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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 13, March 21, 2015

Kashmir: Setting the Priorities

Sunday 22 March 2015, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

In 1967, that is, fortyeight years ago, N.C. visited the Kashmir Valley for a few days and held detailed discussions with a wide cross-section of opinion-makers and political personalities of all shades there. On his return he wrote a series of pieces on Kashmir in Mainstream. The following is the fourth and last instalment of the series ‘Special Report on Kashmir’ and was published in this journal’s November 18, 1967 issue. It is being reproduced now that Kashmir is once again in the news due to the complexity of the latest developments in that State.

Any discussion on Kashmir can hardly afford to leave out the political role of Dr Karan Singh. A young man of erudition and culture, Dr Karan Singh in his personal life has little semblance of the feudal stock from which he comes. With his doctorate thesis on the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo, Dr Karan Singh appears to be cut out more for academic life than the hectic strain of a political career. However, eighteen years as the Governor of the State, he has come to acquire a knowledge and assessment of Kashmir politics which is very much his own and he seems to be conscious of it.

During his last tenure of office as the Governor, there was quite a lot of excitement because of an interview that he had granted to London Times elaborating his views on the constitutional set-up of Kashmir. The interview itself was frowned upon by the New Delhi authorities at the time since it seemed to infringe upon the constitutional propriety that a Governor is expected to maintain.

However, political repercussions to the Karan Singh plan, as it has come to be known, flowed from the plan itself. He suggested that the Valley should be made into a separate State and the Jammu and Ladakh should be merged in the contiguous Himachal State forming a Vishal Himachal.

The moment the plan was released, it produced very adverse reactions. Sri Sadiq himself characterised any proposal to slice off the Kashmir Valley as a move inspired by the Western powers. What was meant was that Sir Owen Dixon had made this suggestion with regard to the proposal to hold the plebiscite: he had restricted the idea of plebiscite only to the Valley saying that this alone was the disputed area; the fate of the other areas could be settled by negotiations, according to the Dixon Plan. The critics of the Karan Singh plan say that once the Kashmir Valley is made into a separate State, it would embolden secessionists and turn it into a stepping-stone to the dislinking of the Valley from the Indian Union.

After this hostile welcome, the Karan Singh plan did not get much publicity in this country. In a sense it was shelved but it has never been buried. Talking to Dr Karan Singh, I could gather the aruments that he has in support of this plan. (It is to be noted that although Dr Karan Singh himself has not been active in publishing it openly, he has not abandoned it and is eager that it should be given a trial.)

First, he seems to hold that in any compli-cated issue the correct way of dealing with it should be to localise the ailment; that is, restrict the area under dispute. In this way the Valley has a claim to be treated on a special plan. Secondly, it is refuted on behalf of Dr Karan Singh that the creation of a separate State out of the Valley would encourage the secessionists since such a State itself would be very much a part of the Indian Union. By this logic, Dr Karan Singh’s supporters argue, the establishment of the Nagaland should be considered as encouraging the Phizo-secessionists and a stepping-stone towards letting the Naga areas opting out of the Indian Union.

The supporters of the Karan Singh plan—and they are quite a few particularly in Jammu—hold with certain cogency that the present State of Jammu and Kashmir, as its very name suggests, is an artificial creation. It reflected the expansion of a Maharaja’s dominion and not the product of a natural evolution, nor is it based on ethnic or linguistic considerations. In fact, they say there is no other State in India which has got so much of racial heterogeneity as the present State of Jammu and Kashmir.

I found that Sheikh Abdullah’s followers are not very much worked up about the Karan Singh plan. According to them, it is based not on linguistic considrations, while Dr Karan Singh has said nothing about the status of the Pak-occupied Azad Kashmir area; should it form part of his Valley State of Kashmir or should it form a separate entity? Dr Karan Singh’s reply to such criticism is that he was not actually redrawing the map of Kashmir along linguistic frontiers. If that was to be done, then there were many areas inside the present Valley such as Gurez where non-Kashmiris constitute the majority. He says that he is suggesting nothing more than a sensible constitutional re-arrangement. If in the process it helps to stabilise constitutional re-arrangement. If in the process it helps to stabilise the policies of the Valley, it would be an additional gain and he seemed to feel that his plan would help to minimise many of the present tensions of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

In this connection one has to refer to the recent Jammu agitation in the course of which demands for a better deal for the Jammu people were raised. This proceded the agitation of the Kashmiri Pandits. It is interesting to note that the Dogras, who constitute the majority in the Jammu region, are not particularly enthusiastic about the demands of the Kashmiri Pandits for a larger share in government employment. The Leader of the Opposition in the J and K Assembly, while sympathising with the Pandits having to face police repression, added a rider that his party would not be interested in backing the claims of the Pandits with regard to a higher quota in government service. The Gajendra-gadkar Commission, which will go into the question of regional imbalances in Kashmir, will naturally have to take up the question of the Jammu people also, and it looks as if the Karan Singh plan has in a way been able to create a base for itself in the Jammu region.

