The Kashmiri mind

Published : Nov 19, 2004 00:00 IST

History is the most dangerous product evolved from the chemistry of the intellect. Its properties are well known. It causes dreams; it intoxicates whole people; gives them false memories; quickens their reflexes; keeps their old wounds open; torments them in their repose; leads them into delusions, either of grandeur or persecution; and makes nations bitter, arrogant, insufferable and vain.

- Paul Valery; History and Politics

We have not got a clean slate to write upon; we are limited, inhibited by the United Nations, by this, by that. But, nevertheless, the basic thing still remains, that we have declared, and even if we have not declared, that fact would remain - that it is the people of Kashmir who must decide. And I say with all respect to our Constitution that it just does not matter what your Constitution says; if the people of Kashmir do not want it, it will not go there. Because what is the alternative? The alternative is compulsion and coercion... the decision... ultimately lies with the few million people in Kashmir, not even with this Parliament... . That is the important thing. And if we seek to gain their goodwill we should act accordingly... . Do not think you are dealing with a part of U.P., Bihar or Gujarat. You are dealing with an area, historically and geographically, and in all manner of things with a certain background... . We have to be men of vision and there has to be broadminded acceptance of facts in order to integrate really. And real integration comes of the mind and the heart and not of some clause which you may impose on other people.

- Jawaharlal Nehru in the Lok Sabha on June 26, 1952 (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru: Volume 18; pages 418 and 421).

IT is hard to divine precisely what Jawaharlal Nehru truly meant when he spoke thus. Was it rhetoric to cover his moves for "real integration"? Exactly a week earlier, he had indicated to Mirza Afzal Beg and Maulana Masoodi in Delhi that Kashmir's accession to India must be made final. His secret Note to Sheikh Muhammed Abdullah on August 25, 1952 was more candid. He had ruled out a plebiscite in Kashmir in his own mind as far back as in 1948; public pledges were evidently for international consumption. He urged the Sheikh, now facing growing unpopularity, to help him (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru: Volume 19; pages 322-330; a brilliantly argued piece of destructive cynicism).

The country has paid and continues still to pay a heavy price for Nehru's arrogant disregard of history; and not in this case alone. Zhou Enlai's letter of January 23, 1959, offered "to take a more or less realistic attitude towards the McMohan Line". India's vital interests were thus secure. He proposed an overall settlement on the boundary "particularly in its western section", adding "border disputes do exist between China and India". Nehru did the incredible. He replied on March 22, 1959, obviously after full deliberation to contest the obvious and to assert that the border in that crucial western sector had been settled by "a treaty of 1842 between Kashmir... and... China" and Tibet.

Even if he was not a student of history he could - and should - have sent for the files in those two months. He would have learnt, what he was later to admit in August-September 1959 though only to retract it in November that a lot had happened since.

History is a liberating force if one is open-minded and seeks its truths honestly. It becomes a tyrant if its facts are ignored and perverted and made fodder for propaganda. The nation, charged with nationalist fervour - particularly to intellectuals and journalists - and fed on the myths finds it impossible to discard them. The leader of the day, now a prisoner to this past, has no desire to lose his office in the pursuit of conciliation.

Forty years ago, Robert A. Huttenback published an article in The China Quarterly (April-June 1964) entitled "A Historical Note on the Sino-Indian Dispute over the Aksai Chin" in which he published the full text of a letter of March 14, 1899 from the British Ambassador Sir Claude MacDonald to the Tsungli Yamen (China's Foreign Office) proposing a compromise boundary line stretching from the trijunction of the Indo-Sino-Afghan boundaries right to "a little east of 80 East longitude" (pages 201-207). It gave the Aksai Chin through which ran the Xinjiang-Tibet road to China but preserved for India much that China was to occupy after September 1959, after the dispute erupted in the open. Nehru's stand cost India dearly. Huttenback rightly opined that the letter "has a profound bearing on the whole Aksai Chin issue". Zhou Enlai was prepared to accept a boundary on these lines when he met Nehru in New Delhi in April 1960. Nehru rejected it. The Sino-Pak border pact of 1963 is based on the 1899 line.

