'Sardar Patel was completely on board in the process for Kashmir as well as the final decisions taken. The fact is that Sardar Patel was willing to trade Kashmir for Hyderabad. This is something people don’t understand, don’t know!'
Political scientist and author, Professor Navnita Chadha Behera has made more than 30 trips to the Kashmir Valley over the years to get to know the place, a state that was often considered unknowable, unpredictable.
Slowly Kashmir took a special place in her life.
She came to love the land and its people.
She wrote two books on the state.
Behera says, "If at any time one feels smug about one’s understanding of this issue, just go back to Kashmir and you will come back refreshed, because the ground reality (there) will (blow) to smithereens all your received wisdom."
As the revoking of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir becomes a reality for India, amidst much festivities and flag-waving beyond the borders of the state (since changed to a Union territory), Behera states that alternate opinions must be heard.
She is not sure whether the people have the patience right now to listen to differing viewpoints.
Behera believes she owes it to the people of Kashmir, who have taught her so much, to put that other voice out, which is in the minority, at the moment.
The author and Kashmir watcher, who earned her degrees from Punjab University, Chandigarh, and her PhD in international relations from the University of Kent, United Kingdom, is currently Visiting Fulbright Fellow, George Washington University, Washington, DC.
In the second part of her interview to Rediff.com's Vaihayasi Pande Daniel, Dr Behera speaks about how the nationwide positive reaction to the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir indicates that the very idea of India is changing.
Part I: Art 370: 'Tomorrow it can happen with any state!'
"Over the years, I hold every political party responsible for sort of driving this communal wedge within the state, be it in Jammu, be it in the Valley, be it in Ladakh," says Behera.
The Ladakhis might have a real reason for jubilation. Can one maybe put it that a probable positive ‘fallout’ of the revoking of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir could be that Ladakh has got some sort of relief? Ladakh standing on its own feet, at least, was a positive outcome?
My basic refrain remains the same: It is too early for us to make an assessment of how effectively this is going to work in terms of actually meeting the political aspirations of people in different parts of the state or elsewhere.
I would say the same for Ladakh for three reasons: One, (becoming a) Union territory has indeed been a very old, long-standing demand of Ladakh. As the Ladakhi MP (Tsering Namgyal) correctly pointed out, way back, right in the early '50s, Cheewang Rigzin, the president of Ladkah Buddhist Association, had written to Prime Minister Nehru saying Ladakh should be given Union territory status and integrated directly with India.
Every political party including National Conference and Congress has played politics within Jammu and Kashmir and has neglected the regional aspirations of Ladakh. And Jammu as well. The decision to carve out two districts -- Kargil and Leh -- was not done with noble political intentions. Over the years, I hold every political party responsible for sort of driving this communal wedge within the state, be it in Jammu, be it in the Valley, be it in Ladakh.
But things evolved since the 1990s... when the renewal of their demand for the Union territory status was changed for the demand for an autonomous hill council. It was actually a wise move, (especially when) it got the support of Kargilis -- (or) it would have driven a wedge further (between Shia Muslims of Kargil and Buddhist Ladakhis and local Muslims known as Argons who live in Leh district). The autonomous hill council demand was accepted because Kargil also supported it, although it took them almost like seven to eight years more, before they actually had one of their own (Leh got a hill council in 1995).
It was, I think, in (late J&K chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed) Mufti’s time (2003) when the Kargil autonomous council came into being. They realised how much Leh was progressing because decentralisation of power had facilitated grass-roots-level decision-making.
Mind you, Ladakh, because of its special geographical features, particularly required a grass-roots-level decision-making -- they can only do development work six months out of the year. By the time the funds would get granted and disbursed from Kashmir, they would lose seasons of work. Autonomous hill council experiment, despite its shortcomings, was working out to be quite effective.
Now you are replacing this autonomous hill council with the UT without legislature?
So will the reversal of Art 35A in Ladakh be a disaster?
Precisely. It has been done!
If Ladakhis feel that Kashmiris were appropriating the tourism business, and they were being put out of business, or being relegated to minion-type jobs -- my god -- wait till the big capital from the rest of the country comes in! (We need to) see if they (Ladakhis) emerge as equal stakeholders in Ladakh’s development...
One has been told that the non-Kashmiri Muslim has always been dissociated/unaffected by the fate of the Kashmiri Muslim. Even so, how do you think the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir will affect the average Indian Muslim?
The answer, honestly, is bound to be a little bit speculative.
