Is Independence a Viable Option for Jammu & Kashmir?

On January 16, 2007, the Academy of Third World Studies at Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi organized an interactive meet to deliberate on the “Kashmir Problem.” 

Some well-informed and well-regarded “Kashmir hands” were present alongwith some two dozen or so interested citizens, some of them Kashmiris. This writer among them.

Most short speeches were in the nature of informed comment on the positive or negative aspects of the peace process now in hand between India and Pakistan, on Musharraf’s viability as party to that process, on the need to include the “real” representatives of Kashmiris in that process, and on the desirability of curbing and whittling down the army and para-military forces in the valley. One speaker addressed the question relating to the disappearances of kashmiris over the years as an acute human rights concern that needed to be examined.  Another, in a different sort of key, shared his anguish at disappearance of another kind, namely, of Kashmiri cultural expression (language, folk forms of art, other syncretic histories).

The two presentations (brief oral ones) that the rather loaded audience seemed to respond to most, however, bore on, one, the formulation that militancy and violence could not justly be expected to be shut down till the right to ‘self-determination’ was granted; the second, coming from a venerated senior journalist and editor based in Jammu, that the overwhelming sentiment of the people was for  “sovereign, secular independence.”  It was left unsaid whether this sentiment pertained only to the Kashmiris in the valley or to the whole state of Jammu & Kashmir.

One common perception seemed to lace most of the presentations—that the Indian state was the chief culprit and the chief impediment to a realization of Kashmiri “independence.”
The mention by this writer of a Poll that was conducted across the state some years  ago that had seemed to raise questions as to what the concrete profile of sentiments across the J&K state really might be was laughed out of hand.  Unfortunately, I did not at the time have details either of the agency that conducted that Poll or its date in hand, a lack that left me only the option of taking my chastisement with grace and goodwill.  As you would anticipate, I do so now,( that is, have the details of the Poll in hand.)
The Poll I refer to was conducted between April 20-28, 2002, not by the government of India or of J&K, but by the MORI International organization—a reputed agency by all accounts—and covered all regions, urban and rural, of the three provinces of the Jammu & Kashmir State.  A subsequent Poll was conducted by Synovate India (2005), this time in the valley, and its findings as well are before me as I write.

Looking at the two findings, I am struck by the recognition that it is not the ‘stated’ positions just of the governments of India and Pakistan that reduce and monologise the deeply complex, contradictory and diverse nature of the problem but the ‘stated’ positions as well of many discrete groups of opinion who concern themselves with the “Kashmir Problem.”  The two Polls taken together seem to me to carry surprises of the kind that the recent Sachar Committee Report brought to the fore on the actual status of Indian muslims.
The Polls in question do not only suggest the frustrating complexity of ground realities in Jammu & Kashmir but, in doing so, help to evaluate the validity of solutions that are often the expressions of ideologlical preference rather than of any objective assessment.
Since it would take inordinate length to fully explicate the findings of these Polls, I  suggest that the reader access the texts of both the Polls on the Net by simply logging on to “MORI Poll, Kashmir,2002” and “Synovate India Poll, Kashmir, 2005”.  In what follows I seek only to underscore the obvious centralities and to draw inferences that seem warranted. 

One all-important caveat:  every interested party to the dispute on J&K, it must be recorded, proceeds on one accepted principle—that whatever resolutions are debated or found  must pertain to the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir rather than  merely any discrete part. No faction of the Hurriyat organization, not  even Syed Ali Shah Geelani, spokesman for the Muslim League, or indeed Pakistan has  thus far contested this  view, or openly argued that the state is represented just by the valley of Kashmir. Needless to say, unarticulated private predilections of any group of people in any part of the state  cannot be authorized agenda as the problem is addressed. 

II  What the Polls tell us:

The MORI Poll  conducted  “interviews in the Jammu and surrounding rural areas, Srinagar and its surrounding rural areas and in Leh; interviewers were set quotas for sex and religion. . .to match the population of each region.”  The Synovate India Poll was concentrated within the Valley and Rajouri (also muslim majority area).

First the easy part:  in the MORI and Synovate Polls respectively, 6% and 3% (the latter figure especially significant since the Poll was exclusive to the Valley) preferred the Pakistan option.  Let it be said, though, that whereas this may have come as some surprise to a section of the Hurriyat and to the Muslim League in Pakistan, those that have intimate acquaintance with Kashmiri muslims and their continued secular divergence from Wahabi Islam that necessarily seems to require Islamic theocratic statehood the findings only function as confirmation of the reality of what is often called the culture of “Kashmiriyat.”