But there is another aspect to it besides the national interest - it is the truth. Nehru's assertion, based on the 1842 Treaty, was palpably untrue. In 1899 at the zenith of its power, the British Empire proposed the line because the boundaries had "never been clearly defined" and it sought a definite line "for the sake of avoiding any dispute or uncertainty in the future". In 1899 a weak China ignored the British offer. In 1959 India arrogantly said that there was no need for negotiation since the matter had been settled in 1842.

Huttenback was also co-author of a book, Himalayan battleground: Sino-Indian Rivalry in Ladakh, along with Margaret W. Fisher and Leo E. Rose, based on archival material. His present work is based almost entirely on archival source materials, mostly in the India Office Library in London (now called the British Library). One is struck by the overlay between the Kashmir and the boundary disputes. Kashmir became part of the Raj in 1847 when it was seized from the Sikh Darbar in Lahore. The British immediately set about defining its boundaries by accord with China (emphasis added, throughout). That is one part of the story. The other is the wound its transfer by the British to the Dogras inflicted on the Kashmiri mind. Nehru was well aware of that. But he wrote off Kashmiris contemptuously in his Note of August 25, 1952 to, of all persons, their proud leader Sheikh Abdullah - "not what are called a virile people. They are soft and addicted to easy living" (para 23, page 328). We have, at much cost, learnt better.

INDIA is a country of continental dimensions. The northeastern region's understanding of history differs from that of Indians elsewhere. In his excellent article "Burdens of the past", M.S. Prabhakara noted that "almost every account of modern Manipur written by Manipuri scholars begins with a recital of the circumstances under which the territory lost its independent status and was merged into the Union of India... in the case of Manipur there is a little more substance to such grievances" (Frontline, September 10). He cited the Constitutional and Legal History of Manipur by M. Ibohal Singh (Samurou Lakpa Mayai Lambi Law College, Samurou, Manipur).

Kashmiris feel even more intensely about the Treaty of Amritsar (March 16, 1846) and the Instrument of Accession to India (October 26, 1947). Huttenback describes how the Treaty came to be concluded and the bitter regrets it caused all round; the tightening of British control over the state; British conquest of Hunza, Nagar and Chitral, the "Great Game" between Britain and Russia in the Pamirs and political developments in Kashmir from 1901-1947 as recorded in British archives. Prof. M.L. Kapur of Jammu University wrote Kashmir: Sold and Snatched based on the records in the National Archives of India. It is sympathetic to the Maharaja.

Prof. Ghulam Hassan Khan of Kashmir University wrote a detailed account, Freedom Movement in Kashmir 1931-1940 (Light & Life Publishers, New Delhi, 1980). F.M. Hassnain has authored British Policy towards Kashmir (1846-1921). Neither the Congress' Quit India resolution nor the Muslim League's Pakistan resolution forms part of the lore of Kashmir's freedom movement. The two events that stir him are Martyrs' Day July 13, 1931 and Sheikh Abdullah's Quit Kashmir movement in 1946. The roots of both lie in the treaty of Amritsar. In the last decade a whole corpus of literature on "the freedom movement" has cropped up - based on Kashmiri understanding of history, some of good, some of poor quality. One particularly able work is Kashmir in Chains 1819-1992 by Mohammad Sultan Pampori, a civil engineer (Pampori Publishing House, Srinagar, 190008), one of the rare documented works. All these are outpourings of Kashmiri nationalism, which India does not understand; still less does Pakistan.

The Dogras had established themselves as rulers of Jammu in the declining years of the Mughal empire; but, as feudatories of the Sikh Kingdom. In 1834 Gulab Singh conquered Ladakh. It was his commander Zorawar Singh's forays into Tibet that resulted in the 1842 Treaty, which Nehru famously cited. The East India Company coveted prosperous Punjab. When hostilities broke out, Gulab Singh, true to form, betrayed his Sikh masters and allied himself secretly with the British. The Treaty of Lahore (March 9, 1846) made the Sikh State a British tributary and imposed on it an indemnity of Rs.1.5 crores. Since it could not pay, it ceded the territories between the Beas and Indus rivers including Kashmir and Hazara. The company, in turn, transferred these areas to Gulab Singh for Rs.1 crore. It was reduced to Rs.75 lakhs a week later by the Treaty of Amritsar, with the British occupying Kulu and Manali. Thus was the State of Jammu and Kashmir formed.