The premise is right that generally non-Kashmiri Muslims haven’t really vocally, in a political mobilisation sort of manner, supported the Kashmiri Muslim’s demands over a period of decades.
But, I think, in order to understand the response of non-Kashmiri Muslims, at this point of time, you don’t really need to look at what is happening in Kashmir. You need to really look at what’s happening in the rest of India.
And it is all part of one trend?
It is all part of one trend.
The whole idea of what India stands for is undergoing a shift, a (tectonic) shift. What place do the minorities have over there is— the ground is shifting.
So it is not just the non-Kashmiri Muslims. It is Muslims as a minority, as a whole.
And it is not Muslims alone.
It is almost ironical, because as an academic we have been writing about how this European nationalism being imposed in the other parts of the world (for centuries) has proven to be such an anathema, that it has spawned so many problems in state-making in other parts of the world.
India was an example of how things can be done differently, how to not be afraid of 'difference', how to politically and constitutionally accommodate diversities. Now we are (moving) completely in another direction.
As a common citizen, as a thinking person, it is kind of worrying. Where are we headed?
Do you think this will attract wrath from the global Islamic terrorist organisations? Will it put us in the cross-hairs of violent jihad-inspired groups? Or is that too far-fetched or speculative?
Again, these things take years to develop.
If you remove or discredit politics, you drive it underground. It will grow surreptitiously. (You don't know) when it comes back and bursts. It might take years. By the time it comes back, sometimes the damage is already done. It is too late. It’s a longue duree process, it unfolds over a long period of time.
(For example) the 1987 elections (in Jammu and Kashmir that saw Farooq Abdullah back as the CM) were rigged and we saw militancy happening in Jammu and Kashmir. It didn’t happen overnight. It was just a trigger -- the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg was building up.
Like the Sikh problem?
This is what the ironical part is. When ISIS happened, you had fighters or people joining the fight, from all across the world, including developed countries, including England, including the US.
You couldn’t find Indians there! Right?
They could not find Indians joining the ISIS, because the political process of integrating the minorities within the fabric of the national politics was a very well-woven one (in India). You have to be completely alienated in your own land to become a fighter in a far-off land, for the cause.
It spoke very well of the Indian democracy that you didn’t have supporters for ISIS coming from India.
Where are we going now? I don’t know. Again, it is too early to come to a judgement but the processes we have unleashed, those are definitely worrying.
Demystifying Kashmir was a book you said you wrote to make people understand Kashmir. How would you change the way you researched or wrote that book to make the current generation understand Kashmir?
As an author, one shouldn’t be saying this, but it surprises me how long (my book has had) shelf value and (that) the conclusions of the book hold valid, more than 10 years later…
In some of the WhatsApp groups of family and friends, I am literally just sharing PDF copies of the book and saying ki: 'Read up!' All kinds of chatter is going on -- "Nehru had a soft corner for Kashmir and that’s why he did all that'. Really…
It is (as if) WhatsApp is a kind of industry for (putting) out these kinds of stories.
You know, like about Sardar Patel. Sardar Patel was completely on board. Nehru made sure of that. The fact is that Sardar Patel was willing to trade Kashmir for Hyderabad (external link). For him, Hyderabad was far more important. This is something people don’t understand, don’t know!
He almost offered it to (Pakistan’s first Prime Minister) Liaquat Ali Khan when he said: 'Why do you compare Junagadh (now in Gujarat) with Kashmir? Talk of Kashmir and Hyderabad and we could reach an agreement'.
It was (the founder of Pakistan Mohammed Ali) Jinnah’s political arrogance that he thought “Hyderabad toh meri pocket mein hai hi hai, Kashmir bhi le loonga’. He lost both. It was an error of judgement on his part that proved costly.
...Unfortunately people don’t have an appetite to read anything that does not conform to their beliefs… I wish people would read! One must have an open mind…
I still remember reading a placard: My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.
It is that state that we are living through right now.
Had you gone back to Kashmir more recently (ie, just before the revoking of Article 370) and did the kind of research you did for Demystifying Kashmir, meeting leaders, the youth or even militants, what do you think would be the change on the ground you would have seen?
It is changing. Political mobilisations do change over a period of time. Political mobilisations in Jammu have changed over a period of time. Even in the Valley they have changed over a period of time.
So Kashmir, at any given point of time, is a fast-evolving situation.
In fact, I share with my students, that if at any time one feels smug about one’s understanding of this issue, just go back to Kashmir and you will come back refreshed, because the ground reality (there) will (blow) to smithereens all your received wisdom.
I wouldn’t expect the situation to be the same, at all, even five years back.
