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Subcontinental drift

Separatists and Unionists can agree on a minimum common charter of demands on Article 370 and the rest and present it to New Delhi, writes AG Noorani.

india Updated: Dec 18, 2007 03:43 IST
AG Noorani

The Kashmiris’ reaction to the upheaval in Pakistan is in total contrast to that in the rest of India. But the phenomenon has been little noticed and has aroused no reflection. The jehadis and the extremist fringe, having rejected President Pervez Musharraf’s concessions on Kashmir, speak with an air of vindication. All others feel despondent. Across the political divide between the Unionists and the separatists, they saw in him one who could clinch a settlement on Kashmir. On November 30, none other than Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad praised him to the skies as a unique conciliator. On this point, the rift between the extremists and the rest is as significant as that between New Delhi and Srinagar.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani said on November 5, “The suspension of the Constitution and the removal of Supreme Court judges is unconstitutional and against the democratic rights of the people of Pakistan. We (Kashmiris) can’t ignore the developments in Pakistan. These have a direct bearing on us.” This latter assertion is the only point on which all others agree with him.

On November 4, PDP President Mehbooba Mufti said on the local TV channel, Take One: “Naturally we are concerned. We have a sentimental and geographical affinity with Pakistan.” She defended the provisional constitution order made by Musharraf. “In Pakistan, the generals have imposed martial law during normal times, but Musharraf’s decision comes at an abnormal time. For the past seven months, things had turned ugly. And the judges had not played their role as the people would have expected them to. The General had no option.”

The former chairman of the Hurriyat’s moderate faction, Abdul Ghani Butt, spoke in the same vein. “Pakistan is not the only country where Emergency has been imposed. Sri Lanka, too, has imposed Emergency because of a disturbed situation.” He also criticised the judges. “There has to be harmony among the three pillars of the State — the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. And when there are problems in this harmony, it endangers stability. We trust them (the Musharraf government) and we are hopeful that democracy will return soon.” On the same day (November 5), Shabir Shah, a separatist, said that the Emergency was a “necessary step for Pakistan’s stability”.

There were jubilant celebrations on Musharraf’s re-election as President. Activists burst firecrackers and danced on the streets of Srinagar. This, to be sure, is not the first time that Kashmiris responded to events in Pakistan altogether differently from other Indians. They made little secret of their support for Pakistan despite its brutal crackdown in the then East Pakistan. When Z.A. Bhutto was executed in 1979, activists went on a rampage attacking the Jamaat-e-Islami’s men and property.

How do we explain this? Sumeet Kaul’s report in this paper on September 4, 2007, helps us to understand it. “I had read somewhere that your preconceived notions of nationalism, of Indian nationalism, are severely tested in the Valley. They were. And that, perhaps, was more difficult to come to terms with than even the guns. Wherever we

went, we were almost invariably referred to as the ‘guests from India’; not with malice, but casually, incidentally.”

An identical lament was made by DP Mishra, former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, half a century ago. It was recorded by an able civil servant, TCA Srinivasavaradan. “More than his political analysis was the impression that his parting words made. He said that Hindustan was still to Kashmir an alien country and it can only be the conduct and behaviour of Hindustanis, particularly in Kashmir, that would induce Kashmiris to become Indians willingly.”

Recently, three times in as many weeks — on November 19 and 23 and December 5 — a Unionist, Farooq Abdullah, leader of the National Conference, warned that if violations of human rights continued, “the people might be forced to rethink about the accession (of J&K to India in 1947)”.

On May 1, 1956, Jayaprakash Narayan informed Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, “From all the information that I have, 95 per cent of Kashmiri Muslims do not wish to be, or remain, Indian citizens. I doubt, therefore, the wisdom of trying to ‘keep’ people by force where they do not wish to stay.” With equal honesty he declared that after Pakistan’s aggression in 1965, plebiscite was ruled out. But JP continued to denounce rigged polls, denial of civil liberties and to plead for restoration of autonomy for J&K.

Four incontestable truths sum up the situation today — de-accession is ruled out; popular alienation is deep; Kashmiris yearn for self-rule and reunification — the LoC must be rendered ‘irrelevant’; and lastly, Pakistan must be a party to any accord. The Manmohan Singh-Musharraf consensus respects all four. It was established over time. Time has also blurred the divide between Unionists and separatists. Especially with the polls looming near, the former are more assertive of both the state’s rights and the need for accord with Pakistan. Separatists are veering towards a 1953 status, albeit as part of an accord with Pakistan.

But on Kashmir, India’s civil society remains as remiss as its government. Haseeb A. Drabu, eminent economist and chairman of the J&K Bank, drew up an incontestable plaint in Greater Kashmir on November 8. The Indian Economic Association held its annual meeting in Srinagar. He discovered that “J&K is not, and has never been, on the research agenda of the nation”. There is not one “basic, well-researched paper on the modern Kashmir economy”. Kashmir’s land reforms in 1948 were more radical than those of Kerala and West Bengal. Panchayati raj was introduced in the 1970s. They remain ignored.

His remarks bear quotation in extenso. “Indian thinkers, academics and scholars in various disciplines have not engaged with the society of J&K at an intellectual level. This has added to our isolation. As it is, we are physically distanced from the mainland. Now, more importantly, this apathy has mentally disengaged the people of Kashmir from the Indian society, making them even more insular. Should you then be surprised that there are/have been efforts to politically disengage from the Indian State?... J&K has never occupied the mental space of the Indian intellectual. The Indian-State has nothing to do with that. It is the civil society of India that has not owned Kashmir, Kashmiri society and people.”

India’s media, academia and NGOs must move in to fill the void. The implications of the Indo-Pak consensus on Kashmir must be explained to all, particularly to Kashmiris. It rules out de-accession, ensures self-rule within the Union and de facto reunites the state.

It is, however, for Kashmiris to present a united front on all these points. Separatists and Unionists need not bury the political hatchet. But they can yet agree on a minimum common charter of demands on Article 370 and the rest and present it to New Delhi. The historic moment is not to be missed. Disunity plays into the hands of the hawks in New Delhi.