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Kashmir Now Or Never


 Kashmir may be conquered by the force of spiritual merit but not by the force of soldiers.”

 

(Kalhana Pandit)

 

 

I

 

So total has been the loss of hegemony of  Kashmir’s  elected  representatives, in government and in the legislature, over the last two months, and so  desperately brutal the recourse to coercive subjugation  of fearless young anger on the streets of the valley, that if ever there was a time to say  resistance to authority (sic) deserves to be rewarded with what it seeks, it has been now.  If the prospect, that is, of the secession of the valley—since other parts of the state of Jammu & Kashmir desire, contrarily, not secession but more complete integration with the Union of India– were not fraught with  incalculable negative consequences not just for India and Pakistan, but for the inhabitants of the valley itself.

 

To that I shall return.

 

Just the other day, the Home Minister of India made two significant averments in parliament.  One that the Union recognizes that the Accession of the state of Jammu & Kashmir was a “unique one”; and, two, that, apart of all other things, the Republic and its successive governments had failed to keep promises made to the people of Jammu & Kashmir. 

 

Since the time for pussy footing about Kashmir is conclusively at an end, it would help to flesh out those two averments beyond the Minister’s sketchily en passant mention.

 

Uniqueness of the Accession:

 

It is to  be recalled that the two conditions agreed upon as  the signposts for India’s pre-Independence  Princely States as determinants of whether they would accede to India or to Pakistan were  the  religion of the majority within the states, and the congruity of the states to either Dominion.

 

In that context, the three states of Hyderabad, Junagarh, and Jammu & Kashmir offered interesting paradigms.

 

Where the first two had Muslim rulers but majority Hindu populations, J & K had a Dogra-Hindu ruler but a majority Muslim population.  Of the three, clearly, J & K, being also contiguous with Pakistan, had the clearest case for accession to Pakistan.

 

Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir, however, desired accession to neither of the two new countries, but wished to remain  Independent.

 

Having succeeded in signing what was called a “Standstill” agreement with Pakistan, it was his hope to do the same with India.  Except that the fates intervened in the shape of a precipitate   invasion of the State he ruled  by  tribal warriors from the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan with that States’ active support and involvement in late October of 1947.

 

With next to no means of his own to meet, let alone defeat the invasion, he found himself constrained to appeal to India for military help vide  his request for Accession to India, dated October,26, 1947.  He wrote to the then Governor General of India, Lord Mountbatten of Burma:

 

“The mass infiltration of tribesmen drawn from the distant areas of the North-West Frontier. . .cannot possibly be done without the knowledge of the Provincial Government of the North West Frontier Province and the Government of Pakistan. Inspite of repeated requests made by my Government no attempt has been made to check these raiders or stop them from coming to my State. . . .I have no option but to ask for help from the Indian Dominion.  Naturally they cannot send the help asked for by me without my State acceding to the Dominion of India.  I have accordingly decided to do so and I attach the Instrument of Accession for acceptance by your Government.”

 

That much for a Hindu ruler who had been reluctant to join even a Hindu-majority India but for the fact that circumstances forced such a decision upon him.  Another matter that even on acceding, the Instrument of Accession he signed   stated  that the a\Accession  in no way bound him to “acceptance of any future constitution of India” (Clause 7), and that “Nothing in this instrument affects the continuance of my sovereignty in and over this State” (Clause 8). Stipulations that to this day continue to colour the fraught history of  tensions between the Union and the State.

As a result, Article 306 A was adopted in the Draft Constitution, and  in course became the much-talked-about Article 370 in the final Constitution of India.  Most significantly, the “special status” thus accorded to the State of J & K, backed by the then Home Minister of India, Patel, (who said to the Constituent Assembly “in view of the special problems with which the government of Jammu & Kashmir is faced, we have made a special provision for the constitutional relationship of the State with the Union”)  was accepted without demur also by Shyama Prasad Mukerjee, a member of Nehru’s cabinet, later to become the most vociferous and disruptive voice of the Hindu right-wing.  More of that below.

 

But the best part of the “uniqueness” lay elsewhere, namely in the heroically principled declaration of allegiance to a prospectively secular and democratic Hindu-majority India by a Muslim Kashmiri leader of a Muslim-majorityState, Sheikh Abdullah.

 

Internally, within the Princely State of J & K, a popular movement for the overthrow of the Maharaja’s rule had been underway for two decades before 1947, precipitating in the events of July, 1931, when some 21 popular resistors were gunned down by the Maharaja’s police force in front of a court house—a watershed event that led to the formation of the  “Muslim Conference” which    came to be led by Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, a post-graduate from the Aligarh Muslim University who was denied a teaching post in the State by the Maharaja’s regime at a time when educated  Kashmiri Muslims could be counted on finger-tips.