During his visit to Srinagar in August 1947, Gandhi declared that he had "no hesitation in saying that the will of the Kashmiris was the supreme law in Kashmir and Jammu. He was glad to say that the Maharaja and Maharani readily acknowledged the fact. He had the good fortune to read what was euphemistically called the Treaty of Amritsar but was in reality a deed of sale. He supposed that it would be dead on the 15th August" (Mahatma: Volume 8, by D.G. Tendulkar; page 79). The famous Urdu poet Hafiz Jullundari wrote an elegy lamenting the humiliation that the "Deed of Sale" inflicted. Two of its couplets ran:

"Loot li insaan ki qismat pachattar lakh mein Bik gayee Kashmir ki jannat pachattar lakh mein."

(The fate of human beings was sold for Rs.75 lakhs/ Kashmir's paradise was sold for Rs.75 lakhs).

The fiery poem ended with these ringing words:

"Haan pachattar lakh mein Haan haan pachattar lakh mein."

(Yes, for Rs.75 lakhs/Yes, indeed, for Rs.75 lakhs).

To Sheikh Abdullah this deed made Kashmir a "unique" State, altogether different from others.

Under Section 7(1)(b) of the Indian Independence Act 1947, the British Crown's suzerainty over the Indian princes lapsed "and with it, all treaties and agreements" in force between them. A clear-headed lawyer that he was, Gandhi had raised a valid point.

But when Sheikh Abdullah launched his Quit Kashmir movement in 1946, without consulting Nehru, he put his friends in the Congress in an embarrassing position. If Maharaja Hari Singh's title to rule was not valid, how could he sign the Instrument of Accession to the Union of India on its independence? Nehru and the Sheikh's defence counsel, Asaf Ali, had to give it a different spin at his trial for sedition. Abdullah cited as a precedent the Sikh ruler's Governor of Kashmir, Sheikh Imamuddin, who resisted Gulab Singh's attempt to take possession of the Valley under the "Deed of Sale".

The British regretted the transfer for two reasons. In London Sir John Hobhouse, President of the Board of Control, recorded: "These reports of the character of Golab Singh are such as to promise ill for his subjects and for the arrangements made in Cashmere." Colonel Steinbach, commander of some of Gulab Singh's troops, contended, in 1851, "that the British had made a great mistake in turning Kashmir over to Gulab Singh. Not only had his military resources been exaggerated `but of his avarice and pecuniary oppression your Lordship can form no correct conception - in fact, had your Lordship visited Cashmere, as fully expected, the entire population intended prostrating themselves at your Lordship's feet, to beg to be relieved from the Maharaja's rule - a fact upon my honour'. Steinbach could not understand how Englishmen who railed against slavery at home could at the same time turn an entire people into slaves."

On February 25, 1880, the Viceroy, Lord Lytton, wrote to the Secretary of State Lord Cranbrook: "I consider the time has come when we must decisively intervene for the rescue of a perishing population, on whose behalf we certainly contracted moral obligations and responsibilities when we handed them over to the uncontrolled rule of a power alien to them in race and creed, and representing no civilisation higher than theirs." Cranbrook agreed "that [while] we are not directly responsible but we have relations with Cashmere which would justify strong interference with their enormities and the use of a tone which ought to have its effect... We ought to have influence to prevent the annihilation of a race whose only crime is a different religion from that of the powers in authority... ".

On May 23, 1884 Cranbrook's successor, Kimberley, wrote to Calcutta: "As to the urgent need for reforms in the administration of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, there is, unfortunately, no room for doubt. It may indeed, be a question whether, having regard to the circumstances under which the sovereignty of the country was entrusted to the present Hindoo ruling family, the intervention of the British Government on behalf of the Mahommedan population has not already been too long delayed."

