Prem Shankar Jha

“Kashmir came to India because we felt our ambitions and hopes would be fulfilled by allying ourselves with the great country which was India, which believed in democracy, in the rule of law… Now look at the treatment Kashmir has received… Let every Indian search his own heart.”

Sheikh Abdullah. Photo: File

This interview with Sheikh Abdullah was first published in the February 1968 edition of The Weekend Review, a supplement published by the Hindustan Times. The Wire is republishing it now because of the bearing it has on the ongoing debates in the Supreme Court and elsewhere over Kashmir’s constitutional status.


It is February, 1968. In a bungalow in New Delhi, the Lion of Kashmir Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah waits for the weather to moderate and the road to open so that he may return to his homeland. He waits also, with dwindling hope and increasing despondency, for some sign from the Union government that it is willing to give up its ostrich attitude on Kashmir. Today history is threatening to repeat itself. A carefully planned campaign seems to have been launched to rouse communal violence and then point to him as its cause. He has been falsely accused of having met the Chinese Charge d’ Affaires in the Pakistan High Commission. The ground is thus being prepared to force the government to put him away again as it did in 1963, in 1958, and in 1965. The Sheikh’s “sin” is that he is an uncompromising idealist in an era of political disillusionment. In this interview with Prem Shankar  Jha of the Weekend Review, he sets out the political convictions that have sustained him in his long travail.

How were you first attracted to politics?

It was what I saw around me in Kashmir, I think, that first attracted me to politics – the distress, and the poverty which I saw as I grew up. As I have been telling my friends here (in Delhi), Kashmir, because of its natural beauty, has always attracted conquerors who have treated it as a prize a luxury item made simply for their enjoyment. They never thought of the Kashmiri people. This has been true of all conquerors including the Moghuls and most recently the Dogras. During all this time, the needs of the people were seldom looked after, and as I grew I found that poverty and illiteracy prevailed everywhere.

What led you to convert the Kashmir Muslim Conference into the National Conference in 1938?

You see, I was brought up in a place where I had the people of one community all around me, that is Muslims. Generally the Muslims are very much downtrodden in Kashmir. They are a huge majority – 95%. So naturally my first contact was with them and I was influenced by their distress and the injustices they suffered at the hands of officialdom. So I had the idea that they were suffering on account of their religion.

But later when I had had an opportunity to travel around and tour the whole state, I came across other people belonging to other religious communities – Hindus and Sikhs – receiving the same, and in places even worse, treatment than Muslims. So I came to the conclusion that the real fight was not between two religions, or two religious groups, but between “haves” and “have nots”, oppressed and oppressor. I found there were Muslims, there were Sikhs – people of all communities. So I began to feel that if one’s real purpose was to relieve oppression or distress, the best course was to serve not one group but all the people irrespective of caste, creed or colour. That was my reason for broad-basing the old Muslim Conference.

Was it when you found that the condition of oppression was not merely confined to Kashmir that you decided to join the States’ People’s Conference?

Yes, initially of course my views were formed by touring Kashmir state, but later when I went to Hyderabad, for example, I found the overwhelmingly Hindu population of that state in the same condition as the population of Kashmir.

When did you meet Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru, and what impression or impact did they create on you?

I met Panditji first when he visited Lahore and he was staying with Mian Iftikhar-ud-din Khan. I met him not at his house but at the railway station when he was proceeding to the (North West) frontier. It was 1938 or 1939. We had a talk at the railway station… I sat in his compartment…and accompanied him on his tour. Just like that. Just like that we had a long exchange of ideas. That was my first contact with him. At that time we discussed how to open the gates of the Muslim Conference to the other minorities in the state in Kashmir. We did not have to do (much) because the basic principles of the Muslim Conference were already universal and non-communal. So we had only to discuss the technical part of how to do it. We exchanged our ideas. I told him of my difficulties and he discussed the advantages of broad-basing the movement. So that was my first contact.

Gandhi’s impact on me was that he was a man of high principles and of noble, political ideals. He had a religious bent of mind. This attracted me to him ideologically. Another thing which impressed me was that he was a lover of truth. He would always stand by the truth. Once he was convinced that a certain thing was wrong it would not take him a minute to admit it. In his whole life he would not ask others to do anything which he himself would not practice first.

In 1945-46 Mr Jinnah came to Kashmir. What he was seeking at that time was to reconvert the National Conference into the Muslim Conference. Therein we naturally did not agree. But in Delhi when I met him I told him it was not my view only which matters, and that I would ask the advice of my colleagues. [I explained to him that] in 1931-32, we had gone through this debate and come to the conclusion that it was not merely a question of communities, and that it was the duty of every Muslim to fight to relieve the distress of everyone. We believed that this was the true Islam, so the Muslim Conference was opened to minorities. Unless I was convinced that this was wrong, I could not go back on this decision. I said that if my other colleagues decided unanimously to back to the original position, then I would not stand in the way. But in that case I would not be able to lead the Conference because personally I would still not be convinced. But I would accept the decision of my party because as a democratic principal if the majority decides, naturally I would then have to either follow or quit.

But finally no decision was needed. Mr Jinnah had come to Kashmir. He had accepted my decision. But there probably, he was advised not to accept my proposal to put his suggestion to the Conference because it was felt that I had so much influence with the working of the National Conference that they would always go by my advice. So he avoided referring the matter to the Conference. Naturally there was a conflict apparently after that his position was changed and he supported the Maharaja. His position as far as the princes were concerned was that the right to ‘decide the future’ affiliation was given to the princes and not the people. Therefore he stuck to that position, whilst the Indian Congress and the State Peoples Conference opposed his view point. They said that it was the right of the people to decide, and not of one man.

Sheikh Abdullah addressing a gathering at Lal Chowk in Srinagar in 1975. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

What was the situation in Kashmir in 1947?

Just before the emergency in 1947, I found anxiety all round, because of what was happening on both sides of Punjab. Thousands of refugees, both Hindus and Muslims, had poured into the state.  They had suffered a lot and there was tension between the Hindus and Muslim of Kashmir. There was anxiety about what was going to happen. Then the Maharaja had not taken any decision about the accession. This was the main question that faced me on my release from jail on the 28th of September, 1947.

At my first public meeting which I addressed in Srinagar, I made my position on the accession clear. I felt that the people of Jammu and Kashmir were not in a position to take a decision at that moment because they did not know what shape, ultimately, the two dominions would take. There was so much trouble and nobody even knew whether the two dominions would exist. I suppose nobody knew whether the secular principle would survive at that time. Nobody knew what was going to happen. So we thought that this was not the time to take a decision which would influence not only us but also future generations. So we needed time.

That was one consideration. The second consideration was that we had been fighting since 1931 for a responsible government in Kashmir. We had not achieved that objective and the Maharaja was still an autocrat. We had to first gain our freedom before deciding about accession and we requested the heads of both the dominions, both Congress and the Muslim League, not to force us to take a decision at that moment, but to leave us alone.

I sent one of my colleagues Mr G.M. Sadiq, who is the present chief minister, to Lahore to meet the prime minister of Pakistan, Mr Liaquat Ali Khan and to put this question before him, but unfortunately they took the position that as the subcontinent was divided on the basis of Muslims and Hindus, and as Kashmir was a Muslim-majority area, it must ipso facto come to Pakistan. That position was not acceptable to us. Mr Sadiq told Pakistan that the decision must not be imposed on the people of Jammu and Kashmir but they should be given a chance to decide their own fate. Both India and Pakistan must accept (their) decision, whatever it may be. There was no agreement on that, so Sadiq returned and, soon after, the raids began and the picture changed.

When the raids began the Maharaja could not stop them because his forces were spread out throughout the state in small, batches. The raiders therefore nearly reached Srinagar, so he was advised (I don’t know by whom) and left in the dead of the night with his personal staff and belongings for Jammu; meanwhile he requested India for military support. India could not give this military support unless some legal basis was established. Lord Mountbatten advised his colleagues, Pandit Nehru and others that it would be wrong for India to send troops into a technically independent state. If India did so, Pakistan would do the same and there would be a clash between the two dominions, and since the army was still controlled by British personnel on both sides, it would be difficult for them to fight. So he suggested that some legal formula should be established.

The Maharaja was told that military help would come (legally) only if he signed the Instrument of Accession. Thus the Maharaja signed under duress, and in his letter whilst forwarding the document to Lord Mountbatten he stated clearly the circumstances under which he had signed the accession. Realising this position and the desire of the people of Kashmir for self-determination and their refusal to give up that position vis-à-vis Pakistan, the leaders of India accepted the accession provisionally subject to ratification by the people of Jammu and Kashmir at a later stage on the basis of a plebiscite. The condition of a plebiscite was laid [down] at that very hour.

Was it specifically plebiscite, or a ‘reference to the people’?

For that I would like you to see V.P. Menon’s book The Integration of the Indian States. He has devoted a chapter to each state and there is one on Kashmir too. He clearly says that because of these considerations the accession was ‘accepted subject to a plebiscite’. He has clearly used the word plebiscite in his book. Actually it was Lord Mountbatten in his letter to the Maharaja in which he accepted the deed of accession, who said this would become final after a “reference to the people” .

What were the problems you faced during the emergency government when you became prime minster?

My problems were multifold. Firstly there was a fear complex: Muslims were afraid of Hindus and Hindus were afraid of Muslims. In the Jammu and Kashmir state, Hindus would not think of going to Pakistan because of what had happened on that side. They thought they would be completely finished if the state acceded to Pakistan. The Muslims were afraid that if the state joined India then their fate would be the same as of Muslims in Kapurthala and other Punjab states. In India too, at that time, there were definitely two trends. One was the secular concept and the other trend was towards a theocratic concept. The Hindu Mahasabha and parts of the Congress and the general mass of the people also thought that if “they” have a Muslim state we must have a Hindu state. So (in Kashmir) we had to fight these trends. It was a tough fight and an uphill task for those who believed in humanity and not in Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs.

This was the problem facing us: how to create confidence in the two sectors in Kashmir. I thought that remaining in India on the basis of the Instrument of Accession was enough guarantee for the non-Muslims that their lives would be safeguarded and that their rights would be safeguarded. But how to create confidence amongst the Muslims. I thought that by guaranteeing an autonomous position (for) the state, they would have an assurance that there would be no interference with their internal affairs. As a majority, it would be up to them to provide safeguards for the minority and not vice versa.

Besides this, they would have the tremendous advantage of being a part of a country which claimed to be democratic and progressive, and in which the rule of law prevailed. By remaining a part of such a state, the condition and aspiration for which they had been fighting since 1931 would be fulfilled. So I thought that this would be a good compromise and I could retain the confidence of the people. Unfortunately communal forces and the trend in India which believed in a theocratic Hindu state proved to be too strong. And there was a break.

Sheikh Abdullah with other leaders of the 1931 agitation. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

You are referring to 1953? But you were very successful in doing so during the emergency (raiders’ invasion).

At that time there was imminent danger. In Kashmir, in spite of everything, people do not believe in violence and communal hatred. They belong to the same ethnic group. There are people, both Hindus and Muslims, who belong to the same caste and have the same surname – for example Bakshis are both Hindus and Muslim. Wattals are both Hindus and Muslims, and so on. So there was nothing that could separate them, and this helped us a lot.

