Kashmir in perspective

Print edition : January 06, 2017

In Srinagar on November 8, protesters raise pro-freedom and anti-India slogans on the 123rd day of the unrest sparked by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani on July 8 by security forces. Photo: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP

The book is a significant contribution to the contemporary understanding of the larger political problem in Kashmir in a broad historical perspective.

NOT much literature is available in Hindi on Kashmir and the politics surrounding it. Hindi writers have refrained from writing on this critical and contentious issue, which evokes nationalistic sentiments in today’s India. There are, of course, books in Hindi on Kashmir, but these have either taken a propagandist approach or tend to resort to plain distortion of facts. This is why those who read these books have an understanding about Kashmir that is often disconnected from reality.

The noted journalist and political commentator Urmilesh has tried to bridge this gap by trying to unravel the political dynamics of a place that has been seething with anger and frustration, especially since July 8, 2016. His book, Kashmir: Virasat Aur Siyasat, is perhaps the first one in Hindi on Kashmir’s political trajectory. Urmilesh has dealt in detail with the political crisis in Jammu and Kashmir and the atmosphere of turmoil that continues to engulf the State. The unrest witnessed in the Kashmir Valley since July is political in nature. The author tries to tell us how it arose.

Dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah

Basing his arguments on the experience he gained from reporting on Kashmir for 16 years, Urmilesh traces the State’s alienation to the unfulfilled promises made to the people of Kashmir and the way the region was robbed of its autonomy. He lays emphasis on the illegal dismissal of Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1953 and the way it provided an impetus to the unrest within the State. Quoting from Sheikh Abdullah’s autobiography, the author explains how the dismissal impacted the political landscape of Kashmir and how it was seen as a massive betrayal by its people.

The debate over Maharaja Hari Singh acceding to newly independent India remains central to understanding the origins of the Kashmir dispute.

The book covers the history of Kashmir’s accession and the instrument that was signed by the Maharaja. It covers political history in a comprehensive way as the author puts things in context by giving a brief account of the ancient and medieval history of the State.

In that sense, the book helps the reader understand the larger political problem in a broad historical perspective.

Historical blunders

In 13 chapters and six supplements, the author dispassionately explains the imbroglio and connects contemporary Kashmir with the historical blunders committed by New Delhi. Blatant interference by successive Central governments, especially those of Jawaharlal Nehru, the author feels, is at the root of the crisis. He also talks about the revolutionary land-to-the-tiller reform that changed the socio-economic character of the people and the way Sheikh Abdullah conceived and implemented this and other such policies.

The author is, at the same time, critical of Sheikh Abdullah for promoting dynastic rule by bringing in his son Farooq Abdullah to the political centre stage and sidelining other prominent leaders of the National Conference.

The most important chapters are the ones that deal with the emergence of militancy. The author blames the Centre for creating the space for dissatisfaction and thus paving the way for thousands of youth to embrace the armed struggle after the 1987 Assembly elections were rigged to bring an alliance of the National Conference and the Congress to power.

Urmilesh argues that militancy was the outcome of four major factors—the Centre’s overall policy towards Kashmir since 1953; the erosion of autonomy and special provisions for the region under the Indian Constitution; the rigging of the 1987 election; and the fact that after Sheikh Abdullah, there was no one in mainstream politics who could command the confidence of the Kashmiri people.

Four-point formula

Of the two new chapters in the latest edition of the book (which was first published in 2006), one chapter deals with four squandered opportunities for a political agreement and the other with the Hindu nationalist approach to Kashmir.

The author talks about the historic initiative by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, later carried forward by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He is of the opinion that the process that culminated in Musharraf’s four-point formula was the best ever opportunity to progress towards the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. But that was derailed following the 2008 terror attack on Mumbai and earlier because of India’s delay in responding to the proposal.

The bonhomie that existed between 2003 and 2007 not only changed the discourse on Kashmir but also brought discernable change on the ground in the State.

He rues the fact that the political leadership after 2007 could not muster the courage to pick up the threads and take the peace process to its logical conclusion. He praises the people of Kashmir for showing resilience in the time of immense tribulation in the past 26 years. The author says the people wanted a democratic solution to the dispute, they having reposed their faith in democratic institutions from time to time, but New Delhi did not reciprocate.

The book is a significant contribution to the contemporary understanding of Kashmir’s turbulent history. There is a need for more such books in Hindi so that the larger population of India can have access to a critical narrative on Kashmir and its history, politics and pain.

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