Vision for Kashmir

Print edition : August 08, 2014

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addressing a gathering in Srinagar in November 1947. Sheikh Abdullah, Prime Minister of Kashmir, is seated to his left. Photo: THE HINDU archives

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President General Pervez Musharaff in New Delhi on September 9, 2005.

A solid indictment of India and Pakistan for following the policy of crisis management rather than opting for a difficult but morally right path of conflict resolution.

KASHMIR is central to the competitive state-making rationale of India and Pakistan. Hence, to understand the tragedy and to look for a viable alternative requires a scholarship that is not trapped by the half-truths emanating from the two sibling nation states. A.G. Noorani is a rare combination of a legal mind and political foresight, with an eye for detail. He looks at the number of missed opportunities while spelling out a way forward to the vexatious issue at various given points of time. The main characteristic of Noorani’s scholarship is its effortless travel between history and contemporaneity and its constant search for an enduring solution.

A decade ago, at a retreat of editors from India and Pakistan organised by Panos South Asia and held at Bentota, Sri Lanka, Noorani expounded the formula that would work in Kashmir. He said: “I have this formula which I call the Red Fort, Lal Chowk and Mochi Gate formula. A settlement must be one which the Prime Minister of India can sell to the people from Red Fort so that he can persuade Parliament, the leader of Pakistan from Mochi Gate in Lahore, and the Chief Minister of Kashmir from Lal Chowk in Srinagar.”

The underlying principle here is profound and is a statement of fact. He does not reduce the Kashmir dispute to a bilateral issue between New Delhi and Islamabad nor does he see the Kashmiriyat argument as if it is hermeneutically sealed from the politics of the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

The book is broadly divided into three parts. The first part is an explanatory introduction that explains the dispute, brilliantly cuts through the series of half-truths emanating from New Delhi, Islamabad and Srinagar, and provides a context to understand the issue in its entirety. The second part contains a set of crucial documents starting from K.M. Munshi’s draft of the Declaration on the formation of the Provincial Government of Junagadh in September 1947 to ones that capture two different readings of some events such as Sheikh Abdullah’s talks with T.N. Kaul in 1967 and 1968. Every document shared by Noorani reveals the type of entrenched narrative that refuses to resolve the dispute over Kashmir even after seven decades. The third part contains collections of Noorani’s articles published over these decades. The set of articles helps put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together and gives a macro idea of why the Kashmir problem still persists and micro details of various players in the dispute who played the roles of leaders and spoilers with an alarmingly alternating regularity.

Let us first look at the way forward suggested by Noorani. It is a complex and nuanced argument that has three tests to secure the popular support, and four limits imposed by time. The three tests —called the Red Fort, Lal Chowk and Mochi Gate formula—recognise that the solution should be the one which the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan can get their Parliaments to ratify, and must be acceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, across the communities and regions of the State, which includes the return of Kashmiri Pandits to Kashmir Valley and the resumption of their lives with safety, dignity and respect. The four limits are: no government of India can possibly accept secession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, no government of Pakistan can possibly accept the Line of Control (LoC) as an international boundary, Kashmiris will not acquiesce to the portioning of their land, and they will not submit to the denial of democratic self-rule. Kashmiris seek reunification of the State and cast-iron guarantees against a repeat of abuse.

In Noorani’s vision, none of this is possible de jure but they are pre-eminently attainable de facto by the Four Points which reduce the LoC to “irrelevance” and to just “lines on a map”, as former Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put it. The joint mechanism comprising the Chief Ministers of east and west Kashmir will take care of the political aspirations. Noorani rightly wants the hideous words “India-held Kashmir” and “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir” to be dropped. In this scheme of things, there will be an agreed and equal devolution of powers on both sides, including the Northern Areas, now Gilgit and Baltistan, and disengagement of forces. On the Indian side, Noorani suggests that Kashmiris can devise a final draft of Article 370 to supersede all others and embody the requisite safeguards.

One thing that emerges in these volumes is the difference between the popular perception and the ground reality. The popular perception elevates the initiatives of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the level of a deadlock breaker. But Noorani’s meticulous recollection and careful reading of the processes and the documents give another picture. His article in Frontline (issue dated September 10, 1999), titled “An aborted deal?”, is an important pointer. It reveals how an agreement between India and Pakistan to resolve the Kargil crisis as early as June 27 was aborted, and some people in New Delhi wanted to flourish a military victory for electoral ends in preference to an early diplomatic solution.

