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India should act tough with Pak: Ravinder Kumar

The manner in which successive governments in New Delhi have managed politics in the Valley has made its own contribution to the Kashmir issue, says Ravinder Kumar, a renowned historian.

india Updated: Sep 16, 2002 10:51 IST

Q: Is there a solution to the Kashmir tangle?
RK: Yes, there is, but to explore the possible and desirable mode of reconciliation of Kashmir with India, it is necessary to review some seminal cultural and political trends in the Valley. It is also necessary to understand the motivation that prompts Pakistan to export terror to Kashmir.

In recapitulating all this, the manner in which successive governments in New Delhi have managed politics in the Valley has to be highlighted too, since this has made its own contribution to the Kashmir.

Only through such a review will it be possible to shape solutions which can restore order in the Valley and restore, also, the relationship which bound Kashmir of its own volition to the rest of India in 1947.

Q: What in your opinion is the cause of Kashmir problem?
RK: The erstwhile relationship of cordiality between the Hindu and Muslim Communities of the Valley lies at the core of the problem, even though in recent years this relationship appears to have deteriorated almost beyond repair. Scholars often speak of that composite cultural heritage which underpins lndian society. Nowhere was this composite culture more in evidence, until recently, than in Kashmir.

The installation of a Dogra dynasty in Kashmir, under British aegis, in the mid-19th century, brought little change except to establish a new ruling family over the Valley. The Dogras also created a new class of landlords, largely drawn from their community plus a few Kashmiri Brahmins though the latter were much more conspicuous as a literati, manning the liberal professions.

This alliance of dominant classes also included a sprinkling of Punjabi families, and behaved as a subaltern.The peasantry and the artisans were almost Kashmiri Muslims. The artisans were miserably poor despite their superb craftsmanship and the peasants were impoverished cultivators of the land owned largely by the Hindu ruling class.

Small wonder, then, that in the 1930s, the people of Kashmir - the petty middle class and the artisans in Srinagar, and the peasantry in the rural areas - initiated a movement which was directed against both colonialism and feudalism. After the initial hesitant step the movement drew Hindus and Muslims together into a secular alliance directed, first against princely rule and next, against British imperialism. It further threw up in Sheikh Abdullah, a charismatic figure of truly heroic stature.

By the 1940s, the popular movement in Kashmir led by Sheikh Abdullah, linked itself with two other revolutionary forces in the subcontinent: with the All India State Peoples' Conference and the secular leadership of the Indian National Congress, represented, by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. A new Kashmir thus came into existence.

The incorporation of Kashmir into the Indian Union was brought about through princely accession, which was subsequently endorsed by a democratically elected Constituent Assembly. This new Kashmir affected the most radical land reform to be introduced in any state of India.

It also offered free education, at all levels, to the young in the state. Between radical land reforms and widespread education the people of Kashmir moved dramatically into a new phase of social development.

Q: What was Pakistan’s role in the entire issue?
RK: There was little appreciation of Hindu-Muslim amity in Kashmir among the rulers of Pakistan, when it came into existence in August 1947. Instead, the Pakistani rulers argued that Kashmir ought logically to accede to Pakistan.

To bring about such accession, they organized a covert invasion of the valley in October 1947 under the leadership of Pakistani army officers. Hence, also, the attempt to stimulate an uprising in 1965, fed into the sequence of events that led to the emergence of Bangladesh.

Finally, nearer our own times, the Pakistani ruling circles have created a large number of training camps near the Indo-Pak border, or within Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, to which young Kashmiris have been lured by false promises and let loose on the Valley after being trained in sabotage operations.

Not surprisingly, such a development has stilled the voice of the "silent majority" in the valley.

Q: What role was played by religion in fanning violence in the valley?
RK: The export of terror by Pakistan to the Valley has been greatly led, assisted by the dissemination of Islamic fundamentalism in Kashmir. Islamic fundamentalism is a phenomenon, which is understood very inadequately. Suffice is to mention that such ideologies batten upon frustration of the under-privileged classes which modernisation has created in so many Islamic communities.

While the frustration may be understandable, it often assumes a form characterised by the unloveliest aggression. For reasons not difficult to comprehend, there is a great deal of legitimate resentment against India amongst the Kashmiri people.

Since the early 1980s, a number of Muslim countries, most prominently of all Pakistan, have been pouring substantial monies into Kashmir, to create a network of fundamentalist missionaries in the valley. The propaganda directed against non-believers by these missionaries has created a climate of intolerance, which has undermined the traditional amity that characterised relations between Hindus and Muslims.

Q: How do you view the response of New Delhi to the crisis?
RK: The authorities in New Delhi, too, have contributed to the current impasse. A lot can be said about the peremptory manner in which Sheikh Abdullah was disposed of his office in 1953; and the lack of legitimacy of the successive regimes, which were established in Srinagar, finally resulting in the installation of the Sheikh.

The dismissal of Dr Farooq Abdullah, at a later date, coinciding with the appointment of a controversial governor, contributed to a similar end.

Yet above all, it was the fall of the Congress government in 1989, and the installation in office of minority government, which set the stage for the present crisis. After training young men in the weapons of insurgency, and exporting fundamentalism to Kashmir in the 1980s, the government of Pakistan (or its agencies, like the Inter Services Intelligence) let loose a reign of terror in the Valley.

It encouraged thousands of militant youth to cross the line of control in Kashmir, and attack the institutions of governance, pushing in the process the silent majority into a state of abject acquiescence. Through such means Pakistan located in the Valley, in each urban neighbourhood and rural settlement, a network of militant organisation, which organized ordinary Kashmiris into an anti-Indian crusade.

They provoked retaliatory action by the Indian army and the para-military forces, with the inevitable violation of human rights that were magnified beyond recognition by the propaganda machineries.

Q: How can the network of militancy be broken and normalcy restored in Kashmir?
RK: A "healing touch" in the valley calls for a number of coordinated moves. First, it is necessary to create a national consensus on Kashmir between different political parties, resting upon a constitutional formula, which reinforces the unity of India at the same time as it respects the autonomy of the Kashmiri people. Secondly, as recently acknowledged by the authorities, the political process needs to be restored in Kashmir.

Thirdly, a stern warning needs to be held out to our arrogant neighbours that interference in our affairs could lead to retaliatory action "at places" and "through means" of our choosing; and finally, a massive effort has to be mounted on the part of all concerned - the army, the para-military forces, the police and finally, the civil government, to convince the people of Kashmir that they are honorable citizens of India, exercising to the full, rights and privileges exercised by other Indians.

Through such means, it should surely be possible to set the people of Kashmir on the path to peace and prosperity, at the same time as they are drawn into a creative union with the rest of India.

First Published: Sep 13, 2002 20:49 IST