There is a nostalgia among Indian liberals regarding everything today. Even on the question of Kashmir we are witness to their lamentations – about Kashmiriyat, Nehru etc. However, the rights violations which are happening now are not very dissimilar to what has happened many times in the history of post 1953 Kashmir.
It is not to say that nothing new has happened this time. But it is also not illegitimate to say that the BJP has completed the long-drawn out process that Nehru started on August 9 1953, which Sheikh Abdullah called coup-d’etat, when he, the legitimate Prime Minister of J&K, was deposed and incarcerated. The “legacy of 1953” has once again been upheld in 2019.
What happened on August 5 2019, was new not in the manner in which the Modi government dealt with the democratic rights of Kashmiris. The newness was in the ultimate realisation of the Indian state that it was futile to convince the Kashmiris to forget their right to self-determination.
After 1947, the Indian state allowed plebiscites to ask people to merge with India only in those regions where it was sure to win but not in Kashmir, despite promising it. In Kashmir, the public support to the merger was never tested, because the Indian state was always afraid of losing it. India wanted to use the popularity and opportunism of Sheikh Abdullah who was ardently secular and an opponent of the idea of Muslims constituting a nation to manufacture consent among Kashmiris. But Sheikh resisted being reduced to a mere pawn despite suffering years of incarceration. However, ultimately he succumbed to Indira Gandhi’s pressure and for the sake of his opportunist politics, cohorts and progeny, he became a tool of legitimation for the Indian state in Kashmir.
Article 370 was an instrument to show that Indians respected Kashmiri autonomy. But the Indian state could never “manage” the Kashmiris well even with the help of these Kashmiri intermediaries, and the president’s rule was regularly imposed. The abrogation of Article 370 was the end of the pretense of respecting the Kashmiri will.
The Nehru and subsequent Congress regimes tried to reduce Sheikh Abdullah, a hero to a pawn by imprisoning him; the Modi government might elevate the Abdullah progeny – pawns – into heroes, by the same method. The charges against Farooq Abdullah and imprisonment of other Kashmiri leaders might perhaps serve the purpose of making him and other pro-India Kashmiri leaders more respectable and better equipped to dialogue with the defiant Kashmiri population. Governor Satya Pal Malik succinctly puts:
“I have gone to jail 30 times, whoever goes to jail will come out shining as a future leader. They can take political benefit of detentions in future. Don’t you want new political leaders to emerge in Kashmir?…They are not detained too far from their homes. I was lodged in a jail far away from my home. If those detained have brains, they will reap the political benefit of the detention. I am wishing them well….Those who go to jail become political leaders. The longer they stay the more they will brag in elections. So, if you sympathise with their political careers, don’t question the detention.”
1953 and 2019: Uncanny Similarities?
In 1957, Sheikh Abdullah wrote a letter to United Nations Security Council giving a chilling account of what was then happening in Kashmir. At that time he was “completing [his] third year of incarceration in a detention camp in the State where [he has] been whisked off as a result of coup-d’etat of 9th Aug. 1953.”
I reproduce the excerpts of the letter, giving subtitles to different portions that will help in comparing Nehru’s or pre-Modi attitudes towards Kashmir with Modi’s.
The Indo-Pak Dispute over Kashmir
Kashmir, unfortunately, is the root cause which deeply embitters the relations between India and Pakistan and in any conflict this State is bound to be the first casualty. No peaceful progress is possible within the State unless this dispute is finally and amicably settled. These are weighty considerations and no one who has the real good of the State at heart can lose sight of these factors. For some time past I had therefore been pressing for an early settlement of this dispute with Pakistan…. Indian reaction was averse to this approach and her resentment towards me gradually culminated in positive hostility.
Corruption and Coup-d’etat
Disruption and factionalism in our ranks and corruption of our people was therefore resorted to by India for breaking our unity and thus achieving its nefarious end. The plot culminated in the coup-d’etat on 9th Aug. 1953. In the early hours of that night I and my cabinet were dismissed without a confidence motion of the Assembly by the legally and constitutionally questionable fiat of the Head of the State. I was put under arrest along with another Minister of my cabinet and am now under continued detention nearly for the last three years without trial and without even a charge.
“A free license to shoot at sight and commit all other possible atrocities on the defenseless people”
Simultaneously with my arrest thousands of my followers and co-workers, including Deputy Ministers, high-ranking Gazetted Officers, respectable business men, lawyers, Members of the Assembly and public men of high position in life were clapped into prison. All manners of repressive measures were let loose in order to crush the spontaneous uprising of the people throughout the valley. Indian Central Reserve Police and army as well as the militia, and the special police were given a free license to shoot at sight and commit all other possible atrocities on the defenseless people – thousands were beaten or starved in the jails in order to break them into submission-the number of those killed was officially reported to be 36 although the public version puts it very much higher. No judicial enquiry was held to investigate into these atrocities which include among their victims even pregnant women and children. More than a score of Assembly members was detained without charge and many others kept under house arrest.
No greater fraud on democracy can be conceived!
It was under these bloodcurdling circumstances that a session of the Assembly was called to record its approval of the coup and a vote of confidence in the new government. From prison I sent telegraphic requests to the President of the Union of India, to its Prime Minister and to the Speaker of the Assembly to allow me to appear before the House and face a motion of no-confidence in a democratic manner but no heed was paid to it. Thus almost with a pistol on the necks of the Assembly Members and with massacre and terrorism all over the Valley, a vote of confidence for the Govt. pitchforked into office with the help of Indian bayonets was secured. No greater fraud on democracy can be conceived! What moral, legal or constitutional value this fraudulent act has need hardly be explained.