In his introduction, Noorani writes:

“…On 22 January and 27 March 2004, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani met a delegation of the Hurriyat. It was a cynical charade, for successive Annual reports of the Home Ministry during the BJP regime poured scorn on the Hurriyat—the 2003-04 Annual Report stated that ‘none of the factions enjoys popular support’ (Ministry of Home Affairs 2004: 17) and asserted that ‘the State of J&K already enjoys autonomy’ ( ibid. 20). The Report for 2002-03 was even more strident…. “The BJP regime had nothing to offer to the people of Kashmir; still less to Pakistan. The peace process began in earnest only after [the United Progressive Alliance] UPA government, led by Dr Manmohan Singh, came to power in May 2004. Together, he and [Pakistan] President [Pervez] Musharraf inched towards an accord on the basics of Kashmir.”

So, the template for progress and conflict resolution in Kashmir is not the one pursued by Vajpayee and simultaneously scuttled by Advani but the one that reached a near consensus and was created by Manmohan Singh and Musharraf. Noorani’s writings are a solid indictment of India and Pakistan for following the policy of crisis management rather than opting for a difficult but ethically and morally right path of conflict resolution.

The book is a treasure-trove of information for readers seeking to understand the genesis of the dispute. Tracing the history from the death of Ranjit Singh and the beginning of the end of the Sikh regime in 1839 and the creation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir by the British for its own imperial ends, Noorani provides insights into every little change that happened in this region. His reading of Sir Henry Hardinge’s war on the Sikh kingdom, the betrayal of Gulab Singh, and his “purchase” of Jammu and Kashmir from the British for Rs.75 lakh, which is known in history books as the infamous Treaty of Amritsar, are a must read.

He manages to rip the veil of hagiography surrounding the Dogra rulers and the myth of Gulab Singh as the founder of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Noorani has shared a letter from Lord Kimberley, Secretary of State for India, to Lord Ripon, the Viceroy, on May 23, 1884. It reads: “As to the urgent need for reforms in 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 Mohammedan population has not already been too long delayed.” There are some minor irritants in the way the copy was checked and edited, as some typographical errors mar the flow of an otherwise gripping narrative. For instance, Noorani recollects Cunningham’s rather pithy description of Gulab Singh’s investiture in March 1846: “He stood up, and joined hands, expressed his gratitude to the British—adding without, however, any ironical meaning, that he was indeed Zurkharid, or gold-boughten slaves.” Here the date has been printed as 1946 rather than 1846.

Noorani distributes his criticism evenly and no one escapes his searing indictment. He uses the material sourced from the myriad archives to bring out the limitations of each and every player. The failings of Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Cyril Radcliffe, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Sheikh Abdullah and Raja Hari Singh are all documented in a manner in which both students of history and political science can understand how a seemingly possible fruitful resolution was pushed into a trajectory of unending attrition at a huge human cost.

One of the biggest mistakes made by Jinnah, according to Noorani, is his rejection of the Mountbatten formula offered to him in Lahore on November 1, 1947. The formula was:

“The governments of India and Pakistan agree that, where the ruler of a State does not belong to the community to which the majority of his subjects belong, and where the State has not acceded to that Dominion whose majority community is the same as the State’s, the question of whether the State should finally accede to one or the other Dominions should in all cases be decided by an impartial reference to the will of people.” Noorani rightly observes that “Pakistan could not have been established but for the tactical skills and tenacity of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Pakistan could not have lost Kashmir but for the monumental arrogance and egregious folly of its Qaid-e-Azam.”

It may be beyond the scope of this review to look at the painstaking manner in which Noorani sutures the events starting from Partition to the competing demands for accession to the vacillation of Hari Singh; from the relationship between Sheikh Abdullah and Nehru to the armed action of the raiders. But, within the folds of each detail lies a major story, an attitude and a glimpse of how history will unfold over the next six or seven decades. But one aspect that needs mention is Noorani’s look at Article 370, given the fact that the present ruling party wants this Article abrogated from the Constitution. This major constitutional provision keeps appearing in many of the essays and articles in this anthology; some throw light on the element of asymmetric devolution in the constitutional framework, some explain how its salient feature were wrecked by New Delhi; and some argue that it cannot be repealed.

Noorani was emphatic when he wrote that “Article 370 was not something that time would ‘erode’. It was a constitutional provision that could be undermined only by violating its terms and abusing the powers it gave”. Only when we realise the importance of this salient feature of the Indian Constitution can we understand the multiple models used by Noorani to arrive at a solution that can fulfil the three tests and the four limits threshold and move forward.

In his Frontline essays, which are part of this collection, Noorani has deliberated on four models—“Irish lessons for Kashmir” (April 11, 2003); the Saar and Trieste in “Nehru and the Cold Wars” (February 27, 2004); “The South Tyrol model” (December 17, 2004); and the Aaland Islands accord between Sweden and Finland in 1921. Among these, he thinks the last one is the most apposite in the instruction it imparts for a solution to the Kashmir dispute as it meets the criteria set by Manmohan Singh and Musharraf.

Hope policymakers take note of this seminal contribution and work towards a meaningful resolution of the seven-decade-long conflict which has taken a huge human toll.

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