and should pack off for our western neighbour carved out for Muslims consisting of Muslim-majority areas, but assert with fire and brimstone that Muslim-majority Kashmir bordering Pakistan is undoubtedly an integral part of India. I would, therefore, strongly urge any reader with Hindu rightist leanings to read this blog of mine before proceeding further with this article. I may also clarify that I am not a supporter of today’s Congress party and many other ‘secular’ political parties that have reduced the noble and sacrosanct principle of secularism to appeasing regressive elements in minority religious groupings.
Now, proceeding with specifically discussing the Kashmir issue. Last year, we, Indians, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the sacrifices of our men in uniform, cutting across religious lines, back in 1965 who gave a fitting reply to Pakistan’s Operation Gibraltar aimed at creating unrest in Kashmir, I have indeed often wondered as to why of all the wars India has had, four with Pakistan – in 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999, and one with China in 1962 (and when it comes to the war in 1962, most Indians are fed with jingoistic lies, but that is a different matter altogether), the first one seems to be the least invoked in public memory. There have been no films, at least no well-known films, on the 1947-48 war the way we have had films like Border on the war in 1971 or Lakshya and LoC Kargil on the Kargil war in 1999 or even Haqeeqat on the Sino-Indian war of 1962, though there was indeed a photography exhibition in Delhi not too long ago on the war in 1947-48.
On 27th October last year, the 68th anniversary of the accession of the erstwhile princely state of J&K to India, I was informed by a Facebook post of my friend Aamir Ahmad Amin, a secular-minded Kashmiri Muslim who identifies himself as an Indian (there are many such Kashmiri Muslims), that we had Pakistanis flush Twitter with the hashtag ‘WhatHappenedon27October’, which ironically dealt with events from 1990 onwards (dealing with a one-sided and exaggerated story of the brutality of the Indian state), but overlooking the excesses of the Pakistani forces in places like Baramulla in Kashmir on 27th October 1947! I checked out Twitter and indeed found that to be the case. There was a tweet citing what was supposedly an Urdu translation of a statement delivered by British MP Andrew Stephenson. To cite that (mis)translation in the Roman script – “Aaj 27th October ka din syahtareen din hai jis din Bharat ne Kashmir par kabza kiya.” (All voices raised for Kashmir have been suppressed. Today, 27th October, is a black day on which Kashmir was occupied by India.) However, the real quote of Stephenson’s (who is just another British politician and no prominent authority on South Asian history) is – “Today is a very black day in history to mark the illegal occupation of Kashmir.” Nowhere does he make any reference to that occupation having been carried out by India, and even if one takes that as implicit, one can’t take as implicit that he was referring only to India and not also to Pakistan. In fact, when he delivered this address in the British parliament, he hailed the Million March in London in which demonstrators from POK booed Bilawal Bhutto, holding Pakistan to be an occupier of a part of the erstwhile princely state, and a man hailing such a march is ironically being hailed by jingoistic Pakistanis! Besides, if British MPs are to, for whatever reason, be regarded as authorities, then another one, John Blackman has recently held the whole of the erstwhile princely state of J&K, including POK, to be a part of India.
Other than tweets carrying mistranslations, there were also tweets mentioning how India has not honoured United Nations resolutions, how it was baseless for Muslim-majority Kashmir to become a part of India and someone even claimed that India went wailing and crying to the United Nations after the tremendous Pakistani onslaught, which is blatantly false, and I say so based on the authentic historical record and not out of any nationalist bias whatsoever. To be fair, I must also mention that rational and impartial Kashmiri Muslims (some of them being my very close friends) and Pakistanis have also been rebutting the various lies and half-truths that have been circulated. In fact, rebutting wrong notions of history that very many Kashmiri Muslims have is of utmost importance for the Indian state, and if one were to go by what writer David Devadas, who has spent much time in Kashmir as a journalist, has to say, that is of more importance than any international diplomacy relating to Kashmir. To quote him–
“One of the most important factors is skewed narratives about what happened between 25 and 27 October 1947. Generations of Kashmiris have grown up on these, and some still do. But, as with most social realities of this state, the Union government is oblivious – and several state governments have used these narratives to their advantage.
One common narrative goes something like this: ‘Sheikh Abdullah acceded to India temporarily when he asked his friend Nehru to send troops to help Kashmir against the kabalis (tribesmen from Pakistan who invaded the state on 22 October 1947). When the kabalis had been expelled, the army never left. They still occupy our land’.”
