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Trespassers in Kashmir?

The most serious aftermaths of azadi will be the exodus of non-Muslims, Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs, from the Valley, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Sep 20, 2008 00:10 IST

I have yet to hear a Kashmiri Muslim describe himself as Indian. It was, and is to this day: “I am a Kashmiri.” Perhaps among the exceptions are Sheikh Abdullah, his son Farooq and grandson Omar. Right from 1947, whenever India played cricket matches against Pakistan, Kashmiri Muslims supported Pakistan. If you don’t believe me, read Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night (Random House). Don’t dismiss this as a trivial aberration because it does reveal the Kashmiri Muslim’s mindset. Now it has been revealed for all to see.

They want us, Indians, out of the Valley. They may or may not throw in their lot with chronically unstable Pakistan. But have the leaders demanding azadi from India considered the consequences that may follow our getting out of the Valley? The language they use to rouse the rabble indicates they haven’t. And that applies to leaders of all the separatist factions.

The most serious consequences of azadi will be the exodus of non-Muslims — Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs — from the Valley. Don’t accept their assurances that it will not happen. It happened when Kashmiri Pandits left the Valley in large numbers because they felt insecure. Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru gave us similar assurances preceding the

If and when Hindus and Sikhs are pushed out of the Valley, right-wing Hindu groups, extending from the RSS, the VHP, the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal to the BJP will press for the expulsion of Muslims from Jammu (where they are in majority in two tehsils) and elsewhere. The Valley’s only commercial outlets and tourism is linked to India. There is not a hotel in the country that does not have a shop selling Kashmiri handicrafts, carpets and shawls. Thousands of Kashmiri Muslims work as labourers in Indian towns and cities. Will not their future be jeopardised by the call for azadi? If there is the slightest risk of starting mass migrations, we must reject it, come what may.

The situation has been going out of hand since 1990. Basharat Peer tells us that ever since, thousands of Kashmiris have crossed over to Pakistan to get military training and arms and sneaked back into the Valley to create mayhem and murder.

The locals give them shelter and food.

The only response India could make was to send in more troops, impose severe restraints on the locals and kill those they thought were anti-Indian militants. Every village in the Valley has its quota of unmarked graves. How long can this be allowed to go on? Give the Valley azadi it wants. But spell it out to mean only internal autonomy to manage its affairs. No more. India must retain its military presence to guard its frontiers against intruders. But at all costs, put an end to this sorry state of affairs.

The man who knew too much

HY Sharda Prasad joined the Publications Division of the Government of India to take over the editorship of the Yojna from me. He came with the formidable reputation of a fiery student leader of Mysore University who had been jailed during the Quit India Movement. He was held in awe by most South Indians in the Publications Division. They believed in due course of time that he would rise to great heights.

Prasad had a most attractive wife and was envied by all of us. However, whatever fire he had in his younger days had been doused by the dampness of civil services. He never betrayed his inner feelings: he rarely smiled and I never heard him laugh. He was the acme of an experienced civil servant.

I had a few occasions of running into him in later life. He had been selected by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to be her Press Advisor. Whenever I called on Mrs Gandhi at the South Block office, I was received by him and escorted to her room. He stayed with us till the interview was over without uttering a word. I saw him take down notes. He saw me off.

It was the same when Rajiv Gandhi took over as PM. While many have written books on what they knew about Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, Sharda, although he wrote other books, did not put a word down in print about his two bosses.
After retirement, Sharda wrote regularly for The Asian Age. They were scholarly articles on various subjects. In one he described me as “the oldest teenager of India”. He did not mean it as a compliment. But I took it as one. He had little sense of humour.

Some years ago Sharda had fallen in his bathroom and injured his head. He was already suffering from Parkinson’s. The injury deprived him of his speech. It was a prolonged illness. His doting wife and two sons looked after him. A couple of months ago, my daughter accompanied Salman Haider and called on him. She reported to me that Sharda was in very poor condition and would not last long. He did not.

I wonder if Sharda kept a diary and recorded his impressions of the two Prime Ministers he served and their visitors. If he did, it would be a goldmine for research scholars.

A couple of epigrams
The success of a working girl lies in ensuring that the husband does not seek solace in the bottle and the baby does.
Democracy is a system where the best actor wins not an Oscar but a passage to the legislature.

(Contributed by Jayanta Datta Gupta, Kolkata)