When in 2013 I wrote “My Story of Kashmir” in four parts (published in India Opines) all I was trying to do was to recapture my own personal experiences of having spent my formative years in the valley. It was an attempt to outline the story of Kashmir from 1947 till the present times, as seen through my eyes. It was not meant to be a recounting of the history of Kashmir, and I had not ventured into the area of suggesting a solution to the violence and bloodshed that have become the daily state of affairs in the benighted valley. My story was a lament for a lost Paradise, but there was still a spark of hope alive when I finished that lament. This is what I had written then:
“When people allow religion to become the focus of their lives, they lose the ability to assimilate and absorb. Intolerance lurks just below the skin and the slightest provocation can flame and destroy centuries of trust and fellow feeling. That is the greatest tragedy of Kashmir.”
There was hope that the never-ending violence would lead to some introspection, especially among the youth, and that the focus of their lives would shift from exclusivity of religion to assimilation, respect, and acceptance of the rights of others to live in peace and pursue their own paths to happiness and fulfillment. There was hope that the focus would shift from the hereafter to the immediate and now. It didn’t seem right that a valley that Nature had lovingly handcrafted would be allowed to become a Hell whose architect could only have been Satan (if one believes in his existence). There was hope that this nightmare would somehow end soon and we would all wake up to a new bright dawn. After all, Kashmir did have a history of sorts to back this kind of hope. Violence leading to the exodus of the minorities from the valley has been a recurring theme in its history. Yet, the previous recorded six exoduses of the Kashmiri Pandits had each time been followed by their return and resettlement. There was hope that this seventh exodus would also lead to an eventual return and resettlement.
From the time the last exodus in 1989 began, almost a quarter of a century had passed when I wrote the four essays. Though I admit now to having nurtured some hope for the future, yet, at the back of mind I did have serious doubts that the seventh exodus would be irrevocable. I had voiced then that the “feeling that one gets today is that Kashmir will never return to its pristine era that existed before 1989. The Pandits who fled twenty-two years ago have moved on and the young generation has no affinity with the valley. They have educated themselves in various parts of the country and have dispersed all over the globe like the Jews of the Exodus. The Pandits living in camps in Jammu are too few to be taken seriously by anyone; they do not represent a vote bank. And very soon they will also disperse and meld with the rest of the country.”
In May 2014 India elected a new Lok Sabha giving the BJP an absolute majority in the Lower House for the first time. The much-maligned Narendra Modi was unanimously elected to the office of the Prime Minister. With Modi in the saddle, a fair settlement of the Kashmir problem looked a distinct possibility. When the BJP Minister Dr. Jitendra Singh hinted that some discussions were being held about repealing of Article 370, I thought it was time to educate myself about a Constitutional Article that had defined the relationship between the Union of India and the state of Jammu & Kashmir. A result of this education was my article: “The Hullaballoo About Article 370” that was published in the India Opines blog. Nehru had requested Gopalaswami Ayyangar to draft article 370 that Dr. Ambedkar had flatly refused to write. Ayyangar, deliberately or inadvertently, incorporated in the Article a fatal flaw that appears to have been overlooked by the National Constituent Assembly. The following passage in my article highlights this fatal flaw:
“Ayyangar’s draft of Article 370 contains one major blunder that seems to have escaped all the legal luminaries who finally approved it. After drafting the State’s Constitution and its adoption, the Jammu & Kashmir State Constituent Assembly was disbanded. However, Article 370 states that, “Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this article, the President may, by public notification, declare that this article shall cease to be operative or shall be operative only with such exceptions and modifications and from such date as he may specify: Provided that the recommendation of the Constituent Assembly of the State referred to in clause (2) shall be necessary before the President issues such a notification.” This exception gives permanent life to an extinct body while it leaves no other mechanism for change. The far-reaching meaning of this blunder is that the President of India can make any amendments to the provisions of Article 370 only with the permission of a long defunct and impossible-to-revive State Constituent Assembly. The introduction of the State Constituent Assembly instead of the State Legislative Assembly in the Article makes its repeal or amendment not only impracticable, but also impossible.”
After the abdication of the Maharaja in 1949, political power passed into the hands of the National Conference headed by Sheikh Abdullah. Five years later, in February 1954, the State Constituent Assembly formally ratified the accession of the princely state with the Union of India. Adopting the State Constitution on 30th October 1956 the State Constituent Assembly declared Jammu & Kashmir as an integral part of the Union of India. However, by then Abdullah was in prison and the state had become a private jagir of the Bakhshi family.
However, the firewall that Nehru and his henchmen had erected, that gave a different and privileged status to Jammu & Kashmir within the Indian Union, has remained completely intact, keeping the embers of separatism alive and barely beneath the surface for all the 70 years after partition. A constitutional solution does not appear possible and any attempt at tampering with Article 370 is likely to be struck down by our courts.
Regional & Religious Demography of the State
How then to break these shackles that the fathers of our constitution have tied our nation with? We have to look elsewhere for a solution to this problem.
