Congress' 'high-handedness' to Sheikh Abdullah's 'betrayal'; seven historical blunders behind Kashmir's current mess
Over the years, Kashmir has slipped into a state of continuous mayhem and despair because of several historical blunders.
The Sikh and then the Dogra regimes in Kashmir came in 1820 and 1846 respectively, in the aftermath of nearly a hundred-and-fifty years of Mughal and Afghan rule. To an extent, therefore, history was bound to reverse itself with a Hindu dynasty holding the reins of power and control.
From the 1820s, there were reports of persecution of the Muslim majority in various forms, such as with the introduction of the death penalty for cow slaughter and the imposition of higher taxes on them. The Hindu minority, on the other hand, was much favoured by the rulers and enjoyed preferential treatment in education and government jobs.
This went on for nearly a hundred years. Things, however, got a lot better under the last Dogra ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, who took over the reins of Kashmir in 1925. Singh was a progressive, largely non-partisan ruler who was a revolutionary social reformer and educationist. However, the perception of an oppressive rule overshadowed his real self and Sheikh Abdullah, a young leader of the Valley, exploited this shrewdly for his political benefit.
Abdullah, along with Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas, formed the Muslim Conference in 1932 to champion the rights of the subjugated Muslims and to overthrow the princely rulers from the Valley. In 1937, Abdullah met Jawaharlal Nehru and both of them seemed to have instantly formed a mutual admiration society.
This meeting led to Abdullah converting his crusade for 'Muslim interests' into one for 'national interests'. And so, the Muslim Conference was renamed as the National Conference in 1939. The original Muslim Conference continued to exist as a rival, with its co-founder, Abbas at the helm of affairs.
Nehru antagonised Hari Singh by siding completely with Sheikh Abdullah
The Nehru-Sheikh friendship marked the start of an intriguing political collaboration that was to run for generations between the two clans. While this friendship was crucial in securing Kashmir for India, in multiple ways, it was also responsible for the crippled existence that Kashmir began to lead right after its accession to India.
In 1946, Abdullah led a massive 'Quit Kashmir' movement against Singh. The movement was ill-timed, considering how close the country was to Independence, but it was a show of strength on Abdullah's part. He clearly wanted to establish himself as the undisputed future leader of the Valley.
Given the politically charged atmosphere in the country at that time, Abdullah was, quite naturally, jailed. After his election as Congress president, Nehru, who had once called Abdullah his 'blood brother', came out in full support of the jailed Abdullah and in June 1946, he decided to go to the Valley to free him.
This move was a serious blunder on Nehru's part. It antagonised Singh completely, to the extent that one year later, despite being dead against the idea of joining Pakistan, the Maharaja became reluctant to be a part of the Nehru-led India.
To be fair to Singh, left with no options and aware of the looming threat of an incursion from across the border, the Maharaja made an offer to join India in September 1947. This offer, however, was not entertained by Nehru, who first demanded the release of Abdullah. Singh, pushed into a corner by Nehru and Abdullah, was to now become somewhat 'delusional' and preferred Kashmir's independence. Moreover, Nehru didn't want to lose control over the handling of Kashmir to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel within the party.
Kashmir's accession to India, as we well know it, happened under unusual conditions. On 22 October, 1947, weeks after Independence, Pakistan unveiled its non-state actors for the first time, when it fronted tribal armies from the North West Frontier Province to invade Kashmir.
This was a violation of the Standstill Agreement that the Maharaja had already signed with Pakistan. And hence, given the magnitude of the invasion, Singh had only two options left – either to let the entire kingdom go to Pakistan or join India and let the India Army battle it out. The Maharaja chose the latter.
On 26 October, therefore, the Instrument of Accession was executed by the Maharaja, and Kashmir became a part of India. On 27 October, Indian troops landed in Srinagar even as Abdullah himself organised private armies to support the Indian Army. The result was that the Pakistani non-state actors were pushed back significantly, even though a good portion of the state to its west and north was still occupied by them.
Hence, what could have been a way smoother accession had it happened in September 1947, was extraordinarily violent and complicated in October 1947, thanks to Nehru's obstinate and flawed approach.
Article 370 and Article 35A
While Singh continued to hold the title of king for a few years after Kashmir's accession to India, Abdullah was installed as the prime minister of Kashmir. There was, however, a marked difference in the way that Singh and Abdullah viewed Kashmir's accession to India.
While Singh largely saw it as an unconditional move, Abdullah reiterated that it was a provisional move and that the actual fate of Kashmir would be subsequently decided by the will of the people. Abdullah's stand led him to constantly bargain with and blackmail the Indian establishment for favours which were exceptional and which, in reality, only ensured that Kashmir's integration with the rest of the nation remained incomplete. Article 370 and Section 35A, which were introduced subsequently, are classic examples of how Kashmir went on to become a perpetual bargain deal for India.
Referring Kashmir dispute to UN Security Council
Another critical development that ensured that Kashmir remained entangled in a conflict was Nehru's hasty decision to refer the dispute to the United Nations Security Council on 1 January, 1948. He is supposed to have been persuaded by Lord Mountbatten, who urged his wife, Edwina, with whom Nehru was supposedly involved romantically, to convince him to take the matter to the UN. Nehru, apparently, was also promised the support of Britain at the United Nations. But Britain betrayed India with its pro-Pakistan stand in the UN.
Kashmir conspiracy case fiasco
Nehru had finally realised his folly in backing Abdullah as early as 1953. In fact, by then, Abdullah had revealed his true colours and was increasingly seen as an embarrassment by the Indian leadership. His hobnobbing with Pakistan to extract more advantages from India was an open trick.
