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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 45, New Delhi, October 26, 2019

Wanted: Not Drift But Statesmanship

Monday 4 November 2019, by Nikhil Chakravartty


In 1967, that is, fiftytwo 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 third instalment of the series ‘Special Report on Kashmir’ and was published in this journal’s November 11, 1967 issue. It is being reproducecd now that Kashmir is in the news once again. The first  and second instalments of the  series “Kashmir in Focus” and “Sheikh Abdullah, What Next?” were reproduced in the Mainstream issues of September 28, 2019 and October 19,  2019. The fourth and last instalment will be reproduced in the following issue.

The question of dealing with Sheikh Abdullah is today the Key point in any effort at stabilising the Kashmir situation. This proposition is accepted by practically all sections of opinion in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Sheikh Abdullah’s camp seems to have a tendency to take this as a bargaining counter; that is, unless Sheikh is installed back in power, there could be no stable peace in Kashmir. This viewpoint is challened by others. According to Sheikh’s critics, the fact that India could ward off a full-scale military attack by Pakistan for the capture of the State of Jammu and Kashmir in 1965 has itself undermined Sheikh’s impor-tance. The realisation by the pro-Pakistani elements that a military solution of the Kashmir question can no longer be forced and that India would not hesitate to take up arms again in defence of the Valley is often interpreted by a section of observers in Kashmir to mean that there need be no hurry in settling with Sheikh, since he can no longer exploit the military threat of Pakistan as a means to wring concessions from New Delhi.

But the more careful among observers in Kashmir are not inclined to accept such a simplified view. They seemed to think that asettlement with Sheikh Abdullah, honourable to both sides, in the long run will pay dividends  in any confrontation, political or military, with Pakistan. After all India could stand up to the tribal aggression from Pakistan in 1947 mainly because of the popular resistance magnificently organised by the Kashmir National Conference under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah. Without such a mass popular base, the aggressors from across the frontier would have almost had a walk-over in those crucial weeks. The Indian Army itself would have found it difficult to operate when it was rushed there despite all the obstacles put up by Mountbatten in those days.

Incidentally, this blows up the theory that the accession of Kashmir to India became a reality because the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession. What is to be borne in mind is that even with a declaration of loyalty to India by the Maharaja—which in fact was not very vocal in those days—there could have been no chance of holding the advance of armed bands into the farthest corner of the Valley, had there been no Sheikh Abdullah and his band of patriotic workers who roused the entire people to put up resistance. Perhaps in no other part of the country there was such an armed mass upheaval under a political leadership for accession to India as it happened in the Valley of Kashmir in 1947.

The need for a settlement with Sheikh Abdullah really boils down to the realisation of an urgency of a political understanding with him and his supporters. Nehru himself tried to achieve that in 1964 during the weeks preceding his tragic end; the harm done in 1953 by the deposition and imprisonment of Sheikh Abdullah perhaps would have been undone had he lived a little longer. But now again the process has to be taken up and this needs the immediate opening of a dialogue with Sheikh Abdullah and his lieutenants. And the initiative for this has naturally to come from the Central leadership in New Delhi. In political life one has to realise that nobody can open talks from a position of disadvantage, and no political leader, however eminent, could seek negotiation so long as he is unde detention. It is therefore obvious that the initiative for any talk with Sheikh Abdullah—and the need for it is overwhelmingly urgent—has to come from the Prime Minister and from the leaders of all other secular and democratic political parties. Those who have demanded his release, it is but meet and proper, that they should at least come forward to take that initiative.

It is the lack of this initiative in today’s context which comes as a matter of surprise to many observers and more the delay the more is there the chance that the opportunity might be wasted. At present Sheih Abdullah is surrounded by people who stood by him; and right or wrong, quite a substantial section of them belong to the pro-West camp. However, I found during my round of talks both in Srinagar and in New Delhi that a large spectrum of opinion did recognise the necessity for such a dialogue; at the same time there is rather an amazing reticence for any particular section of responsible opinion to come forward and do the job. Perhaps on this score will come one of the most significant tests for statesmanship on the part of the political leadership in India.

An interesting feature of the political postures adopted by some groups in Kashmir is the raising of the demand for President’s Rule in the State. According to them, the present Sadiq Ministry is incapable of solving any of the problems facing the State, that it is hopping on from crisis to crisis and that it has no political perspective and finally that it is a house divided against itself.

This is the common theme of a curious amalgam which includes not only the Jana Sangh but Bakshi Ghullam Mohammad as well; I did not find it being raised by the Socialists despite the fact that Bakshi is trying to find a niche in SSP proclaiming himsel to be a follower of Dr Lohia—at least after his death.

Against this demand for President’s Rule in Kashmir, many arguments have been raised not only by Sri Sadiq and his team but also by other elements including the CPI. First, the state of instability in Kashmir is not more acute than it is in many other parts of the country; the law and order situation in Kashmir is certainly not worse than it is in many other States where the slogan of President’s Rule is not heard at all. Secondly, the ruling party has got a firm majority in the Assembly; in fact Kashmir is one of the few States in India today where the Congress Party commands a comfortable majority. Thridly, the allegation of rift inside the leadership of the Kashmir Government is definitely overplayed. There is practically no State in India today where the Congress leadership has not reduced itself to a motley of factions, some of them very well-knit. In contrast, one does not find such a spectacle in the Kashmir Congress even if there is a lack of personal equation at some levels among the Kashmir leaders today.

