Plebiscite, Kashmir And The Indian State – Experiments With Untruth



After India’s Independence the people of Kashmir were promised that a plebiscite would be held so that the Kashmiris could decide their future. There is a United Nations resolution to the effect but it stands unimplemented. The struggle of Kashmiris for right to self determination has resulted in killing of over a hundred thousand people since the 1989 insurgency as per the assessment of Hurriyat leaders. But the onslaught by the police, para-military and military has not dampened the spirit of the freedom loving people of Kashmir. So, too, the continued incarceration of political prisoners in jails. In fact the first ever opinion poll conducted in the Kashmir valley by Outlookhad revealedinteralia:

77% of the people were of the “firm belief” that a solution to the Kashmir problem did not lie within the framework of the Indian Constitution and they felt independence could alone bring peace in the valley.

Outlook had commissioned MODE to conduct this opinion poll,

  • Outlook India, Oct. 18, 1995

The present uprising indicates that more people favourAzadi than even in 1995.

The Present Kashmir Uprising since 8 July, 2016

SAS Geelani’s word alone counts as the weekly protest calendar is announced and followed by the agitators in the ongoing Kashmir uprising. The non-cooperation movement – spearheaded by SAS Geelani, Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq with students and youth in the forefront – has paralyzed the State functioning to a grinding halt. Closure of schools, colleges, universities, markets, business establishments, public transport, banks and government offices continues. The economy of the State lies shattered. One hon’ble member of LokSabha, elected from the Srinagar, Budgam constituency Tariq Karra resigned as an M.P. in September 2016 citing “naked atrocities” in Kashmir; the elected State Assembly legislatures stand completely alienated from the struggling people. There is the pathetic spectacle of the State education minister pleading with Geelani to allow examinations to be held even as the brutal State repression continues. Whatever views the rulers in Delhi hold about Geelani the latter’s word in Kashmir is respected as much as Mahatma Gandhi’s was during India’s freedom struggle.

Some flawed arguments and half baked truths have been floated to deny plebiscite in Kashmir:

  1. i) That people have been participating in J&K assembly elections for decades; that large percentage of people have cast their vote in this or that assembly election in spite of the call given by the separatists to boycott the elections.

It may be recalled that the first election to the new legislatures for Central Legislative Assembly took place in British India in November 1920, while the last elections to the Assembly were held in 1945. No doubt the electorate of the Assembly was not representative of the mass of the nation. But in any case the British rulers did not use this as a pretext to deny freedom to India. The history of J&K assembly elections is replete with large scale rigging over the decades – the results being no better than that of assembly elections in British India during 1920-45. It is not immediately understood as to what percentage of people should vote before legitimacy is granted to the elections. During the 2014 assembly elections in J&K, 65% of the eligible voters are said to have participated in the elections. Suppose the percentage had been 25%, would that have put a question mark on the legitimacy of the elections? During different periods in post independent India there have been occasions when assembly elections have ensured participation of a very small number of voters e.g. the Assam elections in 1983 ensured only 31.46% voter turnout. Using the logic being given in J&K, should the election in Assam assembly of that time be declared to be not representing the legitimacy of the Indian state? Again the BJP with NarendraModi as the Prime Minister was able to garner just 31% of the vote share; BJP’s 31% is lowest vote share of any party to win majority. Where does one put this election result then?At a time when the ruling class politicians keep on harping that only 5% of Kashmiris are agitating, what prevents them from holding a referendum and calling the bluff off? In any case parliamentary elections in democracies globally are seldom able to get 50% of the eligible voters to come out and vote. Yet the results are considered to be legitimately representing the mass of the nation.

So often the Indian state uses the argument of surrendered ‘naxalites’/ ‘maoists’/separatists participating in elections as a sign of the strength and legitimacy of the electoral politics. In J&K we have the strange sight of people who have participated in State assembly elections for decades finally opting out of the system. SAS Geelani has been a strong and consistent supporter of right to self determination of Kashmiris. He has been elected as an MLA from the Sopore constituency of J&K three times (1972, ’77 & ’87). The 1987 election to the assembly were largely reported to be rigged; this important factor gave birth to insurgency in J&K. The 1989 general elections saw less than 10% voting in Kashmir valley; marginal 5% in Srinagar and AnantnagLokSabha segments. So if the logic given by the establishment for the 2014 assembly elections were to be accepted; then the establishment must accept that this logic was turned upside down during the 1989 general elections in Kashmir. So wasn’t a referendum in order post the 1989 general elections?

The much maligned Syed Mohammad Yusuf Shah – popularly known as Syed Salahudeen – head of the militant rebel organization Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, a Kashmir based militant separatist group is currently living in Pakistan while his family is settled in Kashmir. He wanted to become a civil servant but decided against it as he regarded this as traitorous to the cause of Kashmir. He contested the J&K assembly election as a candidate of the Muslim United Front in Amirakadal constituency, Srinagar. The seat was won by the National Conference candidate while Mohammad Yusuf Shah came second. For participating in violent agitations he was arrested and put in jails. He joined Hizb-ul-Mujahideen after being released in 1989. As late as 4 September, 2016 he cited rigged, bogus and planted elections as the reason for taking to the gun! He has accepted that the Pakistan has been backing Hizb-ul-Mujahideen for fight in Kashmir.

