The Forbidden Kingdom

I love travelling, especially to hills. The sight of lush-green hills, a light drizzle, cascading waterfalls and serene surroundings fill me up with an inexplicable joy. Just the other day, I was feeling a little tired and bored. It seemed life had come to a standstill. So, I went up to my father and asked, “Can I take a vacation? I have not gone anywhere for a few months now”. He first threw me a dirty look and then said, “Okay, where?” I had my answer ready, “Ladakh and Gulmarg”, I replied. He did not say anything for a second and then responded, “Go to Dharmsala or Ooty, not Kashmir”. His tone and expressions indicated that the discussion was over. Going back to my room, all I could think of was: What is wrong with Kashmir?

Let us first understand how Kashmir became what it is today. As most of you would know, Jammu and Kashmir was ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh before the Indian independence. When the British finally decided to leave India, they made an offer, known as Lapse of Paramountcy, to the 565 princely states. Jammu and Kashmir was one of them. The Lapse of Paramountcy was an offer to join either India or Pakistan, or to become a separate and independent nation. Naturally, Hari Singh wanted J&K to be an independent nation. The last Viceroy to India, Louis Mountbatten, went to Kashmir in June 1947 to meet the Maharaja and explained him that remaining independent will not be a “feasible proposition” in their meeting on 21st June. As J&K was strategically located between India and Pakistan, as a separate nation, it would have faced a lot of problems from both the countries. The following day, on 22nd June 1947, the Viceroy wanted to meet the Maharaja alone. But the Maharaja did not meet him, citing health issues. I think Hari Singh was adamant on keeping his kingdom to himself and hence, was trying to avoid Mountbatten. So, on 15th August 1947, Kashmir became a free country. Clearly, Pakistan wanted Kashmir at any cost and started to plan an assault. It was planning to send raiders to Kashmir, along with its troops, thereby increasing violence and terming it a popular revolution or uprising. Jawaharlal Nehru seemed to have understood Pakistan’s intentions and discussed the same with Vallabhbhai Patel.

Sheikh Abdullah, who was very close to Nehru, was imprisoned in Kashmir at the time of independence. Abdullah was against Maharaja Hari Singh as Abdullah opposed discrimination against Muslims in a Muslim-dominated region by a Hindu ruler. Abdullah can be called the father of present-day National Conference, a prominent political party in J&K. Sheikh Abdullah (who also happens to be the father of Farooq Abdullah) later changed his outlook and thought beyond the communal lines. He fought for unity among all religions and was now against Hari Singh, a dictator, not a Hindu ruler. Abdullah, during his protests, also grew close to Nehru and Congress. In 1946, he launched “Quit Kashmir” movement against Hari Singh and was thrown behind bars.

Under Nehru’s pressure, Abdullah was released by Hari Singh on 29th September 1947. He appealed the people in the valley for religious harmony and safety of Hindus and Sikhs. He never wanted Kashmir to join Pakistan. Nehru, himself a Kashmiri, now had a close aide in the form of Abdullah in Kashmir. Nehru was against pressurizing Kashmir to join India. He wanted a popular and democratically-elected government in Kashmir to choose between the three available alternatives.

On the other side of the border, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was against Kashmir’s independence. Pakistan broke the Stand-Still agreement with India and stopped supplying fuel, food-grains etc to J&K. The railway services between Jammu and Sialkot were shut down. Pakistan was using arm-twisting tactics to force Kashmir to accede to Pakistan. On 22nd October 1947, tribals and soldiers from Pakistan attacked Kashmir and started marching towards Srinagar. At the same time, Muslim troops in the Kashmir army rebelled against the administration and joined the Pakistani tribals. I believe that the Pakistani plan was not to capture and kill Hari Singh but pressurize him to join Pakistan, so it looked like a peaceful accession in the eyes of the “international community”. After reaching Uri, the tribals captured a major hydro-power station, throwing the entire J&K into darkness. After reaching Baramulla, the tribals and Pakistani troops turned violent and started to rape, kill and rob people and damage public & private property. Seeing things going out of hand, the Maharaja appealed to India for help on 24th October 1947. V P Menon, the Indian representative in J&K, met the Maharaja and advised him to leave for Jammu with his family as soon as possible. Maharaja, fearing for his life, did the same. On 26th October, the tribals surrounded Srinagar. Mountbatten argued that Kashmir cannot be helped before it accedes to India, as India had signed a non-intervention pact with Pakistan. Till then, Jammu and Kashmir was a free nation and he asserted that it would be improper to send Indian troops there. He asked Kashmir to sign the Instrument of Accession with India first. So, the message was delivered to Hari Singh by V P Menon and on 26th October 1947, at Amar Mahal Palace, Jammu, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with the Union of India, making J&K an Indian territory.

