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Saturday 22 October 2011

Kashmir, Ultra Nationalists and Path to Peaceful Solution

Kashmir, Ultra Nationalists and Path to Peaceful Solution

Ram Puniyani

The condemnable attack on Supreme Court Lawyer and ‘team Anna’ member Prashant Bhushan on 12th October 2011, threw up many a questions. To begin with the attackers were congratulated by ‘ultra Nationalists’ like Bal Thackeray of Shiv Sena, showing the gross intolerance around certain issues in our society, more particularly those related to Kashmir and other issues being raised by those who have been practicing the sectarian politics. It does reflect the growing intolerance in the society without doubt.

This attack took place in the aftermath of the statement of Prashant Bhushan regarding his opinion that the option of referendum as suggested by UN way back can be the way to solve the Kashmir problem. In the aftermath of this dastardly attack on him the cracks also surfaced in team Anna and most of the members of the team disowned his opinion to the extent that the move to expel Bhushan from team Anna has came up.  Anna Hazare, displaying his ‘mastery’ on Nationalism and History asserted that Kashmir is the inseparable pat of India from times immemorial. Some of those asserting ‘Kashmir as the inseparable part of India’ also resorted to saying that Bhushan should be treated as anti National as his opinion violated the position of Indian Constitution.

Historically and constitutionally the things are not as straightforward about Kashmir. One knows that Kashmir was acceded to India after Pakistan’s army dressed as tribal invaded Kashmir. Kashimiri people did not want to merge with Pakistan. This attitude of Kashmiri people was reflected in the opinion of National Conference led by Sheikh Abdullah. It was at this juncture that Maharaja Harisingh, the King of Kashmir, signed the treaty of accession with India. This treaty was subject to ratification by the people of Kashmir, for which as suggested later by UN; a referendum was to be held. So, the first point should be straight and clear that ‘Kashmir has been part of India form all the times’, is not true. It acceded with India in 1948. The treaty of accession gave a total autonomy to Kashmir, barring the issues related to defense, communication, external affairs and currency.

The problem began with the demand by communal forces in India, as articulated prominently by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of Hindu Mahasabha, to forcibly merge Kashmir into India and make it like any other state. The impact of communal forces around this time was also witnessed in the form of murder of Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. This continuous pressure from communal forces affected the attitude of Indian Government. The Government gradually went on withdrawing the autonomy clauses, and kept on tampering with the process of elections in the state. This resulted in the process of alienation of people of Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah who was uncomfortable with the moves of Government of India, tried to rethink his decision about accession to India, but he was soon imprisoned and languished in jail for 17 long years.

The alienated youth of Kashmir were assisted by the Pakistani establishment, which had its own vested interests. Pakistan was totally backed up by the United States, which pursued the policies to encourage the turmoil in the area, leading to the violence. US has so far been using Pakistan as its proxy in the region to dominate the oil rich area. This process got worsened with the entry of Al Qaeda and its clones in Kashmir in the decades of 1980s. Entry of Al Qaeda communalized the situation and undermined the spirit of Kashmiriyat, the major culture of Kashmir. Kashmiriyat is a synthesis of teachings of Buddha, Vedanta and Sufi tradition of Islam. When militancy in Kashmir reached its peak, one of the tragic outcomes of this was mass exodus of Kashmiri Pundits. A large number of Muslim families as well also had to leave the valley.

Mostly the ruling party or coalitions at the Center tried to influence and rig the elections in Kashmir, undermining the democratic process till quite long. Indian Government faced the situation by sending more and more armed forces in the valley and today there is huge presence of military in the area. The presence of military has affected the civilian life to a great extent, due to which Kashmiris have been living in an intensely intimidating atmosphere. Military has committed large number of excesses in the area. Today the people of Kashmir are the victims of the local militancy; Al Qaeda-Pakistan promoted terrorism and the high handed actions of Indian army. The perception of Kashmiris has also been shaped by this phenomenon. A discomforting mix! It is due to all this that the dissatisfaction of the people gets manifested by the ‘stone throwers’ and actions like that.

In this context various ‘solutions’ have been presented to ease out the situation. While the separatists want Azadi, People’s Democratic Party of Mahbooba Mufti wants ‘self-rule’ and National Conference (Farooq Abdulla) wants the autonomy to be restored in the valley. The solution of referendum has been one of the major demands all through. Today six decades down the line it is doubtful if this can a realistic solution at all as Pakistan has also been playing its own games in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, euphemistically called Azad Kashmir, where there is hardly any Azadi in true sense of the word. The demand for referendum was surely a need in the decade of 1950s, as it was committed while signing the accession treaty. The commitment was that the accession will have to be ratified by the opinion of Kashmiri people. Today decades later the social and political situations have so much changed that we will have to reconcile only to strengthening of democratic process in Kashmir with its existing LOC to begin with. Referendum is neither realistic nor possible today.

It is in this context that the effort of Government of India to appoint three interlocutors in the area has to be seen. In the repot of interlocutor’s emphases is on the socio economic problems of the region, skirting the political issues involved. It correctly focuses on the need for employment generation schemes, education and other measures, which are the need of the state. While Bhushan’s stand about plebiscite may be a bit of an over kill, still it has been the aspiration of many a Kashmiri groups. The situation is to be viewed today in the context of changing global equation between US-Pakistan, the evolution of democratic process in Kashmir and the perpetuation of the causes of genesis of the militancy in Kashmir. The major cause of militancy-alienation has been the attempt to forcibly merge the state with India, by demanding the abolition of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. This incidentally has been a major demand of the communal forces in the country.   

The likes of Hazare and Thackeray’s have forgotten the recent history of the nation, if at all they knew it, and are blinded by their version of nationalism. The need is to ensure that the issue is seen in the proper historical and Constitutional context with the aim to ease the sufferings of Kashmiri people.

Issues in Secular Politics
II October 2011

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