Rather than insuring implementation of assurances given to the people of Kashmir the rigged elections in J&K stand testimony to the birth and growth of armed struggle; some lesson to be learnt here by the Indian State. So much for the participation of people in the J&K assembly elections – largely rigged – and the alleged legitimacy provided to the Indian State.

Juxtapose the situation in Kashmir to that in Nagaland. On 19 July, 1945 an eleven member Naga delegation led by A.Z. Phizo& others met Mahatma Gandhi at Delhi to discuss the issue of Naga autonomy. A letter was handed over to Gandhi by the Naga National Council (NNC) expressing fears that military force might be used by the Indian Government to occupy the Naga territory. The delegation was assured that Gandhi would visit Kohima and be the “first to be shot before any Naga is killed”. Later on 9 July, 1947 Gandhi assured another delegation of Naga leaders that they had every right to be independent if they wanted to be. The Nagas refused to join the Indian Union when the British departed from India. The Nagas declared Naga independence on 14 August, 1947 – a day before the declaration of Indian independence. A plebiscite was conducted by the NNC – the only mandated public institution – on 16 May, 1951. 99.9 % of Nagas wanted independence from India. The Indian government and the Assam government rejected the result of the plebiscite. During the first Indian General Elections in 1952 not a single Naga cast a single vote and empty election boxes were taken away to India. Obviously the Nagas had rejected the election.

Thus if the argument in Kashmir is that a large percentage of people participating in successive assembly elections legitimizes the Indian state then on this count alone Naga independence should have been granted since not a single Naga cast his/her vote in the first Indian general election in 1952.

Interestingly the merger agreement of Manipur with the Indian Union was signed by the Maharaja of Manipur who had been kept under house arrest in Shillong with all channels of communications shut off. He was literally forced to sign the merger agreement at gun point in 1949. Before merger Manipur state assembly elections had been held in 1948 and a Constitution drafted by the people of Manipur. Thus Manipur stayed independent till 1949 and had conducted its own assembly elections independent of the Indian Union. Yet plebiscite is denied to the people of Manipur; the irony is that the Kashmiris are being denied plebiscite for having participated in assembly elections after merger with the Indian Union; the Manipuris being denied plebiscite for a contrary reason.

The monarchial rule of the Maharaja of Manipur, Bodh Chandra in 1948 came to an end after he had handed over the sovereign independent power to his people who had then begun to have their government formed democratically i.e. by exercising their adult franchise under their own required constitution framed under an Act, the Manipur Constitution Act, 1947. Adult franchise was carried out in 1948; democratically elected government under a people’s legislative assembly started functioning from October 1948 onwards. Thus the merger with India in 1949 was not a valid one, it was an annexation. In the case of Sikkim at least a plebiscite was conducted after Sikkim had ‘joined’ the Indian Union. No such plebiscite has been undertaken by the authorities after Manipur’s merger in 1949!

When it comes to absorbing an entity into the Indian Union – as opposed to exiting the Union – the maneuvering and the questionable techniques employed by the Indian state fall into the zone of no holds barred effort. Morarji Desai, the Prime Minister of India had opined that Sikkim has been annexed!!! As per a report in the New York Times dated March 8, 1978 page 9:

Prime Minister Morarji R. Desai said today that the government of his predecessor, Indira Gandhi, should not have annexed the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim in 1975. “But,” he said as he denounced the move, “I cannot undo it now.”

Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s defence was that she has done what China had done towards Tibet and Pakistan towards PoK. These examples constitute political realism in international arena.

  1. ii) Another argument put forward by the establishment to deny plebiscite in Kashmir is that Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in the valley. Firstly, even if this is so still the promises made to the people of Kashmir cannot be set aside on this count alone. In fact had a plebiscite been undertaken in early decades after India’s independence this issue would not have arisen at all. Secondly no such precondition for plebiscite exists in the U.N. resolution about the rise of religious fervour negating the holding of a plebiscite. Different excuses have got raised for not holding a plebiscite in Kashmir at different times in the past seven decades. The then Prime Minister of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah was subjected to virtually continued imprisonment between 1953 and 1968 for supporting the idea of a U.N. sponsored plebiscite in Kashmir. At that time there was no alleged Islamic fundamentalism leave alone one on the rise. Yet plebiscite was denied; presently plebiscite is being denied because there is rising Islamic fundamentalism. In 1975 through dubious mechanizations the ‘Kashmir Accord’ was sought to be forced on the people of Kashmir. Through this deception the Indian government tried to barter away plebiscite with promise of restoration of a measure of autonomy to Kashmir within the Indian Union. Statewide protests followed while opposing this move.

