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July 22, 1999
The day after
Among the few columnists I interact with is also my favourite. Sometimes she tells me what she thinks of my column, sometimes I tell her what I think of hers. And this time I intend breaking one of the things I keep talking to her about: which is not to bother denying what another columnist has written, since doing that will only give the other writer's viewpoint extra mileage, something which she does not want to do.
And the reason I am breaking a self-imposed restraint is that the views expressed by a column seem so insidious, disguised as it is in a welter of national interest, that the argument needs to be put in proper perspective.
I am, of course, referring to Comrade Ashok Mitra's impassioned plea for letting Kashmir go, which he had sought to justify on various counts. It is cripplingly expensive on the Indian republic to maintain an "occupation force", the locals don't want to stay with the Union, etc.
The point about this argument is that it is made, ostensibly, with national interest uppermost. Why is India fighting a debilitating insurgency when its resources could so well be utilised elsewhere, when the billions of rupees pumped into the border could well have been used for other, more constructive purposes?
As an argument, that is unbeatable, but what I resent is the conclusion, that India should let go of the state.
For one thing, the Indian Constitution, which all our elected representatives declare their allegiance to, does not confer the right of secession to states. The position is very clear: if you belong to the Indian Union, you belong to it for life. By pleading an argument that goes against the spirit of the Constitution, Mitra might willy-nilly have made a plea for secession, but that's beside the point. If he believes that the states need to be given the right to break off, that's his view, and he can keep it.
He may even be right when he says that the majority of those in the Valley don't want to remain with India, even though I have my own doubts here. Reports from any number of journalists who have been to the troubled state speak of a turn in the tide in favour of India, purely for economic reasons than anything emotional, but since I have no first-hand knowledge of this I will not make that the gravamen of my argument. Even if I wonder what this 'majority sentiment' is all about when a significant section of the local populace has been driven out, in what is India's most egregious case of ethnic cleansing. Even if I wonder how come this 'majority sentiment' is all right when it comes to fighting the Indian Union, but 'majority sentiment' in the rest of the country is taboo.
Instead, let us look at the various scenarios possible if Kashmir is allowed to break away. What is the local population, in both the Kashmirs, supposed to want? Merger with each other, and independence as a separate State. Is that the fate that will befall Kashmir? Even a child could tell Mitra that the minute the tricolour is lowered at the Srinagar secretariat, the Pakistani flag will go up, regardless of what the local, majority sentiment is. It may ease some minds, but certainly I, or millions of Indians, cannot assent to this possibility. Kashmir's only future is with India, and conversely, the future of India as we know it -- a tolerant, multi-religious society -- is dependent on Kashmir remaining with it.
To explain that, let us go back a little into history. Even though Pakistan's very being centres on the two-nation theory, India has never subscribed to this theory. Which is why the longer India continues to remain what it is, the harder Pakistan tries to undermine its very being. Pakistan's existence affects India none, but India's existence strikes at the very core of Pakistan's raison d'etre.
The repudiation of that ideology in 1947 was once again replayed in 1971, when Bangladesh broke off from Pakistan.
What Islamabad has been trying to do since that is to drive a wedge among communities in India, in its effort to break up the nation so that it can feel vindicated that there are indeed many nationalities living under the yoke in India.
Mitra was around the first time, in 1947, to know that when boundaries are redrawn it is to the accompaniment of blood and tragedy, it is accomplished at tremendous human cost. Have the memories faded so much that he expresses himself in favour of another round of national blood-letting?
Mitra, thanks to his public life, would also know that the heaviest price for that partition has been paid by those Muslims who opted to stay back in India, surviving the communal conflagration that preceded and succeeded August 15, 1947. Fifty-two years down the line the community's loyalties to their motherland is still called into question, for as trivial a reason as whenever India and Pakistan clash on the cricket field.
What will another round of partition, when Kashmir is allowed to go as Mitra suggests, do to the Muslims who live in other parts of the country and who feel no kinship whatsoever with the goings-on in the Valley, Ayodhya or wherever, is the real question that is not addressed by quick-fix solutions of the variety conjured up by Mitra and the like.
What such a denouement will do to the already tenuous links between communities is obviously not important enough to be considered.
And this time, when the shadow of doubt falls between friends and families, there will never ever be an end to the nightmare.
Compared to this scenario, it is any day preferable to retain Kashmir, moth-eaten and otherwise, simmering and otherwise, in the Union.
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