The only thing I can say is that the study we did in 2011 -- I think, I published it in 2013 -- on the Kashmiri youth (was similar to) some of what unfolded with the generation of Burhan Wani (the self-styled commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, who became a militant at the age of 15 and was killed by the army at age 21 in 2015). The study had presaged this… We saw it coming!
I had written about it in 2011. Burhan Wani happened in 2016. At that time we had said (India) was looking at a new generation of youth that may well go back to the path of militancy. But again nobody (in the government) was listening
You said in an interview to Aziz Haniffa of the then Rediff.com-owned India Abroad, that the issues facing Kashmir could not be resolved on religious lines.
Isn't that, to a certain extent, what is happening with the revoking of Article 370 now? Is that why people are celebrating?
That’s what I am saying. It goes back, in my understanding, to the basic idea of India.
What is your idea of India?
Is your idea of India what it is? Very plural, very diverse country, with a whole lot of different communities, with different political aspirations and yet each finding a place in a democratic set up?
Or is your idea of India a kind of nationalism, it is conformist -- you have to conform. Assimilation is the word. Not accommodation. If assimilation is your strategy, you are looking at a very different India.
So far our policy has been not an accommodation (either). As academics we have (used the term) multiculturalism because multiculturalism was more an accommodation of a sense of tolerance. In India we have argued that accommodation has evolved in an organic sense -- something that has organically come about in the society, a kind of synthesis, a kind of eclectic, overlapping belief systems.
I am 50 plus. But it is only in the last few years I have had started uttering, in so many words, that I am a Hindu. All these 50 years I did not have to proclaim that I am a Hindu. I had been brought up as a Hindu, but some of the values that I had been brought up with, are not the values that are being claimed in the name of Hinduism today. That is not what my parents taught me.
Do you feel it is a different India?
It is a different India.
I have always (said) Kashmir is a micro-sum (microcosm) of India.
My favourite analogy of Kashmir is that it is like an onion.
People say it is a Muslim majority state in a Hindu majority India.
But Jammu is a Hindu-majority region in a Muslim-majority state.
Ladakh is a Buddhist-majority region in a Muslim-majority state.
Kargil is a Shia-majority district in a Buddhist majority region (in a Muslim majority state in a Hindu-majority country).
And you can go down one step further: Zanskar is a Buddhist-majority little pocket in a (Shia) Muslim majority-district (in a Buddhist majority region in a Muslim majority state in a Hindu-majority country).
Every (bit of India's) majority has minorities nesting within.
The point is, are you going to match them politically? Or are you going to start carving out territories? Because the moment you go down that territorial division (route) there is no end! How many layers will you go down? India has so far taken the political route.
Carving out Jammu and Kashmir state has territorial implications.
It is actually pretty far-reaching what we have just done, in more ways than one.
India has a top-class army and military force. One kind of fallout of this whole revoking of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir might be that it is going to be an army problem? Maybe there could be more casualties? Should India worry about that aspect?
It is so ironical. Because a lot of people have been saying Article 370 should be abrogated because it has been the thorn in the (side of the) Indian security forces and they have suffered most.
I keep thinking: Who do you think is going to continue to suffer more? It is the security forces!
I am all for our security forces. But I don’t think it is the army’s business to get into these civilian strife-torn areas. The kind of situation that is being created, who do you think is going to suffer more?
It might eventually be a non-war situation as dangerous as a war?
It is truly sad.
I have interviewed and spent time with an average soldier sitting inside a bunker in the Valley, sharing his complete frustration.
He (said), 'You don’t know who is your enemy and who is your friend. You don’t know where the next stone is coming from, where the next bullet is coming from.' To look at your own people with an air of suspicion is the most discomforting thing. It saps you. It saps you as a human. It saps you as a soldier...
There is this famous story, which is written, (about) the other side, about a young child, who would go to school every day and who would see this barrel of a gun coming out from a bunker. And he says: 'Every day I would cross the bunker and I would wonder what if it goes off accidentally. What if it goes off. And every time I would cross that bunker I would feel okay... One more day done'.
They are both sides of a human story.
We are missing out on the human angle. An average Kashmiri boy or girl or citizen and a soldier who has been assigned a duty to be at a particular place to defend the country.
Both of them are caught in a very difficult situation.
And those who are celebrating the exit of Article 370 are not thinking about them?
We are not!
I really think what is required is a calm, introspection and a reflective mood of thinking (on) where are we going with this?
Photographs: Vaihayasi Pande Daniel/Rediff.com and Reuters.