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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 39, New Delhi, September 19, 2015

Kashmir Diary

Sunday 20 September 2015

As the nation observers the fiftieth anniversary of the 1965 India-Pakistan war, we reproduce the following   piece that appeared in the Annual Number of Mainstream (which came out in September 1965).

by Pannalal Dasgupta

Almost immediately after I set foot in Srinagar on August 30, I got the chance of attending a public meeting in a hall. The meeting was organised by the traders and houseboat associations over the situation created by Pakistani aggression, which has badly hit the tourist traffic in the Kashmir Valley. Tourist trade is the “main industry” of Kashmir—this was admitted by all the speakers, including Chief Minister G.M. Sadiq. All the speakers expressed deep concern for this trade, now being placed in danger. Since the opening of the Bannihal tunnel (called Jawahar tunnel) a few years back, Kashmir has been thrown open to tourists all the year round; and even winter in Kashmir has its attraction for those looking out for adventure. In fact the tourist trade has increased fourfold since the opening of the Bannihal tunnel. So everybody at the meeting expressed anger over Pakistani misdeeds hitting this vital trade, one of the arteries of Kashmir’s economy.

New Tourist Attraction

But what struck me at this meeting was not the economics of the tourist trade and its being affected by Pakistani misdeeds. More important was what Chief Minister Sadiq said, amongst other things, at this gathering: Kashmir today, Sadiq commented, could provide a new attraction, apart from her natural beauties—and that was the curiosity of the world to know who and what these infiltrators were, whom did they fight and what for and how the Kashmiris reacted to them.

This really provides a new attraction for those who have been politically interested in the Kashmir controversy for the last 18 years, and they are many, here in India and outside. The “armed rising of the Kashmiri people”, as the Pakistan Government tried to paint it, has proved an utter flop and all visitors from outside can come and see this for themselves.

Another point of attraction that Kashmir today provides for the outside world is: How did the people live for these long years in the so-called “Azad Kashmir” area, that is, the Pakistani occupied Kashmir? They really present a miserable sight, as could be seen in the newly-liberated villages.

The party of journalists taken to those areas included myself and also an American student of history studying in the Delhi University. An Indian journalist angrily protested to the Army officer why foreigners were still being given freedom to roam about in Kashmir, but the poor officer simply said that he had very little to say regarding who could go where and who not. When foreigners could have so many accesses to our secrets—if we really have any secret to keep about ourselves I do not see any harm in inviting the foreign friends of Pakistan to see for themselves as to who the infiltrators were, and how the “Azad Kashmiris” lived under Pakistan.

This really is an item of attraction in Kashmir today for all, including those in India, who have any doubts on this score. Batches of people from all the States in India, particularly the Muslims, should be allowed to go there so that they can compare the condition of those wretched people in the Pak-occupied area with those living in the State of Jammu and Kashmir in India. Most of the daily papers have already published accounts of the state of things in those areas and I need not repeat them. All I say is that the descriptions given by the journalists who went there are really true and that there is no comparison between them and the villages of Kashmiris within India.

I went to several villages in different parts of the Valley; almost everywhere electricity, roads, and schools could be seen inside the Indian Kashmir. Education is fast spreading. But in those villages which have been liberated from Pakistani yoke we could see that for fifteen villages there is only one primary school with only one teacher; no dispensary and no doctors near about. Of the nearly two thousand men and women who assembled at one of those spots to meet us, there was none who could be called literate.

The dull and listless faces evoked sympathy and a sad feeling. Their shout “Hindustan Zinda-bad” in unison could hardly be called full-throated; but the elderly people over sixty or seventy, who could recognise some old friends from amongst the crowd that had gone there with us from this side, were quite vocal in private talks. They wept, not for jubilation over liberation as such but for the degrading life they had to pass through during the long and dark years under Pakistan.

The crowd was till then flabbergasted and were not sure enough as to what this liberation menat after all, and their subjugated mind was full of fear and forebodings of the things that might be in store for them in future, as they did not seem to be very sure if this liberation was a permanent thing or not.

If the image of India was only to be seen through her military might as revealed in these recent compaigns of the Indian Army regaining these long lost areas of Kashmir, that by itself could not completely win over their confidence. The military image has got to be immediately supplemented by the authentic image of real secularism, democracy and socialism that India is pledged to bring about. Only then could one expect a real jubilation in them and real enthusiasm for India. That is the task of the Indian people—the civil India—not of the military authorities.

Role of Kashmiris

The contest between India and Pakistan has now entered the second stage, the first stage being over, in which Pakistan initiated the trouble by infiltrating trained soldiers with modern arms in mufti to engineer and export revolution in the Kashmir Valley; and Pakistan has totally failed in her objective. In this stage, India has won, not merely by the valour of the security forces alone, but primarily by the behaviour of the Kashmiri people themselves. They not only did not help the infiltrators but positively helped the security forces to spot out the enemy almost everywhere. Thus the canard that Kashmiri are at heart Pakistanis has been proved utterly false, and Kashmiris have proved their loyalty and commonsense at the most critical hour. They have saved the face of India, and India should be proud of the Kashmiris.

Now in this second stage, the open battle is between India and Pakistan, as Ayub Khan’s Pakistan can no longer fight under the garb of a so-called revolt in Kashmir. Here the role of the Kashmiris is not the most important thing but a secondary one. The Kashmiris have provided us with the necessary morale and justification of our general fight against the Pakistan invasion. We need no longer beg from door to door in Europe, America and Asia to show that Kashmir is loyal to India and not to Pakistan. We can safely shed all these doubts about the Kashmiri Muslims in particular, and it will help us shed our own doubts about the Indian Muslims in general. It will also give a new morale to the Indian Muslims and other minorities.

