Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi


Arundhati Roy’s pronouncement “Kashmir has never been an integral part of India” is a non-sequitur. Historically, India was understood as a geographic construct.  It emerged as a unitary nation-state under British rule. Kashmir was then as much a part of India as any of the other 500-odd princely states.  Even under various past empires, ranging from Ashoka to Akbar to Bahadur Shah Zafar, there was never any doubt that Kashmir belonged to what was considered India.


The issue of whether Kashmir is or is not a part of India  has a short history of 60 years of which the most tumultuous parts have occurred in two periods; from August 1947 to 1948 when the first Indo-Pak war erupted over Kashmir, and the violence from 1989 onwards. Arundhati Roy’s statement must therefore be understood as largely rhetorical made perhaps to match the oratory of a powerful orator like Syed Geelani from the same platform.


Notwithstanding history, the question of the status of Kashmir is important and must be resolved. The government of India’s position on Kashmir has changed over the years from what it was soon after or just preceding independence on August 15, 1947 until the consolidation of its control over the Kashmir Valley and Jammu through a political consensus built by Sheikh Abdullah and Nehru’s promises to respect the will of the Kashmiri people following the end of the first Indo-Pak war and the cease-fire that followed.


Although Indian-ruled Kashmir consists of the valley, Jammu and Ladakh, the heart of discontent is the valley which is predominantly Muslim. Notwithstanding the claims of most leaders of the Hurriyat that they are for a united secular Kashmir and the return of Kashmiri Pundits to the valley, they are neither in control of the popular sentiments in the valley or their more extreme expression, nor are they capable of enforcing their will. Yasin Malik of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front is the most thoughtful and secular of all the leaders but even he cannot guarantee implementation of a secular program and the safety of Kashmiri Pundits. This is just one aspect.


The other aspect is the government of India. Its own secularism is not guaranteed. Congress is wishy-washy on this score.  BJP is the government in waiting. How can a government which allowed demolition of Babri Masjid, genocide of Muslims in Gujarat and numerous anti-Muslim riots and deterioration in the social, political and economic status of Muslims throughout India be trusted to ensure the democratic will of the Muslims of Kashmir valley? The Intifada in Kashmir is, in a sense, the concentrated expression of  the resentment that over 150 million Muslims of India face at being targets of communal violence and propaganda by Hindutva organizations and the inability of state organs to live up to their secular pretensions.


Soon after independence, Nehru gave his recipe for the solution of the Kashmir problem in a letter to   Kashmir’s Maharaja Hari Singh. The four alternatives were: (1) Plebiscite in the entire princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to decide whether it would join India or Pakistan; (2) Independence of J&K with its defense guaranteed by both India and Pakistan; (3) Partition of J&K with Jammu (predominantly Hindu-Sikh) and Ladakh (mainly Buddhist) going to India and the rest to Pakistan; and (4) Jammu and the Kashmir valley staying with India and Poonch-Rajouri (a mainly Muslim inhabited area facing most severe discrimination by the then Hindu Rajas of Kashmir) and beyond, including Gilgit and the Northern areas, going to Pakistan. The current status of Kashmir, where the borders are defined by the cease-fire line after the 1947-48 war, is very close to the fourth solution with Azad Kashmir and the Northern areas being in Pakistan. (see India After Gandhi by R.C. Guha, p. 71).  About 40% of the land area of the old J&K state is in Pakistan and the remainder in India.  The bone of contention, of course, is the Kashmir Valley, the most scenic part of the state where the capital Srinagar is located.


Interestingly the debate about the future of Kashmir among the various contending parties is more or less the same as outlined by Nehru in late 1947. However much has changed in India, Pakistan and Kashmir such that the only plausible solution at least for the Kashmir Valley now appears to be some variation of solution number two, namely independence. What is the catch?


In order for Kashmir to become the Switzerland of the East, both Pakistan and India should guarantee non-interference in the internal affairs of Kashmir, more or less as India does in the case of Bhutan and in contrast to what Indira Gandhi’s government did in the case of Sikkim and what Pakistan is doing in the case of Azad Kashmir. Not only that. India and Pakistan have to evolve a normal friendly relationship with mutual trust like Canada and the USA. Or else, independent Kashmir cannot survive. In short Kashmir’s independence cannot come about as long as India is not willing to concede it.


On the other hand, Kashmir has always enjoyed some special status. Indians from outside Kashmir who are not of Kashmiri origin cannot purchase land or property titles in Kashmir and this is quite strictly enforced.  When Mulayam Singh visited Kashmir as Defense Minister a few years ago, he promised maximum autonomy. The opposite has happened since then. India can easily live with maximum autonomy for Kashmir and there is no justifiable reason why this should not be implemented as the first step.


Most of all, India must create a condition so that Muslims feel as integral to India as they did before independence. Without creating a secular culture throughout and administratively ensuring that Muslims are not discriminated against in any part of India, the Indian state cannot solve the problem of Kashmir.


Arundhati Roy’s statement has been used by reactionary Hindu organizations, which are by no means insignificant, to emerge as champions of India’s sovereignty and integrity. The Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi Government should take steps to ensure that the conflict in Kashmir does not boost the mass base of RSS affiliates as happened after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.  On the other hand, Indian government has to take steps to reduce its military and paramilitary personnel in the valley and mete credible punishment and penalties to its staff who engage in egregious conduct against civilians. 

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