Democratic Processes and Kashmir Imbroglio

Kashmir Meeting

On 5th August 2019, through the Presidential ordinance the Article 370, giving autonomy to Kashmir was abolished. This article was the basis of Kashmir’s accession to India and it gave autonomy to Kashmir in all matters except defense, communication, currency and external affairs. Following this there was a suspension of most of the democratic rights; internet services were suspended and Kashmir was practically cut off for long time. The inner protests did not come to the notice of the world. The heavy military presence was intensified and the major leaders of J&K were either arrested or put under house arrest. The status of J&K was reduced from that of a state to Union territory; the area was split into two Union territories, Ladhak and J&K. Lt Governor, i.e. union Government, came to administer the area. Democracy stood totally suspended.

Nearly a year and a half later now on 24th June (2021) PM Modi called a meeting with the leaders of the erstwhile state, including four ex Chief Ministers of the state. The PM and HM talked of having delimitation of state (Reconstitution of electoral constituencies) and holding elections in near future. The talk of restoration of statehood was raised by the leaders from Kashmir but no firm promise was made by the authorities.

It remains obscure as to why Modi chose to call this meeting at this juncture. The leaders from Kashmir did articulate some thoughts in the meeting and called for restoration of statehood; it was not taken seriously by Modi-Shah duo. Mahbooba Mufti did talk of restoring article 370 and having dialogue with Pakistan. After the meeting in a Press Conference Faroukh Abdullah stated that the promises made to people of Kashmir, holding of plebiscite (Nehru), for solving the Kashmir issue within the bounds of Indian Constitution ‘sky is the limit’ (Narsimha Rao), solving the issue on the principles of ‘Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat, Kashmiriyat’ (Humanism, Democracy, Kashmiriyat) (Vajpayee) were not kept. Now even the statehood has been snatched and article 370 abolished against the very spirit of Indian Constitution which mandated that this article can be abolished only on the recommendation from the Assembly of Kashmir.

Briefly the biggest victims of Kashmir issue have been the Kashmiris (people of Kashmir). Kashmiri Pundits had to leave the valley due to the militancy which was distorted and manipulated from Kashmiriyat to ‘Jihad of their understanding’ by the Al Qaeda type elements entering the state and they targeted the Pundits apart from intensifying the militancy in general. The state at that time was being controlled by Jagmohan (who later joined BJP). Instead of providing security to the hapless Hindu minority, he provided the transport for these tortured community in the state. Interestingly the fact which is not registered is that apart from Kashmiri Pundits good number of Muslims also left the Valley due to increased militancy and the heavy presence of military as the state response to the same.

No doubt the major contributor to the miseries of Kashmiris has been the role of Pakistan backed up by the imperialist forces; America in particular. The strategic geographic location of Kashmir was the reason behind America-England axis in encouraging Pakistan to support the militancy and later the entry of Al Qaeda types worsened the situation beyond limits. The dissatisfaction of people of state manifested in the form of stone throwing in the later times, manifesting the frustration of the people.

It seems the present rulers have been working on changing the religious composition of the state. We know that Kashmir had over 70% Muslims at the time of Independence, and this is what made Jinnah state that Kashmir is in his pocket, and the Pakistan army supported the kabaylees (Tribal) to attack the state. One needs to recall decision of Sheikh Abdullah; the doyen of Kashmir; who refused to merge with Pakistan. He was clear about the feudal-fundamentalist nature of Pakistan’s leadership. He was a great supporter of Gandhi and Nehru’s secularism and he saw them as the stars of Indian political firmament. He was also very keen on bringing in land reforms in the state. Kashmiris themselves identified more with Kashmiriyat, which is a synthesis of Buddhism; Vedantism and Sufi tradition. The best possible synthesis of South Asian traditions.

It was the communalists (Shyama Prasad Mukherjee onwards) who were very aggressive in demanding total merger of the state with India. Mukherjee was part of the Union Cabinet which had approved the Kashmir policies. This attitude of Communalists along with murder of Mahatma disenchanted Sheikh and he started rethinking whether he took the correct decision in acceding to India.

While on one hand Pakistan’s designs have worsened the plight of people of Kashmir, on the other Communalists in India have used Kashmir issue to polarize the society. They blamed Nehru for creating the problem propagating that had the issue been handled by Patel it would have been solved right at that time. lies and propaganda has been their strength. To cut the long story short, Avinash Mohanty points out “Three main culprits for the Kashmir conflict of 1947 and division of state were Lord Mountbatten, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Governor General of Pakistan and Maharaja Hari Singh. On the other side, the three tall leaders, who played a crucial role at that time in getting the state for us were Sheikh Abdullah, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.”

Patel did realize that merger of Hyderabad was more crucial geographically and so later he was not very insistent on accession of Kashmir to India. “Visiting Kashmir between June 18 and June 23, Mountbatten had told Maharaja Hari Singh “that if Kashmir joined Pakistan this would not be regarded as unfriendly by the Government of India”. According to VP Menon, Mountbatten said to Hari Singh “that he had a firm assurance on this from Sardar Patel himself”.

Even the decision of ceasefire and taking the matters to United Nations were a part of complex scenario in which concern for civilian population getting killed in war and a trust in United Nations were strong factors for such a decision.

Currently social media propaganda is also going on that Nehru gave more assembly seats to Valley despite it having lesser population than Jammu. This is a total lie, as per census of 2011 the population of Kashmir Valley was 68.88 lakhs and that of Jammu was 53.79 Lakhs. Still it is true that with other criterion like topography and area, it is likely that in delimitation exercise Jammu may gain in number of constituencies.

It is another matter that plebiscite could not be held as Pakistan, backed up by America, Pakistan refused to vacate the aggression. Labeling and presenting Muslims as separatists, giving the example of Kashmir has been the big propaganda tool in the hands of communalists. Now Modi is talking of ‘Dil ki Duri’ (distance in hearts). Can people’s heart be won over by the barrel of the gun? What can reduce the distance are love, affection and empathy for the Kashmiri people as a whole. The issue of Kashmiri pundit’s miseries has also been milked to divide the society. This Government is ruling for last 7 years, earlier BJP led NDA ruled for six years, what could they do for reducing the misery of Pundits? Some sectarian tendencies look for opportunity in human miseries, what best can exemplify this than the issue of Kashmir?



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Dr Ram Puniyani

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: [email protected]

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