It was not plebiscite, as the outgoing Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had cautioned before the polling. Yet the Jammu and Kashmir election very much tilted towards the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which reminded the Valley of autonomy, the kernel of the plebiscite demand.
The PDP, which has emerged the largest party with 28 seats, said during the election campaign that it would refurbish the state’s identity which, according to it, had been diluted by the ruling National Conference. Perhaps this paid dividends.
Unfortunately, the State which has been an example of secularism for the rest of the country has been somewhat polarized. The PDP won in the Muslim- majority Valley. However, the most blame is that of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). It has tried its best polarise the society. It’s hush-hush campaign that the State’s integration meant little when the Hindus had no say in the affairs of governance. So electrifying has been the result that the party has jumped from 11 seats in the last election in 2008 to 25 seats.
It is obvious that the polarization in the State has changed the complexion. Jammu has become a base of Hindus and the Valley that of Muslims. Incidentally, the BJP did not get a single seat as predicted by Omar Abdullah, although it has increased the vote.
The problem is not new. By electing the Muslims from the Valley, the Kashmiris enjoy a vicarious satisfaction of being separate from the rest of India. The candidates who sustain this illusion get the support. However, this is nothing new.
The National Conference (NC), founded by Sheikh Abdullah, a popular leader in Kashmiri even when it was princely state, disseminated this idea when the state integrated with India after the lapse of British paramountcy in 1947. Maharaja Hari Singh, the Hindu ruler had the opinion to stay independent or join either India or Pakistan. He preferred to stay independent.
I have no doubt that Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim majority state, would have come to Pakistan if it had been patient. The Maharaja declared independence and entered into a standstill agreement with Pakistan. India refused to follow suit because it appeared to harbour some other ideas.
Impatient Pakistan sent troops followed by the regular forces to take over the Valley by force. The Maharaja sought India’s military support to ward off the Pakistan onslaught. The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru refused to extend any help until the State acceded to India.
The Maharaja had no alternative except to signing the instrument of accession. The Indian forces flew to Srinagar at the nick of time because the Pakistani troops were almost in the precinct of airport. Had the Pakistani forces not indulged in looting and delayed their departure from Baramula so as to arrive in Srinagar before the Indian forces, the history of Kashmir would have been different.
Since the integration of Kashmir with India was in the hurried circumstances, although, Sheikh Abdullah was fully behind it. Nehru promised that the wishes of the people would be ascertained after the things had settled down. That eventuality never came because of changes in the global picture. Pakistan which was claiming Kashmir joined military pacts of the West and accepted weapons from it. Those were the days of the Cold War. The Pakistan’s action was taken as a step towards joining the western bloc.
Nehru said at that time that his promise to ascertain the wishes of the people of Kashmir did not hold good because of the induction of weapons by the West. The Pakistan’s government blames Nehru for going back on his promise but its acceptance of weapons by the Western bloc changed the situation and diluted the Pakistan’s claim.
The choice to join either India or Pakistan held the ground for decades. For some time the Kashmiris have raised the standard of independence (Azadi) a sovereign country of their own. How a land-locked state would keep its freedom intact without reaching an understanding either with India or Pakistan for a passage with the outside world is beyond comprehension. Yet azadi is what has swept the Kashmiris off their feet. Pakistan, which was once unequivocal opposed to the proposal, has now shed its objection. Its expectation is that the Azad Kashmir would ultimately join their co-religionist, the Muslims, in Pakistan.
Whatever the twist of history, the fact is that India cannot hand over Kashmir to Pakistan, nor can Pakistan take Kashmir forcibly from India. The two have to reach a peaceful settlement for the betterment of the people and for normalization in the region. They have fought three wars and a mini one at Kargil. Both countries are also nuclear powers. But there is no end of hatred. No doubt, several futile attempts have been made to sort out the problem. The reason is that Pakistan considers Kashmir an unfinished task of partition while the state has integrated with India legally.
All the formulas and proposals have failed to produce a solution because the party’s concerned are not really for an agreement but for the prevalence of their ideas.
The two countries have wasted some sixty seven years in finding a solution to the dispute over Kashmir. Both can waste another 67 years if they do not come down from the pedestal of rigidity on which they continue to sit.
Pakistan has brought in the factor of religion and has made the problem more intractable. The proposal that the Hindu majority Jammu joins India and the Muslim majority Valley Pakistan may reopen the wounds of partition.
There cannot be one sided solution. There will have to be consensus. There can be a solution on the basis of British cabinet mission plan which envisaged the retention of basic of partition and still kept the India together. Ultimately, the partition formula came to prevail.
A new proposal, which I suggest is that defence and foreign affairs of Kashmir under India should vest in New Delhi and likewise defence and foreign affairs of Kashmir under Pakistan with Islamabad. The rest of the subjects should be transferred to the Kashmiris and the border between the two Kashmirs should be abolished. This maybe initiate a new relationship, devoid of mistrust and hostility.