Cleaning up the Kashmir mess

Nehru can’t be blamed for the flawed policies that New Delhi designed for J&K since the 1990s

November 01, 2019 12:15 am | Updated 11:03 am IST

Jawaharlal Nehru with Sheikh Abdullah.

Jawaharlal Nehru with Sheikh Abdullah.

The Prime Minister and Home Minister have cited two reasons to justify the dilution of Article 370. The first is the need for a new approach to end the violence in Jammu and Kashmir. The second is that the abrogation of Article 370 has been the core agenda of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh since the early 1950s. It is worth recalling that even Atal Bihari Vajpayee argued in 1996 before the trust vote that his party, if it got the majority, would remove Article 370. The government has found the fact of sustained violence in J&K a legitimate basis to pursue an ideological agenda. Will the dilution of Article 370 mark the end of violence or lead to more killings? No one knows.

On August 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that by diluting Article 370, the government had fulfilled the wishes of Sardar Patel, Syama Prasad Mookerjee and B.R. Ambedkar. A day later he blamed Jawaharlal Nehru for creating the crisis in J&K.

Understanding Nehru

For an objective assessment of Nehru’s role in J&K, we need to bear the following facts in mind. One, Nehru was an anti-imperialist with a clear ambition to shape a new world order beyond the rivalry of the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Given this conviction, he was sensitive to global opinions and obligations. His approach to J&K was clearly dictated by such an understanding. Two, Nehru strongly believed that Pakistan was not a workable idea. Talking about Pakistan in 1960 to Leonard Mosley, he said, “We were tired men... Few of us could stand the prospect of going to prison again and if we had stood out for a united India..., prison obviously awaited us. We saw the fires burning in Punjab and heard of the killings. The plan of Partition offered a way out and we took it. We expected that Partition would be temporary, and that Pakistan was bound to come back to us.” He reasoned that Article 370 would gradually hollow out, creating conditions for J&K’s complete integration into India.

What is crucial to recognise is this: Nehru had no role to play in the flawed policies that various regimes in New Delhi have designed for J&K since the 1990s. India’s policies were largely dictated by its deep state. Former Minister Jairam Ramesh acknowledged this in an interview when he was in the Cabinet after a visit to the Valley in 2013. When former Chief Minister of J&K, Omar Abdullah, made several appeals to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in select regions, it fell on deaf ears in New Delhi. At a book launch a few months before his incarceration, P. Chidambaram acknowledged that it was a mistake for him to not have implemented the interlocutor’s report prepared by Radha Kumar and others when he was Home Minister. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s video after the dilution of Article 370 only reconfirms how decisive the role of India’s deep state is. A similar video with the Prime Minister or Home Minister might have had a different connotation for India’s political leadership. Therefore, we need to pause before we nail Nehru down for the Kashmir mess, and see these facts in context.

Many concerns

The dilution of Article 370 has come at a time when the relationship between Indian Muslims with India’s fast eroding secular polity is facing severe strain. Furthermore, the relationship between Muslims in the rest of India and Kashmiri Muslims since independence has not been shaped by solidarity. In post-Partition India, Muslims rejected any effort by the Muslim League to revive itself in India thus denouncing the politics of separatism in its entirety. Except in Kerala, the party was completely rejected in the rest of India. It is not surprising that Indian Muslims have no support for the azadi aspirations of Kashmiri Muslims, though human rights violations have caused empathy among all Indians. The Indian Muslim community is at the moment disorganised. Being lynched is among the main concerns of Muslims today. One wonders how New Delhi intends to integrate Kashmiris without grappling with such concerns.

Shaikh Mujibur Rehman teaches at Jamia Millia Central University, New Delhi

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