July 23, 2002


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The woes of Jammu
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Arvind Lavakare

J&K: Fact vs fiction

One recalls reading Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah making the catatonic claim that had Jammu and Kashmir been a part of Pakistan, he himself may well have become Pakistan's prime minister. That was two years ago during the special session of the J&K assembly to discuss the resolution demanding the pre-1953 autonomy status for the state.

And the other day, Abdullah, outgoing chief of the National Conference party, delivered another cathartic conclusion. 'He said Kashmir would have become part of Pakistan had the National Conference not been there.' [The Asian Age, Mumbai, July 17, 2002, page 2). That belief, strung to his litany of grievances against New Delhi, is covertly why Abdullah is once again demanding the OGL [open general licence] of the pre-1953 autonomy -- as the legitimate reward, by implication, for his party making J&K accede to India rather than to Pakistan 55 years ago.

We'll come to the autonomy business after first sorting out Abdullah's view of history of that accession.

Now it is true that the National Conference was the largest and most influential political party in J&K from the thirties onward. But it is perversion to proclaim that it was the National Conference that prevailed upon the J&K maharaja to sign the Instrument of Accession in India's favour. The facts in several historical documents are clear on that. And as narrated by P N K Bamzai [A History of Kashmir, Metropolitan Book Co Private Ltd., Delhi, 1962] it went the following way.

  • For years after the lease of Gilgit [in the north of J&K] by Maharaja Gulab Singh (1846-1856) to the British, the latter had given wide latitude to the ruler in the exercise of his powers. With Maharaja Hari Singh's unstinted support to the British in the Second World War, his position became stronger, and when there arose an extensive movement among the masses to end the British rule in India, the maharaja's hands were further strengthened by the British to enable him to suppress the opposition to his rule in the state.
  • Hence the maharaja's strong measures to suppress the "Quit Kashmir" movement launched in 1944 by the National Conference. Hence too the maharaja's act of imprisoning popular leaders of the National Conference and Muslim Conference.
  • Around August 15, 1947, raids from the Pakistan side into J&K territory had begun. Those raids soon increased in frequency and swelled in strength.
  • Pressed by the hostile acts of Pakistan and realising that the British Crown was powerless to help him, the maharaja tried to win back the support and goodwill of his subjects. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah [founder of the National Conference] and most of his colleagues were released from the prison on September 29.
  • On their release, the leaders of NC found J&K faced with the important question of whether the state should accede to India or to Pakistan or to remain independent. But there was also another more crucial question that awaited recognition and solution, namely the freedom of the people. So they thought and said that the people of J&K could decide this important question only when they were free. They requested Pakistan not to precipitate a decision upon them, but give them time and support the freedom movement of J&K. One of the leaders, G M Sadiq, went twice to Liaqat Ali Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, with that request. The reply came in the form of (i) a crippling economic blockade whereby supplies of food, petrol and other essentials from the Pakistan route were cut off; and (ii) fresh incursions by their armed forces into the state territory. By October 22, infiltrations and raids were transformed into a full-scale military invasion of the state of J&K.
  • The maharaja's state army and the National Militia -- started by the NC when the marauding invaders were a few miles from the capital, Srinagar -- were simply in no position to halt what would have been Pakistan's ultimate capture of the entire state.
  • The J&K maharaja and the NC had no option but to seek military help of India -- the same India that had conveyed to the maharaja in June that year that it would not object if he acceded to Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten, governor general of the Dominion of India, offered the requested help only if J&K acceded to India. The maharaja agreed. That accession of October 26, 1947 became a fact.

So, Mr Abdullah, your party had no positive role in J&K becoming a part of India. What you said the other day is fiction. Your party was not doing a favour to India by that accession. That accession was done to save skins, period. That is the fact. Never forget that fact even when, if ever, you retire and write your autobiography. Why, the brutal truth is that, frustrated no end with countless sufferings inflicted by Pakistan on his country for bearing the J&K cross all these 55 years, the lay Indian may today be secretly ruing that historic accession. If we had not agreed to it, your father, Abdullah I, would probably have been interned till interred in Pakistan; you yourself, Abdullah II, would probably have had to flee for ever to England, and your son, Abdullah III, would probably be eyeing a seat in some borough council instead of parroting your autonomy demand as J&K's chief minister in waiting today.

That demand itself hides a hypocrisy and irony that's been largely overlooked by people who naively dub the state of Jammu and Kashmir as simply 'Kashmir,' who believe the fiction that there is some ineluctable Kashmiriyat that pervades the whole state, and that the state itself deserves to be treated forever with kid gloves and candy floss. Just see the contradiction: from Delhi, the Abdullahs demand more powers for themselves and from Srinagar, as seen below, they do not devolve powers to the several regions of the state, preferring, instead, to centralise authority in their "dynastised" throne.

Like some other ugly facets of J&K, this craving for monopoly power goes back to Sheikh Abdullah. On record on this subject is Balraj Puri, a very old hand on J&K affairs going back to the fifties when he met Jawaharlal Nehru to seek an arrangement that would ensure Jammu a share of power. Puri, mind you, led a mass campaign in the mid-sixties for regional autonomy in J&K. In an edit-page article in The Hindu of August 21, 2001 and another in The Times of India, Mumbai, of May 8, 2000, Puri wrote:

  • In 1975, Sheikh Abdullah called a convention of representatives of Jammu and Ladakh and sought their support on the basis of regional autonomy. As chief minister, he repeated his commitment on various occasions and in various fora. He did not honour his word.
  • Dr Farooq Abdullah appointed Puri as working chairman of the Regional Autonomy Committee. But for six months after the RAC's report was submitted in June 1998, Abdullah could not find time to meet Puri despite several requests from the latter. Reason? Probably because the Puri Report proposed devolution of political power at regional, district, block and panchayat levels and allocation of funds according to an objective, equitable formula based on a variety of socio-economic indicators.
  • Thereafter, Puri was removed from RAC and an officially drafted alternative report was released on behalf of three out its six original members
  • This report proposed the division of Jammu and Ladakh regions on religious lines without proposing any devolution of political and economic powers. Its main feature was not the quantum and nature of autonomy but change in the very concept of regions -- something that was not in the RAC's terms of reference.

Consider the above with the fact that, in his Times article referred above, Puri also revealed that 'the district boards, under the state Panchayat Raj Act, have a nominated president, 33 per cent nominated women, nominated scheduled caste and scheduled tribe members and representatives of semi-government agencies with a deputy commissioner as executive head.'

It is obvious that what the Abdullahs are demanding is autocracy, not autonomy. If their 'subjects' are alienated, it is because of autocracy and not for lack of autonomy. That is the fact vs fiction in J&K. And yet there are influential people around who are endorsing that demand for the pre-1953 status. Why, an intellectual politician, Arun Jaitley, has just been engaged to discuss it with the Abdullahs -- whatever the subsequent spin given on that assignment by our deputy prime minister.

Why do we continue to humour the Abdullah dynasty and its National Conference party? Why are we scared of them? Because all those who have governed the nation from 1947 have had no policy on J&K -- unless being scared of the Abdullahs is a policy itself.

Next week: Implications of the pre-1953 demand

Arvind Lavakare

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