Waiting in the Valley
How well do we understand the Kashmiri Mind? Did Jawaharlal Nehru, the architect of Kashmir’s union with India, understand it? He warned the Lok Sabha, on June 26, 1952: "Do not think you are dealing with a part of UP, Bihar or Gujarat. You are dealing with an area, historically and geographically and in all manner of things, with a certain background. If we bring our local ideas and local prejudices everywhere, we will never consolidate... real integration comes of the mind and the heart and not of some clause which you may impose on other people".
Two months later, on August 25, 1952, he wrote a long confidential note to the state’s Premier ( as he was then called) Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah while on a holiday at Sonamarg. He confided that ‘towards the end of 1948’, he had in his own mind ruled out a plebiscite; public statements notwithstanding. ‘The only desirable future for the State is with a close association with India, retaining her autonomy in most ways.’ He wanted Sheikh saheb to get the state’s Constituent Assembly to endorse the accession. ‘What has sometimes worried me is what happens in Kashmir, because I have found doubt and hesitation there.’
The UN ‘cannot override our wishes in this matter’ and ‘we are superior to Pakistan in military and industrial power’. The people of the Valley ‘though highly gifted... are not what are called a virile people’. They needed the protection of 'a strong suzerain power’ adding ‘the common people are primarily interested in few things — an honest administration and cheap and adequate food’.
Indira Gandhi gave him precisely this prescription from Srinagar on May 14, 1948 : "I feel that all this political talk will count for nothing if the economic situation can be dealt with. Because, after all, the people are concerned with only (one) thing — they want to sell their goods and to have food and salt."
Was the situation as desperate as that? She certainly thought so. "Most of the officials in the police, etc, are still the old ones and they are all (Muslim) Leaguers." She was ill-informed. The League did not exist there. Only the Sheikh’s National Conference and the rival Muslim Conference did. She added "This is the talk of the town. They say only Sheikh Saheb is confident of winning the plebiscite."
He was battling against the tide of public opinion even in 1948. Hence the proposal he gave to the British Commonwealth Secretary Patrick Gordon-Walker in New Delhi on February 20, 1948 in Nehru’s presence which he reported to London: "Just before Nehru left, Sheikh Abdullah said he thought the solution was that Kashmir should accede to both Dominions" with its ‘autonomy jointly guaranteed’ by them. It would delegate foreign policy and defence ‘to both jointly’. He had discussed it with the PM. Gordon-Walker took it up with Nehru who said he would be prepared to accept a solution broadly on the lines of that proposed by Sheikh Abdullah.
Sheikh Saheb was opposed to a plebiscite. The vote would be close, perhaps 60:40 in India’s favour. Both Nehru and he knew that there was strong pro-Pak feeling in Kashmir.
By the time Nehru wrote his Note of August 25, 1952 that feeling had increased. Sheikh Saheb was a beleaguered man, as indeed, was Nehru himself. Both found the politics of the Jan Sangh repulsive and popular support for their respective policies on Kashmir weakening. Nehru’s Note sought to save his position, but imperilled the Sheikh’s. Less than a year later Nehru ordered his dismissal from office and his imprisonment. The documents prove that to the hilt.
Nehru’s note, a seminal document was fatally flawed. He banked on the people’s acquiescence. It was a total misunderstanding of their psyche. There was scant respect for their wishes. Nor did Pakistan acquiesce in the status quo. We have now reached a stage, as a former editor reported from Srinagar on April 28, 2004, ‘no area in Kashmir’s electoral fray would dream of condemning the militants’.
Such is the depth of the feelings, which few care to acknowledge lest it spell secession. It does not. Time has not stood still. Equities have arisen on all sides, India’s included. But public opinion in India needs to reckon with the harsh truth. What the late Hiren Mukherjee said on February 25, 1994 is still true: ‘Even today perhaps the best of us do not quite realise the depth of Kashmiris alienation and are unready to ponder ways and means of overcoming it’.
The two harsh truths are two sides of the same coin — Kashmir’s alienation and India’s justified rejection of its secession in any form.
Two very promising developments suggest that a solution is possible. One is President Pervez Musharraf’s recent formulations which come within inches of the criteria which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has propounded. We can have a solution other than the Sheikh’s constitutional bigamy, based on the realities of 2006 but reckon with the wishes of the people and the concerns of Pakistan.
The other is a blurring of the divide between the separatists and the accessionists on three fundamentals. There is a Kashmir dispute; Pakistan is a party to it; and the militants must be brought on board in the peace process. What is little realised is that the accessionists’ sense of injury is as deep as that of the separatists. If one reads the proceedings of the State Assembly on June 20-26, 2000 on the autonomy report, one is struck by the constant bitter denunciation of Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest of August 8, 1953, references to the freedom struggle in the state; to the UN and to the conditional character of the accession — the condition being restoration of the robbed autonomy.
That is evident also in the Assembly’s proceedings on March 2 this year. It adopted a resolution acknowledging the PM’s sincerity to ‘resolve this issue according to the aspirations of the people of the state’. A significant word, ‘wishes’ was added by an amendment.
There is a yearning for reunion of both parts of the state; if not de jure, de facto in the daily lives of the people. There is a strong bond between the cultures of Jammu and the Valley. We tend to overlook also the people’s religious sentiments as if they are unsecular. But Sheikh Abdullah was deeply religious and staunchly secular.
There is an air of expectancy in the state. The key to a solution lies in an Indo-Pak accord. People look up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf to resolve the dispute. They know that this is a rare combination of two deeply committed leaders of manifest sincerity. If they fail, it might not recur for long. Kashmir would relapse into frustration and renewed terror with consequences for India and Pakistan too terrible to contemplate.