But vulnerable rulers were manipulable. They were deposed only when it suited the British to depose them. Maharaja Partap Singh was removed for imperial reasons.

British regrets were based also on another score. Some Englishmen wanted to establish a European settlement in Kashmir. Lieutenant Colonel R.N. Innes urged such a course on Lord Randolph Churchill on September 21, 1883 when he was at the India Office. "The benefits of a European colony in Cashmere were originally intended to be conferred on the deserving British soldiers of the local army... I still think that the scheme of forming a colony of Europeans in Cashmere would be in every way an advantage to the State."

W. Wakefield lamented in 1879 that the British wantonly threw away "the chance of doing what seems impossible in India otherwise - colonising a portion of our eastern possessions". He added: "It is well known to all conversant with Indian affairs that, unfortunately for us, our countrymen cannot settle down in India and bring up families, like our representatives in our other colonies. The climate and other reasons forbid it... Now, no such factors exist against the colonisation of Kashmir by us or by any other European nation. The climate is all that can be desired; sufficient land exists, which properly tilled and cultivated, would support any number; while water is good and distributed abundantly all over the valley. In fact nothing is left that could be desired to form, by the means of our retired soldiers and others, a miniature England in the heart of Asia."

Wakefield regretted that "it was not to be. The huckstering spirit that so often pervades our national policy, and which caused the great Napolean to apply to us the term of a nation of shopkeepers, was dominant in this case; relinquishing all the advantages that accrued to us from its possession, the Supreme government sold this fair province to the Raja Gulab Singh for the paltry and insignificant sum of 75 lakhs of rupees."

One can well imagine the unabated, smouldering Kashmiri resentment at the Treaty. Had the British made it another province of British India, it would have enjoyed similar advantages and would have been governed by the democratic tests of the Partition Plan of June 3, 1947 as to its future.

CONSIDER another crucial phase of Kashmir's history. In 1938 Sheikh Abdullah decided to convert the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference into a secular National Conference. The decision was ratified by its General Council on April 26, 1939. The seeds of the Jinnah-Abdullah rift were sown then. They merely sprouted during Jinnah's visit to the Valley in 1944. In 1939 as in 1944, Jinnah behaved arrogantly and with utter disregard for democratic values.

On April 1, 1939, in his reply to an address presented by Kashmiri students at the Aligarh Muslim University, Jinnah declaimed: "I can say with certainty that he [Sheikh Abdullah] is in the wrong. Having got himself ensnared by the Congress, which is thoroughly a Hindu organisation, he has put the ship of his community in a whirlpool. I understand that he is doing this out of ignorance and some misunderstanding. But I am fully satisfied that he will soon realise his mistake and will return to the right path, and will come to know that those whom he is considering his friends and at whose beck and call he is acting, are not his true friends but his enemies."

The Sheikh, then on a tour of Punjab, pleaded earnestly on April 14, 1939, as he was to in 1944: "How can we tie ourselves to you [the League]? You are the people who in a resolution in Patna threatened to create difficulties for the Congress in the affairs of the States. While we were in greater stress, the Congress came to our rescue. It was the Congress which voiced our grievances and supported us. Maulana Zafar Ali has in a speech at Kapurthala declared that the Congress is an enemy of the Princes and they in the League are their friends and protectors. If that is right let me say clearly that we cannot be with these who want the present state of affairs to continue."

He added: "Will anybody tell me how am I wrong, representing a majority community as I do, in trying to win the confidence of the minority community which happens to be the Hindus, the Sikhs and others in Kashmir? May I know what irreligious act am I committing in trying to take the minorities with me to have self-Government for the people? Is it not absurd that what is right here becomes wrong in the case of Kashmir?" (Ghulam Hassan Khan; pages 371-372).