But the main objection to President’s Rule in Kashmir is an essentially political one. The point has to be understood that if President’s Rule is clamped on Kashmir, Pakistan will announce to the world that India despite all her efforts coiuld not find any section of opinion in Kashmir dependable enough to run the government of the State, that she had to close down parliamentary democracy and go in for direct Central rule without any democratic check. In fact, the imposition of President’s Rule will come as a god-send for Pakistani propaganda. It is therefore a strange logic that Sri Balraj Madhok and his aggressive party is following today. The very demand that they are raising goes against the interest of India and will help Pakistan and her allies more than anybody else.

What is really wanted in Kashmir today is the toning up of the administration. The ravages left behind by Bakshi’s personal rule could not be repaired quickly by the present government. Since its assumption of office there has come a series of major difficulties facing it: first came the excitement and tension with the release of Sheikh Abdullah, followed by the threat of tension, following his re-arrest in mid-1965; then came the peiod of Pakistani infiltrators, followed by a full-scale armed conflict with Pakistan. In 1966, the Sadiq Government was able to repair quite a lot of the damage, although towards the end the preoccupation with the General Election slowed down the process.

After the General Election, a number of important reforms were introduced specially with regard to land tenure and economic rehabilitation; in fact, its record in some direction is better than that of most of the State governments in India today including those which are led by Left parties.

But the respite was short-lived. With the Pandit agitation and Jana Sangh’s intervention a new period of worry has started. If it could go in for smooth sailing in the last few months perhaps the Sadiq Government itself would have been able to tackle the problem of Sheikh Abdullah without any direct assistance from New Delhi. In this way the Jana Sangh and the Right-wing critics of the government have only helped to make things more difficult for the present government to face Sheikh Abdullah and the challenge that his activities sometime pose for the authorities.

It is to be understood that the present round of communal tension in Kashmir has been taken advantage of most by the pro-Pakistani elements and for that, one has to thank the Jana Sangh. And if the pro-Pakistani elements have to be again brought under control and isolated, it would be necessary for all secular and democratic forces not only in Kashmir but all over India to rally and see that communalism does not become a permanent sore in the beautiful Valley. Viewed in this context the move for calling a convention of vaious political parties, which is believed to be in the offing in New Delhi, assumes significance. One would have expected the Congress leadership to take the initiative in this matter, but that was very much lacking at the recent AICC session at Jabbalpur. Sri Kamaraj worrying about his own future as the Congress President has not yet found time to go to Kashmir although a few weeks ago there was a report that he might pay a visit to the State after the Jabbalpur AICC session. But Sri Kamaraj himself may not carry much weight just now, apart from the fact that he still continues to be the chief of the Congress Party organisation.

In this context, it is necessary for the Prime Minister to tour round the whole State, particularly the Valley so that the Muslim masses could be assured that there was no threat to their security. I notice Smt Gandhi’s prestige among them is high since they regard  her to be totally anti-communal, in the tradition of her father.

In this connection, it may be useful to make a passing reference to the situation in Ladakh where Kushak Bakula has raised the demand for a NEFA-type administration. This has come as a surprise to many and naturally it is resented by Sri Sonam Norbu who has come up as a formidable challenge to Kushak Bakula’s political position. For one thing, NEFA-type administration in Ladakh would mean putting the clock back: whatever may be the weakness and the shortcomings of the present set-up in Ladakh, it has at least the semblance of parliamentarianism—the elected bodies and  representative institutions. In the NEFA-type administration, on the other hand, there is very little scope of elected bodies, and it is in a way the continuation of the old system under the  British restricted to tribal areas where political activity is hardly in evidenc.

In Ladakh, Kushak Bakula had a free run for  nearly a decade-and-a-half, and he was given sufficient funds to develop the area. Very little tangible proof of his administrative capacity can be found today; rather I heard serious allegations of funds being wasted or irregularly channelised. Kushak Bakula, who incidentally is no elected head of the Lama community but was just picked up as a reliable figure-head by the Kashmir Government in the old days, has continued to enjoy uninterrupted patronage. In recent years his leadership has been challenged by the new elements coming up in Ladakh social life. Sri Norbu represents this new element. When I talked to him, I found him an extremely modern man. An engineer by professioin, he is regrded as quite a leading specialist particularly in road huilding. His remarkable achievement was the building of the imagnificent road across the Zozi La Pass which connects Srinagar with Kargil and Ladakh for the greater part of the year. In fact, Sri Norbu won his Padma Shri in recognition of this engineering feat. Sri Norbu and his group have become a headache for Kushak Bakula and after his displacement from ministerial office, Bakula has been a totally frustrated man. So he has worked up his group and is getting a lot of publicity because of the fact that he has raised himself against the present leadership in Kashmir.

The choice before the authorities is clear: should they prop up the obscurantist vested interest represented by Kushak Bakula; or, should they encourage the modern enlightened trend represented by Sri Sonam Norbu and his colleagues.  

(Mainstream, November 11, 1967)

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