“The education system does not address these vital issues. The approved curriculum simply ignores Kashmir’s recent history. But this does not prevent teachers, family elders and other educators from promoting narratives about the illegitimacy of India’s presence in Kashmir.”
Many ignorant Pakistanis had even put up tweets like “Salute to Kashmiri leaders @YASINMALIKJKLF ‘Come what may Kashmir will become Pakistan” with a picture of Yasin Malik. Malik ironically has a clear stand of a J&K independent from both India and Pakistan, and whose militant outfit was decimated by the Pakistan-backed terror group Hizbul Mujahidin as much as, if not more than, the Indian security forces and his role model Maqbool Bhat was tortured by Pakistani agencies for his refusal to support the idea of Kashmir joining Pakistan and insisting on a completely independent Kashmir instead! Here’s another tweet by a Pakistani that misquotes Mahatma Gandhi, and you can see the actual quote here.
Now, coming to the history of what actually happened and how Kashmir actually became a part of India.
To start with, it was the Pakistani establishment that tried to coercively capture the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which had been a part of Britain’s Chamber of Princes in undivided India (unlike Nepal, Bhutan and Balochistan, and Kashmir had been a part of India not only under the British, but even historically in the Mauryan, Gupta, Khilji and Mughal periods, with Hinduism being the religion there before the advent of Islam), and the Pakistani tribesmen and soldiers raped and plundered people of all faiths, though the Hindu minority of Kashmir was particularly targeted. The claim of the Pakistani and pro-Pakistan propagandists that the invasion was legitimate, for Jammu and Kashmir was a Muslim-majority province with a Hindu ruler, with the Muslim majority unanimously desirous of joining Pakistan, to start with, is dubious. Why do I say so? To examine this, let me cite certain passages from the book by Christopher Snedden, which is, by no means, pro-India on the whole and has been hailed by many Kashmiri separatists (some of the excerpts are lengthy but definitely make an interesting read and are highly relevant to the topic)-
“despite the fact that J&K had a Muslim-majority population, the political inclinations of the people of J&K were far more complex and uncertain” (page 10)
“neither India nor Pakistan was guaranteed majority popular support” (page 12)
“J&K was politically disunited by forces that had strong- and differing- post-British desires for the princely state’s status.” (page 27)
“Despite J&K’s inherent disunity, Hari Singh’s accession would have been much simpler had Muslims in J&K been united in their desire for the state’s future status. Indeed, Muslim disunity is one of the most significant explanations of why the so-called Kashmir dispute began – and continues.” (page 35)
“…the core of the problem in J&K was its people. They were ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse, diffuse and different; they lacked religious and political unity; they were divided in their aspirations for J&K’s future international status.” (pages 35, 36)
“An important trait evident among Kashmiris partially explains why Kashmiri Muslims were ambivalent about Pakistan in 1947. Called ‘Kashmiriness’ or ‘Kashmiriyat’, a newer term with Perso-Arabic roots, this trait was a fundamental and apparently long-held part of Kashmiri identity and culture. Kashmiriness emphasises ‘the acceptance and tolerance of all religions among Kashmiris’. It is ‘manifested in the solidarity of different faiths and ethnic groups in the state’. The concept was apparently epitomized by the patron saint of Kashmir, Sheikh Noor-ud-Din, a Muslim born in 1375 of a Hindu convert to Islam. Popularly known as Nund Rishi, he repeatedly poses a question in a poem; ‘How can members of the same family jeer at one another?’ The answer is the essence of Kashmiriness; Kashmiris, whoever they are and whatever their religious backgrounds and practices, are all members of one indivisible Kashmir Valley ‘family’. It is a recipe – or even a requirement – for tolerance.
One significant consequence of Kashmiriness was that, compared with Hindus and Muslims in Jammu or northern India, Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) had relatively few social divisions or antagonisms. While they nevertheless had disputes and rivalries, the two groups generally were more liberal and more tolerant and, in many cases, had amicable, even close relations. This harmony arose because both shared the same ethnicity, language and geographical region and the same recent history under repressive rulers comprising Muslim Afghans (Durranis), Punjabi Sikhs (Ranjit Singh’s empire) and Jammu Hindus (Dogras), although the latter was less repressive for Pandits. It was important that Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits also enjoyed a similar culture, including revering each other’s religious figures and festivals, eating halal mutton instead of beef or pork (even though Pandits were of the Brahmin or priestly caste that elsewhere usually practised vegetarianism), and not being particular about ‘defilement or pollution by touch’. As a leading Pandit put it, ‘Racially, culturally and linguistically the Hindus and Muslims living in Kashmir [were] practically one’. That said, Kashmiri Pandits also enjoyed greater influence and economic wellbeing than Kashmiri Muslims. This was due to the Pandits’ position as Hindu subjects of a Hindu ruler, from which flowed benefits such as being landowners and their numerically large involvement as state employees. Nevertheless, relations between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits generally were far more amicable than the relations between Hindu and Muslims in Jammu Province.