Therefore, in August 1953, anticipating that Abdullah would launch a fresh azaadi (freedom) movement to break free from India, he was dismissed as prime minister by Dr Karan Singh, the then Sadr-e-Riyasat (Constitutional Head of Kashmir). Abdullah's deputy, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, was then installed as the prime minister of Kashmir.
Abdullah was subsequently arrested and he remained in prison for the next 10 years, until just months before his death, the Indian prime minister, in an almost whimsical manner, withdrew all cases against Abdullah and had him released from jail. The inconsistent manner in which the Nehru conducted himself on the Kashmir conspiracy case left an indelible trust deficit in Kashmir.
Indira Gandhi failed to bargain hard with Pakistan after 1971 victory
On his release from jail, Abdullah proved himself to be a more wily politician, and this time around, he refused to budge from his demand of a plebiscite. And hence, when Nehru died in 1964, his successors were left with a new set of problems to battle in the Valley.
Soon after Nehru's death, Abdullah was interned from Kashmir for 18 months and his Plebiscite Front was banned from taking part in the elections. Right after this, the National Conference was dissolved and merged with the Indian National Congress in a marked centralising strategy.
With the Congress now ruling both at the Centre and in the state, it was a great opportunity for the Indian government to integrate Kashmir with the rest of the country fully and thus conclusively end its problems. But the government of the day lacked the political willpower required.
It was in this phase that India won the 1971 war against Pakistan and 93,000 Pakistani soldiers were held captive by India. The Shimla agreement that followed was a virtual giveaway by India. The safety of Bangladeshi premier Mujibur Rehman was Indira's primary concern then and that had her release the Pakistan prisoners.
However, it is believed that Pakistan was in such battered state after the war that had Indira played hard, pushing them for concessions on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) was not entirely unthinkable. Post-1971 war, India was in the best position to make Pakistan behave on Kashmir. That we let it go, was a historical loss.
A few years later, a much mellowed Abdullah made another comeback to the centre of things in 1975. The Indira-Abdullah pact paved the way for him to become the chief minister of the state. Even though in this last innings of his, Abdullah was conspicuously reconciliatory; what his restoration to power did was to make it easier for his deceptive legacy to continue.
India had four decades to settle the problems of Kashmir internally, even if the external border dispute continued with Pakistan. But the Indian leadership's over-dependence on the National Conference kept it in a state of complacency and denial. The result was that power in the state was centred within a small cartel, leading to the fundamentalist fringe growing exponentially and posing the biggest challenge to the country by the mid-1980s.
Congress' high-handedness and its disregard for democratic practices
In 1984, the elected majority government of Farooq Abdullah was dismissed by the governor, Jagmohan, who combined the virtues of being an able administrator with that of being a stooge of Indira. GM Shah, an inept man who happened to be the estranged brother-in-law of Farooq, was installed as the new chief minister of the state.
By 1986, however, Shah's all-around failure led to his government being dismissed, and in a dramatic turn of events, Farooq, who had begun to encourage anti-India forces in the Valley, and the Congress, which had been calling the National Conference an anti-national body, got together for another unholy collaboration which came to be known as the Rajiv (Gandhi)-Farooq Accord of 1987.
It is said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This couldn't have been truer than in the case of Kashmir. The 1984 dismissal and the subsequent resurrection of Farooq were reminiscent of the way his father had been dismissed in 1953, only to be reinstated later in 1975. There was, however, a marked difference between 1953 and 1984. In 1953, Abdullah's blackmail had kept India on the edge. Farooq, on the other hand, couldn’t exactly be accused of any such abuse of power until 1984.
The pact between Farooq and Rajiv shocked the people. They felt cheated because it sent out a clear message – that the politics of both the Congress and the National Conference was nothing but mere posturing that they cared two hoots for the fate of the Kashmiris.
The announcement of the pact led to a massive consolidation of fundamentalist Islamic forces in the Valley, as they got together to fight the elections under the Muslim United Front (MUF). But the elections were rigged by the National Conference and Congress and Farooq returned to power.
It did not take time for many leaders of the MUF to pick up arms against India. The uncertainty and chaos of 1987 was, therefore, to turn into armed militancy of the worst kind in the years that followed.
What followed was the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in 1989, leading to the doomed and catastrophic night of 19 January 1990, when slogans of azaadi and calls for the cleansing of the Valley of its Kashmiri Pandit population rent the air. That night witnessed the worst ethnic cleansing in independent India, the scars of which remain unhealed till date in many Kashmiri Pandit homes.
The deadly chain of militant attacks in the Valley that followed and the brutal retaliation by the Indian Army led to Kashmir being doomed to a perennially disturbed state. It also led to a whole generation of kids growing up in the shadow of violence and hatred.
UPA failed to take Vajpayee's narrative forward
After the nightmarish early 1990s, the most significant improvement in the Kashmir situation was seen in 2003 when a People's Democratic Party-led government was in power, supported by the Congress. The then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had coined the famous slogan of 'Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat' to sum up the essence of his stand on the issue of Kashmir.
He explained to the Parliament that "issues can be resolved if we are guided by three principles of Kashmiriyat (Kashmir's age-old legacy of Hindu-Muslim amity), Jamhooriyat (democracy) and Insaniyat (humanism)." The Vajpayee government was largely flexible and open to talks with all stakeholders in the Valley. In fact, the slogan was meant to be a part of the larger strategy that Vajpayee had in mind to solve the Kashmir dispute.
Even today, Vajpayee is the most respected Indian prime minister in Kashmir. In the Valley, he enjoys more goodwill than even Nehru. However, after the unexpected exit of the NDA government in 2004, the politically immature duo of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi could not take the narrative forward in Kashmir. Over the years, Kashmir once again slipped into continuous mayhem and despair.
Tuhin Sinha is an author and young BJP leader.
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