Rekindle Kashmir’s lost and real connect

As New Delhi continues to reflect on strategies to win hearts and minds in Kashmir, it would do well to revisit the past

August 05, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 12:02 am IST

In the din as well as the deathly silence to mark a year since the reorganisation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and the abrogation of its special status, another anniversary — almost a historical vignette today — has, not surprisingly, been forgotten. But it carries today deep poignancy as New Delhi continues to reflect on strategies to win the so-far elusive victory over the hearts and minds of the people, beyond the triumphalism that has accompanied the constitutional integration.

Also read: A year on, several Jammu and Kashmir leaders remain confined

Foiling ‘Operation Gibraltar’

It was on August 5, 1965 that two Kashmiri Gujjars helped to thwart one of Pakistan’s most devious conspiracies in the Valley. At Darra Kassi, near Gulmarg, Mohammed Din, and Wazir Mohammed at Galuthi in the Mendhar sector, reported the Pakistani infiltration (to, respectively, the Thana at Tangmarg and the headquarters of the infantry brigade at Poonch) that was intended to spark an uprising in Kashmir, as part of its insidious ‘Operation Gibraltar’ relying on a ready-to-rebel fifth column within the Valley. Nothing of that sort happened, as other Kashmiris too reported on the presence of the infiltrators, who were soon flushed out. In short, ‘Operation Gibraltar’ failed , as did every other attempt by Pakistan because of the fundamental belief of Kashmiris in the goodness and greatness of India.

Mostly forgotten and unsung, Din and Mohammed, stood for and reinforced the idea of India in Kashmir, with the courage of their conviction and often at the cost of their lives — like thousands of other Kashmiris over more than the seven decades since Independence. Today is a day to recall and remember some of these Kashmiris; each deserving a fulsome tribute; for ultimately the real test of the decisions made a year ago will be the people.

Consider, for instance, the story of Baramullah’s Maqbool Sherwani. It was Sherwani, in 1947, who helped delay the Pakistan-backed tribal invaders march to Srinagar from Baramulla before the arrival of the Indian armed forces. The tribal invaders eventually found him out; tortured him, shot him and crucified him, but not, as I wrote once earlier, before he cried out one last time, “Muslim Sikh Etihad, Zindabad (Victory for the unity of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims). This, said Mahatma Gandhi at his prayer meeting, later, “was a martyrdom of which anyone, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim or any other, would be proud.”

Also read: A year on, Article 370 and Kashmir mythmaking

A principal with principles

But there were other Sherwanis too! In 1965, as the Gujjars discovered the infiltrators, there was one formidable educationist, a legendary principal of the local women’s college, Ms. Mehmooda Ali Shah, who faced a minor act of rebellion. She heard that one of her students had shouted “Pakistan Zindabad!” on the college grounds. Dressed as always in a handloom sari, Ms. Shah (both a Gandhian and a Fellow Traveller) marched down the grounds, with hundreds of students and staff watching her, and confronted the student.

The legendary principal slapped the delinquent student hard, admonished her and went back to her office amidst pindrop silence. For nearly two decades as principal, Ms. Shah exemplified through her personality, and through her word and deed, not just the quest for the empowerment of Kashmiri women but her ability to stand up for the ideas that endeared India to the Kashmiris.

Also read: Jammu, the pawn on the Kashmir chessboard

The power of the Soviet bond

At the height of the Cold War, in 1955, when the Anglo-American bloc (it is often conveniently forgotten these days) was arm-twisting New Delhi to hold a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev and the Premier Nikolai Bulganin, visited India. Nehru insisted that they visited Srinagar where they watched the genius, Dina Nath Nadim’s opera: ‘ Bombur Taa Yemberzal (The Narcissus and the Bumble bee’), an allegorical reference to the clash between Imperialism and Socialism. So deeply inspired were they by the visit that Khrushchev and the Soviet Union recognised Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India soon thereafter, and continued to cast its veto to block any attempt by the United Nations Security Council to intervene in Kashmir.

If it was Nadim who brought the plight of Kashmir to the world, and the justness of India’s cause, it was the extraordinary art of Ghulam Rasool Santosh that revealed Kashmir’s unique syncretic culture. Santosh’s paintings reflected not just the unity of the cosmos, but also the glories of Sufi and Tantric thought. The larger fusion of the diversity of India within Kashmir’s multiple streams is reflected in Santosh’s art.

Also read: Supreme Court refuses to hear plea against Jammu & Kashmir domicile rules

The Bangladesh war

What greater testament to India’s rights, freedoms and democracy could be there than the brilliant Editor and later parliamentarian, Shamim Ahmed Shamim. Shamim’s satirical prose on the pages of his newspaper, Aaina (Mirror) did more for Indian democracy than any speech by an Indian diplomat in the United Nations. It was Shamim’s stirring words in the Lok Sabha, in 1972, to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the Bangladesh War that found real resonance with the people of the Valley and across the world. “Madam,” he said, “leaders have changed the course of history, but rarely has anyone changed geography.”

Steps needed

By almost common consensus, the most effective police chief in the history of Jammu and Kashmir, was the barely school-educated Kashmiri, Peer Ghulam Hassan Shah, who broke the back of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and the Kashmir Al-Fatah. It was his professionalism combined with a huge intelligence network of informers which was able ensure that no Pakistan-inspired operative had a free hand in Kashmir. In the legacy of leaders such as Peer Ghulam Hassan Shah and Ms. Mehmooda lies the future of New Delhi in Kashmir and the future basis of Kashmir’s faith in India. Executive decisions and even constitutional amendments are not the challenge; Article 370 had lost much of its potency even before the decisions made last year. The real challenge has remained the emotional integration of Kashmir within the national mainstream. For that to happen, Jammu and Kashmir has to move beyond the control exercised by its Kafkaesque bureaucracy, who rely more on astrology than common sense, and must discover its new generation of leaders, across professions, who will truly be the pillars of a future Naya Kashmir. Clearly, restoration of Statehood and the early conduct of fair elections are essential first steps in that journey.

Amitabh Mattoo is Professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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