What was the result you would have wanted to see emerge from a plebiscite?   

At that time we thought that they could fulfil their ambitions by remaining a part of a democratic country in India because of Pandit Nehru and Gandhi and other Congressmen with whom we had close associations. We thought we too could remain a part of that country The sympathy of the Congress leaders for the people of Kashmir was fresh in the minds of the Kashmiris – how Nehru had suffered for them and Gandhi had sympathised with them. Though the ruler was a Hindu and a majority of the population was Muslim, this had not prevented the Congress leadership from identifying itself with the political movement in Kashmir led mainly by the Muslims. This had a tremendous impact on (Kashmiri) Muslims at that time. If a plebiscite had been conducted at that time, I am sure that it would have gone in favour of India. Later, of course, the situation changed, unfortunately.

Did the presence of the army create tensions?  

From the very beginning we had to go through a lot of stress and strain even in 1947. When the first Indian Army troops came there, some of the battalions had completely lost their perspective. They thought that the fight was between Hindus and Muslims, no matter where the Muslim belonged to. We had to face this trouble [from the start]. A Sikh regiment from Patiala was stationed near the airport and wanted some volunteers. But the next morning when the camp moved out, we found the four volunteers dead in their bunkers. We had to face a terrible row in the city at that time. Then I called a conference and said that [the soldiers had perhaps] seen their nearest and dearest being killed in the riots. They were not in their normal mood as they thought that every Muslim was an enemy. They did not know that we were fighting for a certain cause. So we decided that the army heads and leaders must be told to inform the soldiers that they were fighting for an ideal. We did this and it had a very good effect.

During the period after the [Kashmir] war, how did reactionary forces, which you said earlier proved to be too strong, manifest themselves?

When we took over the administration, we had naturally to fulfil the promises we had made to the people for a long time about land reforms, the reduction and cancellation of debts, and other such reforms.

Landholdings were distributed among the tillers of the soil. Among the landlords there were Hindus, Muslims and others. But the Hindu landlords had a say in Delhi. They came here [to Delhi] and spread poison against us, trying to give the land reforms a communal colour. There were people here who readily believed these people. This vitiated the atmosphere of relations between Kashmir and the Centre, giving them a communal cast when the object of our reforms was purely economic.

Similarly with regard to debt cancellation. We passed a law according to which any debt in which the sum of interest payments had equalled or exceeded one and half times the value of the principal was considered automatically cancelled. Now, among the sahukars (moneylenders) also, there were both Hindus and Muslims. The Hindu sahukars were able, and did, complain to people here in Delhi, thus further vitiating the atmosphere. And then the Maharaja…we could not keep on the dynasty… When the dynasty was abolished, all those people who used to surround the Maharaja took advantage of this position, did not like the changes my government was making and combined to wage a campaign on communal lines in Delhi, in spite of the fact that none of the measures we had passed were communally motivated.

Was there any kind of discrimination in the allocation of jobs in Kashmir?

During my time there was none, but one thing was clear: with the spread of education, groups which were not previously represented began to claim jobs. So we had to satisfy their urges. Muslims, who were as you know a majority, had suffered for a long time and were nowhere represented in the administration. So naturally when they came up, they expected that they would also get their due. This is what happened in Hyderabad, where the Hindus came up in a similar manner. The position in Kashmir was exactly the reverse of Hyderabad.

My difficulty, however, was that I could not clean up the administration all at once. I could not remove people who had been working for years without providing them alternative employment. So, I was trying, little by little, to redress the balance of the various communities in government. The process was slow, but I can say with certainty that there was no discrimination.

One often hears in Delhi that you were arrested on the 8th of August, 1953 because you were on the verge of giving a unilateral call for independence. It is also said that you would have done so in your in speech on 1 August. I have read the text of the speech which you were to give and have not found anything to support this thesis. Was there anything else which could have led to this conclusion? Did you at any point even consider such a unilateral declaration could not happen? What was the dialogue you were engaged in with Panditji at the time of your arrest?

Panditji wanted the ratification of the accession by the Kashmir Constituent Assembly. I advised him that the world would not accept this situation, nor the people whom we had been assuring that theirs would be the final say. Actually I had suggested this course [ratification by the Assembly at an early stage] in 1950. At that time it was Panditji who had firmly refused to follow this course, saying that India was committed not only to the people but to the entire world to hold the plebiscite. This ratification was one of the purposes for which the Constituent Assembly had been called in 1950. But Pakistan and protested strongly to the Security Council, and India had assured the council twice through Sir Benegal Rao, who was the permanent representative to the UN, that India would abide by her commitments.

May I now come to the present day [1968], and ask you a few questions on which there has been some controversy recently: Firstly, quite a lot has been made in the press of your hesitation to declare your nationality as Indian. You subsequently clarified your position by saying that you were “provisionally” an Indian citizen, which did not really help very much. Would you care to tell me what made you hesitate to commit yourself?

The difficulty with me is that circumstances have drawn me into politics. Otherwise, I don’t feel myself good enough for this job. Because nowadays I feel a politician must know how to stab his friends. A politician must know all these dirty tricks. I find myself incapable of conspiracy, incapable of speaking untruths, and incapable of what we call diplomacy. I have suffered because of this.

With regard to this nationality question, in my press conference my main objection was to the attitude of the questioner. I felt that he was not asking this question with a good intention, Otherwise I would have explained the whole position then and there. And what I thought turned out to be true; this question was loaded, and was meant to spoil the atmosphere of the conference.

With regard to my nationality, I feel that this is the whole question under dispute since 1947. If the nationality of the people of Jammu and Kashmir is considered fixed once and for all, then there is no dispute left, and nothing to be settled.

But no one today seriously believes that there is no dispute. Even in 1965 when the war was going on, Vinobaji [Vinoba Bhave] is on record as having said that the Jammu and Kashmir dispute can only be considered truly settled when the people of India, the people of Kashmir, the people of Pakistan and the whole world agree that it is settled. So at the most, as far as I am concerned…you see, I have been a party to the provisional accession, so if you take it from a purely legalistic point of view then I consider myself as having accepted a provisional citizenship of Indian.

Sheikh Abdullah and Jawaharlal Nehru.

The second point is that we the people of Kashmir, of all shades, believe that so long as the uncertainty of the external situation continues, we can never have internal peace and stability. That has been our experience – not only mine but also of all my colleagues, including those who succeeded me. I have not been on the scene for the last 14 years, but all the material and moral help which the Government of India has given to Kashmir has not succeeded in bringing peace or stability. So we feel that peace and stability will only come when India and Pakistan come together, become friends. So the people of Kashmir have a self interest in seeing that India and Pakistan come together. I am working therefore for this purpose. So if you “fix” me, then where is the basis on which I can work for better relations? I must have a little freedom to negotiate.

‘The third point which I keep trying to explain to my friends in India is that in 1947, Kashmir did not come to India because of any pressure or persuasion, but of its own free will. It was because we felt that our ambitions and our hopes, for which we had made huge sacrifices since 1931, would be fulfilled by allying ourselves with the great country which was India, which believed in democracy, in the rule of law, which believed in equality of man. We believe in the high ideals which Mahatma Gandhi preached. Now look at the treatment Kashmir has received. That is an open book, and I don’t want to go into it. Let every Indian search his own heart.

But most people in Indian seem to think that the Kashmiris enjoy the same degree of democracy which Indians elsewhere do.

I wish Kashmir had that democratic constitution and that democratic way of life, but the fact remains that Indian democracy stops short at Pathankot. Between Pathankot and Banihal you may have some measure of democracy, but after Banihal there is none. What we have in Kashmir bears some of the worst characteristics of colonial rule. We are at the mercy of an ordinary police officer. Nobody can express his opinion freely. Let any Indian go there and honestly assess the entire situation. Can you blame Kashmiris for saying that when the Indian government has kept their leader, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, in jail for 14 years without a charge, what can they expect from it in the future in the way of fair play?

We did not come [accede] to Indian because of its vastness, or because it is a moneyed country. We were enamoured of the high principles for which you stood. But today, let alone what is happening in Kashmir, even here I have been released but I am discouraged from speaking of my cause. What happened in Meerut? The chief minister of UP directed all his district magistrates to prevent me from speaking if he felt this would lead to disturbances. The chief minister did not bother to find out who were the troublemakers in Meerut. What did I say at that public meeting? I delivered an address of nearly two and a half hours. The speech is there. I could be taken to task on the basis of that speech, but even there in Meerut when the atmosphere was so tense, I preached communal harmony. Does it become a minister in a democratic country to take such an attitude? Now I am warned not to go here, not to go there, not to go there…this how Indian democracy functions. How do you expect the people of Kashmir today to come rushing to you?

Of course India can keep Kashmir by force. But this way it will have the bodies of the Kashmiris but not their souls. That would not be a true accession. Accession should be of minds and hearts, and love and justice are the only two weapons which come with you for that accession.

In your public meetings and your talks, have you found the people more responsive to your suggestions than before?

As far as the common people are concerned, I have found them very responsive. They understand things, they are themselves tired of these people who exploit them, who try to exploit their emotions. There is a good response from the people. It is only gangs of assassins, who have learnt the art of murder, who have been taught how to stab people. These people hide in a bush and when a person is walking unawares, come up behind him, stab him, and run away. But not a single man has been caught, although in Meerut nearly 30 people have been stabbed.

There have been disturbances in many places – Rourkela, Ranchi, even Srinagar. Hundreds of people have been involved, but no one has been hanged for murder committed during communal disturbances. I know very well that this is not representative of what is happening in the whole of India, and that India is a vast country, but these things are happening, and they have a terrible effect on the people of Kashmir.

We had some Kashmiri students studying in Ranchi in the medical college there. They returned home almost naked. When they reached their home, they narrated their tale of misery and woe to the people. How could these things not effect the listeners, and how could you expect them to look to India for protection? These things have got to stop, but they will never stop until the tension between India and Pakistan is resolved. There is only one answer to this problem and that is to end the strife on the subcontinent. How long can this be avoided?

This interview was originally published on February 17, 1968 in the Weekend Review and is republished here courtesy the Hindustan Times.

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The immediate threat lies in Kashmir.

Congress party workers and supporters hold national flags during a Freedom March to celebrate the 75 years of India’s Independence in Bengaluru, Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. Photo: PTI

The fact that ten more ‘like-minded’ parties have joined the meeting of the opposition at Bengaluru, that the Congress has graciously met the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s demand that it commits itself to voting against the Bill that seeks to deprive the Delhi government of control over its own civil servants,  in the Rajya Sabha, and that the opposition has now given itself a single name – INDIA – reflects the near-complete consensus within the opposition on the need to set differences aside in order to save democracy. This has greatly increased the likelihood of a defeat for the BJP in the 2024 Lok sabha election, by shifting the ‘multiplier effect’ of the simple majority voting system, which invariably magnifies the seat-to-vote ratio of the largest party or coalition at the expense of the smaller ones, in the opposition’s favour.