Kashmir accedes to India

Mountbatten and his advisors were still unsure about sending troops to Kashmir but V Patel stood his ground and explained Mountbatten the gravity of situation. Mountbatten finally agreed but put forward a condition – After the invaders are thrown out and law & order is restored, a plebiscite (referendum) will be organised in J&K, regarding remaining with India, joining Pakistan or becoming a separate nation again. Both Nehru and Patel readily agreed. So, on the morning of 27th October, Indian troops left for Kashmir by air and they were supported by Sheikh Abdullah and his volunteers. Tribals and Pakistani soldiers were uprooted and thrown out of Srinagar; though they still occupied large territories in the western J&K. Jinnah had no option but to invite Nehru and Mountbatten to Lahore for discussions on Kashmir. Patel was against either of them going to Lahore. He reasoned that, as Pakistan had initiated the attack, Jinnah should come to Delhi for discussions. But, both Nehru and Mountbatten decided to go ahead with the discussions in Lahore. As Nehru was unwell, only Mountbatten went to Lahore on 1st November 1947. Jinnah refused to recognise the accession of Kashmir to India, terming it illegal, claiming use of violence, pressure and fraud. Jinnah demanded removal of Indian troops from J&K in return for calling back his troops and tribals from J&K and assuring against another attack. But before a conclusion can be reached, Nehru changed the entire course of history sitting in Delhi. On 2nd November, through All India Radio, he declared his consent in conducting a plebiscite in Kashmir under the guidance of United Nations, after the situation in Kashmir had become peaceful. This was the first time he had discussed the plebiscite in public. Inclusion of a third party in the Kashmir issue and agreeing for a referendum in public even before the Jinnah-Mountbatten meeting had reached a conclusion were disasters, to say the least. Jinnah refused to accept the offer of plebiscite and Mountbatten returned empty-handed. On 31st December 1947, India lodged an official complaint against Pakistan in UN. The USA and Britain discarded it, to fulfil their own political and regional objectives. UN put forward a cease-fire agreement for India and Pakistan which came into effect from 1st January 1949. At that moment, tribals and soldiers from Pakistan still had control over some parts of western Kashmir. Today, that region is called Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the cease-fire line is called Line of Control (LoC).

Nehru, Mountbatten and Jinnah

This is what our history books tell us. But they maintain a conspiracy of silence on some issues relating to the supposed “national interest”. We all are well aware of the brutal killings and expulsion of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley. But how many of us knew about the mass killings and expulsions of lakhs of Muslims from Jammu in 1947? It will not be fair on my part to overlook this piece of silenced history today. Now, Jammu is a Hindu-majority area. But in 1947, it had a Muslim-majority. The communal riots of 1947 during the partition affected Jammu’s Muslims terribly. Lakhs fled into what became PoK. That turned Jammu’s Muslim majority into a Hindu-majority. The Maharaja of J&K, Hari Singh discriminated against Muslims, charging special taxes from them and treating them like vermin. This led to a mass revolt against him in the late 1946, led by Sardar Ibrahim Khan and Sheikh Abdullah. You already know what that resulted in. The story of Kashmir remains incomplete without mentioning this revolt.

Today, Jammu and Kashmir is bleeding. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is a burning issue there. There are many accusations of severe human rights violations committed by the armed forces. While most of these cases are fabricated and politically motivated, some of them are authentic and demand special attention. In 2011, the state human rights commission said it had evidence that 2156 bodies had been buried in 40 graves over the last 20 years. The authorities deny such accusations. The security forces say the unidentified dead are militants who may have originally come from outside India. They also say that many of the missing people have crossed into PoK to engage in militancy. However, according to the state human rights commission, among the identified bodies, 574 were those of “disappeared locals” and according to Amnesty International’s Annual human rights report (2012), it was sufficient for contradicting the security forces’ claim that they were militants. A thorough and impartial investigation is a must in this matter.

stone peltings

It seems Article 370 has become a prestige point now, for both the sides. We must understand that it cannot be repealed under present circumstances. We ought to drop this demand as it creates fear and tension in the valley, disrupting the peace-process. It gives ammunitions to the separatist leaders to make inflammatory speeches. Return of peace and normalcy in the state is a pre-requisite for any discussions on Article 370.

So, here comes my favourite line –What can be done? Winning the confidence of the locals, especially youth is a must. Strict actions against offending security personnel will help. The recent floods in the valley have really presented the army in a positive light in the eyes of the locals and we must build on that. Creating more jobs and improving infrastructure are important. A feeling of inclusion must be sown in the hearts and minds of Kashmiris. More programmes and movies need to be shot in Kashmir, showing it in a positive light. We cannot allow separatists like Syed Geelani, the Muftis, Yasin Malik, Masarat Alam Bhat etc to make anti-India speeches and taking severe but silent actions is a must. Yes, we need to play dirty. We can no longer play by the rule-book. We need to infiltrate the separatists and follow the “divide and rule” policy. I have had the “right vs. good” debate in my head countless times and there seems to be only one winner every time. Strong political will is paramount. The present government’s plan to relocate Kashmiri Pandits in the valley is a political move, designed to garner applause and votes from Hindu fundamentalists. Not only is it ill-timed but also impractical given the present circumstances. It should be a long-term goal and Narendra Modi needs to understand that he must stop playing to the galleries and trying to appease a particular section of a particular religion by playing divisive politics. Tourism and trade must be promoted, creating livelihood. As I have already discussed in my earlier articles, basic economics has the answer to our problems. Replace the gun with a pen, paper and job opportunities and you will see a humongous difference.

Kashmir beauty

If we really want things to improve, the feeling of dread and nervousness we get every time we hear the word “Kashmir” must go. Kashmir is a part of India and it should be treated as such. The past might be dark and murky, but there is no reason why we cannot have a bright and beautiful future. And if we can turn that future into reality, cresting those hills in Ladakh will feel different.

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