One significant result of the concept of Kashmiriness was that Kashmiris may have been naturally attracted to secular thinking. This was partly because they were apparently nor afflicted by the ‘majority-minority complex’ that was evident among Muslims in other parts of the subcontinent, and partly because they were ‘a deeply religious people who abhor[red] political exploitation of their faith. Hence, the pro-Pakistan stance of the major pro-Pakistan party in J&K, the Muslim Conference, and its Pakistan ally the Muslim League was not automatically popular with Kashmiri Muslims. To join Pakistan simply because it would be a Muslim homeland was an insufficient reason.” (pages 18-20)
“A further factor that caused Kashmiris to be ambivalent about Pakistan was the significant role played in 1947 by Sheikh Abdullah and the political party that he dominated, the National Conference. Abdullah’s role in J&K is very important. For over fifty years (1931-82), he was Muslim Kashmiris’ most popular politician, whether in power or denied it. (Abdullah was jailed for long periods by the Maharaja, by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, his successor as Prime Minister in J&K, and by the Indian Government). According to his autobiography, Abdullah’s political career began as early as 1926, when he joined the ‘relentless struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed’ and, desiring to become the people’s savior, began to oppose the Maharaja’s regime and its practices on an individual basis. He disliked a number of the Maharaja’s practices, including discrimination on religious grounds, exploitation of the people through taxation, corruption, the inequitable land system, and the people’s lack of political freedom. Abdullah sprang to prominence in 1931 during the major anti-Maharaja agitation in Srinagar, and event of ‘seminal importance’ that temporarily – but severely – challenged Hari Singh’s rule. Indeed, it was due to Abdullah’s bold part in this uprising that he became known as the Lion of Kashmir. A further consequence of this major uprising was that, as a result of the Glancy Commission formed in order to investigate the uprising’s causes, the Maharaja allowed the formation of the first political party in J&K. In October 1932, the All J&K Muslim Conference was formed in order to safeguard Muslim interest in J&K. Abdullah, a Muslim, later remained this party the All J&K National Conference. Espousing secularism, it would later play a significant role in delivering a large part of J&K to India and in ending the Maharaja’s rule.
Because Sheikh Abdullah had a strong aversion to autocracy, he regarded the concept of Pakistan negatively. Abdullah disliked the Maharaja absolutism. The United States’ Consul in Lahore agreed: saying, ‘according to all disinterested informants [the Maharaja] has never displayed the slightest interest in the welfare of the people over whom he has maintained an autocratic rule. For Sheikh Abdullah, both Jinnah and the Islamic Pakistan that the autocratic Muslim League leader envisaged establishing were also unappealing. The influential Kashmiri leader considered that Pakistan was the result of an emotional Muslim reaction of Hindu communalism and ‘an escapist device’. Abdullah and his colleagues, many of whom were Muslims, also received (correctly) that Pakistan would be dominated by feudal elements, as well as being a society in which Kashmiris and their reform agenda would have little power: ‘Chains of slavery will keep us in their continuous strangehold. Conversely, Abdullah considered that secular India would be different. It would have people and parties, including India’s major party, the Indian National Congress, whose views largely coincided with Abdullah and his party. India also represented an option that would accept the National Conference’s enlightened and progressive ideas’. It embraced more democracy that either Pakistan or the Jinnah-dominated Muslim League, ‘whose leader had a very high opinion of himself’.” (page 21)
Speaking of the pro-Pakistan Muslim Conference formed in 1941, Snedden says-
“…the Muslim Conference faced a major challenge in the numerically and politically important Kashmir Valley; it lacked a charismatic Kashmiri-speaking politician who could rival Sheikh Abdullah and his coterie of Kashmiri colleagues. The Muslim Conference’s stance also was unpopular elsewhere, especially among the non-Muslim majority in eastern Jammu, as its killings of Muslims were clearly showing.” (page 24)
“Although Jinnah (falsely) believed that J&K would fall into Pakistan’s ‘lap like a ripe fruit’ once the Maharaja realized his and the people’s interests and acceded to Pakistan, and although he was prepared to allow the Maharaja’s ‘autocratic government’ to continue, support for independence enabled pro-Pakistan forces to woo the decision maker rather than the people. This approach was pragmatic. However, it also made the Muslim Conference appear keen to gain the Maharaja’s support at any cost. And although this tactic adhered to Jinnah’s statement in July 1947 that princely rulers were free to join Pakistan, India or remain independent, many Muslim Conference members wanted their party’s support for independence reversed. Also, by allowing the ruler to decide the issue, the Muslim Conference enabled its National Conference rival to advance the populist – and eminently mire ‘sellable’ – view that the people should be given self-government so that, ‘armed with authority and responsibility, [they] could decide for themselves where their interests lay’. Apart from advancing its own popularity, the National Conference’s stance also served to reveal the Muslim Conference as simply an appendage or surrogate of the Muslim League – as it was.
