I was happy when Kashmir was not the election issue till two-thirds of the country had gone to the polls. The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) did say in its election manifesto that it would delete Article 370 which gave a special status to the state. But this was nothing new. The BJP had been articulating the demand for many years. It never got very little attention.
Bihar BJP leader Giriraj Singh’s outburst that those who did not vote for Narendra Modi should go to Pakistan spoilt the atmosphere for a while. But normalcy returned when the BJP distanced itself from the statement.
No doubt, Kashmir leader Farooq Abdullah queered the pitch with the remark that those who voted for Modi should jump into the sea. But the irreprehensible Abdullah did not spoil the atmosphere because he had made such observations in the same vein in the past. He was seldom taken seriously.
The real damage has been done by Narendra Modi who stops at nothing to garner votes. He has polluted the atmosphere so much that it would take time to repair the cleavage he has created between Hindus and Muslims. He has attacked popular leader Sheikh Abdullah for the situation prevailing in Kashmir. Modi did not have any information on the process of integration. But for Sheikh Sahib, there was no one else, tall and popular, who could have integrated the majority Muslim Jammu and Kashmir with the majority Hindu India.
The Sheikh son, Farooq Abdullah’s remark that Kashmir would not be part of communal India smacks of communalism. All secular forces should together fight against communal forces. Farooq will have to be part of that confrontation. We have to bring back the country on the track of secular and democratic.
He is relevant to the solution but so are Pakistan and those who have sacrificed their lives for azadi (independence). India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru realized the importance of Pakistan’s interest. He sent Sheikh Abdullah to Islamabad to find a common ground. The Sheikh met General Mohammad Ayub, then heading Pakistan.
The last attempt to end the deadlock came when the Sheikh met Ayub in May 1964. Ayub told me in Islamabad in April 1972 that it was his impression that towards the end of his life Nehru had “realized the logic of the situation and had shown anxiety to come to terms with Pakistan.”
But not much came of the Sheikh’s visit, for even as the talks began Nehru was dying. Pakistan was anxious to pick up the threads. But the Lal Bahadur Shastri-Ayub meeting solved no problem. There was disappointment when Shastri did not want to discuss Kashmir, nor mention it in the joint communiqué in which an early meeting between the Home Ministers of India and Pakistan was promised.
As for azadi, the militants do not realize that the Taliban have created such a scare in the world that the Kashmiri insurgents are regarded as fundamentalist. Hardliners like Syed Ali Shah Gillani only confirms the apprehension that the demand for the state’s independence is the other side of the same coin of religious fervor.
Pakistan, which was once strongly opposed to the idea of independence, is quiet now. Some in the establishment even voice their support to the independence demand. They do so because their expectation is that an independent Kashmir would ultimately join Pakistan.
The ones that have raised the demand, however genuine, should appreciate that they—living in the valley—cannot decide the fate of the other two regions, Jammu and Ladakh. The first would like to merge with India if and when the future of the state is decided. The second wants to be a union territory of India. Therefore, the demand for independence is confined to the valley. I do not want to argue whether the landlocked valley would be economically viable or not. But I do want to know from the supporters of the demand if it is fair on their part to claim the independence of Jammu and Kashmir when they have practically no following either in Jammu or Ladakh.
That is the reason why there are no takers of independence outside the valley. Moderate Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s appeal to the new Lok Sabha members to rise above domestic politics on Kashmir found no resonance in the country. “Together we will be able to find some way to take a historic step,” he says. But he has no credibility in India. His father was far more realistic and favoured a solution within the Indian union but outside its constitution. He was killed by the militants.
I can appreciate the concern over the victory of Modi or his BJP. But New Delhi has had a BJP government earlier. Modi may be the stern face of Hindutva. But the constitution is supreme and it assures all equality before the law. Even otherwise, India has been a multi-religious society for thousands of years.
Modi himself has said in his speeches that he, if elected, would take all the communities along with him for development, his agenda. Were he to disturb the diversity, the democratic and liberal forces in the country are strong enough to fight for pluralism, the ethos of freedom struggle.
Article 370 of India’s constitution guarantees a special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Modi or his party cannot undo it because the state joined the Union of India on that condition. It is for the state to change the condition if it wants to do so. Yet it is essential that Kashmir problem is out of the way of all the three parties—India, Pakistan and Kashmir. This is difficult because the BJP has even demanded the deletion of Article 370. Deleting it will amount to betrayal of the understanding which Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah had reached.
There is a point in the warning by Farooq Abdullah that the deletion of Article 370 can reopen the question of Kashmir’s integration with India. The Article originally gave New Delhi Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communication. Many Indian laws, relating to other subjects, have been extended to the state, some of them without the approval of the state legislature. Those would have to go. If the status which the state enjoyed soon after the integration is restored probably a solution to Kashmir is possible. EOM