Kashmir, Ultra Nationalists and Path to Peaceful Solution

The condemnable attack on Supreme Court lawyer and “Team Anna” member Prashant Bhushan on 12 October 2011, threw up many a question. To begin with, the attackers were congratulated by ultra-nationalists like Bal Thackeray of Shiv Sena, showing the gross intolerance around certain issues in our society, more particularly those related to Kashmir and other issues being raised by those who have been practicing the sectarian politics. It does reflect the growing intolerance in the society, without doubt.

This attack took place in the aftermath of the statement of Prashant Bhushan expressing his opinion that the option of referendum as suggested by UN way back can be the way to solve the Kashmir problem. In the aftermath of this dastardly attack on him, cracks also surfaced in Team Anna and most of the members of the team disowned his opinion to the extent that even a move to expel Bhushan from team Anna came up. Anna Hazare, displaying his mastery on nationalism and history asserted that Kashmir is an inseparable pat of India from times immemorial. Some of those asserting Kashmir as “the inseparable part of India” also resorted to saying that Bhushan should be treated as an anti-national as his opinion violated the position of the Indian Constitution.

Historically and constitutionally, things are not as straightforward about Kashmir. One knows that Maharaja of Kashmir acceded to India after Pakistan’s army dressed as tribals invaded Kashmir. Kashimiri people did not want to merge with Pakistan. This attitude of Kashmiri people was reflected in the opinion of National Conference led by Sheikh Abdullah. It was at this juncture that Maharaja Harisingh, the King of Kashmir, signed the instrument of accession with India. This instrument was subject to ratification by the people of Kashmir for which, as suggested later by the UN, a referendum was to be held. So, the first point should be straight and clear that “Kashmir has been part of India form all times”, is not true. It acceded with India in 1948. The instrument of accession gave a total autonomy to Kashmir, barring issues related to defence, communication, external affairs and currency.

 The problem began with the demand by communal forces in India, as articulated prominently by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of Hindu Mahasabha, to forcibly merge Kashmir into India and make it like any other state. The impact of communal forces at the time was also witnessed in the form of the murder of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. This continuous pressure from communal forces affected the attitude of the Indian Government. The Government gradually went on withdrawing the autonomy clauses, and kept on tampering with the process of elections in the state. This resulted in the process of alienation of people of Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah, who was uncomfortable with the moves of Government of India, tried to rethink his decision about accession to India, but he was soon imprisoned and languished in jail for 17 long years.

The alienated youth of Kashmir were assisted by the Pakistani establishment, which had its own vested interests. Pakistan was totally backed up by the United States, which pursued the policies to encourage the turmoil in the area, leading to the violence. US has so far been using Pakistan as its proxy in the region to dominate the oil rich Gulf region. This process worsened with the entry of Al Qaeda and its clones in Kashmir in late 1980s and 1990s. The entry of Al Qaeda communalized the situation and undermined the spirit of Kashmiriyat, the major culture of Kashmir. Kashmiriyat is a synthesis of teachings of Buddha, Vedanta and the Sufi tradition of Islam. When militancy in Kashmir reached its peak, one of its tragic outcomes was mass exodus of Kashmiri Pundits. A large number of Muslim families also had to leave the valley.

Mostly the ruling party or coalitions at the Centre tried to influence and rig the elections in Kashmir, undermining the democratic process for long. Indian Government faced the situation by sending more and more armed forces into the valley and today there is huge presence of military in the area. The presence of military has affected the civilian life to a great extent, due to which Kashmiris have been living in an intensely intimidating atmosphere. Military has committed large number of excesses in the area. Today people of Kashmir are the victims of the local militancy, Al Qaeda-Pakistan promoted terrorism and the high-handed actions of the Indian army and state police. The perception of Kashmiris has been shaped by this phenomenon. A discomforting mix indeed. It is due to all this that the dissatisfaction of the people gets manifested by stone pelting and similar actions of protest.

In this context, various “solutions” have been presented to ease out the situation. While the separatists want Azadi, People’s Democratic Party of Mahbooba Mufti wants “self-rule” and the National Conference of Farooq Abdulla wants the autonomy to be restored in the valley. The solution of referendum has been one of the major demands all through. Today, six decades down the line, it is doubtful if this can be a realistic solution at all as Pakistan has also been playing its own games in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, euphemistically called “Azad Kashmir”, where there is hardly any Azadi in the true sense of the word. The demand for referendum was surely a need in the 1950s, as it was committed while signing the accession treaty. The commitment was that the accession will have to be ratified by the Kashmiri people. Today, decades later, the social and political situations have so much changed that we will have to reconcile only to the strengthening of the democratic process in Kashmir with its existing LoC to begin with. Referendum is neither realistic nor possible today.

It is in this context that the effort of Government of India to appoint three interlocutors in the area has to be seen. In the report of the interlocutors emphasis is on the socio-economic problems of the region, skirting the political issues involved. It correctly focuses on the need for employment generation schemes, education and other measures which are the need of the people of the state. While Bhushan’s stand about plebiscite may be a bit of an overkill, still it has been the aspiration of many a Kashmiri group. The situation is to be viewed today in the context of the changing global equation between US-Pakistan, the evolution of democratic process in Kashmir and the perpetuation of the causes of militancy in Kashmir. The major cause of militancy-alienation has been the attempt to forcibly merge the state with India, by demanding the abolition of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. This incidentally has been a major demand of the communal forces in the country. 

 The likes of Hazares and Thackerays have forgotten the recent history of the nation, if at all they knew it, and are blinded by their version of nationalism. The need is to ensure that the issue is seen in the proper historical and Constitutional context with the aim to ease the sufferings of the Kashmiri people. (Issues in Secular Politics)