By Rameez Bhat
With the end of British rule on the 15th August, 1947, India’s towering leader, Jawaharlal Nehru, famously declared India’s ‘tryst with destiny’. What followed this rather aspirational beginning of a new India was light years away from Nehru’s democratic socialism or even secularism. Hundreds and thousands of Muslim refugees were killed, if not with the consent of Nehru, but at least under his watch. The prelude to this carnage was the Radcliffe Award which was manipulated by arbitrarily awarding Gurdaspore and Ferozpur areas of undivided Punjab to India with active connivance of Nehru and Mountbatten. One cannot overlook the impact of Edwina Mountbatten’s ‘not-so-holy’ relationships with Nehru in shaping the aftermath of partition in India’s favour.
It was precisely because Nehru had second thoughts about Kashmir he never wanted to close the Indian routes to Kashmir. His possessive love for Kashmiri shikararas and its lush green mountains was enough for him to conspire with all forces to have it- no matter how it would affect millions of its people. Moreover, ‘possessing’ Kashmir also meant giving Jinnah a ‘moth eaten and truncated’ Pakistan. It is pertinent to mention here that during the freedom struggle it was Nehru’s intransigence on the majoritarian nature of polity and his inability to allay Muslim League’s fears of reducing Muslims vulnerable that made partition not only inevitable but bloody and vitriolic as well. The Cabinet Mission Plan , for example, failed largely because of Nehru.
After partition, the Princely states were given options to join either the dominions of India and Pakistan or to remain independent. The majority of the princely states joined India but three states -Kashmir, Junagarh and Hyderabad- emerged problematic. The Nizam of Hyderabad wished to carve out an independent kingdom surrounded on all sides by India. The idea was not well taken by India and Hyderabad was integrated with the Indian union after a military intervention.
The princely states of Kashmir and Junagarh had a contrasting similarity. While Junagarh was a Hindu majority state ruled by a Muslim despot, Kashmir was a Muslim dominated state run by an autocratic Hindu ruler- Maharaja Hari Singh. Disregarding the wishes of his people, the Muslim ruler of Junagarh wanted to merge his Hindu majority state with Pakistan. Nehru and his ‘democratic’ acolytes protested and after a plebiscite Junagarh fell into the Indian kitty. Now, when it came to Kashmir, the unambiguous, black and white rules of the Mountbatten Plan, which posited that ‘Muslim majority areas on the North West would be part of Pakistan’, were thrown to winds. After dillydallying for almost two months during which , Hari Singh had signed a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan, he acceded to the Indian Union in foggy circumstances, brazenly disregarding the popular sentiments of its people. Dissident voices were crushed and the ‘accession’ which was signed was pushed down the public psyche as ‘internal autonomy’. Semantical obfuscation was indulged in and it was asserted that accession was different from merger and accession which, in turn, was subject to ratification by the majority’s consent ( Sheikh Abdullah’s demagogic rhetoric of mustard oil in a drop of water comparison springs to mind here).
Jawahalal Nehru and his point man in Kashmir, Shiekh Abdullah , pledged more than once at public forums, that Indian control over the state of Jammu and Kashmir would be limited to subjects mentioned in the Instrument of Accession and the sentiments of the people. And that the fate of the state would be duly considered. Ironically, the accession was confined to three subjects -Defense, External Affairs and Communications.
In 1948, Nehru himself took Kashmir issue in the United Nations Security Council after aggression from Pakistan, therefore, internationalizing the issue. Nehru , through his public utterances, is on regarding his promises on Kashmir. Consider the following:
On 2 November 1947, it was Nehru who promised the oppressed people of Kashmir that, ‘ the people of Kashmir will decide their own destiny’.
On 25 November 1947, Nehru expressed, ‘ in the Constituent Assembly that whenever Kashmiri people would want their rights, it would be under the watch of United Nations through a referendum’.
In 1948, the government of India published a white paper in which it was mentioned that, ‘ the matter of plebiscite should be resolved peacefully’.
On 16 January 1951, the then the prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the press conference at London in which he proclaimed that, ‘the people of Kashmir should be given their rights’.
On 5 June 1951 Pt. Nehru addressed a rally at Lal Chowk and said that, ‘the Government of India stands by its commitments made with regard to Kashmir’.
What can be culled from these ‘promises’ and the contextual history of Jammu and Kashmir and what preceded it in historical India’s struggle for freedom from the British is that Nehru’s record over Kashmir has not been a sanguine one . It is a saga of broken promises and betrayals , on account of which , Kashmiris have and continue to pay a price.
Tailpiece: Narendra Modi, while paying homage to Nehru on his birthday (14th November 2016) , sounded prescient when he said that he would be taking Nehru’s legacy forward (it is besides the point that on other days he claims that his mission is to undo the Nehruvian idea of India). What , the question is, constitutes Nehru’s legacy in terms of Kashmir? Nehru’s legacy with regard to Kashmir is vividly written on face of every traumatized Kashmiri. It is etched in the memory of dead and living alike. It is housed in the collective consciousness of every oppressed Kashmiri. It is starkly present in Shia-Sunni, Dogri-Kashmiri, Salafi-Barelvi, Maulvi-shopkeeper, and God knows how many other arbitrarily imposed divisions by the colonial state. The legacy is echoed in haunted Jamia Masjid (closed for prayers, sine die); it is reflected in the graffiti on walls and closed shutters of shops. The legacy is even internalized by a native class of Kashmiris who are relentlessly struggling for last four months, day in and day out, to keep the legacy flourishing. Bad guys call them collaborators. Historians call this legacy a brutal account of deceit , manipulation and oppression.
—The author, a student at the University of Kashmir , can be reached at: [email protected]