Elections, Obama and the Separatists in J&K
by Hari Kak on 14 Nov 2008 1 Comment

While the forthcoming elections in Jammu are significant, a connected issue - the reported views of US President-elect Barack Obama on the State - cannot be glossed over. The reaction of the main political parties has been on expected lines. The Congress is committed to J&K being an integral part of India; the National Conference is for greater autonomy; while the People’s Democratic Party’s father-daughter duo are typically ambiguous, keeping their options open. The separatist/Azadi supporters have condemned the polls as a farce and boycotted them.

Barack Obama's reported views, in Time magazine, about the US role in solving the Kashmir dispute has  introduced an angle which cannot be glossed over. In simple language, these suggest that for Pakistan to employ all it's resources to fight Osama bin Laden's forces in Afghanistan, it should be free of any danger from India over t Kashmir. And US will help in solving the Kashmir dispute. It has been reported that Bill Clinton may be Special Envoy for the purpose.

Alive to Pakistan’s attempts to internationalise the Kashmir issue, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has stressed that India considers Kashmir a bilateral issue and that both countries are taking steps to resolve it. It is likely that Obama may clarify or modify his statement in due time; President Bill Clinton  had once commented to a group of visiting Pakistani students that Kashmir would be solved according to the will of the people. It was played up to mean that he had agreed to plebiscite; but it was not pursued by the US.

The cry for Azadi

The Jammu road blockade was but a catalyst for the long-simmering desire of a section of Kashmiris for azadi to surface in the form of a massive march to Muzaffarabad. It was as much anti-India as pro-Pakistani. No Kashmiri had died of starvation or due to absence of medicines; no apple grower had committed suicide as a result of the 3 day blockade.

The Government of India failed to assess the situation and take effective measures during the Jammu agitation. But surely it was aware of the undercurrent of azadi and the growing influence and following of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the duplicity of Mehbooba Mufti?

Over the years the government has pumped billions of rupees to improve living conditions of Kashmiris and bring them into the national mainstream. The per capita grants to J&K by the Planning Commission are estimated to be 7-9 times higher than that to Bihar. With a special status already achieved, they were looking for far more. The government tried to counter this with more sops and soft peddling:-
Without justifying their demands, we must consider some recent developments and historical background, as also the geographical factors that fuelled these demands... It may be noted that when the extremists talk of azadi they invariably say Kashmir (read Valley) and not Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

The very hobnobbing of Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir, and his proximity to Pandit Ram Chandra Kak, though Mahajan was chief Minister at the time of accession, with Jinnah to join Pakistan, brought in a communal twist in the proposals.

The proviso in the Instrument of Accession clearly says "- provided that after the intruders are driven out and the law and Order situation returns to normal, the issue will be decided by the people." And all this with the approval of the PM of India, a great Kashmiri Pandit who took over Kashmir affairs for himself from the subject of Indian States being dealt by the Home Ministry under Sardar Patel. The armed infiltration was later referred to the UN by Nehru on the advice (!) of Lord Louis Mountbatten.

The proviso has provided an all-time handle to many Kashmiris as also Western powers for fishing in troubled waters, and put a millstone round India's necks.

Looking at medieval times, we find Kashmir (valley and adjoining areas) has from earliest times been an isolated entity, largely on account of being encircled by mountains and extreme cold weather conditions. The rulers were often dependent on powerful vassals to retain the throne. There was intrigue, treachery, disloyalty and internecine fights galore. It was not unusual for the ruler to be dethroned and later brought back to power. Persians who forayed or conquered parts of Kashmir for short periods judged the Kashmiris thus: Akum Afghan, dwayam Khambo soyam badzaat Kashmiri (the Khambhoj are an ancient tribe in the extreme north-west of India. They find mention in Valmiki's Ramayana.)

But often Kashmiris closed ranks against foreign attackers be they Afghans or Mughals. Babar and Humayun's efforts to add Kashmir to their empire failed. It was Akbar who finally succeeded, and Kashmir became a province of the Mughal Empire.

The concept of Jammu AND Kashmir is 150 years old and began with the exploits of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, consolidated later by his protégé' Gulab Singh, an outstanding fighter who eventually became the Dogra ruler of J&K. The British consolidated the set up. The much-touted "Kashmiriat" is only a post-Independence cliché' used to impress the secular and tolerant nature of Kashmiris.

In the fourteenth century, Sahadev was the ruler of Kashmir and Ramchandra his powerful army chief, aided by his beautiful and brilliant daughter Kota Rani. Rinchin a Ladakh warlord fleeing from opponents, sought and was granted refuge by Ramchandra to bolster his own forces. Some time later, Shah Mir from the north-west regions was granted similar asylum.

Two years later, Rinchin through intrigue, deceit and murders, and the help of Shah Mir's followers and some locals, seized the kingdom. He managed to win over Kota's support and also married her to win greater acceptability with the locals. Kota Rani wanted him to embrace the Hindu faith. Rinchin, a Lamaist Buddhist, had no scruples and agreed.

However, the learned and influential Kashmiri Priests strongly opposed the move. There was no provision in the scriptures, they argued, for a malechh to be admitted in any Varna, and refused to perform the ceremonies. Angered by this affront and on the rebound, Rinchin embraced Islam. There was already a small Muslim population in the State. Rinchin then embarked on a policy of eliminating those who opposed him. Many saved their skins by embracing Islam.

On Rinchin's death (1320-23), Kota Rani became the ruler as Rinchin's son by Kota Rani, Haider, was an infant. Then Sahdev's brother ruled for a dozen years. Shah Mir had by then consolidated his position and seized power through time-tested machinations. He became the ruler of Kashmir in 1339 and founded the Sultan Dynasty. To stay in power, he needed the support of local satraps, nobility and higher echelons of society, who wielded influence on the masses.

Islamic missionaries, and even Sufis, from Iran, Iraq and Khoresan started poring into Kashmir and converting the non-Muslims. Destruction of symbols of Hindu civilization was a natural corollary. The Shia-Sunni divide also began surfacing and led to clashes, but this assumed violent proportions when Qazi Chak, a diehard Shia chieftain, overthrew the Sultan and became King. There was wanton killing of Sunnis.

Kashmir flowered under the benign rule of Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jehan, though Aurangzeb is known for his bigotry. There was such oppression that Kashmiri Hindus appealed to Guru Tegh Bahadur to save them. The Guru's confrontation with Aurangzeb and his consequent martyrdom is history. The decay of the Mughal empire led to Afghan rule in Kashmir, and more bloodshed. Then came Ranjit Singh, and the Dogra rulers under the British Empire, followed by Independence and relief from centuries old warfare, bloodshed, persecution and misery.

Are we going to throw away the values we cherish? Forget the unanimous resolution passed by the Parliament that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India? Or let the situation drift and start a domino effect in some of north-east states, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and so on?

The Government of India must watch developments carefully in case a worst-case scenario develops and a Kosovo-type of unilateral declaration of independence is made jointly by the separatists and PoK. Great Britain did not give up in North Ireland, nor Russia Chechnya, Catholic Philippines its Muslim-majority Mindanao Island, nor Spain the Basque. Negotiate by all means, but hear no word compromising the territorial integrity of India. And tolerate no third party intervention.

Hari Kak, IPS (retd.) is former Addl. Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat

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