It is an unfortunate occurrence that owing to the brutal onslaught by muslim communalists in 1989-90, many Kashmiri Pandits have not only lost faith in “Kashmiriyat” but gone over to the  Hindu communalism of the RSS.  I wish humbly to say, though, that during my wide, and , I might add, purposely unorganized interactions in the valley with students, teachers political workers, journalists, tradespeople (boatmen, hoteliers, taxi-auto drivers, shopkeepers) during 2002, 2003, 2004 while residing with a muslim family in Rawalpoora, I was struck by the abiding “Kashmiriyat” of people everywhere, combined with a deeply felt regret, tinged with a sense of grievance that seems understandable, at the exodus of the Pandits.

Anxious to resolve whether my experience in this area while I was there may or may not be an illusory sentiment, I took care to meet with the secretary of the Kashmiri Pandit Association in the valley.  I can only say that I was moved by the elaborate details he gave me of the quality of inter-dependence that still exists among the seven or eight thousand Pandits who still reside there—not in ostracized ghettos as muslims now do in many parts of Gujarat, but in their own houses and original mohallas—and Kashmiri muslims.  Of this I have written elsewhere in greater length (1).

It, therefore, comes as a happy reward to learn from the Mori Poll that “people in all regions are in general agreement that ‘the unique cultural identity of Jammu and Kashmir—Kashmiriyat—should be preserved in any long-term solution.’  Overall, 81% agree, including 76% in Srinagar.”  No surprise then that “there is a widespread view, held by 80%, that allowing displaced Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homes in safety will help to bring about peace.”

That sentiment finds further confirmation in another finding in the Mori Poll: “An overwhelming 92% oppose the state of Kashmir being divided on the basis of religion or ethnicity.”  That should explain why not even the most sectarian of leaderships, whether among Kashmiri muslims or hindus, is able to propound positions that would argue such a division.


India or Independence?

The Mori Poll found that “on the issue of citizenship, overall, 61% said they would be better off politically and economically as an Indian citizen.”

Remembering that the Jammu Province had in 1981 45% of the States population of which some 34% are muslim, this Mori finding invites to be seen as more than remarkable (2).  Clearly, the finding suggests that support for this option within the valley is not negligible.

That inference is rendered into fact by the finding on the question of the Synovate India Poll which tells us that 36.2% Kashmiris in the Valley and Rajouri (equally muslim dominated) prefer the India option. 

By no stretch of the imagination then can it be argued that the overwhelming sentiment in the state of Jammu & Kashmir is for  “sovereign, secular, independence.”  However much as these findings might shock some knowledgeable peddlers of the “Kashmir Question,” those are the facts. And collateral other facts germane to that finding are as under:
“There is also widespread consensus on the types of proposals which will help bring about peace in Jammu and Kashmir.  More than 85% of the population, including atleast 70% in each region, think the following will help to bring about peace:

• Economic development of the region to provide more job opportunities and reduction of poverty-93%
• The holding of free and fair elections to elect the peoples’ representatives-86%
• Direct consultation between the Indian government and the people of Kashmir-87%
• An end to militant violence in the region-86%
• Stopping the infiltration of militants across the Line of Control-88% ”

One ought to supplement that with the further sentiment, expressed by “at least nine out of ten” in Srinagar that scaling down security operations would be another big step towards peace.

Having said that, it also remains true that a clear majority, although barely so, within the valley express preference for the “independence” option.  If 36.2 prefer India, 53.9 wish to secede from the union (Synovate India).  This even as only 16% say that the Hurriyat represents them better than the state government!  And, even as 55% in the same Poll “think the de facto position of the Line of Control as the effective border should be made de jure as well.”

The latter finding clearly suggests that “independence” is not envisaged by Kashmiris in the valley as inclusive of Kashmiris across the Line of Control (or as a near-term option). Kashmiris will know that the dominant sentiment that obtains here is not, once again, a religious but an ethnic one:  Kashmiris that live in what is called the POK are not Kashmiri-speaking, barring a sprinkling, and even within the valley there never has been much love lost between Kashmiri-speaking muslim Kashmiris and those that are non-Kashmiri-speaking Mirpuris or Punjabis! If anything, it is the Pandits who tend to be missed as blood brothers!  Wheels within wheels, you might say.