The Muslim Conference’s pragmatic approach towards the Maharaja built on a previous stance Jinnah instigated during the National Conference’s ‘Quit Kashmir’ campaign that started on 20 May 1946 with the aim of ridding J&K of Dogra rule. This campaign was significant between the positions of Jinnah and Nehru on J&K. Jinnah opposed Quit Kashmir as a movement ‘engineered by some malcontents’. This stance, coupled with his lack of criticism of J&K’s unpopular ruler, particularly when compared with criticisms made by Nehru and the Indian National Congress, made Jinnah appear pro-Maharaja. This lost the Muslim League leader support among Kashmiri Muslims, especially among the ‘malcontents’, most of whom were National Conference members. Indeed, one such National Conference member, Mir Qasim (who later became the Chief Minister of Indian J&K), believed that Jinnah’s unpopular and insensitive attitude ‘killed the chances of Kashmir going to Pakistan’. The Muslim Conference lost credibility because it did not initially oppose the Maharaja when Quit Kashmir commenced in May 1946 – a policy Jinnah ordered because he believed that the party would do better working through constitutional channels.” (page 26)
“…the Muslim Conference appeared to be steadily lose support, certainly in the Kashmir Valley, owing to poor leadership and increased factionalism; conversely, support for the National Conference increased because it was united and had strong leadership.” (page 27)
I may add to this that Jinnah, in his visit to Kashmir in 1941, received much hostility from sections of Kashmiri Muslims and conceded that he did not get unanimous support. To add to that, when he sent an envoy to Kashmir in 1943 to assess whether Kashmiris would be willing to join Pakistan, his envoy gave him a response, which, to use the language of acclaimed historian Alex von Tunzelmann, was “disheartening” (The Indian Summer, p. 284). Jinnah had tried to play his own politics in Kashmir, using the minister Ramchandra Kak, a Kashmiri Hindu, as a Trojan horse, but failed, and you can read about the same here.
It may be added that Shaikh Abdullah continued to be popular with Kashmiri Muslims after his having taken a stand in favour of India and after the Dogra monarchy was displaced, Abdullah ensured that land reforms were carried out by abolishing landlordism and giving peasants ownership over land, which won him tremendous affection from the people of the valley. Pakistan had retained the feudal system of landlordism, as it still has, and many Kashmiri Muslims realized that the land reforms in Kashmir were possible owing to Kashmir being a part of India rather than Pakistan. To quote the scholar Michael Brecher from his book The Struggle for Kashmir–
“The vast majority of Kashmiris have benefited from these reforms and many of those interviewed by the author expressed the feat that in Pakistan, where no comparable land reforms have taken place, the land recently given to them might be returned to the landlords or, in any event, that further implementation of the ‘New Kashmir’ programme will be impossible.” (cited in the 2002 paperback edition of MJ Akbar’s book ‘Kashmir – Beyond the Vale’ on page 139)
Shaikh Abdullah had clearly stated in the context of Pakistan-
“The most powerful argument which can be advanced in her favour is that Pakistan is a Muslim State, and, a big majority of our people being Muslims the State must accede to Pakistan. This claim of being a Muslim State is of course only a camouflage. It is a screen to dupe the common man, so that he may not see clearly that Pakistan is a feudal state in which a clique is trying by these methods to maintain itself in power…” (cited in the 2002 paperback edition of MJ Akbar’s book ‘Kashmir – Beyond the Vale’ on page 139)
Even today, there are Kashmiri Muslims, including those who want their region to be an independent country, who acknowledge that back then, Abdullah had made the right decision by opting for India. As one such person has articulated-
“The first question that comes to mind is would the Pakistani establishment quash the Feudal or Zamindari systems in Kashmir handing the land over to the tillers? Do keep in mind that even today Pakistan is a feudal society with most of the land in the hands of the Punjabi Chaudhrys. I mean all that the Kashmiri Hindus and Dogra land owners had to do was convert to Islam and just like the Punjabi Chaudhrys of Pakistan continue with the feudal system.”