In the past two Lok Sabha elections, this effect worked strongly in favour of the BJP. In 2014, its 31% vote share made it the largest single party in the elections. That, and the fact that all but a fraction of this vote was concentrated in seven states of northern and western India enabled it to win 282 seats, comprising 52% of the total membership of the Lok Sabha. In 2019, its vote share increased to 37%, close to double that of the next largest party, the Congress. That enabled it to win 303 seats. Opposition unity next year will take the multiplier effect away from the BJP and confer it upon itself.

Joint opposition parties meeting in Bengaluru. Photo: Twitter/@AAP

How dramatic this shift can be was vividly demonstrated by the Karnataka Vidhan Sabha elections in May. Although the BJP’s share of the vote remained unchanged at 36%, a 5.4% shift of the vote from the JDS to the Congress – which increased its share to 43% – increased the number of seats it won from 80 to 135, and brought down the BJP’s tally from 104 to 66. Opposition unity, even if not complete,  will almost certainly do the same thing at the national level next year.

This possibility has already driven Modi into a frenetic election mode, in which he has left governance to his lieutenants, and has been tailoring his every statement and action to creating a God-like image of himself for the ordinary Indian, and pandering to the hyper-nationalism that is latent in most Hindus in the country. He is not doing this solely out of a desire to remain in power. He is also aware that should the BJP lose, the ghosts of those who were killed in the Gujarat riots, and the faked encounters and the unexplained deaths that followed, will rise to torment him, possibly till the end of his life.

This fusion of political with personal motives will make the 2024 elections the most fateful that India has ever faced. For, democracies can only survive if their leaders are willing to accept defeat and fight for power through the ballot, instead of the bullet. Modi has shown a reluctance to do this throughout the 22 years he has enjoyed power at Gandhinagar and Delhi. He is, therefore, certain to seize any opportunity that arises in the next nine months to pose again as the guardian of India’s security and honour, as he was able to do after the Pulwama suicide bombing in February 2019.

Modi may sense an opportunity in Kashmir

One such opportunity is certain to arise in Kashmir – if the Supreme Court rules against the government’s 2019 abolition of the state’s special status under Article 370, and rules that it must be re-instated. The court’s brusque dismissal earlier this month, of the government’s attempt to justify that action by claiming, ex-post, that it has brought peace and economic development to the state, has aroused this hope in Kashmir’s political parties, and public, throughout the Valley. Should it do so, they believe that Delhi will have no option but to restore the status quo ante and thereby restore their right to preserve their ethnic identity within the Indian union.

But they could be catastrophically wrong. In his 22 years of leadership, Modi has never, ever, admitted that he has made a mistake that needs correction. Nor has he ever reversed any decision he has taken. So, how is he likely to react to such a direct challenge to his authority by the Supreme Court?

Had the petitions against the dilution of Article 370 been filed in a lower court – such as the Jammu and Kashmir high court, Modi would have been able to buy time till after the Lok Sabha elections by appealing against an adverse order to the Supreme Court. But all of them were lodged in the Supreme Court, which is the court of final appeal, so the only alternative that will be available to Modi is to assert parliament’s supremacy over every other democratic institution in the country, as his government has done more than once in recent months, ignore the court’s ruling and continue to rule Jammu and Kashmir directly from Delhi. This will almost certainly make the simmering discontent in the Valley explode into violence, and in doing so, give Modi the excuse for stoking Hindu hyper-nationalism again, to win yet another general election.

Will the Union government be able to control the reaction in Kashmir? Modi would like us to believe that it will, because the majority of the people of the Valley will oppose the return of violence, and the loss of business and livelihoods that it will entail. That was what his government’s affidavit to the Supreme Court had been intended to impress upon it. But even a cursory look at the reality behind the virtual blackout of political news from the Valley shows that the government’s affidavit is a tissue of falsehoods.

In it, the government has claimed that ‘the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed an “unprecedented” era of peace, progress, and prosperity, with street violence orchestrated by terrorists and secessionist networks becoming a thing of the past’. Modi may even have persuaded himself that this is actually true but data collected painstakingly by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) show that it is the opposite of the truth.

According to the SATP, in the four years from 2019 to 2022, there were 729 incidents involving the killing of civilians, militants and security forces – an average of one incident every two days! In these, the security forces killed 781 militants and suffered 209 deaths. Kashmir had therefore seen 990 deaths in 1,460 days, i.e. one death caused by militancy-related violence, every 36 hours! Unless it is SATP that has been lying, these figures show that the Government of India has told a blatant lie in a sworn affidavit to the highest court of the land.

Having done so, it will have no option but to live out that lie. Since it can only do this by crushing the popular discontent in Kashmir as rapidly and completely as possible, this could lead to a level of repression that Kashmir has never experienced before. Furthermore, given the way in which Modi turned the Gujarat riots of 2002 and the Pulwama suicide bombing of 2019 to the BJP’s political advantage, it is a safe bet that he will try to do the same with the pogrom that will follow in Kashmir. And, given the BJP’s spectacular rise after both those tragic events,  there is every likelihood that he will succeed yet again.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying tribute to the CRPF soldiers killed in the Pulwama attack. Photo: PTI

Averting this design

So one of the first questions the opposition will need to discuss, when formulating a common programme of action to present to the people before the next election, is how to forestall an attempt by Modi to repeat his earlier successes by unleashing another reign of terror in Kashmir, and using the reaction that will evoke from the youth to inflame the dormant distrust of Muslims in Hindu hearts in the rest of India.

The starting point for frustrating this design is to understand, and accept, that Partition, and the slaughter of innocents that followed, severely damaged the syncretic Ganga-Yamuni culture built over the previous 600 years all over north India. In Pakistan, it led to a ‘purification’ of Sunni Islam, exemplified by the teachings of Maulana Maududi, that led to the official excommunication of various Shia factions, most notably the Ahmadiyyas, and fostered the rise of violent extremist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Taliban – who offered to further ‘purify’ Islam in Pakistan, in exchange for being allowed to ‘liberate’ Kashmir.

In India, Partition, and the subsequent conflict with Pakistan, hardened  Hindu distrust of Muslims and discredited the syncretic Islam that had emerged out of centuries of peaceful co-existence and been codified by Akbar in the Din-e-Elahi. That is the syncretism that Mahatma Gandhi gave his life in an attempt to preserve. How deeply embedded it remains in the Indian Muslim psyche, even 75 years and three Indo-Pak wars after Partition, can be judged from the fact that there has not been a single Sunni-Shia communal riot of significance in India after independence, when this was an annual event in the 19th and early 20th centuries. By contrast, in Pakistan, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was given a relatively free reign to kill Shias in some parts of Pakistan such as Sindh and Baltistan.

Thanks to Mahatma Gandhi’s sacrifice, and the relentless efforts of Nehru, Maulana Azad and others, syncretism has remained strong in India. Out of more than 200 million Indian Muslims, only 18 joined al Qaeda, and less than 100 joined ISIS. Nearly all of these, moreover, were migrants working in the Gulf, who were lured into joining ISIS in part at least by the prospect of escaping from their miserable conditions of work in there. By contrast, more than 5,000 Europeans joined it, among whom only a minority were children of immigrants from the middle east.

What the post-partition conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir has erased from the Hindu mind is that this syncretism is not only strongest in Kashmir but has survived despite the outbreak of insurgency in 1989 only because Article 370 prevented a large number of people from other parts of India from settling in Kashmir. Since the outbreak, first army and then police repression has driven more and more of the youth into the arms of the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Ahl-e-Hadis. But syncretic Reshi (a corruption of Rishi) Islam has survived in spite of this and remains the dominant form of Islam in Kashmir even today.

Reshi Islam is full of practices incorporated into it from Hinduism. Among these is Auradh-e-Fidrat, a morning prayer to the rising sun that has no equivalent in any branch of Islam outside Kashmir, because it is an incorporation of Surya Namaskar. Another is the practice of invoking one’s ancestors at the beginning of every major prayer or religious function – again normal in Hinduism but haraam in Sunni Islam.

But perhaps most telling is the nature of Kashmiri cuisine. Till today, there is not only no beef in it but also no chicken and no eggs. There is also, in my experience, no garlic. In short, Kashmiri cuisine is, till today, indistinguishable from the cuisine of Shaivite Brahmins – which, of course, was what Kashmiris were till the arrival of Sufi Islam from Iran.

These are only some of the more superficial differences between Reshi and Sunni Islam. Other, more profound, differences are the worship of relics of saints, and of the shrines where they are buried, that one finds in Reshi, and some other variants of Shia Islam, but is forbidden in Sunni Islam. These differences were noted by no less eminent a person than Mohammed Ali Jinnah in 1946, and led him to reject a request by the Jammu-based J&K Muslim Conference to allow it to join the Muslim League.

These differences also explain why, despite almost a quarter of a million traumatised refugees from both sides of the Radcliffe line passing through Jammu in 1947, the entire princely state of Kashmir, and the Valley in particular, remained free from communal violence till almost the end of October 1947,  while the rest of India burned.

That is the communal harmony that both Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah cherished and were determined to protect. Even the rigging of elections, that began in a small way as early as 1952, was not designed to prevent Kashmiri Muslims from expressing a desire to join Pakistan but to prevent Hindu zealots, concentrated in Jammu, from being able to drag Kashmir into the mire of Indian communal politics. This threat had arisen in November 1947, when the J&K Praja Parishad was created in Jammu by  Balraj Madhok, a key member of the RSS, with the express purpose of opposing the special status granted to the state under Article 370 of the constitution. This brought the communal politics of the rest of India into the state and threatened to undo precisely what Nehru, Sheikh Abdullah and Maharaja Hari Singh had been trying their level best, in their own ways, to prevent.

Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah. Photo: Oxford University Press

The rigging that began then was designed to insulate Kashmiriyat not from the pull of Pakistan’s Sunni Islam in Kashmir, but against the push of Hindu intolerance, later dignified as Hindutva, in Jammu. This made it necessary for the National Conference to ensure that it always won a sufficient number of seats to obtain a majority in the state legislature. Rigging up to half of the constituencies in Kashmir became the surest way to ensure that the National Conference stayed in power at least until India won its case in the UN Security Council and Pakistan withdrew from PoK. That, of course, never happened. So, particularly after the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah,  what had begun as a temporary expedient became a routine feature of all elections in Kashmir.

The casualty in this power game was democracy. For the continuous rigging of the elections in Kashmir to checkmate the rise of Hindutva in Jammu frustrated every attempt to create a democratic opposition in the Valley. That is what finally triggered the insurgency that began after the rigged elections of 1987 and burst into flames in December 1989.

So the first challenge that a combined opposition will have to face is to find a way to prevent Modi from turning a defeat in the Supreme Court into a victory in the 2024 elections. The way to do this is not by condemning the military crackdown that Modi is sure to impose on the state the moment he receives an adverse verdict from the Supreme Court, but to demand an immediate election in the whole of the pre-2019 state to elect the members of a Constituent Assembly, that will be empowered to ratify the original or a modified Article 370. This will be necessary because it was a Kashmiri Constituent Assembly that ratified Article 370 in November 1956. Since this assembly then dissolved itself, a new one will have to be created through an election, to ratify its reinstatement.

