- Jammu and Kashmir had the option of independence
By Dr Rajkumar Singh
The spirit of nationalism and self-determination had a long and distinguished lineage, and deep roots in Kashmir’s political culture going to the popular movement against the tinpot despotism of the Dogra dynasty during the 1930s and 1940s.Except for seven years (1975-82) of his life, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was a crusader for Kashmir’s right to self-determination, and this faith is what won him the love and devotion of the people of Kashmir. His National Conference, despite severe repression, went from strength to strength. In May 1946, on the pattern of the Indian National Congress’s ‘Quit India’ Movement of 1942, the NC launched a mass agitation called ‘Quit Kashmir ‘against the last Maharaja, Hari Singh, and declared that the time has come to tear up the Treaty of Amritsar, sovereignty not being his birthright. “‘Quit Kashmir’ is not a question of revolt. It is a matter of right.Even the word ‘national’ in the National Conference’s name refers to the territory and population of J & K.” Sheikh Abdullah, speaking before the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly in August 1952, referred to Jammu and Kashmir as ‘our country’ and made it clear that accession to India was final and complete and the issues at stake concerned the terms of membership in, and association with, the Indian Union.
The year 1947 was a crucial one for the state of Jammu and Kashmir because the British paramountcy ceased to exist over princely states and the state was provided the option either to choose one of the dominions or remain independent. The idea of the state declaring itself independent was supported by Ram Chandra Kak, the then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, and a political party named Muslim Conference. They also assured the Ruler that he would be acclaimed as the first constitutional king of a ‘democratic and independent’ Kashmir. Insistence and persuasion had led the Maharaja to cherish the dream of an independent state of Jammu and Kashmir, which at that time was looking real. But the notion was found unfeasible after the Maharaja’s meeting with Lord Mountbatten, who visited the state on the request of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in the last week of June 1947. This was one of the reasons, which, it appears, prevented the Maharaja of the state from signing the Instrument of Accession soon after the lapse of paramountcy, as was done by other rulers of Indian states.
By the present move of Indian government, it is hoped that the situation will be more in India’s favour as it has already been started with its claim for talks on Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK), for which the latter is not ready
Formation of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF): Despite several ups and downs the state never abandoned the struggle for self-determination. After Sheikh Abdullah’s admission of defeat in 1975, a new organisation, the People’s League, was at hand to keep the quest for self-determination alive. But as frustration with the Indian state’s increasingly egregious authoritarianism in Kashmir mounted through the 1980s, more and more Kashmiris became convinced that Kashmiriyat could only be safeguarded in an independent state. As commented by Qasim Khokhar, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), the 1980s were an especially difficult and frustrating decade for independence activists, what with the crushing burdens of martial law and Islamisation. Kashmir’s democratic aspirations were callously sacrificed at the altar of the ‘nation’ to which Kashmiris were expected to be loyal. But the inevitable result was that when mass Kashmiri alienation from Indian ‘democracy’ eventually surfaced in an explosive form, as armed resistance, it was simultaneously a total and violent rejection of the India ‘nation’. Hence the widespread appeal of the demand for azadi or self -determination.
In the circumstances, the JKLF, which had never enjoyed much support in the Valley, emerged as the spearhead of a mass uprising, and a new generation of Kashmiri youth took up the gun in a desperate attempt to wrest the rights their fathers and grandfathers had been unable to obtain through peaceful means. The JKLF is still, as claimed by its leader Mohammad Yasin Malik, ‘the most principled and consistent advocate of independence, that represents the wishes of the people’, a claim not far off the mark. Despite its sufferings at the hands of both Indian forces and pro-Pakistan gunmen, the organisation’s ideology continues to resonate powerfully with both the middle class and the masses in Kashmir. The ultimate denial of democracy, rule through violence and coercion, produced a situation by 1990-91 where the gunman came to be revered as the harbinger of freedom. For example, in April 1990, the largest political rally in Kashmir’s history, surpassing even Sheikh Abdullah’s funeral, took place when over 500,000 mourners turned out defying curfew orders to honour Ashfaq at his funeral. He had been killed in a shoot-out with security forces. He and countless other Shaheed have become part of Kashmiri lore and Srinagar’s Id Gah ground, which houses the biggest martyrs’ graveyard, is practically a pilgrimage site for Kashmiris today. It was followed in early April 1991 when large anti-Pakistan demonstrations erupted in Srinagar after a JKLF area commander was killed by Hizbul Mujahideen gunman and in February 1992 after Pakistani forces shot dead at least 12 people, apart from the beating and arrest of hundred more to break up a symbolic cross-border ‘Unity March’ by an estimated 30,000 JKLF supporters. The episode was described as a major victory for JKLF groups operating in the Valley over Pakistan-sponsored factions.
Prospects at present: The question of a plebiscite in the state, as committed by Indian leaders and as provided in the Security Council’s resolutions of 13 August 1948 and 5 January 1949, does not arise at the present stage. It has now become time – barred, outdated, impractical, obsolete and bears only historical importance. The resolutions of the Security Council have become invalid because the circumstances under which they were made have undergone a drastic change and as such the principle of rebus sic stantibus clearly applies. This principle is recognised not only by the classical international law but by the Vienna Convention on Treaties (1969) as well. According to it, a state is not obliged to perform its obligations under an international undertaking if there occurs a fundamental change in the circumstances existing at the time the obligation was undertaken.
For India and Pakistan, Kashmir is still about their respective strengths and sovereignties and senses of security, about their titles to land and peoples, about their statures in the region and the world. Hence, they do not want an independent Kashmir because each has a vital stake in Kashmir and also because they are afraid that an independent Kashmir may become an arena of world power politics. The current Indian strategy towards the problem has three basic elements: first, continue the policy of sustained repression and further weaken the insurgents, second, arm and sponsor criminalised gangs that have broken away from the militant ranks, which should be used to intimidate and demoralise the public as much as possible; and third, try and undermine the Hurriyat Conference’s standing by playing up allegations of corruption and ineptitude against some of its leading figures. By the present move of Indian government, it is hoped that the situation will be more in India’s favour as it has already been started with its claim for talks on Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK), for which the latter is not ready.
The writer is Professor and Head of Political Science at the BNMU, Saharsa, Biar, India, and can be reached at [email protected]