When will Pakistanis admit that while Jinnah was the architect of Pakistan, he was also the architect of its alienation of Abdullah and of East Pakistan? Indians also have much heart searching to do. Abdullah was for accession to India even before the tribal raid. His secularism was beyond question. Yet it was this man who was dismissed in August 1953 as Prime Minister of the State and put in prison for 11 years - on Nehru's orders; a fact which he denied to the President, to Parliament and to his daughter (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru: Volume 23; pages 309-311). The Sheikh could not accept Nehru's Note of August 25, 1952 for two reasons - he wanted to retain Kashmir's identity and autonomy and he wanted a final solution of the dispute with Pakistan. He could not ignore the pro-Pakistan constituency in the State. Nehru rejected both these grounds. He was battling against the Jan Sangh, whose rise alarmed Abdullah.

The communal divide within this was bad enough. The split between the National Conference and the Muslim Conference was no better. In November 1943 the British Resident in Kashmir, Col. L.E. Barton, estimated that while the Muslim Conference was in ascendancy in Jammu, which was 61 per cent Muslim, the National Conference held the lead in Kashmir, which was 93 per cent Muslim. Now, 40 years later, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) talks of partition of the State on communal lines. It will yield only two-and-a-half districts to India; for, three of the six districts of Jammu have a Muslim majority. This is the ruin the RSS works for.

On November 1, 1947, Mountbatten offered Jinnah in Lahore plebiscite in all the three States - Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad. Jinnah refused. So much for his commitment to democracy and indeed to the people of Kashmir. He was more interested in the Nizam of Hyderabad.

On November 10, 1947, V.P. Menon, Secretary in the Ministry of States, and Chaudhari Mohammed Ali, Pakistan's Cabinet Secretary, concluded an agreement in writing in the presence of Lord Ismay, Chief of Staff to the Governor-General of India, Lord Mountbatten. Huttenback reproduces its text:

"Both governments agree that all forces whether regular or irregular must be withdrawn from Kashmir soil at the earlier possible moment. The withdrawal will commence on the 12th of November and will be concluded by November 26th. The Government of Pakistan solemnly pledge themselves to do their utmost to assure that the tribesmen are withdrawn according to this programme and that they make no further incursions. The Government of India for their part undertakes to withdraw their forces according to programme."

To the British High Commissioner in India, "Menon said that he entirely agreed that Kashmir would go to Pakistan but emphasised that in view of what had passed, a formal plebiscite was essential."

The draft accord added: "A plebiscite will be held as soon as possible under the aegis of two persons nominated by the Government of India and Pakistan with a person nominated by the Kashmir Government as observer. The plebiscite will be conducted by a British officer." This draft was rejected by Nehru and Jinnah.

This draft evidently found its way to the U.N. Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP). It formed the basis of its two plebiscite Resolutions of August 13, 1948 and January 5, 1949, which both sides accepted. They made three changes; two in India's favour. The plebiscite was to be conducted by a Plebiscite Administrator appointed by the U.N.; Pakistan had no role in the conduct of the plebiscite; and India was not required to withdraw all its forces but only "the bulk" of the forces. Nehru never agreed to any reasonable figure for "the bulk", proposed by the UNCIP, and ensured collapse of the 1948-49 Resolutions and thereby any possibility of a plebiscite.

Neither India nor Pakistan has cared or dared to publish that draft in their respective White Papers. The records of 1947 on Kashmir remain classified. Academia in both countries is quiescent. The secrets of the subcontinent are open to the public in the British Library in London.

WHY did Nehru renege on his promise to hold a plebiscite? Indira Gandhi wrote to him from Srinagar on May 14, 1948: "They say only Sheikh Sahib is confident of winning the plebiscite." This was while the raiders and Pakistan's army were battling with Indian troops who defended Kashmir from the brutal raiders. The distinguished public servant Mohammad Aslam Khan Khattak's memoirs, A Pathan Odyssey, reveal official Pakistani complicity in the raid (Oxford University Press, Karachi; pages 271, Rs.395).

On the partition of India in 1947, Kashmir had a real choice. Even if Pakistan was not a Muslim state, Kashmir's people had every right to declare, through a plebiscite, their decision on accession to either state; a decision on their future and their destiny. No leader, no matter how popular, no legislature, no matter how freely elected - least of all an alien and oppressive ruler whose title to rule derived from a Deed of Sale of a century ago - had any business to determine the people's future. They and they alone had that inalienable right. Referenda on joining the European Union are an established practice now. Be it remembered that it was Nehru and Mountbatten who stipulated the communal criterion in respect of plebiscites in all the three States - Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad respectively, on November 8 and 1, 1947.