A formal commitment by the opposition to leave the choice of Jammu and Kashmir’s future to the Kashmiris, made immediately after the Supreme Court’s decision if it rules against the withdrawal of special status, will prevent the resurgence of armed insurrection because the youth who favour this will receive no support from their elders. That was what had made the insurgency of the 90s peter out. The prospect of being able to decide their own future democratically will have the same effect once more.

Prem Shankar Jha is a veteran journalist and author of Kashmir 1947: Rival Versions of History published by OUP in 1996. 

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In their blind pursuit of a model of nationhood that stands discredited, Messrs Modi and Shah have brought India and Kashmir to the edge of a precipice.

Kashmiri men gather around the body of Nasir Ahmad, a suspected militant, during his funeral after he was killed in a gun battle with Indian soldiers, in Arwani village in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, October 16, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Danish Ismail


Do the learned judges of the Supreme Court – who will soon begin to hear the petitions against the way in which the Narendra Modi government hollowed out Article 370 of the constitution and dissolved a state – fully appreciate the gravity of the responsibility that a desperate civil society has placed on their shoulders?

One suspects they do, but view it with distaste because it will force them even further out of their zone of comfort as the court of final appeal on legal issues into becoming the court of final appeal in a seemingly constitutional, but in reality intensely political, issue where no one can foretell what the outcome of their decision will be. 

In this invidious circumstance, the temptation to concentrate on the letter of the constitution and leave the safeguarding of its spirit to parliament must be overwhelming. But that is precisely why their lordships must resist it and, taking courage form the judgment given by the Justice J.S. Khehar-led bench upholding appeals against the National Judicial Accountability Act, reaffirm that Indian democracy has not yet attained the maturity at which its constituent parts can be relied upon not to act in a manner that endangers the structure of the whole. 

In Kashmir, that danger is not merely present but palpable. Prime Minister Modi would like us to believe that eliminating Article 370, even though done by sleight of hand, would ultimately be welcomed by Kashmiris. Because apparently it will free them from the clutches of a handful of powerful and corrupt families, open the gates for investment to flood into the valley, and bring them the employment and prosperity that has so far eluded them.

He would like the court to believe that his government laid siege to eight million people and robbed them of the rights and freedoms that define their humanity for more than two months only for their own good. This is a plea that would make any civilised government squirm with shame because it implies that Kashmiris are little different from cats and dogs whom one has to discipline. 

Kashmiris have begun to show that they cannot be turned into household pets within days of the government beginning to relax its iron grip upon the Valley. They are doing this by resorting increasingly to the sole mode of protest left open to them: that is non-cooperation or, to use a word all of us should be familiar with, satyagraha.

Schools and colleges are nominally open but have few teachers and fewer students; despite the lifting of curfew, shops remain closed except for the few hours permitted by militants. There has been little overt violence so far. Barring a few acts of grenade throwing and stone pelting at security forces, and the killing of a Punjabi truck driver who, in his innocence, was transporting apples from Shopian to the market in Jammu, the Valley is relatively calm.

But this is the electrically-charged calm that precedes a storm.

Among middle class Kashmiris, there is relief that their post-paid mobile telephones are working, and that they can once again communicate with their relatives, especially with those working, or studying, in the rest of India. 

There is relief also among parents of school-going children, as hope revives that they may still be able to make up the time they have lost and sit for their board examinations without being at a severe handicap.

There may also have been initial relief among traders and shopkeepers as hopes of making at least limited sales in the few weeks left before the end of the festive season revived. But with only a few days left for Diwali, the tourist season and the Amarnath Yatra cut short, and the imminent shift of the Durbar to Jammu for the winter, that fugitive hope is also turning into despair.

Women protest on the streets in Kashmir. Photo: Avani Rai

As winter sets in, Kashmiris will begin to add up not only the economic, but the psychological and emotional cost of the lost summer: the lost fruit crop; lost revenues from the abrupt end of the tourist season and the Amarnath Yatra; the chasing away of thousands of migrant workers who brought revenue to the Valley; and the total absence of the Durga Puja and Dussehra rush of tourists from Bengal.

Parents will fret for the rest of the school year over the lost school time of their children; traders and shopkeepers will stare at godowns and shelves still packed with unsold goods, and wonder how they will meet their debt and the often extortionate interest they have to pay on it. Ghoda wallahs, houseboat and shikara owners , hoteliers and restaurateurs, taxi owners and drivers, and the young men from the villages who come into Srinagar, Pahalgam, Gulmarg and such places to work for them during the tourist season, will be wondering how they will subsist during the long winter that lies ahead.

So, as the nights grow longer, the power cuts become more prolonged, and the deepening cold bites into their bones, the Kashmiris’ sense of abandonment will grow stronger. Among the old, it will bring despair; among the youth, a mounting rage that, sooner or later, will break through all remaining restraints and burst out in unpredictable ways.

It is the youth whom the Modi government needs to fear. When he came to power, there were only a few Burhan Wanis among them. By the Kashmir police’s own estimates, in 2014, there were only 86 young Kashmiris in the new group of militants being nurtured jointly by the Hizbul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Muhammad and the Lashkar-e Taiba in south Kashmir. After Modi initiated his ‘zero tolerance for terrorism’ policy, by January 2019, the security forces had killed 813 militants, of whom 235 were killed in 2018 alone. But despite, or more precisely, because of that, the number of active militants had grown to more than 300.

To those unfamiliar with the morphology of insurgency, this may sound like a small number. But readers would do well to remember that in the Khalistani insurgency of the 1980s in Punjab, there were never more than 500 ‘A’ grade, i.e gun-using militants. But they were backed by about 15,000 persons categorised as B-high, B and C grade supporters, who sympathised with, and sheltered them. That insurgency lasted for ten years and took more than 41,000 lives, and only died out when Sikh ex-servicemen living in the villages took up arms against them.

In Kashmir, the August 5 shut down and scrapping of Article 370 has come after 30 years of harsh military rule, and five years of a merciless pursuit of young Kashmiri militants who have grown up within that repressive and violent world, and have therefore no knowledge of peace. 

An explosion is therefore as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise. All we do not know is what will trigger it and, given a relative paucity of firearms with the militants, what form the renewed attacks will take.

Today, all of Kashmir is watching the Supreme Court with an anxiety that borders panic. Few expect a court that has shown no sense of urgency in dealing with the petitions against the president’s order, to strike it down. But all are living in fear of another crackdown on the entire population as the date of judgment draws near. This time there will be no surprise. The people of Kashmir will be prepared for the worst, but so, unfortunately, will be the militants. 

Try as I might, I see no way therefore of avoiding a return to violence. And despite Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s professed determination to keep his people out of Kashmir in order not to give Modi a chance to blame it upon Pakistani terrorists, it is difficult to see how long he will be able to keep his countrymen out of it. What will follow is anyone’s guess, but there can be no doubt that Modi has taken India into dangerous territory and that he does not know how to find a way out of.

Their Lordships’ travails will not end there. The abrogation of Article 370 is only one of the issues the constitution bench will have to pass judgment on . The other is the dissolution of a state of the Indian Union, and its subjugation to direct rule by the central government.

Law is made as much by judicial precedent as parliamentary enactment. Their lordships must therefore bear in mind that if they uphold the president’s order on this occasion, then this, or any future government in Delhi, will be able to dissolve the statehood of any other state, group of states, or even all the states of the Union, especially if it has the parliamentary majority to do it through article 368 of the Constitution. 

That will open the road to turning India into a unitary nation state on the European model and realising V.D. Savarkar’s dream of creating a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. Under Article 371 of the constitution, 10 other states enjoy protections that other states do not have – a situation the government said was intolerable in the case of Jammu and Kashmir.

One has only to remember the agitations that preceded the formation of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu , Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur Tripura, Mizoram, Punjab, and even Gujarat, to know that any such attempt will be resisted as strongly by them as the Kashmiris are resisting it today.

In sum, if the Supreme Court allows the abrogation of Article 370 through the dissolution of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to stand, it will open the way for the future weakening and perhaps even disintegration of the Indian Union.

This is not meant to be an alarmist prediction: From the Mauryan empire after the edicts of Ashoka, till the 1857 revolt, that followed Lord Dalhousie’s promulgation of the Doctrine of Lapse, Indian history is replete with examples of attempts to centralise power beyond a point leading to the disintegration of empires.

In their blind pursuit of a model of nationhood that now stands discredited, and even despised, in Europe where it was born, Messrs Modi and Shah have brought India to the edge of this precipice. Only the Supreme Court can stop them from pushing us over it.

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India is split over Prime Minister Narendra Modis decision to abolish article 370 by a presidential order last week. The saffron fold is rejoicing: This government – their government—has had the guts to do what the Congress and its secularists could not. The Kashmir problem is  over. There will be a period of unrest, but when it is over, this canker, this anomaly from the past, will have been removed. The building of the modern Indian nation will be complete.

They could not be more wrong. Modi made a huge blunder in November 2016 when he demonetised nine-tenths of the country’s currency in circulation at one stroke, paralysing the Indian economy for months. This did lasting damage to farmers and the rural poor, from which they have not recovered. But he got away with it.

It may be the sense of absolute invulnerability that the recent election has given him that has led him into an even greater blunder now. But this time, he may not get away with it because his action is almost certain to set off repercussions, some of them outside the country, that he will not be able to control.

The first is the reaction of the already deeply alienated Kashmiri youth. Modi  correctly anticipated that abolishing article 370 would make them erupt in even greater paroxysms of anger, than did the death of Burhan Wani in 2016. To pre-empt this, he moved 75,000 additional troops of the Central armed police into the valley, abruptly cut off the Amarnath Yatra, closed all schools and colleges, shut down the internet, blocked mobile telephony and landlines, stopped the distribution of newspapers, and placed not only separatist leaders  under house arrest  but also, for the first time in Kashmir’s history, leaders of the mainstream parties who have never questioned Kashmir’s accession to India.

But what he and home minister Amit Shah seem not to care about is the monstrous sense of betrayal that has swept the rest of the Kashmiri people that 80 to 90 per cent of the population who have never wanted a complete separation from India, and to whom Azadi has always meant full political autonomy but without the severance of Kashmir’s connection  with the rest of India.

This is the vast majority that the government has betrayed. It has done so because of blind adherence to an ideology that, like all others that the world has had to endure, shows no respect for history, and steamrolls facts that do not serve its purpose into the ground. This is the ideology of ‘Hindutva’.

The key fact that the Sangh parivar chooses to ignore is that Kashmiri Islam is entirely different from the Deobandi and Barelvi Islam practised by Sunnis in the rest of the subcontinent. Called Reshi Islam (after Rishi), it was brought to Kashmir by Sufis from Persia and Central Asia and spread in the valley by Brahmin disciples, the most famous of whom was Lalded, aka Laleshwari Devi, after whom schools, colleges and hospitals all over the valley are named today.

As a result, Kashmiri Islam is suffused with Hindu practices, so much so that in 1946, when the chief of the Kashmir Muslim conference,  Chaudhury Ghulam Abbas, wrote to Mohammed Ali Jinnah asking that  his party be inducted into the Muslim League, Jinnah declined because his secretary, Khursheed Ahmad  reported from Srinagar that “… these people follow a strange form of Islam…. that drives a coach and four through all the tenets that we consider most holy … I fear that it will take a long period of re-education for them to become true Muslims”.

