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  Opinion   Oped  26 Nov 2019  In Kashmir, ‘democracy and morality can wait’

In Kashmir, ‘democracy and morality can wait’

The writer is a journalist, author and political commentator
Published : Nov 26, 2019, 12:21 am IST
Updated : Nov 26, 2019, 12:21 am IST

For Kashmir, the season of betrayals has been never-ending.

Security personnel patrol a deserted street in Srinagar on Friday. (Photo: PTI)
 Security personnel patrol a deserted street in Srinagar on Friday. (Photo: PTI)

When it comes to Kashmir, both “democracy” and “morality” can wait! The dawn of August 5, 2019 came on Kashmiris like a “betrayer”. In the eyes of many perceptive Kashmiris, “the latest betrayal should not be a cause of real surprise or shock if one were a good student of history and the Kashmir conflict”.

For them, what happened on August 5 this year was a stark reminder that something similar had happened several times before — first in August 1953, and then again in 1964.

For Kashmir, the season of betrayals has been never-ending. On August 9, 1953, the “prime minister” of Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, was unceremoniously dismissed as the head of the state, and then imprisoned for over two decades in separate stints from 1953 to 1975. To begin with, Sheikh Abdullah, on charges of “treason”, remained in prison for 12 years with two brief intermissions — in 1958 and 1964.

Independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru allowed Sheikh Abdullah, once his bosom friend, to visit Pakistan to meet the Pakistani military dictator, Gen. Ayub Khan, in Rawalpindi in 1964. However, Sheikh Abdullah was again put behind bars on his return to Srinagar. This time, however, for a longish term. By then, Nehru had also passed away.

Celebrated historian Perry Anderson noted in The Indian Ideology: “The Intelligence Bureau had little difficulty convincing (Pandit Jawaharlal) Nehru that he (Abdullah) had become a liability, and overnight he was dismissed by the stripling heir to the Dogra throne he had so complacently made head of state, and thrown into an Indian jail on charges of sedition.”

Not only was the Sheikh accused of being “seditious” he was also falsely accused of “receiving money from Pakistan” in what became known as the Kashmir Conspiracy Case.

In the 1940s, Sheikh Abdullah was largely seen as an unrelenting figure of Kashmiri nationalism. He was the founder of the National Conference, which in 1931 began as the Muslim Conference and was the first political party of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir. Besides this, Sheikh Abdullah became the first Muslim “prime minister” of Jammu and Kashmir after a Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu), Ramchand Kak. He had also spearheaded the Quit Kashmir movement against the Dogra ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh.

The late Professor Balraj Puri, a well-known academic from the Jammu region, was enraged over Sheikh Abdullah’s dismissal as prime minister and his detention. With the aim of registering his protest over the issue, he met Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi. But Puri’s earnest trip to Delhi did not bear any fruit.

He wrote in his book In Kashmir Towards Insurgency that “Nehru warned me against being too idealistic and asserted that the national interest was more important than democracy”.

Historian Anderson, while referring to Puri as “an anguished admirer (of Nehru) from Jammu”, wrote: “When an anguished admirer from Jammu pleaded with him not to do so, he replied that the national interest was more important than democracy: ‘We have gambled at the international stage on Kashmir, and we cannot afford to lose. At the moment, we are there at the point of a bayonet. Till things improve, democracy and morality can wait’.”

Similarly, according to a Kashmiri academic, Prof. Ghulam Rasool Malik: “Nehru’s quiet reply (to Balraj Puri) had been that democratic rights were not applicable to Kashmir.” This was written by Prof Malik in his essay “In The Arms of Fire” in a book titled A Desolation Called Peace.

Meanwhile, soon after Sheikh Abdullah’s dismissal from office and later arrest in 1953, the Congress Party installed Ghulam Mohammed Bakshi’s regime. Bakshi’s government was considered both brutal as well as corrupt and, according to Anderson, “depended entirely on the Indian security apparatus”.

When after a decade in office, Bakshi’s utility was over and he too was considered a liability for New Delhi, the Congress installed another man named G.M. Sadiq. Unlike Sheikh Abdullah and Bakshi (both “prime ministers”), Sadiq was installed as chief minister. Sheikh Abdullah was discarded for Bakshi, and Bakshi for Sadiq. As an aside, all Assembly elections till 1977, and also the one in 1987, were rigged.

Additionally, it was during Sadiq’s government that the nomenclatures of Sadr-i-Riyasat (president) and Wazir-e-A’zam (prime minister) were dispensed with, and replaced by those of “governor” and “chief minister”, which was perceived by native Kashmiris as a major assault on Kashmir’s regional autonomy after the Sheikh’s arrest and removal.

In the mid-1960s, chief minister G.M. Sadiq dropped all cases against Sheikh Abdullah and his associates, including the infamous Kashmir Conspiracy Case.

In the eyes of many key Kashmir watchers, there has been hardly any difference between how the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is operating in Kashmir at the moment, or how the so-called secular Congress Party has dealt with Kashmir in the past. Both parties have stripped off Kashmir’s autonomy in the name of “national interest”, “national security” and “national integration”.

On August 5, 2019, the BJP not only removed Kashmir’s autonomy, the saffron party also divided the state into two separate Union territories — Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. Native Kashmiris have interpreted the BJP’s move as a “strategy of revenge and repression”, with an ideological and civilisational view on Kashmir. A Kashmiri on the street says that it is a “smash and grab” operation.

But please do remember, when it comes to Kashmir, “democracy and morality can wait”!

Tags: kashmir, kashmiri pandit, sheikh abdullah