Will the Karan Singh plan satisfy Sheikh Abdullah and his supporters? This is a doubtful question because what Sheikh Abdullah is demanding is not just a constitutional re-arrangement beginning with the present set-up, but, essentially a political rethinking by which the Kashmiri people’s sense of identification with the rest of India could be realised; and also to make it durable, an understanding with Pakistan should be worked out.

However, I noticed this time that there is much less of denunciation of the Karan Singh plan than there was when it was first mooted. Whether Dr Karan Singh’s elevation to the Central Cabinet will give him an opening for canvassing support for his plan is not yet clear. The fact that he is engaged in trying to seriously appraise the situation and to grope for a way out is considered by many as a significant indication of his readiness to participate in any negotiations for bringing about a settlement in Kashmir.

No generalisation of the Kashmir situation is possible, least of all for an outside observer. However, three points have to be borne in mind, and they should set the priorities so far as the Kashmir problem is concerned.

First, the need for a proper understanding with Sheikh Abdullah and his supporters. Instead of harbouring the illusion that a detained Sheikh has lost much of his popularity, it would perhaps be necessary for New Delhi to work out a strategy by which Sheikh Abdullah’s standing and competence could be harnessed in the interest not only of Kashmir but of the country as a whole. It must not be forgotten that Sheikh Abdullah is one of the few outstanding leaders still amongst us since the days of the freedom struggle, and if he is provided a wider horizon on this side of the Banihal, it would be all to the good of the country as a whole.

This enjoins that when he is released, as he must be—the sooner the better—there should be a concerted effort to win him over and not to repeat the disastrous line allowed to be followed by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed in 1958 in trying to provoke and corner him. And in this task, the Left forces have a special responsibility, since they can help to bring Sheikh Abdullah back into the mainstream of the democratic movement.

Secondly, there should be an attempt to offer to the Kashmiri people the maximum amount of autonomy in consonance with their remaining within the Indian Union. If such terms could be offered to the Nagas, there is no reason why a similar treatment should not be meted out to the Kashmiris. Actually, the principle of maximum autonomy was writ large in the Delhi Agreement, which even conceded a separate State Flag for Kashmir. But the Delhi Agreement was envisaged as a tentative understanding, and it is time that the principle of autonomy for Kashmir is worked out in detail through free and frank negotiation with the leaders of Kashmir. Perhaps a round-table with leaders representing all shades of Kashmiri opinion may help.

In this connection, one has to recall what Nehru had said in 1952 in all solemnity in Parliament: ”So while the accession was complete in law and in fact, the other fact which has noting to do with the law also remains, namely, our pledge to the people of Kashmir—if you like, to the people of the world—that this matter can be reaffirmed or cancelled or cut out by the people of Kashmir if they so wish. We do not want to win people against their will and with the help of armed force; and if the people of Jammu and Kashmir State so wish it, to part company from us, they can go their way and we shall go our way. We want no forced marriages, no forced unions like this....

“So, we accept this basic proposition that this question is going to be decided finally by the goodwill and pleasure of the people of Kashmir, not, I say, by the goodwill and pleasure of even this Parliament, if it so chooses, not because this Parliament may not have the strength to decide it—I do not deny that—but because this Parlia-ment has not only laid down in this particular matter that a certain policy will be pursued in regard to Jammu and Kashmir State but it has been our policy...

“But whether it is a pain and a torment, if the people of Kashmir want to go out, let them go because we will not keep them against their will however painful it may be to us. That is the policy that India will pursue, and because India will pursue that policy the people will not leave her, the people will cleave to her and come to her. Because the strongest bonds that bind will not be the bonds of your armies or even of your Constitution to which so much reference has been made, but bonds which are stronger than the Constitution and laws and armies—bonds that bind through love and affection and understanding of various people......”

While the context has changed since 1952, the need for winning back the confidence of the Kashmiri masses cannot be minimised. And if this is done boldly and with imagination there is little ground of pessimism about the possibility of solving the Kashmir problem. In fact, this would help to consolidate better relations with Sheikh Abdullah and his followers, just as a rapprochement with them will help to win back the confidence of the Kashmiri people.

Thirdly, in dealing with the Kashmir question there should be more determined efforts to establish better relations with Pakistan. If the cold war between superpowers could be reduced, there is no reason why the cold war between India and Pakistan should be kept up, and in this respect the responsibility of India for trying to reduce the cold war tension is as much as that of Pakisan. In some respects, one is tempted to say that India, as the senior partner in the subcontinent with greater command of resources and experience, is expecfed to show a greater degree of statesmanship than perhaps is possible for the Pakistani leaders continuoulsy cooped up with a sense of complex in dealing with India.

Such a move itself would help to settle the Kashmir problem just as much as the solution of the Kashmir problem itself will in its turn help strengthen the better relations between India and Pakistan.

However, the wider question of Indo-Pak relations has to be dealt with in greater detail and can be the subject of another round of discussion not necessarily to be tagged to any report on Kashmir.

(Mainstream, November 18, 1967)