History will confirm that Kashmir was the only princely state in which it was the people, through the National Conference, and not solely the Maharaja, who decided to accede to India.

It will confirm that when armed infiltrators from Pakistan entered Kashmir dressed as peasants in August 1965 at the start of the 1965 war and asked a peasant to point out the way to Srinagar, he sent them on the wrong road and bicycled to Srinagar to warn the government of the presence of the infiltrators. It was this man that the ISI made one of the first targets of the insurgency, in 1990.

Finally, history will also confirm that since the insurgency started in 1989, every Kashmiri nationalist (separatist) leader who has been willing to discuss peace with New Delhi, or even lay out the steps Delhi would have to take if it wanted the insurgency to end, has been assassinated at the behest of the ISI, The list is long: it starts with Mirwaiz Maulvi Farouq, and ends with Abdul Ghani Lone, the father of Sajjad Lone who joined the alliance with the BJP in 2015, was a minister  till the other day, and has now been put under house arrest by the very government he backed. Had these leaders really wanted to break away completely from India, would Pakistan’s ISI have taken such great pains to have them killed?

Tragically, despite the opening of the bus road across the Line of Control, the insurgency in Kashmir dragged on because neither of Modi’s two predecessors knew quite how to end it. But despite this, Kashmiris did not give up hope that Delhi would one day understand what they really wanted and bring them peace. So strong was this hope that as recently as 2009, despite 20 years of insurgency, a survey commissioned by Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs had shown that only 2.5 to 7.5 percent of Kashmiris in the worst militancy affected districts of the valley said they wanted Kashmir to belong to Pakistan.

Had Modi been made aware of Kashmir’s history, he would have realised that Kashmir had already achieved a version of what V.D. Savarkar had dreamed of in 1923 when he propounded Hindutva – a civilisation in which the (Muslim) population fully recognised, and indeed prized, its (Hindu) cultural roots. Only the name they gave it differed: they called it Kashmiriyat.

As Yasin Malik, the leader of the JKLF, wrote in a short book, The Real Truth, while in jail in the early ‘nineties, it was the Congress’s decision to lift the ban on the Jamaat-iIslami that had been imposed by Maharaja Hari Singh that began the erosion of Kashmiriyat in the valley.

Had Modi really wanted to integrate Kashmir, therefore, he would have spared no effort to undo the damage done to Kashmiriyat in the previous 42 years. But he did the exact opposite:Instead of easing the armed forces’ iron grip on the valley, he tightened it; instead of offering an amnesty to a budding generation of Kashmiri militants driven to desperation by the incessant harassment of their families by the police, he demanded unconditional surrender and deployed the IB’s newly acquired cyber-espionage capabilities to root them out and kill them.

Finally, instead of opening a dialogue with the Hurriyat and JKLF leaders – as he had himself agreed to do by signing on to the Agenda for Alliance document with the PDP in 2015 – he kept them under almost continuous house arrest, and destroyed the last vestiges of their hold on the youth of the valley. As if that were not enough, by also putting all the leaders of themainstream parties under house arrest, he has made the Kashmiris leaderless and put them at the mercy of every wave of passion or anger in the valley.

Having closed every root to a peaceful end to the insurgency in Kashmir, Modi has decided to employ legal sleight of hand to make the problem disappear. Unfortunately, it will not disappear. Kashmiris will hold their breath till the Supreme Court passes its verdict on the appeal filed against the presidential order filed on August 5. The court is unlikely to uphold the presidential order, because doing so would fly in the face of its own decisions of 2017 and 2018 that Article 370 is not a temporary article of the constitution.

All serious observers of Kashmir and the Constitution knew that the word temporary had been introduced only to convey the fact that the scope of Article 370 would have to be redefined after the return of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to the state.

By the same token, the abolition of the Kashmir assembly’s right to declare itself a constituent assembly in 1956 was a tacit admission that the legal provisions governing Kashmir’s relations with India could not be kept hostage to Pakistan’s non-compliance with the UN Security Council’s 1948 resolution forever. The Modi government’s attempt to use a General Clauses (India) Act incorporated into the constitution as Article 367 – but passed by the British parliament in 1897 to resolve disputes in the interpretation of words used in thedifferent statutes by which it governed India, at a time when  Kashmir was not a part of Indiais  unlikely to pass muster with the Supreme Court.

But even if this surmise proves right, the relief in the valley will be short -lived. For the jingoism that Modi and the RSS will stir up against Kashmiri Muslims, against Indian democrats and against the Supreme court itselfwill see it coast to victory in the state elections at the end of this year .

After that, the BJP will acquire a majority in the Rajya Sabha and the road to changing the constitution via parliament will be open. It is only then that all hell will break loose in Kashmir.

As the death toll rises, thousands of young Kashmiris who have so far stayed out of the insurgency will join it. Judging from what ISIS has already announced, and what has happened elsewhere after the destruction of its original stronghold in Syria, jihadis from the Middle East, and perhaps even Europe, may find their way into the Valley despite everything that the security forces will do. Islamabad will also come under increasing pressure from its own public to unleash its jihadi tanzeems, and will claim that it cannot hold them back.

A long and bloody war will then ensue and terrorism will spread to the rest of India where there is no dearth of soft targets to attack. The hunt for terrorists that will follow will turn India into a police state. Carefully staged fake encounters, which became normal in Gujarat after the 2002 riots, will become the order of the day throughout the country. Muslims will be the main victims. Kashmiriyat will become a distant memory. That will be the beginning of the end of the India we have known till today.

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What Pakistan has essentially done at Kartarpur is to ask for India’s help in ending its own impossible predicament.

 A view of the Sikh shrine in Kartarpur. Credit: PTI

When opportunity comes knocking, unbidden, to one’s door, a wise person does not let it slip away. India has done this twice in the past 70 years: First when it shooed away American companies that came to Asia in search of a cheap labour platform to manufacture goods for the world market, and sent them on to southeast Asia.

It did this a second time when risk averse advisors in both India and Pakistan succeeded in delaying the fleshing out of the Manmohan Singh-Pervez Musharraf framework agreement to end the Kashmir dispute signed in Delhi in 2005, till Musharraf lost his power to push it through the Pakistan national assembly in 2008.

The monumental silence with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted Pakistan’s offer three months ago, the curt reassertion last week by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj that India would not attend the SAARC summit in Pakistan, and the Congress leadership’s tepid reaction to the initiative, has made it likely that we will send it away yet again.

Also read: After Kartarpur, Mehbooba, Congress Leaders Bat for Sharada Peeth Cross-LoC Route

The reason for the Modi government’s lack of enthusiasm is written in saffron across the sky: having wrecked the economy, failed to create any jobs and alienated each and every one of India’s neighbours, it has nothing left to fall back upon in its bid to win the 2019 general elections except the whipping up of paranoia towards Muslims, towards Pakistan and towards China.

But how does one explain the ambivalence of the Congress? For was it not Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who said in 2007 that his dream was to be able to have breakfast in Delhi, lunch in Islamabad and dinner in Kabul on the same day? Was it also not Singh who fashioned the Delhi Framework Agreement? If these initiatives were not popular, why did the Congress win the 2009 election with a near-majority of its own?

An opportunity with a difference

The opportunity created by Kartarpur Sahib must not be allowed to slip away, for it is born of radically different and deeply enduring roots. While previous peace initiatives originated in the corridors of Islamabad and New Delhi, this one has originated in a small village close to the India-Pakistan border. While previous negotiations have been carefully planned and orchestrated, this one is unplanned, disorderly and very largely spontaneous. Finally while all previous initiatives have started at the top of the social and political pyramid, this one has been born out a yearning among the poorest people on both sides of the Punjab border for peace and reconciliation.

The gurudwara at Kartarpur Sahib was established by Guru Nanak in 1522. It was there that he lived for 18 years, wrote the Guru Granth Sahib and, in all probability, died. It is therefore the second holiest shrine in the Sikh religion.

Partition forced the Sikhs of Punjab to one side of the newly created border, but left Kartarpur Sahib a bare three km on its other side. As a result, for 70 years Sikhs have been going in their hundreds of thousands to the closest point on the border, from where they can see the domes of the gurudwara, to pray.

Also read: Five Questions that the Modi Government’s Latest U-Turn on Pak Talks Raises

The idea of a visa-free corridor from the border to Kartarpur Sahib was first mooted by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his bus journey to Lahore in February 1999. Despite the Kargil War, the Nawaz Sharif government responded positively the next year, but the Pakistan Army, which was smarting from its defeat in Kargil, was in no mood for compromise. The spate of ISI-backed terrorist attacks on high value targets in India that followed and eventually triggered Operation Parakram, and the ISI’s reckless use of mujahideen in Kashmir put an end to any further discussion of the subject.

The possibility of a corridor was raised by Navjot Singh Sidhu three months ago when he attended Imran Khan’s swearing in as prime minister. Sidhu had gone in his personal capacity, as one of the three Indian cricketers whom Khan had invited. According to his account of what followed, not only did Khan leap at his suggestion but General Bajwa, the Pakistan Army chief, who was present at the function, immediately offered to build a barricaded corridor from the border to the gurudwara. This would prevent any actual contact between the pilgrims and people in the intervening area. It was this spontaneous offer that made Sidhu give Bajwa a Punjabi jhappi.

The Pakistan Army’s enthusiasm

Was the offer from Khan and Bajwa really a spur of the moment reaction to Sidhu’s suggestion? It might have been had only Khan made it, for he has been saying from the day of his inauguration, “If India takes one step forward, then we will take two steps forward toward friendship.”

But why should General Bajwa have gone that step further? A knee-jerk assessment would be that he saw it as a propaganda opportunity and, in case Delhi reacted negatively, a chance to rekindle disaffection in Punjab. But Khan made it crystal clear in his speech and press conference that he and the army are “all on one page” in wanting to mend ties with India.

Is such a radical change of heart in the Pakistan Army really possible? The answer, with suitable caveats, is ‘yes’, because seven decades after independence, its policy of jumping from the back of one circus-horse to another, while keeping its gaze locked firmly on Kashmir, has reached its pre-destined end – there are no more horses left to ride.

Thirty-five years ago, General Zia-ul-Haq felt that he could afford to adopt a forward policy because Pakistan’s GDP had been growing at 5-6% percent per annum for three decades; it was an indispensable ally of the US in the latter’s proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and therefore had no dearth of foreign exchange to buy military toys.

The Lahore-Delhi bus at the Attari Wagah border on November 26. Credit: PTI

Today’s Pakistan could not be more different. It has been chastened by its failure to spark secession in Punjab and Kashmir: Despite every pain that India has inflicted on Kashmir, a 2009 Chatham House poll in the Valley showed that while a majority of its people wanted a radical change in Kashmir’s relationship with India, only 2.5% to 7.5% wanted to join Pakistan.

Not only has it lost the patronage of the US, but the Donald Trump administration, and most of the world, considers Pakistan to be a dangerous and unpredictable breeding ground for terrorists, and the principal threat to Pax Americana in Afghanistan.

