Kashmir and the Congress

The challenge in Kashmir, however, is not for the Congress alone. It is for the whole country.

AT LAST good sense has won the day — the PDP and the Congress have shown respect for the brave deed of the Jammu and Kashmir electorate. However, the real trial of the two political parties lies ahead. More so for the Congress which as Malini Parthasarathy pointed out (The Hindu, October 25) is "the larger national party and with its own sense of historic responsibility...". Unfortunately, the Congress record in Kashmir has not been worthy of a national party.

Our arrival in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 was conditioned by Nehru upon the Maharaja releasing Sheikh Abdullah. But later on August 9, 1953, Nehru put the Sheikh back in jail. Why? Was there no option? The former Intelligence Bureau Director, B. N. Mullick, discloses that "When some months later, I met Sri Rajagopalachari at Madras (he was then the Chief Minister), he asked me why it had become necessary to arrest Sheikh Abdullah, I narrated to him all the circumstances which had led to his arrest. Rajaji said the Sheikh should have been given a third alternative of autonomy or even semi-independence and the door should not have been shut against him. He apprehended that continued uncertainty and unrest would prevail in the valley". Mullick commented: "If Sri Rajagopachari had continued as the Home Minister, his genius would have found a solution which whilst satisfying the Sheikh, would yet have kept Kashmir firmly within India."

Though Rajaji was the senior most Congress leader and had good rapport at the time with Nehru, his counsel was not sought (nor heeded later) in a matter of such grave import for the country. Nehru relied in this instance primarily on his confidant Rafi Ahmad Kidwai.

The Sheikh remained in prison for over ten years until Nehru's thinking on Kashmir received a rude shock in December 1963 with the theft of the Holy Relic (Moe-e-Muqaddas — The Prophet's Hair) from Hazratbal. For days, Kashmir and India shook as if in a powerful earthquake. The event seemed to have woken up Nehru. "Even after fifteen years of association, if Kashmir still remained in such an unstable state that even on a simple issue like Moe-e-Muqaddas the people could be so provoked as to rise in defiance of the Government, then in his opinion a new approach had to be made and a radical change in our thinking about Kashmir was called for... He also felt that Sheikh Abdullah still had a strong hold on the people of Kashmir and in the changed circumstances, no political settlement in the valley could be thought of without bringing him in."

Soon the conspiracy case against the Sheikh was withdrawn, and he was released. He came to Delhi as Nehru's guest. They had long talks. Following that the Sheikh visited Pakistan with the consent of the Government. Mullick records he was "disillusioned with what he saw in Pakistan and apparently did not get any encouragement to his pet idea of an independent Kashmir". While he was still in Pakistan, the news came of Nehru's death on May 27, 1964. The Sheikh rushed back. That marked the close of a crucial chapter.

However, Nehru had opened a door for Congress leaders who succeeded him for an accord with the Kashmir leadership. In fact in 1975, Indira Gandhi did reach an accord with the Sheikh through the labours of G. Parthasarathy. But this opening was not pursued by her. When B. K. Nehru was appointed Governor of Jammu and Kashmir in early 1981, he called on Indira Gandhi for a briefing. He records: "There was no mention of the political situation in Kashmir, of any difficulties she might be having with the Sheikh, of its history, distant or recent, of the complications in that State nor of what, if anything, she wanted me to do about them. Her only concern, it appeared, was the rapid destruction of the Dal Lake. It is unbelievable but true that this was the only briefing that I got from the Prime Minister of India!"

Soon after Independence Day 1982, the Sheikh passed away. Indira Gandhi went to Srinagar for the funeral. Farooq Abdullah wept on her shoulders and said: "I am orphaned. You are like my mother, please guide me." She reassured him. But soon she decided that the Congress should itself occupy the political space vacated by the Sheikh. The historic alliance between the Congress and the National Conference was abandoned overnight. The Congress decided to field its own candidates for the State Assembly. Dr. Abdullah was aghast. He pleaded with Indira Gandhi: "you are throwing us to the wolves. Do you realise that if we have to fight the Congress, we would be forced to seek support from elements hostile to India whom my father fought all these years?" Her answer: talk to Fotedar.

The N.C. won and its legislative party elected Farooq Abdullah leader. B. K. Nehru swore him in as Chief Minister. But the Governor learnt later from the IB that "M.L.Fotedar — an unconstitutional authority handling Kashmir Affairs on behalf of Indira — had rung up to say that B.K. Nehru had shown haste in accepting the National Conference letter electing Farooq as `their' leader". Indira Gandhi resolved to have Dr. Abdullah removed. B.K. Nehru was pressured to replace him, but he did not oblige. Finally, Indira Gandhi made Jagmohan the Governor. Within days of his arrival in Srinagar, Mr. Jagmohan was convinced that Dr. Abdullah deserved to be dismissed. He replaced him with Gul Shah. Kashmir observers feel that this cynical act was to plunge India's position in Kashmir even deeper into an abyss. Since then, political parties of all colours at the Centre have relied more on underhand means than political acumen and ethics to douse the fires raging in Kashmir.

Currently, two things are noticeable. First, there is a strident propaganda led by the Congress and PDP to damn the NC for all real and imaginary sins, be it corruption, lack of development, or failure to curb terrorism, without a word of tribute to the hundreds of its patriotic cadres who stood for India and gave their very life. On the other hand, the Congress, which is more guilty of similar sins and more on an all India scale, is being hailed. Was it a responsible act on the part of the Congress to canvas Jammu votes on the slogan `we promise you a Chief Minister from Jammu'? Imagine, if to win Uttar Pradesh parliamentary seats, the Congress were to promise the local electorate a Prime Minister from Uttar Pradesh!

In contrast, the behaviour of the N.C., dubbed a regional party, has been more like a national party. Often regional parties promote national interest. When Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency in 1975, it was Era Sezhian, MP of the DMK, a regional party, who accused her of killing the Constitution, while Congress MPs by the hundreds remained dumb. Alas, Congress history in relation to Kashmir has been governed more often by narrow party interests.

The challenge in Kashmir, however, is not for the Congress alone. It is for the whole country. We must ponder over Rajaji's sage words. Also address Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan's questions: "Had India kept all the promises she made to Kashmir? The Kashmir people should ask whether they had kept the promises to India". Furthermore, recall Jayaprakash Narayan who had always advocated India-Pakistan joint efforts to settle the Kashmir problem but was led to say: "after its aggression (1965 war), Pakistan could no longer have any say on the solution of this issue, and she should no longer be recognised as a party to the dispute. The issue of Kashmir should be settled only between India and the people of Kashmir".

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