The question, then, to ask is whether above body of statistics can form a legitimate ground for resolving the “Kashmir Problem”in favour of “independence”  given, especially, the fact that it is nobody’s stated case that the “Kashmir Problem” be solved on the basis of any partial sentiment in one part or other of the state of Jammu & Kashmir.  Put another way,  can “independence” be thought to be a democratically legitimated option when the provinces of Jammu and Ladakh, and nearly half the people in the valley itself do not favour such a course, forgetting for the moment the nation-state level considerations in both India and Pakistan?  Indeed, how is the desire for “independence” of half the valley’s population to be squared with the overwhelming opinion in the valley itself that no resolution that divides the state on religious or ethnic lines or that is deleterious to Kashmiriyat can be acceptable?

One may also say that however pristine our own doctrinal principles may seem to us (the right to secession, we recall, was at one time a part of the theoretical repertoire of the undivided Left in India), history never offers circumstances fully to our taste.  This writer is as aware of the endemically repressive nature of the State as any anarchist now arguing vociferously for its defeat vis a vis the aspirations of a section of Kashmiris.  And yet it is nothing but another form of Idealism to carry on in the teeth of objective conditions that render such beating of violent wings an exercise in fruitless  heroism that is accompanied by unsustainable human costs.  Not only do a majority of the people of Jammu & Kashmir clearly not favour independence, but neither the government in Pakistan nor in India can be expected to overlook the historical fallout of granting secession on such a thin ground.  However we might castigate what these two states have done in Kashmir, their worries with respect to a potentially domino effect in Baluchistan, North West Frontier Province, Manipur, Nagaland, Assam and who knows where else can hardly be underestimated. Nor is it so sagacious, after all, to think that the consequences for Indian muslims in the mainland are a matter only of extraneous significance, or that the democratic gains of the last five or so decades may easily be protected from  a   right-wing fascist onslaught sure to follow secession on what will inevitably seem a two-nation basis.

There are other considerations:  given the landlocked geology of the state, its economic and productive life has tended to depended heavily on import of basic needs.  It must remain a question how an ‘independent’ valley may ensure a supply line with a number of expansionaist nation-states bordering it on many sides. Same when it comes to its physical security.  Is it far-fetched to think that the ‘independent’ valley may become a playground for imperialisms of several kinds.  It should not be forgotten that as far back as 1953 America had actively explored such a possibility through the exertions of one Mr. Adlai Stevenson.  Nor can the other question be definitively answered: how long can the valley then resist the push to theocratise both state and polity in that ‘independent’ situation.  Surely, both Kashmiris and the Indian state have big stakes in all this.


Given that complex of considerations,  it must seem a historical rationality that all parties to the dispute are increasingly reconciled to a resolution that leaves sovereignties intact but transforms the devolutionary ambit of local governance in drastic measure.  The Mori Poll found that an “overall 55% support ‘India and Pakistan granting as much autonomy as they can to both sides of Kashmir to govern their own affairs.”  Considering that the Poll shows that most in Jammu oppose this course it can be inferred that support for autonomy within the valley is much higher than 55%.  Clearly, the 53% who favour independence must regard that as a very long-term telos, while autonomy remains the achievable objective.

Alongwith some highly regarded opinion-makers on Kashmir, this writer has on several occasions argued that the Kashmir problem can be traced back to the failure of the Indian state to live upto its commitments to the Delhi Agreement of 1952.  Whereas disaffections in other states came to be willy nilly seen as issuing from flawed centre-state arrangements (it is instructive to recall that secession was not demanded first by the Kashmiris but by the DMK in Tamil Nadu), such expressions in J&K came, most regrettably, to be communalized chiefly because of the concerted campaigns of the RSS to render the Kashmir question into a Hindu-Muslim question relating to the Partition, and by the failure of the Congress, Nehru notwithstanding, to meet those campaigns with any firm secular conviction.  It is that failure that was to translate into the heinous attempts made repeatedly by the Centre to deny the assertion of any genuine democracy in the state, till the dam burst in 1987.  After all, the chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen was a candidate for the MUF in the elections of that watershed year.

One would think that far too much blood has by now bedrenched the hills and the valley of Kashmir.  All things considered, and on all sides—included the main falange of the Hurriyat  which is today willing to confront the rump  that still seeks to toe the Muslim League line on the streets of Srinagar—it is about time that the details of  creative ‘self-governance’ within existing sovereignties were worked out with unflagging will.  Let every shade of opinion bearing on the contours of autonomy that takes secularism and Kashmiriyat as a “basic structure”, with no side excluded (including the Pandits who seek a ‘homeland’) sit around the table for as long as it takes. Since democracy is the proposed answer, such an answer must necessarily be democratically arrived at.

(1) see my “The Valley of Love”, Frontline, Aug.,1,2003.
(2) Balraj Puri, Jammu and Kashmir: Triumph and Tragedy of Indian Federalism, Sterling, Delhi,1981, Ch.2.
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