Islamabad has attempted to replace the US with China and Saudi Arabia as its political, military and economic sponsors, but China has been far less tolerant towards its use of terrorism to realise its regional aspirations than Washington was three decades ago.

This is because, contrary to the prevailing impression in India, Beijing’s huge investment in the Karakoram-Gwadar transit corridor is, like other projects of its Belt-Road Initiative, more defensive than offensive. It is primarily intended to create one of several backdoors for its trade with Asia, Europe and Africa to pass through in case the US and its allies decide to block the sea lanes through which most of its imports and exports currently pass.

Its fear of the US’s naval power is understandable, because its dependence upon trade for economic growth is the highest for a large industrial economy that the world has ever known. China’s dependence on trade to generate employment is even greater. So from the early days of its investment in Pakistan, Beijing has been putting a quiet but unrelenting pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups and maintain peace with India, especially in the Karakoram region.

Till the end of February this pressure was private and bilateral. Then, on February 23, China stopped shielding Pakistan and agreed to put it on the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force, a global body created to monitor the financing of terrorist organisations all over the world. Pakistan was put on the list in June. It now has till June 30, 2019 year to show that it has taken decisive action against organisations in the country that are sponsoring terrorist activities.

This withdrawal of support could not have come at a worse time for Pakistan, for it is facing its worst economic crisis in a decade. In 2017-18, it recorded a $19 billion balance of payments deficit, amounting to 5.7% of its GDP. The Pakistani rupee has depreciated by 20% in less than a year and its foreign exchange reserves have fallen to under $10 billion.

Till now, Islamabad has relied upon loans from China and Saudi Arabia to remain solvent, but Saudi Arabia too agreed to put Pakistan on the grey list last February. Pakistan has therefore been left with no option but to go to the International Monetary Fund for another – its 13th – bailout. That loan will now almost certainly come with conditionalities that will cross the border between economics and politics.

Also read: The Real Googly: More than Imran, the Pakistan Army Wants Peace With India

Finally, the Pakistan Army has been locked in a civil war for more than a decade. It has managed to establish a semblance of peace in the tribal areas by denuding its Indian border of troops. But insurgency and sectarian killings have continued to grow in other parts of the country. It would be surprising indeed if it had not begun to look for a way out of the morass.

To the army high command too, therefore, peace with India must have begun to look like the silver bullet that can end most of its miseries. The is almost certainly why General Bajwa seized the olive branch that Sidhu innocently extended at Khan’s swearing in with such alacrity.

What Pakistan has essentially done at Kartarpur, therefore, is to ask for India’s help in ending its own impossible predicament. Peace with India will remove the very ground on which much of the Islamist extremism which has spawned terrorism feeds in Pakistan. Since these groups gain legitimacy by posing as the champions of the oppressed in Kashmir, finding a solution to the dispute that Islamabad can present to its own people as a fulfilment of its commitment to them is the best way forward.

It would therefore be folly for India not to seize the opening that Kartarpur Sahib has created to end the Cain versus Abel conflict that has held both countries back, while the rest of Asia has raced ahead. An immediate cease fire along the Line of Control in Kashmir, the resumption of talks, involving Kashmiri leaders in the deliberations, and an agreement to review the Manmohan-Musharraf framework agreement will get the ball rolling towards peace.

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Security forces in Kashmir during the violence in Srinagar following the killing of Burhan Wani. Credit: PTI


When I read that Burhan Wani, the iconic leader of the new militancy in South Kashmir, had been killed, I should have felt at least a twinge of relief. Instead all I felt was overwhelming pity for his family and despair for my country. For his death has not brought peace nearer in Kashmir, any more than the killing of Osama bin Laden has ended the threat from Al Qaeda, or brought peace to the Middle East.

Instead, as the eruption of rage after Wani’s death shows, it has only deepened the estrangement between Kashmir and the rest of India, and brought the moment closer when, if this killing goes on, insane rage will grip the youth of that benighted paradise once more and plunge it towards its own, and perhaps India’s, destruction.

Every titbit of information that has surfaced suggests that the encounter, if not the actual killing, was choreographed. Despite the extraordinary precautions that Wani had taken to make his group in South Kashmir difficult to infiltrate, the Kashmir police had succeeded in doing so. It knew that news of his death would set Kashmir on fire, so it chose a day of the week, a time of the year and, if reports are to be believed, a time of day that would minimise the impact of his death on the people.

But these tactics did not work and Kashmir is now perceptibly closer to the tipping point than ever before. So why is the government persisting with a counter terrorism strategy that, it must know, will only make things worse?

It was not as if it had no other options. Wani was only 22 when his life ended. Although he had joined the Hizbul Mujahideen seven years ago, he had not committed any truly heinous crimes. The Kashmir police had registered four serious cases against him, two of firing upon and injuring sarpanches, and two others of firing upon the police and the Rashtriya Rifles.

None of these had resulted in a death. So why was it so necessary to kill him? Why was no attempt ever made to persuade him to give up violence and pursue his goals peacefully? That is what governor Girish Chandra Saxena’s administration had succeeded in doing with Yasin Malik, Shabbir Shah and the militants of the 1990s. Why did no one even try?

The answer is that in the early ‘90s it was the militants who were on the offensive. The Indian state had resorted to violence with reluctance. Apart from defending themselves, the security forces used force mainly to protect civilians involved in the administration of the state, political cadres of mainstream parties and government buildings and facilities. Force was also used to underline the futility of challenging the writ of the state, but the goal was always to use a mixture of force and persuasion to make the separatists eschew violence in favour of negotiation and accommodation.

Vajpayee’s strategy

This strategy came close to success in 2002 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee rammed through a free and fair election over the strenuous objections of then Kashmir chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, facilitated the formation of a government that the Kashmiris did not consider a tool of New Delhi and launched a visionary initiative to settle the Kashmir dispute with President Musharraf of Pakistan.

The process continued with Manmohan Singh and a high point was April 5, 2005 when the first buses between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad crossed the Jhelum at Kaman post on the cease-fire line after a lapse of 40 years. Men, women and children lined the road to Srinagar dressed in their best clothes and greeted the bus form Muzaffarabad with flowers and song. It was a spontaneous outpouring of joy, such as Kashmir had not witnessed in a quarter of a century.

But the healing process that began then ended abruptly with the UPA government’s crackdown and return to police raj after the Amarnath land scam, and the BJP’s blockade of the Srinagar-Jammu highway in 2008.

That ‘crackdown’ began the return to the nightmare days of the early ‘90s. When, inspite of it, there was an unexpectedly high turnout in the valley in the December 2008 elections, Delhi seized this to claim that militancy had ended; all that was left to do was mop up its remnants and seal the border to keep infiltrators out of the valley.

That unfortunate boast ended Delhi’s dialogue with the Hurriyat. Throughout his second term in office, Manmohan Singh did not meet its leaders even once. This left capturing or killing ‘terrorists’ the only way to mop up the disaffection that remained. The task was delegated to the Kashmir police.

The resurgence of militancy today can be traced back directly to this self-serving deceit. To obtain information the police use the only methods it is familiar with: round up all known suspects and apply third degree methods to sweat information out of them. In the last six years this has turned the Kashmir police into a terror machine.

Loss of civic rights

Credit: Sunandita Mehrotra

Credit: Sunandita Mehrotra

All those who get onto its charge sheets, be it as a militant, a stone pelter or an agitator, immediately lose their civic rights. From then on they are liable to be  summoned to the police station at any time of the day or night and insulted, humiliated, tortured or beaten up, at the will of the station house officer. This has turned life into an uncertain hell not only for them but also their families, who face suspicion and ostracism once they begin to receive visits from the police.

One way out is to become an informer. The other is to become a militant. Wani chose the latter. There was nothing in his family background that had predisposed him to rebellion. His father was the principal of a secondary school, his elder brother had been studying for his PhD in economics when he was killed by the police last year. Burhan was 15 when he and his brother were stopped, abused and humiliated by the police while on a joyride with a friend who was testing out a new motorcycle. Whatever happened then was sufficiently humiliating to turn him into a militant and bring him onto the police’s history sheets.

By the time he was killed, Wani had become the single most potent threat to the Indian state in Kashmir. But the threat he posed was ideological. By the yardsticks of the ’90s, his movement was still tiny and the wounds it had inflicted on the Indian state were no more than pinpricks. What made him a threat was his capacity to inspire. For there was a ‘purity’ in his revolt that the movements of the ‘90s had lost long ago. He had never crossed the border into Pakistan; he was not motivated by religious ideology, he did not want to join Pakistan and he was not in anyone’s pay. His was an apolitical revolt born out of pure rejection: he represented a Kashmiri nationalism that simply wanted to cut its links with India and become free to be itself.

But it was precisely these qualities that made it worth the government’s while to open a channel of communication with him with a view to restarting the search for a political settlement. Killing him was therefore the most self defeating thing the Indian state could have done.

If the government does not want Kashmir to spin out of control once more, it must stop the killing now. The first step would be to declare a unilateral cease-fire, wipe the police’s history sheets clean and give all those on it a respite from fear. The second would be to give full support to chief minister Mehbooba Mufti in her efforts to heal the wounds inflicted on the Kashmiri psyche. The third would be to equip the police to deal with stone pelters and others without using lethal force, inspite of every provocation to do so.

Only if these steps bring back peace will the government be able to look for ways to bring Kashmiri nationalists back to the negotiating table once more. The door to this room has been shut for so long that there is no way of knowing whether it can be opened again. But that does not exempt the government from the need to try.

Prem Shankar Jha is a senior journalist and author of Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos and War and Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger, Can China and India dominate the west?
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Government initiatives will help shrink the public support for armed militancy, and pressurise the militants to lay down their arms and return to normal life.

Srinagar: Youths throw stones and water bottles on police at the venue as violent clashes erupted during the first ever International Kashmir half-Marathon at Kashmir University Campus in Srinagar on Sunday. PTI Photo by S Irfan(PTI9_13_2015_000085A)

Srinagar: Youths throw stones and water bottles on police at the venue as violent clashes erupted during the first ever International Kashmir half-Marathon at Kashmir University Campus in Srinagar on Sunday. PTI Photo by S Irfan(PTI9_13_2015_000085A)

In the past three months Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made two overtures to Pakistan, leaving little room for doubt that he wants to reverse the deterioration in bilateral relations. First he “dropped by” Lahore to meet Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his way back from Kabul, Afghanistan, in December. The second was his telephone call to Sharif wishing the Pakistan team good luck in the World Cup match at Calcutta.

Pakistan has responded by providing intelligence on the Pathankot terrorist attack and warning India of a possible terrorist attack on the Somnath temple in Gujarat, which the government was able to foil.  But how will the countries build upon these initiatives if the situation in Kashmir continues to worsen at the rate it is doing today?

Kashmir appears to be moving in a different direction at present. With the continued reluctance of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti to form a government and the BJP’s inability to do so, Jammu and Kashmir has been left without a representative government. Meanwhile, the slow burning anger that has been growing in south Kashmir is approaching a boiling point.