For 70 years the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir has been ruled from the valley, notwithstanding that the state capital shifts in the winter months to Jammu city. The state assembly has a strength of 87 elected members plus 2 nominated members. The Governor has the power to nominate 2 women to the assembly if he feels that women are under-represented. The following table* illustrates the representation of the people to the state assembly:
Division Land Area Population Constituencies
Kashmir 16000 km2 6.90 million 46
Jammu 26000 km2 5.30 million 37
Ladakh 59000 km2 0.30 million 4
*(Land area and population figures are approximations based on 2011 census)
The distribution of the assembly seats gives a simple majority (52+%) to the Kashmir division – an arrangement that has led to the domination of the state by the politicians of the valley. The Pandits, because of their minuscule numbers, hardly mattered in the political arithmetic of the state. But after their exodus in 1989 the Kashmir Division has become almost 100% Islamic. The religious distribution* in the remaining 2 divisions is as follows:
Division Hindus Muslims Sikhs Buddhists Total
Jammu 62% 33% 5% 100%
Ladakh 13% 46% 41% 100%
*(Population percentages are nearest approximations based on Wikipedia)
Despite the presence of the BJP in the current state government, it is the valley that has been getting the lion’s share of the resources, jobs, and central financial assistance. Jammu and Ladakh get cold-shouldered as unwanted stepchildren.
The state government is now trying to alter the non-Muslim majority character of the Jammu Division by its recent settlement of displaced Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar. At the same time it refuses to accept the displaced Hindu refugees that have been driven out of Pakistan-occupied areas of the state and from elsewhere. The blatantly communal nature of the policies of the state government, despite it being in partnership with the BJP, has created a great deal of insecurity among the people of Jammu who are seeing their part of the state getting Islamized and becoming another hotbed of terrorism. Jammu is perched on the crest of a volcanic eruption if a quick solution to these discriminatory policies is not found.
A Permanent Solution
A permanent solution to the Kashmir imbroglio lies, first, in the acceptance of the following facts:
- Pakistan will continue to peddle its influence in the Kashmir valley as its civilian and military governments have sold this dream to the people of Pakistan. An unstable country, Pakistan can erupt into a destructive civil strife if its leaders accept a compromise.
- The Kashmiri Muslim has been completely radicalized by the Wahhabis, whose influence is all pervasive and visible everywhere in the valley. There is no trace left of the so-called Sufi strain of Islam in Kashmir. The young men of the valley have grown up in an exclusively Islamist society and have had no contact with the Pandits. The educational institutions have only Muslim students and teachers and children have no exposure to a different religion or culture.
- The displaced Kashmiri Pandits may yet be yearning for a return to their ancestral homes, but their children have no such dreams. They have assimilated in the wider Indian nation while many have made their lives in far away lands. Most of the youth have not only lost their touch with the culture but also with the language. Kashmiri Pandits are not the Jews who are an exclusive religious people of a book for whom Israel was a land where they could practice their faith in freedom and safety. The Pandits belong to the larger Hindu society and they can practice their rituals and freely worship their chosen deities everywhere in India and abroad. Those still living in camps in Jagti in Jammu are far better off than those Pandits who have been resettled in ghettos built by the state in Pulwama and elsewhere in the valley.
- A return of the Pandits to the valley is a pipe dream of some politically ambitious members of the community who would like to make personal careers and fortunes out of the current situation.
- As long as we remain militarily engaged in Kashmir, we will continue to present targets to the local militants and their handlers from Pakistan. Armed engagement of the security forces in civilian areas by homegrown or foreign terrorists will continue to result in a situation of permanent hostility between the people and the armed forces. The wall of suspicion and hostility is already thick enough to permit a passage of ideas and thoughts.
A permanent solution therefore lies in isolating the cancerous part of the state and containing it so that it does not infect the rest of the state. This calls for a partition of the state, not unlike what was done to Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, and to Andhra so recently. A reorganization of states is anyway due and there is talk of carving the present UP into three or four smaller states. The state of Jammu & Kashmir too needs to be partitioned into three states, namely Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh, with each state having its legislative assembly and electing its representatives to that assembly. Ladakh could even be considered as a Union Territory as it has large masses of uninhabited land, and borders a hostile China.
A trifurcation of the state will stop the hegemony of the Kashmir valley on the people of Jammu and Ladakh and both these areas will get their due share of resources and an opportunity to grow apace.
India should strengthen the border with Pakistan and make its military presence impregnable along the Line of Control. The objective should be to make it impossible for terrorists to pass into Indian territory and to ensure that no smuggling of currency, narcotics or any other items takes place. There is no need to station 70000 troops in the valley’s civilian areas. Let the routine law and order problems be handled by the local police and paramilitary outfits. The AF(S)PA will automatically lapse once the armed forces are withdrawn from civil areas. Kashmir will be fully integrated with the Union of India making its separate constitution redundant.
The question that remains is: “how to get around Article 370?” In the current political scenario it is impossible to make any changes through a mere act of Parliament. The government will have to create and build a consensus among the people and leaders of Jammu and Ladakh. Mass movements have to originate from these two divisions demanding their separation from J&K. Constitutional experts can then suggest how the new states or UTs can be created without incurring the displeasure of the judiciary. It should be easy if a referendum is held in Jammu and Ladakh where non-Muslims are currently the majority. Ladakh also has a large number of Shia Muslims who have not been affected by Wahhabism.
The above possibilities can only materialize after 2019 when a stronger Modi government looks likely at the center. A two-thirds majority in the two houses of Parliament should make it easier for the NDA to get an appropriate resolution passed and the necessary amendments made to the Constitution. The signs, as of today, look propitious. It now depends upon Narendra Modi and the NDA to initiate the process and take it to fruition in its second term.
By Vijaya Dar