By Muhammad Tahir
Indian journalist and now a BJP man, MJ Akbar’s remark that, for India, “surrendering” Kashmir would be akin to surrendering the rights of Indian Muslims is not something new. Another self-styled Kashmir expert, David Devadas, has also argued on similar lines in his 2007 book “In Search of a Future: The story of Kashmir”. In fact, this particular argument is an elemental part of the larger argumentative discourse which seeks to justify India’s continued rule over Kashmir.
One can systematically study the Indian statist and civil society discourse on the Kashmir conflict and uncover the similarities between the two; it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that they are actually complementary. For example: according to a study, the Indian mainstream media echoes the “maximalist Indian official position” as far as the Kashmir conflict is concerned.
If the consistent line of the Indian establishment on Kashmir is the famous “integral part” rhetoric, Indian civil society – including its noted authors and academic stalwarts – have also constructed and maintained a complementary discourse that works to sustain this claim in more subtle ways. The Indian Muslims’ rights vs Kashmiri self-determination dichotomy is only a part of it. Other notable arguments are: what does ‘self’ mean in self-determination? And can Kashmiris claim this right, given that Kashmir is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state? These arguments are couched in normative theoretical language and require a bigger canvas to address and counter them.
Although this argument of Indian Muslims’ right vs Kashmiri self-determination right is based on a fallacious dichotomy, and in the broader perspective is contradictory as well, its function is rhetorical; one which seeks to manipulate emotionally as it brings in a misplaced moral question to the fore. Then, as it seeks articulation through a well-known Indian Muslim, it seems to be done for an effect and to gain credence.
Now that this fallacious argument has made a recent media appearance – ironically via this BJP’s spokesperson, as if the Hindu supremacist BJP having a Muslim spokesperson was not ironic enough – it is pertinent to deconstruct it. We can begin by asking certain questions:
a) If the rights of Muslim individuals in India are contingent upon continued rule of India over Kashmir, does it mean the nature of their rights is flimsy? In other words, unlike in other democracies, do Indian Muslims have conditional rights, not universal and inalienable ones?
b) If Kashmir’s presence – because it is a Muslim majority state – within the Indian Union makes India a secular country, does it mean that if Kashmir separates, Indian secularism will collapse? Is Indian secularism then only symbolic and not substantive in nature or constitutionally guaranteed?
c) If Kashmir’s presence within the Indian union guarantees protection of minority rights in India, why was Babri Masjid demolished in 1992? Why did the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 occur, in which over a thousand Muslims were butchered? Why did the Muzaffarnagar riots happen? Why was Muhammad Akhlaq lynched in Dadri? In other words, why have anti-Muslim riots and pogroms remained a frequent occurrence and consistent feature of post-Independence India? Why hasn’t Kashmir’s ‘presence’ helped in any way?
d) Last but not least, how would one interpret the Sachar Committee report within the perspective of this argument? Why has the status of a large number of Indian Muslims remained below that of Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes despite Kashmir being “within the Indian union” all this time?
These are just some of the legitimate questions which, I am sure, any Indian commentator has to confront when he or she articulates the argument that Indian Muslims are better off when Kashmir remains part of the Indian Union. This argument can be refuted on the philosophical level also, given the problematic premise it stands on by pitting one nation’s (Kashmir) political rights against the other community’s (Indian Muslims) civil rights. But to build such a philosophical counter-argument would require more space.
From the perspective of Kashmiri nationalists, though, this argument is not even a valid one but a red herring, conceived in order to undermine the question of the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people.
—The writer is a PhD candidate of Politics and International Relations in the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, Ireland.