Movers and Shakers of Kashmir – Part 1
The perennial unrest in the Kashmir Valley remains a quagmire and a challenge for all stakeholders, as they try and fulfill their respective agendas, civil, political or military. While they battle each other for control and domination, the common man remains caught in the crossfire, praying and hoping for an early resolution to the problem, while yearning for peace and prosperity to return to their state.
It’s time for us to understand the genesis of the problem before attempting to understand the role and actions of those who have been and remain stakeholders in the Kashmir Valley.
Genesis to the Kashmir problem
Undivided Kashmir in 1947 was ruled by the-then Maharaja, Hari Singh. At the time of partition, he wanted to remain independent of both Pakistan and India; but when prodded to join the Indian Union, he tried to reach out to the newly formed government in Pakistan for help. He was rebuffed, as Pakistan wanted Greater Kashmir to be part of Pakistan.
When Hari Singh resisted, Pakistan reacted on 24 October, 1947 by sending in its forces who joined the Razakars, Pathan tribesmen, and reached the outskirts of Srinagar. In their march towards Srinagar they raped, plundered and burnt houses of local Kashmiris.
To protect his rule, Maharaja Hari Singh turned to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for help, who readily agreed to step in if he would accede to India. Maharaja Hari Singh readily signed the Instrument of Accession to India on 26 October, 1947 and Kashmir became a part of the Indian Union. The Indian Army then went in and pushed back the marauding tribals.
Unfortunately, Pakistan protested the Accession claiming it was fraudulently signed and fighting broke out between India and Pakistan in October 1947 and continued into 1948. Pakistani forces took control of Gilgit and Baltistan areas of Kashmir, while India retained what is today known as J&K.
Pakistan has never recognized the Instrument of Accession to India and has been harping on a promise of a plebiscite made by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to the people of Kashmir. The dispute has festered since then to the present-day situation in the valley.
Movers and Shakers of Kashmir
The stakeholders of Kashmir, in the past and today, are largely responsible for the present situation. Let’s look at all those individuals and institutions that have played a role.
Sheikh Abdullah (1905-1982)
- Prime Minister of J&K: 1948-1953
- Chief Minister of J&K: 1975-1977 ; 1977-1982
There are two protagonists in the politics of Kashmir who have influenced the genesis of today’s problem; Sheikh Abdullah and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Sheikh Abdullah came from a humble background. His mother had to work hard to get him through school.
His initiation into politics began earlier but his formal involvement was in 1932, when he took over as President of the newly formed Kashmir Muslim Conference. He championed the cause of all sections of people that he believed were oppressed under the rule of the-then Maharaja of Kashmir. By 1939, the party’s name was changed to National Conference.
In 1946, he launched the Quit Kashmir movement against Maharaja Hari Singh, advocating self-rule for the people. The timing of this agitation and the subsequent Accession to India by the Maharaja played an important role in both Sheikh Abdullah’s life and that of politics in Kashmir.
Post his agitation against the Maharaja, he was appointed as Prime Minister of Kashmir in 1948 with support of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. At this point, he was viewed with suspicion and was actually condemned by Pakistan; however, with him being dismissed and subsequently put in jail between 1953-1964, changed his equation with Pakistan, which now began to champion him as the voice for ‘Azadi’ from India, without any mention of its own suppression in P-O-K.
Sheikh was released in 1964 as he reconciled to the reality of J&K remaining with India, and on Pandit Nehru’s request visited Pakistan same year to persuade Gen Ayub Khan, then President of Pakistan, to visit India and settle the dispute over Kashmir.
The two events which followed that played a major part on subsequent politics in Kashmir. Pandit Nehru’s untimely death in 1964 postponed any chances of a visit by Gen Ayub Khan and thereby, a possible settlement of the Kashmir issue; and Pakistan’s gamble of attacking India in 1965 with the aim of cutting off Kashmir valley from rest of India, by taking control of the area around Akhnoor near Jammu. Pakistan’s gamble failed and Sheikh Abdullah was again interned between 1965 and 1968.
Post the 1971 war with Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh, he was exiled from J&K for 18 months. With Indira Gandhi now staunchly in power, he went in for a political settlement by signing the famous agreement that came to be known as the Indira-Sheikh Accord of 1974. He became the CM, but the people of Kashmir felt betrayed that Sheikh Abdullah had deviated from his path of the promised Azadi in favour of personal political power.
While he ruled as a Chief Minister of J&K from 1975 until his death in 1982, the movement for Azadi took a back seat. It was only when his son Farooq Abdullah took over as CM post his father’s death in 1982 that the anti-Abdullah family sentiment began to rise fast, and with support from the Pakistani establishment, the call for Azadi once again got a fresh impetus.
Sheikh Abdullah’s transition from an activist for self-rule to the head of political power in the state resulted in wealth creation being restricted to a few family loyalists, which resulted in isolating the people. The Centre’s ‘hands-off’ policy after Sheikh Abdullah took over as CM in 1975 onwards, allowed for a free run in J&K by the Abdullah family, resulting in growing mistrust of the people of the Centre’s intention in J&K.
Wealth creation and power remained in the hands of those close to the ruling family and party, while poverty and lack of development resulted in further alienation of an already aggrieved people. They simply lost the trust of the state and centre; a situation that remains till this day.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
In addition to Sheikh Abdullah’s role in J&K, the state is still paying the price of a single blunder on part of Pandit Nehru at the time of Accession, when he promised to hold a Plebiscite in J&K despite the Instrument of Accession to India being final and unambiguous.
This failure to keep his promise has been central to Pakistan’s argument of a dispute in J&K and the state continues to pay a heavy price. This along with the fact that he allowed Sheikh Abdullah’s long incarceration of eleven years, resulted in alienating a person who was more inclined towards India than Pakistan and had the support of his people.
India had the opportunity to push militarily towards Gilgit and Baltistan in 1947-48, but we let go of this in the hope of a political settlement which never came. India didn’t seize the moment in 1965 either, instead hoped for a political settlement and actually ended up returning territory including the crucial Haji Pir pass.
Pandit Nehru’s friendship with Sheikh Abdullah should have worked in favour of the Centre’s position, but completely failed to convert this advantage towards bringing peace to the state.
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