Kashmir Needs Correction, Not Coercion
| Dr. Rajkumar Singh - Expert, Indian Politics & Foreign Relations - 29 Sep 2019

By Rajkumar Singh 

The real situation of today's Kashmir is very confusing as in a historic decision the Government of India, on August 5, 2019, has scrapped its privileged position by abolishing Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution of India. This development has created a furor in the State of Jammu and Kashmir which followed a precautionary measure like 144 and clamping of curfew where the situation appeared out of control... Restrictions on media, press, and internet are still continuing with some exceptions along with the mass presence of military and para-military forces.

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Although the step of the government has got thumping support as it has completed the full integration of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian union, our heartfelt sympathy must be with the genuine people of the State whose fate has rarely see the light of the day since accession in India in October 1947.

Cultural composition

Kashmir has been a melting pot of ideas and cultures. It received every new creed with discrimination and enriched it with its own contribution, without throwing away its earlier acquisitions as observed by one, ‘it is the cult of Buddha, the teachings of vedanta, the mysticism of Islam have one after another found a congenial home in Kashmir.’ The intermingling of various ethnic groups in this part of India has provided peculiarities of the Kashmiri personality and the historical, cultural, political and geographical inputs that moulded it.

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The history of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is a record of constant impulses of immigration from the northwest, west, south and east directions. The alien races, ethnic groups and various religions have influenced the cultural ethos and mode of life of people of this region. Ethnic group is defined as a group of people possessing a common ancestry and cultural tradition with a long feeling of belonging and cohesiveness, living as a minority in a larger society. Each social group is the keeper of distinctive cultural traditions and the nucleus of various kinds of social interactions. It provides not only group identity but also friendship, marriage, patterns, business success and the political power base.

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The inside, as well as outside factors, have influenced the racial composition of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Apart from the cultural heritage of the people of the state, in the process of peopling of the region in the north-west, the Ladakhis in the east, the Gujjars and Rajputs in the south and Paharis in the southeast have closely influenced the existing ethnicity of the region. The word ‘Kashmiri’ and ‘Kashmiriyat’ is a wide term which has loosely been applied for several streams of immigrants mainly from Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Afghanistan and settled in the valley.

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Thus, on the basis of its cultural homogeneity and geographical compactness, all the people who emigrated to Kashmir from ancient times merged their individual identities into one whole. The State of Jammu and Kashmir, before its accession to the Union of India in 1947 was ruled by the Mughals, Pathans, Sikhs, and Dogra Kings.

Integration in India and Alienation

With the seizure of British Paramountcy in the Indian subcontinent, princely states including the State of Jammu and Kashmir were asked to choose between India and Pakistan or remain independent. Till August 15, 1947, the day India became independent, this state failed to decide either way and increased pressure was natural from both sides. It was in the last week of October that it had decided to accede to India keeping in view the security threats from Pakistan.

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After accession, the Indian leaders and public as well faced the huge task of absorbing Muslim dominated Kashmir with India. It was a difficult task and demanded, for its accomplishment, virtues of statesmanship, generosity, farsightedness, accommodation and above all selflessness on their part. As a follow up of this motivation Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which conferred a special status on Kashmir was incorporated. Initially, soon after the accession in 1947, the Indian leaders made a good start and were generous in handling the Kashmir state affairs.

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The inserted article assured Kashmiris that they would be free to shape their own destiny as they desired and nothing would be imposed on them by the Indian Parliament. The Constitution makers were fully convinced that the close association of the people of Kashmir with democratic India would make them confident of their bright future by becoming an integral part of this Republic. In all these affairs Seikh Abdullah, the lone leader of the Kashmiri people, remained at the heart of the scene and formed an interim Government in Jammu and Kashmir.

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Subsequent political developments made it amply clear that it was too good to last. The pro-India utterances of Sheikh Abdullah took a ‘U’ turn in the beginning years of the fifties and the Government of India feared continuance of Jammu and Kashmir as part of the Indian Union. In all probabilities, the Indian government tried to persuade Sheikh Abdullah but was of no avail. He was adamant in his determination to strike on independent path.

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In July 1953 the Government of Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed and he was put behind the bar in August. It was the starting point of erosion of representative democracy in the state. The assembly elections of 1957, 1962 and 1967 were a farce and registered 95 to 97 per cent of seats for the ruling clique. It disappointed the people of Jammu and Kashmir at large because they were deprived of their political right for no fault on their part.

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The State of Jammu and Kashmir witnessed its first reasonably democratic election in 1977 followed by a free and fair occasion in 1983. After the death of Sheikh Abdullah in 1982, his son Farooq Abdullah made an opportunistic agreement with Congress 1, the party ruling Delhi, in 1986 to remain in power. The accord that was arrived at between Rajiv Gandhi and Farooq Abdullah led to the formation of the National Conference-Congress coalition government in November 1986, it however, simultaneously alienated the large masses of Jammu and Kashmir.

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The argument implied that central aid would inflow as a result of the accord, was based on narrow considerations with no match to the self-respecting people of the state.In fact the party in power at the centre had no right to buy a share in the political power of a state by promising aid and the people of Jammu and Kashmir had repeatedly rebuffed attempts of earlier governments to take over their loyalty.

The accord was also full of other negative consequences. It was a denial of the basic principles of democracy and federalism. It implied that some states should be denied the right to be ruled by a government of their choice and it pushed once again Jammu and Kashmir outside the framework of federal democracy in India. It blocked all types of secular outlets of protest against governments both at the Centre and the State.

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It destroyed the raison d’etre of both parties and forced all types of discontent to seek fundamentalist or secessionist outlets. In no way the assembly elections of March 1987 was an improvement, blocking further secular and nationalist outlets of discontent, constitutional and democratic ones as well. Especially after 1987 all institutional channels of protest and dissent effectively blocked and even perfectly peaceful agitations were suppressed with lethal force.

Alienation continued

In the post-independence era, there has been a persistent policy of denying Kashmir a right to democracy: the one-party rule has been imposed on the State through manipulation of elections, opposition parties have been prevented from growing and elementary civil liberties and human rights have been denied to the people. This refusal to integrate Kashmir within the framework of Indian democracy has proved to be the single greatest obstacle to the process of Kashmir’s emotional and political integration with the rest of India.

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This is why the people of Jammu and Kashmir are so insistent on “freedom” which means freedom from Indian rule, is the conviction, born of their experiences, that their collective will for democratic responsible and accountable government is incompatible with their presently coerced status as ‘an integral part of India’. It is one of the factors that has changed the social psychology of Kashmir. They began to realise that even sham democracy is a better alternative to anarchy, and a bad government is still a better option to chaos.

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It is also to note here that because of the Pakistan factor, the insurgency in Kashmir has always had to be handled with greater firmness than those elsewhere. In most cases the problem is treated as merely an extension of the unresolved Hindu-Muslim conflict of the forties. There is no doubt that a large number of Kashmiri Muslims are alienated from India today. Their alienation is more as Kashmiri than as Muslim.

(Author Dr. Rajkumar Singh is Professor and Head of P.G. Department of Political Science, BNMU, West Campus P.G. Centre, Saharsa, Bihar, India. The views expressed in this article are his personal. Email -rajkumarsinghpg@gmail.com)

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