Instead of wielding a partnership with the people of Kashmir by addressing their grievances and assuaging their fears, India put in place a system of extended patronage pivoted on select individuals

Narendra Modi’s proposition of revisiting Article 370 has opened a Pandora’s box of sorts. Animating the intellectual landscape, it has triggered a variegated debate over the constitutional jurisdiction, technicalities and legal course of the Article. However, beyond the juris prudentia there is a need to understand the genesis of the conflict and its various expressions.

Through the Pakistan prism

At the core of the conflict lies Kashmir’s aspiration for autonomy, epitomised in the preservation of its distinct regional identity and character. The recipient of a vibrant historical legacy, a rich civilisation, discrete geographical and demographic features and an eclectic value-system in contrast to the prevalent regional orthodoxy, Kashmir over the ages evolved a distinct regional pride and identity. Intermittent phases of foreign rule marred by ruthless oppression and a tendency to alter the Kashmiri way of life sharpened its regional identity. Its sense of self became defined by the desire to resist the alien yoke and retain the glory of indigenous rule, elevating the significance of identity to Kashmiri lives. As a deterrent to foreign intrusion, Kashmiri identity further recoiled within its regional demarcation, and this at times manifested itself in a more militant form. India’s inability to recognise the undercurrents of Kashmir’s preoccupation with its identity further exacerbated Kashmiri vulnerability. Generating an additional set of grievances, it stymied the prospects of a constructive and trustful engagement between India and Kashmir. India’s overtures in turn stemmed from its own insecurities based on its presumption of Kashmir’s proclivity toward Muslim Pakistan. Misconstruing Kashmir’s inherent inclination for autonomy with a preference for Pakistan, India erroneously built the edifice of its relationship with Kashmir through the prism of Pakistan. This deprived India of the initiative to construct an independent and proactive association with Kashmir based on positives rather than the reactionary political architecture it eventually ended up creating.

While Kashmir always had a socio-cultural and religious fascination with Pakistan which persists to this day, it conveniently kept its political interests apart. Despite the inroads of the Muslim League (ML) throughout India on the premise of a shared religious ideology as a means of coalescing a geographically disparate people, it failed to strike an influencing chord in Kashmir. The corresponding movement in Kashmir was more region-centric than pan-Indian. The socio-political congruity of Kashmir also allowed its freedom movement to be more sophisticated and evolved based on tangible issues and concrete agendas rather than the abstract of Islamic appeal alone. The inclusive nature of “Kashmiriyat” along with the early influence of the Indian National Congress (INC) and the utility of a resourceful Pandit community within the regional context, kept the freedom movement in Kashmir at a distance from the ML. The organisational assistance that Sheikh Abdullah, spearheading the Kashmiri movement, received from the “State People’s Party” — a subsidiary of the INC which supported the cause of the subjects in the princely states and the personal differences between him and Jinnah further eschewed the possibility of any political convergence. The opposition of the ML along with the J&K Muslim Conference to the “Quit Kashmir” movement in 1946 and the lack of audience given to G.M. Sadiq by the top leadership in Pakistan when sent there as an envoy by Sheikh Abdullah in October 1947 seemed to have been the last straw that prevented rapprochement between Kashmir and Pakistan. The successive stances by the Pakistani state in the form of aligning with the detested Maharaja (Standstill Agreement — though a tactical necessity for Pakistan), subsequent economic sanctions, infiltration of the tribesmen and their ensuing loot and rampage and the inclination of Sheikh Abdullah toward India all reinforced the chasm between Kashmir and Pakistan in those early days.