South Kashmir on the boil

In the past two months every killing of a militant in south Kashmir has been followed by shutdowns of business and funeral processions that have grown ever larger, followed by ugly confrontations with the police and paramilitary forces. The first two months of the year saw 20 days of shutdowns in the the Pulwama, Kulgam and Anantnag districts. Besides, the intervention of civilians to foil the armed forces in their fight against the militants has led to the injury and deaths of several civilians, and a further rise in public anger.

The security agencies in Delhi and Srinagar are, as usual, blaming Pakistan: unable to send terrorists across the Line of Control (LOC), they claim Pakistan is training local youth to carry out violent acts within Kashmir itself. This explanation is self-serving, to say the least, as it is entirely possible that Pakistan is not sending infiltrators into India simply because it no longer needs to. But such an explanation also evades the real questions: why are the youth in south Kashmir, a PDP stronghold for 15 years, taking to armed insurgency again? And why is popular support for insurgency growing in an area where there was virtually none before?

The answers lie in Delhi’s failure to understand the causes of the Kashmiri insurgency and thus its inability to end the conflict despite many opportunities. The failure has risen out of a belief embedded in the psyche of most Indians – as Muslims, Kashmiris find it hard to resist the blandishments of Pakistan. This was and continues to be very far from the truth.

Denial of political space

The insurgency in the 1990s was born not out of religious separatism, but a complete denial of room for democratic dissent in the valley after the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953.  From 1957 till 1972, every election in the valley was rigged to ensure a sweeping National Conference victory.

As Pakistan found out in 1965 when its infiltrators found no support in the valley, the National Conference’s victories were not altogether unpopular as the party’s main purpose was to ensure the domination of the valley over the politics of the entire state. But as a consequence, two successive generations of Kashmiri youth were denied the political space in which to express their growing frustration and anger with an increasingly corrupt and predatory state government that was being backed uncritically by Delhi.

In 1987, when the National Conference entered into an electoral alliance with the Congress, the Muslim United Front (MUF) emerged as a political voice for the youth. But when the MUF was denied a reasonable presence in the state assembly through vote manipulation, a large section of the youth became convinced that they would never be allowed to secure the right to dissent, let alone govern, through the Indian democratic system. This led them into the arms of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and thus, Pakistan.

Although initially sheltered and armed by Pakistan, the JKLF’s goal was Kashmiri independence and not a merger with Pakistan. Its leaders knew that neither Ladakh nor Jammu would go along with secession. Had religion been their main driving force, JKLF leaders could have espoused the Dixon Plan, proposed by the British in 1947, to hand over the Kashmir valley to Pakistan. But not once in the 39 years of its existence has the JKLF advocated this “solution”.

On the contrary the JKLF has consistently demanded azadi (freedom) for Kashmir as it had existed before 1947, in the full knowledge that this would increase its heterogeneity and drag it further away from a purely religious identity. Over the years the Hurriyat conference, with the sole exception of Ali Shah Geelani, has also come around to a similar position.

In hindsight it is clear that no matter what they professed in public, what the militants wanted in the 1990s was to be the architects of a peace settlement along the lines of the Framework Agreement signed by General Musharraf and Manmohan Singh in 2005.

It is not surprising then that between the Islamabad declaration of 2004 and the attempted Amarnath land scam in 2008, domestic militancy all but died out in Kashmir. The Lashkar-e-Tayyiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad repeatedly sent terrorists across the LOC, but lacking local support they were soon rounded up or killed. For this four-year period, Kashmiris lived in the expectation that a lasting peace was around the corner.

State crackdown

That hope has since died. The UPA’s ill-advised crackdown in the valley in August 2008, the deaths of more than a hundred stone pelters in 2010 and the hanging of Afzal Guru in 2013 convinced Kashmiris that a harder, more merciless Indian State had emerged over the years.

Paradoxically, this new State was a product of the unexpectedly high turnout in the valley in the assembly elections in December 2008; it enabled the architects of the crackdown to trumpet that the Kashmiri militancy had ended, that the Hurriyat and other separatists had never enjoyed significant support, and that what the Kashmiris really wanted was jobs and a better future.

The corollary of this was that there was no more need for a political dialogue with the ‘separatists’. As a result, the dialogue between government and the Hurriyat, which had been an important part of the peace process till then, came to an end. On the ground in Kashmir this erased the distinction between crime and political violence. All subsequent militant attacks became criminal acts to be dealt with by the police with the help, where necessary, of the paramilitary forces.

Police methods invariably include the interrogation of all those whom they consider likely to have information that will lead to the arrest of the “criminals.” Treating the nationalist movement in the Kashmir valley as a law and order problem thus made the nearly 31,000 militants who remained on the police’s history sheets and the thousands of stone pelters who were added to their number after 2010, the prime targets for interrogation.

For them, and their families, life became an uncertain, nerve-wracking hell. Add to this the never-ending trickle of deaths of local Kashmiri youth in encounters and crossfires, and one begins to understand the mixture of anger, despair and desire for revenge out of which the new militancy in south Kashmir has been born and is gathering support.

Reviving hope

Unlike the militants of the 1990s, the current crop of militants in south Kashmir have no political agenda, because they have no hope. They know from the experience of their predecessors that Pakistan will help, perhaps even provide shelter, but will ultimately enslave them. And the pointless, brutal hanging of Guru has shown them that there is no mercy in the Indian State. Their only desire now is to hit the Indian State repeatedly and invite retaliation that will rekindle a general uprising again as it did in the 1990s.

So far their tactics have met with unqualified success. The disaffection in south Kashmir today is not far short of what it was in Srinagar and north Kashmir in the 1990s. If Delhi continues to deal with it through repressive police measures alone, the tension and anger that is building up will inevitably boil over into a more general uprising. The only way to reverse this spiral is to rekindle the militants’ desire for peace, their desire to live. But so great is the accumulation of anger and mistrust that weaning them, and the tens of thousands who are openly supporting them, away from violence will not be easy.

The starting point should be for Delhi to recognise and concede publicly that the struggle in Kashmir needs to be dealt with through negotiation and accommodation, not through repression. To do this the Modi government could take a page from Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s book and declare a unilateral cessation of anti-terrorist action by security forces, coupling this with the offer of a general amnesty to all those who forsake armed struggle, and restart a political dialogue with the Hurriyat and back-channel talks with Pakistan on Kashmir.

Such initiatives will gain credibility if it is accompanied by a promise to repeal the Public Safety Act that gives the Kashmir police its extraordinary powers, and limit the scope of AFSPA as peace is restored. These initiatives may not lead to an immediate cessation of violence in south Kashmir as Pakistan may continue to stir the pot to strengthen its hands in negotiations with India. But if the government persists with these initiatives, it will shrink the base of public support for armed militancy that is building up in south Kashmir, and pressurise the new militants to lay down their arms and return to normal life once again.

Prem Shankar Jha is the Managing Editor of Financial World and a senior journalist.

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Last month’s election in Jammu and Kashmir gave a ‘hung verdict’ of a new kind: most of the seats in Jammu ( 25 ) went to the BJP, But most of the seats in Kashmir (28)went to Mufti Sayeed’s mildly nationalist Peoples’ Democratic party. Thus neither party could form a government on its own in the 87 member state assembly.  This verdict brought to a head a struggle for power between the two main parts of this heterogeneous state whose roots go back  500 years. The split verdict has created both a crisis and an opportunity.  The article reproduced below, which  appeared in the Indian Express on December 31, 2014  examines its roots and what is at stake in the State. 


The election results  in Jammu and Kashmir have brought to the forefront an issue that has dogged Kashmir’s relations with the rest of India ever since Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession. It is, ‘which part of the state will  dominate policy-making —Jammu or Kashmir?

In the hundred years before Independence , it was the Dogras from Jammu. Prior to that , while Jammu was squarely a part of the Mughal and later Sikh empires, Kashmir had been  ruled for more than five hundred years by a succession of invaders, ranging from Afghans to Sikhs.

In 1947, therefore, the feeling of  disempowerment was far more acute in Kashmir than in Jammu. It was assuaged only when Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference came to power in 1947.  Sheikh Abdullah’s 1945  war cry of ‘Down with Dogra rule’ was not a repudiation of ‘Hindu’ rule, but of domination by rulers from Jammu. The National conference, and indeed the Sheikh’s, endorsement of the Maharaja’s accession to India was wildly popular in the valley because it shifted the base of  power in the state from  Jammu to Kashmir. To the educated , politically sensitive sections of the Kashmir’s population, this was ‘independence’ after more than 500 years of enslavement.

The need to empower Kashmiris explains Sheikh Abdullah’s  lack of interest in recovering Gilgit, Skardu and “Azad’ Kashmir from Pakistan. He knew only too well that  this would  make Kashmir’s pre-eminance harder to sustain.

The roots of Abdullah’s growing disenchantment with India in the six years that followed Accession and his eventual, disastrous imprisonment, lay in Nehru’s failure to understand that waiting for Pakistan to vacate  POK before holding a plebiscite was endangering not only its outcome but also Kasmir valley ( and the NC’s) control over the state. He was privy to the fact that Pathans  made up only a fifth of the ‘Raiders’ from Pakistan and that  more than two-fifths  had come from POK. So had Nehru gone ahead with a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference would have been happy as clams because it would not only have fully legitimized the Accession in the part India controlled, but also   Kashmir’s domination of Jammu in Indian Kashmir.

The reason why the Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed’s government  rigged every election in the valley from 1957 till 1972 was its need to maintain its dominance of the state in the face of declining popularity. The  suppression of dissent in the valley that this entailed led  to the uprising of 1990.

The insurgency, however, broke Kashmir’s hold over Jammu. In the ensuing decade Jammu’s politics became detached from those of Kashmir and became those of the mainland. This parting of the ways, first vividly demonstrated by Jammu’s blockade of Kashmir in July 2008,  reached its consummation this week.

Today  the polarization between Jammu and Kashmir is almost complete. This has confronted the PDP and BJP with an extraordinary  challenge, but also a unique opportunity. To its credit the PDP has been the first to realize that running a stable, functionally efficient and politically  equitable government will not be possible if the polarization is not reversed.  This requires  cooperation – preferably a coalition – between  the PDP and the BJP. But a coalition can only take shape if there is a broad agreement on the principles and goals of governance.

To the PDP the irreducible minimum is for the BJP to  respect Jammu and Kashmir’s ethnic and religious diversity, explicitly distance itself from communal polarization in Kashmir and other parts of India, and  avoid any attempt to change Kashmir’s special position within  the Indian constitution.

Since the BJP’s  main concern at the moment is to  capture the chief ministership, and  since Mufti Sayeed had shown in 2002 that he is not averse to sharing the chief ministership of the state, a deal is possible. But for this the BJP must agree to the basic principles of governance that Mufti has outlined.

This would have posed no problem for Mr  Vajpayee, but today’s BJP is a different party in all but name.  For Mr. Modi, therefore , stepping back from the programmes of communal polarization that the Sangh Parivar’s  hardliners have  let loose on the country, and resuming a constructive dialogue with Pakistan will be a supreme test of leadership.