He further says-
“Now picture yourself as a common Kashmiri filling the chillum of a Punjabi Pakistani Chaudhry or that of a Kashmiri Hindu/Dogra Feudal lord with tobacco and ask yourself this question………….how smart was Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah?”
And by the way, Islam as a religion emphasizes socioeconomic egalitarianism and the possibly first land reforms in world history were actually carried out by the caliph Hazrat Umar Bin Khattab, and so, it is particularly shameful that Pakistan, calling itself an Islamic state, still has an institutionalized zamindari system, as Pakistani liberal Hasan Nisar has pointed out!
However, coming back to Kashmir, the pointers raised as justifications for Pakistan’s armed actions either take the form of whataboutism with respect to India’s stand on the Muslim-ruled, Hindu-majority Hyderabad and Junagadh, or cite the pro-Pakistan rebellion in Poonch before the Pathan tribal raid (the latter point became popular to cite after Snedden’s book mentioned it).
The Poonch rebellion does go to show that the Dogra king was unpopular among his subjects, but that is something already acknowledged by Indians and Pakistanis alike. From the Indian point of view, Jawaharlal Nehru’s trips to Kashmir in which he peacefully took on the monarchy and even faced arrest in the princely state are well-known. But when he assumed the role of India’s prime minister, Nehru did not engage in such adventures and did not interfere, at least blatantly, in the internal affairs of Jammu and Kashmir, which would amount to disrespecting sovereignty.
It may have very well been legitimate for the pro-Pakistan Muslims of Poonch to rise in armed revolt against their king, just as it may have been legitimate for the pro-India Shaikh Abdullah (whose party, the National Conference, passed a resolution supporting J&K acceding to India rather than Pakistan by a majority of 176 out of 179 delegates back in 1939, and still had the backing of a very large number of Kashmiri Muslims) to lead peaceful movements against the monarchy in the valley (and Shaikh Abdullah’s mass struggle had a history predating the Poonch rebellion in 1947), but how do these become the starting point of what we conventionally understand as the “Kashmir issue” involving India, Pakistan and the people of the (now erstwhile) princely state? And if the Poonch rebellion is indeed taken as the starting point, it can only be on two grounds – the first being that these rebels wanted accession to Pakistan [in Snedden’s words-“The only way the Maharaja could possibly appease Poonch Muslims would be to accede to Pakistan; they would not have settled for anything less.” (Page 32)]. The second reason being that there were elements in Pakistan that supported the rebellion. To quote from Snedden’s interview given to Tehelka correspondent Baba Umar (who is a Kashmiri separatist and happens to be an acquaintance of mine)-“there was some degree of support from the Pakistan government”.
Let us examine both points one by one. As regards Poonch Muslims wanting accession to Pakistan, this hardly goes very far in suggesting that the majority of the populace in the whole of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir favoured accession to Pakistan, as the excerpts from not only Snedden’s book but even other sources stated above, demonstrate.
So, even if the Muslims of Poonch were united in the demand for the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan, the people (even Muslims) of the entire princely state were not, and indeed, it has been no one’s case that there wasn’t a pro-Pakistan section among the people of the erstwhile princely state, but Snedden himself concedes that it cannot be said with certainty as to what the aspirations of the majority of the populace were. Hence, Pakistan’s case for claiming Jammu and Kashmir solely on the basis of its Muslim majority falls flat, as opposed to India’s case for a majority of people in the princely states of Hyderabad and Junagadh desiring to join India, which was proved by subsequent plebiscites. The hurdle in the plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir came not from India, which had already promised the Kashmiris a plebiscite, but Pakistan, which, in violation of the 1948 UN resolution, refused to withdraw its troops from the part of the erstwhile princely state it had occupied in the 1947-48 war following the Pashtun tribal raid, which, as per the resolution, was a precursor to the plebiscite. Nehru had, in fact, gone on record even later to say that he was willing to follow the UN resolution (i.e. conduct the plebiscite) in the whole of the erstwhile princely state if Pakistan complied with the precondition of withdrawing its troops, as can be seen from this video (watch 1:58 onwards). Now, it must be mentioned that many Kashmiri separatists who haven’t read the UN resolution and just know that it calls for a plebiscite often invoke the UN resolution, but when made to realize that the resolution is not exactly what they claim it to be, their entire stance changes to ridiculing international law itself being irrelevant and a conspiracy of Western powers, a stance diametrically opposite to the one they took before learning of what the resolution entailed!