Shabir Shah – also known as ‘Nelson Mandela’ of Kashmir and sometimes called as ‘Jail Bird’ as also ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ – had denounced the 1975 Indira-Abdullah Accord; for the latter opposition he was arrested and tortured in the most infamous interrogation chambers like Red-Sixteen in Bagh-i-Mahtab in Srinagar. Since the age of fourteen years he has been in and out of jail and under house arrest for over fifteen years. Draconian laws like DIR (Defence of India Rules) Act; Public Safety Act slapped repeatedly against him even though revoked by the J&K High Court. He has repeatedly faced torture at Red-Sixteen interrogation centre in Srinagar. His father had died in police custody in 1989 after facing repeated harassment at the hands of security agencies because of Shabir Shah’s political affiliations. Shabir Shah’s fate for seeking right to self-determination typifies in greater or smaller degree the treatment meted out to those struggling for freedom in Kashmir. In the aforementioned survey conducted by Outlook in 1995 nearly two-third of the men and women polled said they were against the increase in Islamic fundamentalism. The secular spirit of Kashmiris should never be held in doubt.

It is just as well to point out that the Indian government as also the Indian army helped in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. Lately media reports support the contention that Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in Bangladesh. Now this observation cannot be used to lament that Bangladesh should not have been liberated in the first place. Besides rising fundamentalism of all religious hues is a global phenomenon since 1970; and this has to be opposed by secular, democratic forces all over the world. The cause of rising religious fundamentalism would have to be addressed.

Blaming Pakistan for instigating unrest in Kashmir is a handy weapon no doubt resorted to by ruling class parties. However it should be obvious to any observer of Kashmir that the present Kashmir uprising is indigenous. Secondly, in a climate generated by NarendraModi’svirtual endorsement of the cause of Balochistanduring India’s Independence day address to the nation this year, the moral authority of Indian government to blame Pakistan for instigating unrest in Kashmir gets eroded. The foreign hand comes in handy when attention is sought to be diverted from any unresolved issue; foreign missionaries, Baptist church and Americans have been blamed for supporting the cause of freedom of the Naga people from the Indian state. The present day rulers in Delhi have been lately deifying the politics of Subhash Chandra Bose during India’s freedom struggle. Bose had sought to get help from Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Imperial Japan to dislodge the British colonial rulers from India. Bose was the self styled head of State, Prime Minister, Minister of War and Foreign Affairs of provisional government of free India based in the Japanese occupied Andaman and Nicobar Islands (1943-45). In November 1941 while in Germany Bose set up a Free India Centre in Berlin and soon a Free India Radio, on which Bose broadcast nightly. Germany had provided funds for these ventures. Bose’s desire to get India freedom notwithstanding, his efforts get seen as collaboration with fascism. In fact the Indian National Army had fought alongside the Japanese army.

The Prime Minister of India made an announcement at Kuala Lumpur on 22 November, 2015 that the Indian Cultural Centre will be named after freedom fighter and commander of the Indian National Army, NetajiSubhash Chandra Bose. This is first time that an Indian PM has named the Indian Cultural Centre in a foreign country after Netaji. Modi visited the memorial to pay his respect and homage to Netaji.

The role of the Indian government and the Indian army in the liberation of Bangladesh is well documented and is much trumpeted about particularly by right wing politicians and some former senior army officials in the full glare of 24×7 television channels. It would be a denial of truth to say that Pakistan is not reciprocating by aiding and abetting the Azadi lovers of Kashmir. Such is the stuff of real politik. The Sri Lankan Tamil militants struggling for a Tamil Eelamto be carved out of Sri Lanka had received training, aid and support in Tamil Nadu; the spiritual head of the Tibetan Buddhists, Dalai Lama along with his followers have been based in India for over five decades in their struggle to carve out a separate state for themselves from within a sovereign country like China. Pakistan’s support to the Kashmiri’s freedom fighters should be seen in the light of these political realities.

The Indian state wishes to forcibly have Kashmir as its live-in partner with the daily round of domestic violence inflicted on the latter. Kashmir is denied justice and freedom as the Indian state fears that it would lead an independent existence or worse get wedded and welded to Pakistan.

Finally,Indian mythology has a lesson or two for the Ram Bhakts who presently rule Delhi. Queen Kaikeyi – the second of the three main wives of King Dasharath reminded the latter about the two boons he had promised her years back. The king remembered and was in fact pleased to grant the boons. Kaikeyi urged thatinstead of Rama, Bharata (son of Kaikeyi) be given the throne of Ayodhya; and Rama be banished to the forest for fourteen years.

Lord Rama honouredDasharath’s words by departing to the forests.

It is in this spirit that promises made to the people of Kashmir need to be fulfilled.

Dr. P.S. Sahni&Shobha Aggarwal are members of PIL Watch Group and can be contacted at: [email protected]



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