It will also be a test of his sagacity. For Pakistan’s encounter with the most bestial face of has become a defining moment for its government and army. The Nawaz Sharif government has shed the last vestiges of its ambivalence towards Islamist terrorism, and declared an all-out war on it within Pakistan. It has lifted a six-year moratorium on the death sentence with the specific purpose of putting terrorists it held in its jails  to death.

Around  500 terrorists are likely to be executed in the next few weeks. It is also revising its criminal code to award harsh punishment to terrorists, and is setting up special military courts  for their  speedy trial.

This is part of a comprehensive strategy that is designed to cut off all the insurgents’ sources of income including donations to charities under whose rubric they received their funds. The government also intends to enact a ban on religious persecution and punish the abuse of the internet for  the glorification of terrorism and  organizations sponsoring it.


The trigger was undoubtedly the killing of 133 children  in a Peshawar school, but the demand to lift the moratorium had in fact been made by the army chief Gen Raheel Sharif,  before this barbaric attack. Thus although it has done so for its own reasons, Pakistan is on the point of meeting Mr Modi’s demand that it should stamp out  terrorism within its own country  in order to build lasting good relations with India.

In the coming two years Pakistan will need all the help—military and economic– it can get. India could provide some of it indirectly by enabling it to move its troops from the Indian to the Afghan border. This would go a long way towards healing the scars of Partition. But even if does not, India will still be much better off with a stable Pakistan that is no longer hosting  terrorists, than it is today.

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Contrary to a widely held belief in India, peace on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has always been relative. In 2011, when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, there were 61 incidents of firing from the two sides of the border. There was a similar number in the first ten months of 2012. But the exchanges of fire in October this year have been qualitatively different. Not only have these seen the heaviest bombardments that villagers can remember, but most of it has been by India. In a single day, October 9, Indian forces fired more than 1,000 mortar shells into Pakistani Kashmir. This was preceded by a week of heavy firing from both sides that, by Indian estimates, has killed 35 civilians in POK and 20 in J&K, and forced thousands to flee from their homes.

It has been different for three reasons: first, although it too may have started as a local exchange of fire in August, unlike the myriad exchanges of yesteryear it has not been allowed to remain local. Instead, in a manner disturbingly similar to the way the 150 year-old local dispute over the Babri masjid in Faizabad was politicized by the BJP in the 1980s, the Modi government has chosen to read a new aggressiveness in Nawaz Sharif’s government, born out of a change of policy towards India. Second, instead of relying on diplomacy to straighten things out, the Modi government has deliberately chosen coercion. Not only has India’s response to Pakistani firing been disproportionate, but the Modi government has not bothered to hide its desire to teach Pakistan a lesson. “The prime minister’s office has instructed us to ensure that Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses”, a senior Indian Home Ministry official told Reuters.” The Modi government has decisively closed the doors to a return to diplomacy. Not only will it not talk to Pakistan till it stops provoking India through its violations of the LoC, but it will not do so till Pakistan acknowledges that Kashmir is “an integral part of India”. Third: unlike the UPA and Vajpayee governments, Mr. Modi has not hesitated to make domestic political capital out of an aggressive response to Pakistan. At a pre-election political rally in Mumbai on October 9, he proclaimed “it is the enemy that is screaming …. the enemy has realized that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated.” “The Enemy”; note the choice of phrase. An aggressive a response to Pakistan would be justified if there was no doubt that it had opened unprovoked fire on Indian border posts first. But we have only our own government’s word for this. Pakistan has stoutly denied opening fire first and Islamabad has lied far more often and habitually than New Delhi. But the Indian media have treated South Block’s press releases as gospel without once publishing a Pakistani refutation. Most policy analysts too have looked only for reasons why Pakistan has changed its policy towards India, without considering that the mote might be in India’s eye. The weak link in the government’s construct is the absence of motive. The Modi government ascribes its new-found aggressiveness to its frustration over failing to internationalise the Kashmir issue. But it does not take a dispassionate observer even five minutes to see that Pakistan has never had as strong a reason to let sleeping dogs lie in Kashmir as it does today. For, under a succession of military governments it has been sowing the wind in its international relations for five decades, and is now about to reap the whirlwind.

In the next few months Pakistan’s army-backed democratic, and moderately Islamic, state is going to face a convergence of challenges to which it has no answer. In Afghanistan, as the last American combat troops prepare to pull out, the Taliban have begun to show their power. Not only do they dominate the countryside in southern and western Afghanistan but they have moved into the north and all but captured the province of Kunduz. The Americans have armed the Afghan national army with modern weapons but left it with an air force that consists of two C-130 transport planes, 80 helicopters and a nascent drone reconnaissance capability. This is far from sufficient to give the ANA the close air support it will need to fight the Taliban. The ANA itself is subject to some of the same tribal and sectarian rifts that have made a joke of the Iraqi army. There is thus the real danger of desertions, collapse and the acquisition of modern American arms by the Taliban The future of the new Afghan government is therefore in considerable doubt. Had this been 2010 there would have been some reason to believe that Pakistan would welcome these developments, for at that time the former chief of the Pak army, Gen. Kayani, had harboured visions of controlling Afghanistan through the Taliban. But those days are far behind us. The Taliban are split; Mullah Omar’s influence has waned, and the link between Pakistan and the Haqqani Taliban has been eroded by incessant US drone attacks upon the latter. Finally, whatever Imran Khan may say, the Pakistan army harbours no illusion that a deal with the FATA-based TTP is possible. General Raheel Sharif is no friend of India, but knowing the bestial cruelty with which the TTP has treated captured Pakistani soldiers, he is adamant that it has to be fought and eradicated. To pursue this fight he has already shifted more than 150,000 soldiers, almost a third of his regular army, from the Indian border to FATA, and may have to shift more. He is also rapidly de-mechanising infantry divisions that had been mechanized only a few years ago in the belief that India was Pakistan’s main enemy. If the Taliban seize eastern Afghanistan the TTP will have an endless sanctuary from which to attack the Pakistan army. Pakistan therefore faces the prospect of a war without end. Worst of all, it will have to fight this war without resources, for the US has already indicated that its aid will be tapered off after it leaves Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, the only other country that has come to its financial aid in the past, has made it crystal clear that future aid will be conditional on its making peace with the TTP.

The difference between Dr Manmohan Singh’s UPA and Modi’s BJP is that Dr Singh foresaw Pakistan’s impending crisis and knew that it would create a unique opportunity for the two countries to bury the poisoned legacy of Partition and make a new start towards lasting peace and amity. Dr Singh also knew that the Pakistani State was too weak respond to its own crisis in a coherent manner and would need a lot of forbearance from India. But the BJP seized upon his forbearance and projected it as cowardice and weakness. Today it has made India a prisoner of its own hawkish past.

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From the moment news broke that the Modi government had cancelled the foreign secretaries’ talks scheduled for August 25, the Indian media have been accusing Pakistan of sabotaging the talks by scheduling meetings between the Hurriyat and its high commissioner in Delhi and refusing to heed a plea from the Indian foreign secretary to postpone these till after the talks.

The truth is a little more complicated. Delhi has known that Basit telephoned the Hurriyat leaders to come to Delhi not at the last minute but on August 10. According to Greater Kashmir (August 13) Islamabad wanted was an update from them on developments in the valley for the meeting in Islamabad. Such consultations had become routine after India and Pakistan began to talk peace bilaterally, in earnest. The Pakistan High Commissioner himself spoke openly about it at a social gathering just two days earlier.

The volte face on Monday August 18 therefore came not from Pakistan but India. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh made her request only hours before Basit’s first scheduled meeting, when the Hurriyat leaders were already in Delhi. This made it impossible for Islamabad to accede to it. Nawaz Sharif had already been roundly criticized at home for not meeting the Hurriyat when he came to Delhi for Modi’s inauguration. Acceding to such a peremptory last minute demand when he was besieged at home by Imran Khan and the Canada–based Barelvi preacher, Tahir-ul Qadri, would have been political suicide.

Mr. Modi now has two options: to reject everything that the Vajpayee and Singh governments achieved in the past eleven years and go back to square one, or gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of Indo-Pak relations, and make a fresh start with Kashmir and Pakistan in the near future. The first step on the latter road is to acknowledge that he is not the sole patriot, or indeed the sole custodian of India’s national interest. In January 2005, when Musharraf sent his prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, to New Delhi and Hurriyat flocked to the capital to meet him Dr. Manmohan Singh faced the same dilemma but adopted a very different course of action.
Through an intermediary, he tried to persuade them to observe diplomatic protocol by asking to meet him first, before they met Aziz. Since Dr. Singh had met the Hurriyat leaders through me three years earlier, he asked me to be the intermediary. I spent the entire day urging, cajoling and eventually warning the Mirwaiz, Butt and Bilal Lone that they would irretrievably turn the PMO against them if they insulted not only Dr. Singh but the Indian State. But they refused to budge. Only in the late afternoon did Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Butt explain why: “If we do this”, he told me bluntly, “we will be killed”.

To anyone not familiar with Kashmir’s tragic history this would have sounded like self-expiating melodrama. But Butt’s confession took the wind out of my sails. For beginning with the assassination of Mirwaiz Umar Farouq’s father Maulvi Farouq on May 21, 1990 (three weeks after he gave an interview to BBC outlining requirements for a return to peace) and ending with the assassination of Abdul Ghani Lone exactly 12 years later, each and every Kashmiri nationalist leader who dared to discuss, or even consider, a solution within the Indian union, had been assassinated by agents of the ISI. The ISI had, in fact administered its most recent punishment for disobedience only eight months earlier when it arranged the assassination of Maulvi Mushtaq Ahmad, the Mirwaiz’s uncle, and torched his family’s 100 year old school in Srinagar, when he did not succumb to its threats and met deputy Prime Minister Advani on February 2, 2004, for a second round of talks on Kashmir.

Butt’s own brother had been killed by the same agencies in 1996, so his and Hurriyat’s fear was understandable. Despite that, by refusing to meet Dr. Manmohan Singh first, they burned their bridges with NSA Narayanan and, as subsequent events have shown, hastened their descent into irrelevance. But Dr. Singh did not prevent the meeting with Aziz. He allowed Hurriyat leaders to interact freely with Pakistani decision makers in Delhi and Islamabad, and kept his doors open for them. By doing that he kept the Kashmiris a part of the decision-making process and brought India and Pakistan within a whisker of resolving the Kashmir dispute in 2007 before the judges crisis fatally weakened Musharraf.

Monday’s action may make the BJP look tough, but it has severely hurt India’s long term interests. It has revoked the commitment previous governments, including Vajpayee’s, made to keep Kashmiris within the decision-making process. And it has sealed the doom of Hurriyat and all ‘separatists’ who had tacitly or accepted the Manmohan-Musharraf formula for peace. Modi has damaged even the so-called mainstream parties, for the anger he has provoked in the valley will make the boycott of the coming state election far more effective. The PDP, which brought Kashmir close to the end of militancy in 2008, will be the main sufferer.

In the longer run, the weakening of both the mainstream and the Hurriyat will leave the field open for the final fight – between the real separatists who are the Ahl-e Hadis and the radicalized youth of Srinagar, and the Indian State.

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