However, if they do support self-determination as an absolute right, which is to say that any part of any country should be unilaterally allowed to secede at will, would they support any household declaring itself as a separate country and not paying taxes, desiring to have diplomatic relations with their country, or any district of the independent Jammu and Kashmir they envisage to secede at will? Pray, quite the contrary, their leaders do not wish to give Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-majority Ladakh that right in the independent country they envisage! And speaking of Pakistanis and those who are pro-Pakistan, given the secessionist voices in Sindh and the secessionist or pro-Afghanistan voices in Khyber Pakhtoonwa, are they willing to conduct plebiscites in these particular provinces?
Also, when Shaikh Abdullah had later started vacillating in the 1950s between Kashmir being a part of India with some autonomy, and being an independent country altogether (Pakistan was still not an option for him, and a reason for vacillating from his firm pro-India stance was his concern over Hindu majoritarianism in India, which had manifested itself even in the killing of Mahatma Gandhi), and Nehru had him imprisoned, Nehru did, on the other hand, again offer Pakistan a plebiscite! To be quote the eminent writer MJ Akbar on this point, from his highly acclaimed book ‘Kashmir – Behind the Vale’ (2002 paperback edition)-
“Within a fortnight of arresting Abdullah for asking too much of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru completely reversed India’s position and offered Pakistan a plebiscite!
The Prime Minister of Pakistan, now Mohammad Ali, came to Delhi on an official visit. In the talks Nehru suggested that after the two Prime Ministers had finalized the preliminary issues, a plebiscite administrator could be named by April 1954. He even told Mohammad Ali that voting could be done in the whole state rather than separate Hindu & Muslim regions, and if this meant the loss of the whole Valley, he was prepared for it! The offer was confirmed in a letter to Mohammad Ali on 3 September.” (page 154)
“The only condition Nehru placed was that the American UN nominee Admiral Nimitz be replaced ad Plebiscite Administrator by someone form a smaller country. Deeply suspicious of the US, he did not want this superpower’s hand in the plebiscite.” (page 154)
“If there were any doubts about Nehru’s sincerity in those years about the plebiscite commitment, then surely they should have ended with this proposal.” (page 154)
Akbar further mentions how Pakistan’s insistence on the US admiral led Nehru to withdraw the offer. For more on how Pakistan sought to avoid a plebiscite, see this.
In fact, Pakistan’s stand was always to go purely by the will of the ruler, by virtue of which it had sought to engage Hindu-majority princely states like Hyderabad, Junagadh, and even Jodhpur and Jaisalmer (in Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, even the rulers were Hindu, unlike Hyderabad and Junagadh) to join it. It had never basically adopted the principle of a plebiscite, to begin with.
Speaking of the second point of how the Pakistani state machinery supported or at least allowed non-state actors to support an armed rebellion in Poonch, does acknowledging this help Pakistan’s case? Certainly not, as it would amount to blatant disregard for international law! It is already embarassing for the Pakistani state to admit that its non-state actors (Pashtuns) had infiltrated into another territory! And on this point, we may delve a little more into the legal status of the erstwhile princely state following India’s independence. The princely states were, after the British government taking control over India from the British East India Company, following the Revolt of 1857, no longer the subsidiary but sovereign powers they were prior to that but subordinated officially to the British Crown (and this was a downright imposition, and so, this cannot be said to be a legalism the way their subsidiary alliances with the British were, or what J&K’s accession to independent India came to be), as Queen Victoria proclaiming herself to be the Empress of India, demonstrated as also the Chamber of Princes in New Delhi. However, once the British left India, the princely states re-emerged as sovereign entities, with the lapse of British paramountcy as becomes clear from Section 2 of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, meeting all the four criteria established under Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States, which have been stated hereunder verbatim-
(a) a permanent population;
(b) a defined territory;
(d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.
As regards the first three clauses, little explanation is required. But if there’s any ambiguity about the last one, mention may be made of the standstill agreements many of the princely states entered into with India and Pakistan, which they were authorized to do by the British. In this connection, those who understand Hindi can watch this video (from 11:12 to 13:06).