In many quarters, the report was in circu-lation that the Kashmiris were not loyal to India; but who in recent times have been very loyal to India as such with her poor and weak image? Have not the separatist tendencies been deve-loping almost everywhere? Is not “integration” the most important worry of the hour and are not the most dangerous and fissiparous symptoms over language, region etc. fast developing?

This was the counter-question put by one young Kashmiri lawyer I met there. The weakened loyalty of the people could be seen everywhere, but that was due to the poor image of India that had been projected there for so many years. Once the image of India is robust and strong, most people, including the Kash-miris, will be proud to call themselves Indian first, everything else next.

In the hour of trial, the Kashmiris have proved their loyalty, and a better image of India is emerging, and this may be the turning point of modern Indian history. He, the lawyer, rightly warned that the idea that the rest of Indians are more loyal to India than the Kashmiris have got to be proved now in this second stage when Pakistan is in open war with India. He also pointed out that anti-Muslim feelings or commu-nalism of the majority community should not be mistaken for nationalism or loyalty to India.

Communalism at Home

Pir Ghiyasuddin, the Health Minister of the Kashmir Government, also dealt with the problem of projecting a brighter and stronger image of India. He pointed to the ugly incidents in Poona, even in recent times, when the battle for winning the mind of the minorities is on in Kashmir. He aptly pointed out how Kashmiris in the liberated area would feel if they read the news about Poona.

The strong image of India will be respected, not feared, if it means that this nation can fight not only the communalism that is fostered from Pakistan but also that which has been there in India itself. He explained what a difficult task they in Kashmir had in their hands. They have to constantly counteract not only Pakistani propa- ganda but the insidious propaganda of the followers of Sheikh Abdullah and also the effect of the long corrupt regime of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. Against so many odds, they are fighting the battle for secularism and democracy and socialism—as against communalism; and in this they are on the front line, and he urged that the rest of India should not make their task more difficult by allowing any communal feeling to grow anywhere in India.

Mir Qasim, the Kashmir Congress President, appeared to be the most capable man in the new leadership, in constant and wide contact with the people. His mind works quickly and is completely free from confusion. He said “the struggle is primarily political” indeed; our Army only gets involved in it. The military gains are not the ultimate solution. It is only because we failed to combat reaction and communalism effectively on the political plane, that the Army had to be called out. “Our fundamental task remains as before—that is, to win over the minds of the people, including the minorities and bring about a real turning-point in our struggle for secular, democratic and socialist India.”

I saw many villages, in most of the trouble spots. I met not only the important leaders but common men as well. I also met some persons who are still followers of the Plebiscite Front. The Plebiscite Front is lying low and does not dare speak openly, as indeed they have nothing to say. It is obvious they are in a very tight corner at this moment and their followers are fast dwindling.

I had arguments in private with some of their followers also and when I said that I was not a Congresswalla, I had not come as a government representative at government expenses, they listened to me patiently. I told them that poverty could be found everywhere in India and that they were not poorer than the other Indians in general; and if poor Indians everywhere did not unite and join a common front against poverty and corruption how could they bring about the necessary change for the complete emancipation of the masses?

They were visibly shaken by my arguments and when I told that the rest of India gained nothing economically by keeping Kashmir in India and that by fighting for Kashmir, India was not fighting for the Hindus but for secularism which alone could protect the five crores of Muslims in India, they had no argument with which to rebut mine.

Their mind is indeed now thawing and it is for us, Indians from all other parts of this great country, to be alert and active because it is worth striking when the iron is hot. That is why everywhere we must be up and doing, and reap the benefit of victory of the first stage, to be sure of the final victory in this second stage.

I found that the sense of emergency was still lacking in political workers there. Everybody tried to impress me by showing that everything was normal, people were busy doing and going about as if nothing had happened in the Kashmir Valley. There is no panic and no blackmarket. Normalcy is good insofar as there is no panic and a healthy sense of confidence is no doubt growing.

But the situation, developing into a regular war between Pakistan and India, is by no means normal. If in this abnormal situation, our reaction, both in Kashmir and elsewhere, is nothing more than everything is smooth and “normal”, we must then be living in a fool’s paradise. We must really rise to the occasion, must rouse the entire people of India, make this hour a turning-point in our history. We must no longer drift.

Final Battle

During my stay in Kashmir, I also addressed meetings in some villages. I am not a known man there. But the leaders of India should go there, meet people and assure them of solidarity, support and kinship. There should be mighty demonstrations of solidarity everywhere in all the cities of India including Jammu and Kashmir. It is painful to see that we are still satisfied with our routine work and routine duty. The entire patriotic and progressive political strength of the people must be mobilised immediately. The final battle, as Mir Qasim aptly put it, is political. If we gloat over the military victory and rely on it alone, the problem will not be solved. On the contrary, too much dependence upon the Army and giving a blank cheque to it and then rest contented will ultimately deprive us of all our democratic rights because rights are never safe when responsibilities are not taken up.

I felt unhappy on coming back from the Jammu and Kashmir front. I am going East. I felt an inner sense of guilt as it were, because I felt as if I was going away from the thick of the battle. Yet I could realise I would have nothing useful to do there.

A sense of participation in this great struggle must be there in every one of us wherever he or she may be. We must forge those activities in every nook and corner of the country so that the entire people can feel that they are actively participating in this great drama that I could see with my own eyes in the picturesque Valley of Kashmir.                  

   (September 7, 1965)

(Mainstream Annual 1965)

The author, a distinguished freedom fighter, was an outstanding leader of the RCPI. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Dum Dum-Basirhat Conspiracy Case, and released in 1962. He launched the Bengali weekly, Compass, and was for sometime a member of the Mainstream Editorial Board. Subsequently he was involved in Gandhian rural development activities in different districts of West Bengal and Bihar. He passed away at midnight on January 11, 1999.