Nehru's cynical breach of a solemn pledge in a formal accord has had lasting consequences. It alienated the people and aggrieved a neighbour. He could do so, as he said explicitly in his Note of August 25, 1952, because "we are superior to Pakistan in military and industrial power". Neither the U.N. nor Pakistan could do a thing, he told the Sheikh. While the people became resentful, Pakistan became a country with a deep sense of having been wronged. Its grievance became a festering sore. All the calculations Nehru recorded in that Note have proved wrong. One of them was that over time Pakistan and Kashmiris would both accept the status quo. Fifty years later both reject the Line of Control (LoC). Pakistan regards the proposal humiliating - it sanctifies breach of promise and triumph of military power. Bluntly put, it means - "lump it". This is an aspect advocates of the LoC overlook, especially some retired American diplomats who have set up shop as "experts" on the subcontinent and peddle their shop-worn wares, with insolent confidence, to ignorant Americans and fawning Indians.

At last, in desperation, Pakistan sought to settle the dispute by recourse to war in 1965. India needed no excuse to renege on its pledges, anyway. It now acquired one which was plausible, and perfectly valid - Pakistan could not acquire through a plebiscite what it had failed to acquire at its own chosen forum, the battlefield.

But why should the people of Kashmir suffer for the criminal folly of Pakistan? This was even more true of Nehru's false excuse of U.S. military aid to Pakistan in 1954. Pakistan's aggression in 1965 affected its demand for plebiscite. It did not affect other venues for accord, still less the Kashmiris' right to demand that India fulfil its pledges to them. Falsehoods have been the staple of discourse on Kashmir. "Self determination cannot be claimed by a part of a nation," goes one such plea. But plebiscite in Kashmir was official policy from 1947 to 1956. Both media and academia were complicit in retailing this falsehood and more. Nationalism overpowers commitment to truth. Witness the American press on Iraq.

However, time has established other truths, meanwhile (Vide "Harsh truths about Kashmir", Frontline, August 15). Competing equities have arisen. One harsh truth is that there is no popular "alienation". Alienation implies a former affection. The people were never for acceding to India even in 1947. The other harsh truth is that at least since Pakistan's attack on Kashmir in 1965, no Indian government can hold a plebiscite and survive for a day. People shy away from acknowledging one truth or the other depending on their predilections. Some "scribes" suddenly discovered in 2002 that the word Azadi needed definition. Such is the stuff of Indian discourse on Kashmir.

The correct approach is honesty, and courageously to accept both the truths and evolve creatively a via media acceptable to India, Pakistan and all the regions and communities of Jammu and Kashmir.

Meanwhile the least one can do is to listen to Kashmiri reportage of events and opinions in Kashmir Times and Greater Kashmir. They should open the eyes of those who profess to interpret Azadi. It might surprise some of us, but on October 16, Greater Kashmir published an article by Haroon Rasheed in which he lamented that on October 16, 1586 "the Mughal Army invaded this land and thus Kashmir ceased to remain an independent country". In his view there followed 417 years of foreign rule to this day. Significantly, he deplores Pakistan's hold on Kashmir as much as he does Kashmir's accession to India. The weekly Chattan has been sharply critical of India, Pakistan, the militants as well as the People's Democratic Party and the National Conference. It, nonetheless, expresses the deep popular rejection of the status quo. A noted publicist discovered that even Sufis in Kashmir are separatists.

Neither plebiscite nor independence is an option. But nor is the LoC. It is not beyond the wit of man to devise an arrangement that satisfies, in as large a measure as is realistically possible, the aspirations and needs of all the interests involved in this tragic State. Therein lies the value of President Pervez Musharraf's four points. He has abandoned plebiscite and is anxious to remove the half-century-old festering sore. He is prepared for a compromise and is desperately eager to settle Kashmir so that he can build his fractured country. It would be tragic if India persists in its old policy and misses a fine opportunity to make a new beginning in India-Pakistan relations.

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