And yes, Jammu and Kashmir had entered into a standstill agreement with Pakistan (something that Snedden mentions in his book on page 9), which was violated by the latter during the 1947 aggression. The very fact that the princely states could voluntarily accede to any country again reflects their sovereign character. However, the British had made it clear unofficially that the princely states must opt for India or Pakistan. To quote Snedden on this point-
“Powerbrokers in 1947 also were influenced by the method used to decolonize Princely India (as against British-controlled India), whereby each ruler was deemed to have the power – and, indeed, was expected – to accede to either India or Pakistan. Princely states therefore were considered to be indivisible and without any independent future. Neither the departing British nor the future leaders of India and Pakistan sought partition of any princely state along religious lines, nor would they countenance independence for any of them. Instead, the British encouraged each princely ruler to consider geographical factors and the will of his subjects in deciding his accession. Even though the accession would clearly impact on all of the prince’s subjects, nevertheless there were no legal requirements or popular pressures for the ruler to consider either factor. He alone would decide the accession. And, once it was decided, the expectation was that all of his princely state would, along with the ruler, join the new dominion of his choice.” (page 7)
While the British did convey to the princes that they must opt for India or Pakistan [this is testified by great Indian nationalist leader Maulana Azad’s account in his autobiography India Wins Freedom that as early as in 1942, Sir Stafford Cripps, a British politician representing his government, on a visit to India, “told the Maharaja of Kashmir that the future of the States was with India”, that “no prince should for a moment think that the British Crown would come to his help if he decided to opt out” and that “the princes must therefore look up to the Indian Government and not the British Crown for their future” (page 61 of the 2009 reprint) – the demand for Pakistan wasn’t being seriously considered then; if Lord Mountbatten’s account as narrated to Larry Collins and Domique Lapierre in their book Freedom at Midnight is true, then Mountbatten had also tried hard to convince Raja Hari Singh to not entertain fancies of independence], there was no legal obligation upon them to do so. Thus, legally, it was for the ruler to decide and in this case, he opted for India, and Alistair Lamb’s contention that the instrument of accession did not exist on paper has now been disproved with the document being brought out in the public domain. If the counterargument is made to run that popular support ought to have been the basis, as was the case in Hyderabad and Junagadh, then the rebuttal to that has already been stated above (i.e. that Pakistan did not withdraw its troops, and having to do so was a precursor to the plebiscite), and it may be added that Pakistan did not conduct any plebiscite while getting the ruler of Balochistan, which, like Nepal and Bhutan, was not even legally a part of India, to coercively sign the instrument of accession in its favour.
Thus, with all the emphasis given by Snedden to the Poonch rebellion, his contention that it would suit Pakistan to highlight the same or that it, in any way, tilts the narrative in its favour, is a flawed conclusion, even in the light of much of what he has said in that very book! In fact, on the other hand, the Pakistani narrative so far had only stressed the atrocities of the king’s army in Poonch (to justify the Pashtun tribal raid), trying to overlook that they were armed rebels backed by the Pakistani state, and this fact exposed by Snedden only makes Pakistan guilty of violating sovereignty, which is the cornerstone of international law!
Other than the Poonch rebellion, Snedden has also highlighted that in Jammu, there were communal riots in 1947-1948 as a result of the partition of India (something Swaminathan Aiyar has also highlighted following Snedden’s line erroneously), in which both Hindus and Muslims lost their lives (though Kashmir was largely free from such violence), but again, that only goes to show that there was a section of pro-Pakistan Muslims in the erstwhile princely state, and as we have discussed above, that is something no one denies and doesn’t take us very far.
Coming back to the history of the war in 1947-48, one of India’s greatest martyrs was Brigadier Mohammad Usman of the Indian Army who indeed displayed laudable gallantry. Usman had refused offers from Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan for out-of-turn promotions to be Pakistan’s army chief.
It is important to also emphasize the positive role played by many of the local Kashmiri Muslims in fighting the Pakistani tribal raiders who plundered J&Kites, irrespective of religion, and raped and killed non-Muslims, including Europeans who were stationed there. Mentioning a few interesting facts would be in order here, and I got to know of these from Dr. Ramesh Tamiri, a Kashmiri Hindu who is writing a book on what his community went through during the tribal raid of 1947-48. His research, since 1999, is based on getting by way of personal interviews first-hand accounts offered by Kashmiri Pandits who were in the valley during that period, though some facts I would state here are well-known, even outside the scope of his research.
