Opinions

Ladakhi Magic: Disappearance Of The Muslim Majority From All Discourse

In a sense, the circumvention of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir by the Narendra Modi government concludes the fierce debate between Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbahi Patel on the Kashmir file in December 1947. The issue has not only been settled in favour of Sardar Patel, the disciple has exceeded the Guru. Recklessness was not Patel’s style although he once suggested the valley go to Pakistan if it wished. That would have made India comprehensively a Hindu Raj, something which most Congressmen desired.

Muslim girls in the town of Kargil in Ladakh

It was nobody’s case that the Partition plan announced by Lord Mountbatten on June 3, 1947, envisaged a “Muslim Pakistan” and a “secular India”. It was a straightforward division on religious lines – Hindu and Muslim. Patel, like Babu Rajendra Prasad, Purushottam Das Tandon and J.B. Kripalani, would have been happier with a “Hindu Raj” or Hindustan as a counterpoint to the Muslim Raj, or Pakistan. The Congress was opposed to the Two-Nation theory. It would therefore seem absurd that the Congress would accept half of the theory, namely, Pakistan but demur on the other half, India. Obviously, Nehru and the ICS, the aristocracy around him (today’s Khan Market crowd are their poor cousins) found something “mofussil” about Hindu India. There was another, deeper reason. Hindu India could not have kept Kashmir on the contiguity principle.

Kashmir had a Hindu Maharaja ruling a Muslim majority. Which way should Kashmir go? The answer should be straightforward but it is not. Nehru drooling on the state’s accession to India, persuaded Mahatma Gandhi to visit Kashmir, just when the build up to Partition was rising to a crescendo. Ian Stephens, the Editor of The Statesman during the crucial years from 1942 to 1951, gave much credence to the Mahatma’s visit to Kashmir. He thought the “saintly man” was also “one of the world’s most ingenious politicians”. Stephens then speculates: “It is hard to think what could have drawn him, as a saint, to Srinagar at this moment.”

For Stephens, the mystery of Kashmir deepened “when I read in September that Goplaswami Ayyangar, a very able and reputedly anti-Muslim Madrasi Brahmin, who was the Prime Minister of Kashmir from 1937 to 1943, had been made Minister without portfolio in the new Indian cabinet, I said to our editorial conference in Calcutta: “that really looks as if India is upto something at Srinagar, and our correspondents were told to watch for news.” And news there was aplenty.

Nehru was keen on Sheikh Abdullah as Prime Minister of Kashmir. Meher Chand Mahajan, once the Maharaja’s trusted “Prime Minister” was a Patel favourite. He also became Patel’s informer: “As advised, I am quietly watching the trend of events without in any way interfering in the government. Sheikh Sahib has got dictatorial powers which are being exercised in a dictatorial manner regardless of rules and forms of law.”

Mahajan whom Patel was backing for the top job in the valley came under the searchlight of Ved Bhasin, a distinguished editor of Kashmir Times. Let Bhasin speak: “Mahajan told a group of Hindus who met him in the palace in Jammu that now, when power was being transferred to the people, they should demand parity” (with Muslims).

How could parity be claimed when Muslims were in a majority? Mahajan pointed to bodies of Muslims smoldering after the previous day’s killing. “The population ratio too can change”. The Spectator, and the Times of London on August 10, 1948, estimated that anywhere between 200,000 and 237,000 were exterminated by the Maharaja’s Dogra forces. My attention to the genocide in Jammu was drawn by Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar’s article in the Times of India of 18 January 2015.

Nehru did have his way. Sheikh Abdullah did become Prime Minister but to what end. In 1953 Nehru jailed his “closest friend”. I must put it down to dynastic consistency that Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister asked Gopalaswami Ayyangar’s son, G. Parthasarathy to resume talks with the Sheikh in 1972, resulting in the Indira-Sheikh accord of 1975, restoring the Srinagar gaddi to him again. Nothing in the valley brought down the Sheikh’s image more than this “capitulation”. This is how the Kashmiris saw it. This is when other political formations began to sprout.

In 1984, the Sheikh died; Indira Gandhi was assassinated the same year. This opened the way for the next generation of dynasts – in New Delhi as well as Srinagar.

There is an old Persian saying:

Agar pidar na tawanad

Pisar tamam kunad

“That which father (or mother in one case) has left incomplete,

It is the responsibility of the son to complete.”

Farooq Abdullah, practicing medicine in London, came back to take charge of his patrimony. After a few unseemly summersaults, Congress and the National Congress joined hands to contest the 1987 elections. Together, they raised the bar of rigging elections to record heights. Kashmiris had been cheated again. That was the beginning of the insurgency in the valley. In 1989, the Afghan Mujahideen, having helped push the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, found themselves looking for work. The situation in the valley beckoned. Indigenous insurgency was helped by battle-tried Mujahideen: it was a lethal mix.

While the people groaned, princely dynasties of the Abdullahs luxuriated. I do hope Farooq will still have access to the magnificent golf course he built with such passion. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s dynasty was not far behind. Both the dynasties are now over. A former senior State Department official asks a good question: “the status quo ante was not working for the Kashmiris, was it?”

The August 5 decision is an onion which has not yet been peeled. To the common man, the breaking up of the state into two Union Territories looks like a cake sliced into Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist parts. That is an optical illusion. The Centre has set up two three-legged races – Hindus and Muslims yoked together in in J&K and Muslims and Buddhists in Ladakh. The Gogia Pasha trick here is this: the Muslims of Kargil and elsewhere in the district, much the majority in Ladakh, have been made to disappear – from all discourse, to begin with.

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