Alignment with India

The alignment with India on the other hand far from the lofty discourse of converging ideologies was also a tactical move based on astute calculations. Sheikh Abdullah perceived that he would be able to maintain a higher degree of autonomy within the democratic and liberal set-up espoused by the INC as opposed to Pakistan’s centralised polity. The secular slogan of the Indian polity was also conducive to the pluralist social fabric of “Kashmiriyat” as against the primacy of the majoritarian religion within Pakistan. The grass-roots disposition of the INC would also accommodate the socio-economic mobility envisioned by him. Above all, the left-leaning populist leadership of the INC would be more amenable to the radical land reforms envisaged by Sheikh Abdullah, an anathema to the landed elite at the helm in Pakistan. The bedrock of Sheikh Abdullah’s political ascendancy and power, it was this last factor which overwhelmingly swung the decision in favour of India (beyond the populist appeal, the manner in which the land reforms were implemented were a structural disaster in the long term as enunciated by visiting American agrarian and economist Daniel Thorner in 1953). Here too, India was unable to recognise the intricacy of Kashmir’s union with India. Based on a set of calculated ideals rather than a natural overlap of interests, the premises underlying Kashmir’s union with India were systemically eroded.

Rather than skilfully employing the complexities of Kashmir’s relationship with Pakistan and itself to an advantage, India allowed its misplaced judgment to cloud its decision-making on Kashmir. Instead of wielding a partnership with the people of Kashmir by addressing their grievances and assuaging their fears, India put in place a system of extended patronage pivoted on select individuals. This was to serve as a one-stop fix-it-all. Not only was it a short cut to “manage” the state rather than “govern” it, it was also a means of checking dissent and Kashmir’s inherent proclivity for self-governance which India perceived as secession. This exacerbated the widening fissures between India and Kashmir. The more the patronised clique failed to deliver, the more desperate the attempts by India became and the more entrenched was the reifying belief that India was at the root of all ills in Kashmir. The more India fumbled in Kashmir; the more Pakistan was brought back into the political frame. For the masses in Kashmir, Pakistan began to represent the “idol” standing up to India and challenging it, something they couldn’t do on their own and celebrated in extension in the form of Pakistan. More than the love for Pakistan, it was the rancour (that India had generated for itself) that endeared Pakistan to Kashmir. However, notwithstanding its grievances toward India, Kashmir very prudently maintained the fine distinction between its socio-cultural affinity with Pakistan and its political ambitions — which distinctively remained wedded to the preservation of its discrete identity. It was against this backdrop that despite coming on the heels of an emotive uprising in 1964, Kashmir refrained from collaborating on “Operation Gibraltar” with Pakistan in 1965. As Kashmir has today very pragmatically compartmentalised its sentiment for “Azadi” with that of participation in elections under Indian aegis, it had very long ago struck a balance with Pakistan by compartmentalising its socio-cultural affinity to it from its indigenous political goals.

Another lost chance

Kashmir cautiously gave India another chance in 1975 in the form of the Indira-Sheikh Accords. Despite the opportunity to start all over and extend a sense of trust and sincerity, India, embroiled by the dynamics of its internal political battles and the autocratic tendencies of its leadership, was unable to seize the moment. Responding instead by explicit intervention in the political set-up of the State much to the chagrin of the populace, the rigged elections of 1987 proved the last blow. By then the elements of ethnic conflict as delineated by Ted Gurr were present in full force in Kashmir: identity, grievances, opportunity and capacity. The last element stimulated by the Kashmiri diaspora and logistically assisted by Pakistan was instrumental in transforming the peace-loving Kashmiri into what Donald Horowitz termed as the “Reluctant Secessionist.”

Pushed to the precipice did Kashmir have a choice? Aspiring for the preservation of its identity and the symbols representing that identity, was it asking for too much? Driven by its paranoia had India employed the tools of compassion, magnanimity and prudence instead, the trajectory of Kashmir would have been very different today. True to its cause, despite the infiltration of myriad ideas and influences, the clarion call in Kashmir remains “Azadi” (Independence) — its expression of self-preservation.

(Asma Khan Lone, daughter of JKLF leader Amanullah Khan, is a political researcher with roots in both the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir. E-mail: asma_sgl@hotmail.com)

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