One of the main topics of his research is to highlight the communal harmony that was existent in the valley during that time. Apart from the small groups of NC volunteers who tried, though highly outnumbered, to check the advance of the raiders. The biggest contribution in doing that however, came from one ordinary Kashmiri Muslim who went by the name of Mohammad Maqbool Sherwani from the town of Baramulla in Kashmir. Though Maqbool Sherwani’s name might not be a familiar one among many people in India, for those who were unfortunate enough to be in the valley to experience the horrible raids, he was nothing short of a legend. Sherwani was a true patriot who realized that the syncretic culture of Kashmir would die a painful death if the valley was taken over by Pakistan-backed raiders. On October 22nd, when the Indian Army was still five days away from Kashmir and the raiders were on a free run, advancing, plundering, raping and looting at will, Sherwani courageously and cleverly provided them misinformation about the Indian Army’s whereabouts, not letting them know of its arrival and their towering presence around Sopore. Though it was just a ruse, it worked perfectly as it scared the tribals raiders into retreat and regroup mode for four days, just in time for the Indian Army to arrive. But they couldn’t arrive soon enough as the raiders did eventually got wind of the fact that they had been fooled by just one person, and they decided to teach Sherwani a lesson by tortuting him, asking him to declare support for Kashmir becoming a part of Pakistan, which he refused to do. This led to them crucifying him on a wooden cross and leaving his body hanging, only to be found by the Indian Army after they had forced the raiders out. Sherwani’s last words were “Long live Hindu-Muslim unity!” His contribution to the war in 1947-48 changed the tide in India’s favour. He not only provided valuable time to the Indian troops, but also acted as a saviour to many Pandit families, by warning them of the raids beforehand and urging them to leave immediately.
His contribution towards saving the valley and his belief in the ideals of secularism have been hailed by eminent writer Rahul Pandita, himself a Kashmiri Pandit who was forced out of the Valley in 1990. In an article, Pandita has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to build a statue of Sherwani on one of the ghats of Benaras.
There were indeed several militias, some even comprising women like actor Kabir Bedi’s mother, which assisted the Indian Army and consisted of Kashmiri Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs alike, and while there was a section of Kashmiri Muslims helping the raiders, many Kashmiri Muslim sarpanchs, tenants etc. who protected Kashmiri Pandits and leaders like Sofi Akber, Bakshi Ghulam Ahmad, Rehat Mir and Mohiuddin Hajini even made locals who had looted Kashmiri Pandits return the loot once the tribal raid was finally over. All of this establishes how very many Kashmiri Muslims were indeed not pro-Pakistan or not even opposed to India at the time, thus explaining how unhistorical was Nawaz Sharif’s letter in November 2015 to current pro-Pakistan Kashmiri leader Asiya Andrabi known for her moral policing in the valley, claiming Kashmir for Pakistan on the basis of self-determination and the two-nation theory.
It’s imperative that we, Indians, advance the right contentions to claim Kashmir for India rather than hollow chauvinistic or jingoistic rhetoric. The tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits should not blind us to the tragedy of the Kashmiri Muslims in terms of the human rights violations they were subjected to by rogue elements in our security forces, something we shouldn’t shy away from acknowledging and condemning out of nationalist bias, which would be counterproductive to our cause, as I have discussed here, and while the Kashmiri separatist narrative needs to be countered, we should not suggest that the Indian state, while on one hand regarding them as its own citizens (despite many of them not wanting to be the same, and they indeed did not become Indians by choice), has done them any great favour by way of some economic development or protection during natural disasters, which is an obligation and not a favour in any sense for which they need to be made to feel particularly grateful! Also, we shouldn’t mock their aspirations of wanting to create a tiny, land-locked country situated between bigger countries as being unable to sustain itself, to which they respond by citing examples of Nepal and Bhutan. Nor does the argument of many of them studying or working elsewhere in India help as an argument to invalidate their aspirations of ‘freedom’, when Indian freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Netaji Subhash Chandra, Asaf Ali, Mohammed Currim Chagla and Sarojini Naidu studied in England! The alternative approach of reaching out to Kashmiri separatists, which I personally advocate, can be seen here, which includes apprising Kashmiris of the facts about how J&K acceded to India, as I have done in this article.
Image Courtesy: Flickr
(Thanks to Dr. Ramesh Tamiri and my friend Akash Arora for their valuable inputs.)