 

Within mainland India, although the Muslim League came a cropper in the elections to the Provincial Assemblies of 1936, following upon the passing of the Government of India Act of 1935, between that loss and   1946, the Muslim League under Jinnah made huge strides among Muslims in the states of Punjab and Bengal.

 

It was during this time that Jinnah was to make fervent arguments to Abdullah as to the obvious decision that the Kashmir Muslim Conference must make for joining forces with Jinnah’s League, and for the Pakistan resolution which the League had passed in 1940.

 

Remarkably, however, despite the Kashmir Maharaja regimes’ concerted anti-Muslim rule, and despite having forged the “Muslim Conference,” Abdullah, by then the undisputedly tallest leader of the valley, and indeed the State, and despite the State having been a Muslim majority one,  came to reject the two-nation communal thesis of the Muslim League, and declare his preference for the secular-democratic struggle that the Indian National Congress under Gandhi and Nehru had been waging against colonial rule, as he converted the “Muslim Conference” into the “National Conference” in 1938.  Clearly, some nine years before the partition of India and of the tribal invasion of Kashmir.

 

Abdullah in these years spoke repeatedly to his convictions.

 

Arguing that the matter of accession could not be left to the whims and fancies of rulers, but must reflect the voice of the people, he gave public expression to the popular Kashmiri view in a speech on October 4, 1947 at a historic rally (some three weeks before the tribal invasion):

 

“We shall not believe in the two-nation theory which has spread so much poison (cf to the communal killings that had been underway in the Punjab and in Bengal).  Kashmir showed the light at this juncture  (Gandhi was famously to say that the only light out of the darkness of communal killings he saw was in Kashmir where not a single incident took place).  When brother kills brother in the whole of Hindustan, Kashmir raised its voice of Hindu-Muslim unity.  I can assure the Hindu and Sikh minorities that as long as I am alive their life and honour will be quite safe.”

 

 

Vide the Maharaja’s  proclamation of March 5, 1948, Sheikh Abdullah took over as the Prime Minister of the state, and on the next day, he told a press conference:  

 

“We have decided to work and die for India. . .We made our decision not in October last, but in 1944, when we resisted the advances of Mr.Jinnah.  Our refusal was categorical.  Ever since the National Conference had attempted to keep the State clear of the pernicious two-nation theory while fighting the world’s worst autocracy ( The Statesman, 7 March, 1948).”

 

On December 3, at a function of the GandhiMemorialCollege at Jammu:

 

“Kashmiris would rather die following the footsteps of Gandhiji than accept the two-nation theory.  We want to link the destiny of Kashmir with India because we feel that the ideal before India and Kashmir is one and the same.”

 

Those ideals—secularism, democracy, end to feudal landlordship—became the basis for the adoption of the “provisional accession of the State to India” by the National Conference in the same month of October.

 

II

 

 

The Betrayal

 

Although  Accession vide Article 370  which conferred a “special status” on Jammu & Kashmir had, as stated above, received approval both from Patel and Shyama Prasad Mukerjee,  a new situation was to develop as the Abdullah government in the State launched the New Kashmir Manifesto,  bedrocked, among extraordinarily progressive  pronouncements—equal status of women in education and employment  being but  one—  on the promise of giving land to those who tilled it.

 

Thus, disregarding Clause 6 of the Instrument of Accession  (“Nothing in this Instrument shall empower the Dominion Legislature to make any law for this State authorizing the compulsory acquisition of land for any purpose,”  and should land be thus needed, “I will at their request acquire the land”), Abdullah declared a maximum land ceiling of 22.75 acres, set up a Land Reforms Commission, and set about distributing surplus land thus acquired to those who actually were tillers on the soil.  Abdullah was to rub home the point that such land reforms would never have been possible in a feudal Pakistan.

 

This was trouble royal.

 

Most of the land then was in possession of Hindu Dogras, and most of the tillers were Muslim Kashmiris.

 

Thus it came to be that the material loss of landholdings was sought to be converted into a  communal question vide an opposition now to Article 370  by a newly organized forum called the Praja Parishad which came to be led by the very Mukerjee who had been a willing party to the adoption of the Article as a member of the Union Cabinet.

 

Under stipulations of the “special status,” Jammu & Kashmir had been granted to form its own Constituent Assembly.  When elections to the CA took place in 1951, candidates picked by Abdullah’s National Conference won all 75 seats. The Assembly met on October 31, 1951.  On November 5, Abdullah outlined the major agenda before it:

 

          To frame a Constitution for Kashmir

          To decide on the fate of the royal Dynasty;

          To decide whether there should be any compensa

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