No case for Kashmir secession
by Tathagata Roy on 24 Aug 2008 0 Comment

A long time ago, I saw the rather controversial film ‘Zabriskie Point,’ directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. It tried to relate to the ‘counterculture’ movement of the 1960s and 70s, mainly opposing America’s role in the Cold War and the Vietnam War. The dialogue was largely trite and incomprehensible, and possibly for that and other reasons it bombed at the box office.


I recalled the film when I read ‘secular’ journalist Vir Sanghvi’s latest “Counterpoint” (Hindustan Times, 16 August 2008). I have no doubt that the dangerous, unspeakable baloney canvassed by the honourable journalist will be met with the same kind of popularity.


‘Counterpoint’ makes interesting reading, in a way. A Kolkata gentleman named K.C. Paul has written a book (Price Rs. 5/-) to prove that the Sun goes round the Earth, and he goes around town painting graffiti to publicize his book. I have read the book. It shows how far nutcases can go. Now it seems we have another one on our hands.


Vir Sanghvi argues with incredible bravery (or so he imagines) that India is undeniably a ‘Democracy’. Hence, “if you believe in democracy, then giving Kashmiris the right to self-determination is the correct thing to do.” Because, we are helpfully informed: “there is active hatred of India” there. So we ought to hold a referendum, and if the Kashmiris decide to go to the Islamic Paradise called Pakistan, so be it; we shall be rid of a lot of trouble and expense. After all, the Vale of Kashmir is a tiny sliver of land with a population of only four million, and that is ninety-eight per cent Muslim. Sanghvi is honest, mind you. He admits - though in passing - that the Hindus were driven out of there.


Sanghvi’s emphasis on the insignificance of Kashmir as an argument for giving it up immediately brought to mind the secularists’ grand mentor, the late, not-so-lamented-anymore Jawaharlal Nehru. The latter tried to gloss over the silent takeover of the Aksai Chin plain at the northeastern corner of the same state by saying: “not a blade of grass grows there”! The selfsame Nehru is not surprisingly the progenitor of the problem of Kashmir. He did it by the unmentionable political stupidity of stopping his own troops in mid-stride when they were in hot pursuit of the tribal marauders Jinnah had sent forth to annex Kashmir.


Thereafter he took the issue to the United Nations and internationalized it! If this asinine folly had not been committed, there would have been no POK today, Pakistani infiltrators could not have sneaked into Kashmir from the plains of Punjab, there would have been no Kargil War, and we could still be holidaying in Hunza, reputedly the nearest thing to the mythical Shangri-la.  


To get back to Vir Sanghvi, however, let us give credit where credit is due. Sanghvi is right, though only partially, that his conclusion is “unthinkable.” It is naturally so for the reasons hinted above, and quite possibly an offence under Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code (though one has to remember that lunacy is a valid defence). It is moreover (naturally) based on flawed logic, despicable defeatism, and a total disregard of the basic principles of realpolitik that the rest of the world follows.


Sanghvi pontifically observes “The world looks at us with dismay. If we are the largest democracy on the planet then how can we hang on to a people who have no desire to be part of India”? But he takes no note of how the rest of the world behaves under similar situations. Therefore we have to undertake the onerous task of educating the most eminent writer of a once very nationalist newspaper. Here we go.


Fights for secession, usually based on ethnicity or religion of a particular region of a country, exist not only in the Vale of Kashmir, but in other parts of the world. What have such nations done? Let us begin with our closest neighbours.


Our close and prickly neighbour Bangladesh had a similar problem with the Chakmas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Chakmas are Buddhists and do not speak Bengali, which makes them very different from the majority Bengali Muslims. To “solve” this problem, Bangladesh has actively encouraged Bengali Muslims from the plains to settle in the hills and out-populate the Chakmas; they have met with a fair measure of success in this process.


In contrast, what has India done - exactly the opposite. India has not let Indians from any other part of the country – not even from Jammu – settle in Kashmir. Thus Kashmiris are encouraged to think themselves as separate. Now they want to go to Pakistan, and The Hindustan Times’ most celebrated columnist actually suggests, nonchalantly, that India should let them go, taking the sacred Indian territory with them!


Let us now look at our perennially-hostile neighbour, Pakistan. Has Islamabad let go of Baluchistan? It is well-known that the Baluchis hate the (fellow-Muslim) Punjabis who run Pakistan; they want to unite with the Baluchis of Iran and Afghanistan. I don’t think Mr. Sanghvi is looking to give his “sane” advise to the Pakistani Punjabis.


Then Myanmar has had serious problems with its Karen tribes, opium-belt warlords like Khun Sa and the Muslim Rohingyas of the Arakan Coast. While the last have been driven out to Bangladesh, the ruling establishment manages the others through an uneasy truce. But no Myanmarese Buddhist mainstream person, not even Aung San Suu Kyi, ever talks of letting them secede.


Finally, our gigantic neighbour, China. The Tsang (Tibetans) of Tibet and the Uighurs of Xinjiang hate the guts of the Han Chinese majority community. Will the Han leadership let Tibet and Xinjiang secede? Perish the thought.


Moving away from these anti-democratic (sic) neighbours, we visit the faraway democracies on which Sanghvi sets so much store for what he imagines ‘democracy’ to be. Did USA relinquish the South with the southerners shouted “Cotton, Slavery and States’ Rights” and hated the ‘Damn Yankees’, the Northerners? Hardly, they fought a Civil War to hold on to them, which is what made Abraham Lincoln so great and why his nation reveres him to this day.


To conclude with some more countries and their attitude to continuing secessionist movements: -

r     Would Russia let go of Chechnya, just because Muslim Chechens hate Orthodox Christian Russkies? Nyet!

r     Did Great Britain let go of the Catholic parts of Northern Ireland? No.

r     Would Catholic Philippines let go of Muslim-majority Mindanao Island? No.

r     Would Spain let go of the Basque region? No.


So what is the lesson of international realpolitik? It would seem that Mr. Sanghvi has to prove capable of thinking the thinkable before reaching out for the unthinkable. Else, one would be forced to conclude that he is peddling secession at the behest of external agencies.


The author is the former president of the West Bengal state unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party

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