Thus India manoeuvered to remove those elements from the Kashmir scene which she thought stood in the way of her anti-Kashmiri designs and subsequently sought ratification of accession through the Assembly. To say the least, it is a fraud upon the people, betrayal of their right of self-determination and gross breach of international commitments and promises.
The Reasons of State
In March 1956, the Prime Minister of India made a public declaration ruling out plebiscite in Kashmir. It has shocked the world conscience and stunned the people of Kashmir to whom innumerable assurances had been held out that they will shape their own destiny through a fa and impartial plebiscite.
Reasons advanced for this face volte are that Pakistan has joined SEATO received Arms Aid from America and signed the Baghdad Pact. The absurdity of the argument is patent. Whatever Pakistan may do or might have done, that can be no valid reason for denying the Kashmiris the exercise of their right of self-determination in order to shape their own future. Secondly, India’s Prime Minister has hinted that a vote in favour of Pakistan will rouse communal passions in India and endanger the security of its Muslim minority. This argument is also untenable. Is India’s secularism so skin deep that it will collapse like a pack of cards as soon as Kashmiris exercise their right of self-determination? One may as well ask: Are Kashmiris to be held as hostages for fair treatment of Muslim minority under the so-called Secular Democracy of India? Were India’s oft repeated promises to the people of Kashmir that they alone shall have the right to decide their own future through an impartial and fair plebiscite intended to be implemented only in case a vote in her favour was certain?
Progress – “Nothing can be farther from truth.”
India has repeatedly claimed that Kashmir is fast progressing and that the political uncertainties ended. Nothing can be farther from truth. Kashmir is at present ruled by monstrous laws which have crippled all political and social life in the State and paralysed all progress. A lawless law of Preventive Detention has been promulgated in the State with the sanction of the President of the Republic of India which has stifled all civil liberties. This law authorizes arrests and detention for a period of five years without trial or even without disclosing the grounds of detention. Free and frequent use is made of this law of the jungle. Respectable citizens and political workers have been arrested under this law on the excuse of having publicized the speeches of opposition members delivered in the legislature or even legitimately organising support for the opposition in the House. Members of the Assembly who expressed their intention of crossing the floor in the House were put under arrest. In certain cases resignations were extorted under the pressure of this monstrous law and instances are not wanting where the members were publicly threatened of getting them involved in fabricated criminal cases if they failed to support the Govt. party.
“Corrupting public life and thereby purchasing the public conscience”
Indian money is being lavishly used for organising gangsters for looting, insulting and publicly flogging respectable citizens who do not see eye to eye with the ruling party. Colossal amounts borrowed on interest from India are used in corrupting public life and thereby purchasing the public conscience. It is however, gratifying to note that all these dirty methods have so far failed to corrupt the people into submission, and with one voice they demand the fulfilment of the promise made to them by India, Pakistan and United Nations to exercise their right of self-determination in a free and democratic manner.
The Hostility of the Press and “A Virtual Iron Curtain over the Valley”
The Indian press almost without exception, is positively hostile to all tendencies in favour of the plebiscite. Any Indian newspaper writing in favour of the fulfilment of the promise held out by India to the people of Kashmir or criticising the present administration in Kashmir is immediately bribed or blacklisted and its entry into the State banned. Foreign correspondents are seldom allowed in and if and when such a journalist finds his way to the Valley every precaution is taken that he does not get a peep into the realities of the situation. There is a virtual Iron Curtain over the Valley. No citizen dare to approach a visitor to acquaint him with the tale of his misery for fear of gestapo and subsequent torture. I challenge anyone to refute it. Under an impartial agency the scathing sea of resentment of Kashmiris will be unleashed and a real picture will come to light in those circumstances alone. Recent civic elections held in Srinagar and in Jammu afford a proof positive of oppressive and fraudulent practices of the ruling party in Kashmir. Muslim organisations and political bodies with overwhelming Muslim membership completely boycotted these elections. Some Hindu opposition organisations however contested these elections against the ruling party. The Hindu press both in and outside the State has published a surprising account of corruption, malpractices, impersonation and fraudulent methods used in these elections by the ruling party. It was through these shady means that the ruling party has secured all the seats in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation and majority in the Jammu Corporation.
“A potential powder magazine”
Kashmiris are facing untold miseries during the present phase of their history. No progress-economic or political-is possible under such circumstances. Kashmir has become an oozing sore in the bodypolitic of the subcontinent. It has embittered beyond measure relations between the two countries. The two armies facing each other across the cease-fire line, constitute a potential powder magazine which may flare up any time into a devastating war. Its consequences are too grim to imagine. In such an eventuality Kashmir will be wiped out completely-and far worse may happen. Is the world conscience so dead as not to wake up in time.
A Plea to International Institutions
If a member of the world organisation is so easily to denounce international commitments and trample over without qualms the human rights of millions it will, I am afraid, deal a death blow on the effectiveness of the Security Council, will shock the confidence of small nations in the world organisation and endanger world peace.
On behalf of the millions of Kashmiris and in the name of peace and progress of hundreds of millions of the sub-continent I appeal to your Excellencies to firmly stand by the pledges of the Security Council and execute its decision. I also appeal to the freedom loving countries of the world, to those who have signed the United Nations Charter and pledged themselves to honour it in word and deed as well as to those nations whose leaders have fought and given their lives to establish people’s right of self-determination, to rise above international differences’ and disputes and lend a firm and unanimous support to the right of four million down-trodden Kashmiris and allow them to decide their own future in a free and democratic atmosphere. That alone will end the agony of the people of Kashmir and eliminate a grave danger to peace.