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Kashmir conundrum; wouldn't India be better off with a plebiscite?

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The BJP’s ascent has taken Kashmiris further from India. This may seem a strange thing to say now, at the cusp of a PDP-BJP wedding, but the facts stand where they do. Let’s survey events as a Kashmiri might. The state is divided along religious lines absolutely and totally. Consider this alliance. All of the PDP’s 28 MLAs are Muslim. Of the BJP’s 25 MLAs, 24 are Hindu. The Hindu MLAs thrashed a Muslim MLA over the beef issue. Their party did not punish them.

This religious division is of course geographical. I read 20 years ago in The Siege Within (by M J Akbar) of how the state was formed. Kashmir was sold by the British to the Dogras of Jammu for their betrayal of Punjab. The religious division has now become political also.

- - - It is being reported that security forces besieging terrorists in Kashmir are now being stoned by locals as they fight. This is remarkable because violence in Kashmir is at its lowest levels ever. - - - If terrorism is ending why is the hostility picking up? My guess is that it is the Pakistani army’s mischief that has more or less ended. The violence by locals is in fact back to the levels of the 1980s and that will be dismaying to those of us familiar with those days.

- - - Why did Jawaharlal Nehru renege on the plebiscite? He thought we would lose. Whether or not that was true in the 1950s, I can assure you it is true of Kashmir today. And it is a measure of how awful we have become as a people that there is no reaching out to them — observe the manner in which the BJP made Mehbooba Mufti grovel — to reassure them that we mean well (if in fact we do).

The intense, anti-Muslim passion for nationalism we have discovered under the BJP has already done the damage. Kashmiris have full freedom to shout Bharat Mata ki jai, but what else? We don’t really care. So long as they fake support of India in cricket, we are happy.

For the full text of the blog by Aakar Patel, in the Sunday ToI, click here.

I had read this blog on the 27th March itself, the day it was published. From then I had been asking myself as to why we should be holding onto this piece of land, howsoever beautiful it may be (our Himachal and Uttaranchal are also as beautiful, one should think), in the face of such prolonged hostility from large sections of the local population. The deeper aggravating factor here, apart from the historical ones, is the religious divide, fuelled of course by the aggressive neighbor, desperate to avenge the dismemberment of their country, for which they hold us responsible.

Well, there are some sporadic secessionist activities in the North-Eastern states too. But, with religion seemingly not playing much of a role there, the secessionist activities are apparently spared of the same level of intensity as in Kashmir.

While the matter had receded to the back of my mind, over the more than a week since then, the recent NIT flare-up (check the ToI report here) brought it all to the fore once again. When non-Kashmiri's, forming over 70% of the student strength in the college, feel so insecure as to want to abandon the course mid-way, well, there indeed is a problem, and there's no escaping it.

As such, why not we allow a UN monitored plebiscite in the valley part alone, giving the people the following three options:

1) Become a full-fledged Indian state - no more Article 370,
2) Merge with Pakistan - if that's what they want, even considering the raw deal their brethren in PoK are getting presently,
3) Become an independent country - in which case they will have to content with the fact that they are going to be a totally land-locked country, and with the very limited resources at their command, the going is going to be rather tough - well, Bhutan is managing things fine; and Nepal is managing along, too. But, one additional factor they'll have to content with is the question of PoK joining them, over which they are very likely to be faced with a conflict situation with Pakistan.

When the options before the Kashmiri's are placed this way, there's a very good chance they'll opt for the first.

More importantly, our credibility in the eyes of the world will go up greatly, leaving Pakistan with no more reasons to carry on their belligerent posturings towards us. And, once the Pakistan factor gets neutralised, even our Hindutva-vaad will get toned down, and the Hindu-Muslim equation will more or less become akin to what it's currently between the majority Hindu community and the minority Christian, Sikh, Parsi, or any other community too, which admittedly is not too bad; in fact, one may even call it harmonious.

Peace will reign thereafter, and with that, we can concentrate all our resources on bettering the lives of our citizens. If by "our citizens", it includes Kashmiri's too, well and good; if not, we leave them to the care of Allah, the merciful.

Muralidhar Rao

PS: This is a delicate issue, and therefore, commentators are requested to be extra careful about the language used in their responses.


murali772's picture

indulging in some wishful thinking

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Kind of echoing my thoughts, is this blog (in ToI) by Chetan Bhagat, where he has pointed out another aspect that I had overlooked. The following excerpts from the blog sums it up:

Another issue is women’s rights. Half of the Valley’s people are women. Given the hold of fundamentalist Islam, their rights would be curbed under both the independence and Pakistan options. This half of the population would be better off with India. Or do what women want not matter?

All of what Chetan Bhagat says is fine. But, how does the voice of the 'youth'(as also the entire populace) get legitimacy other than through a plebiscite?

As such, if the plebiscite is announced, say, on the 1st May, a 3-month period may be allowed for campaigning by Indian as well as Hurriat leaders, all monitored by UN teams, at the end of which, the plebiscite can happen.

India could perhaps line up, apart from Chetan Bhagat, leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi, M K Muneer (minister from Kerala), Shahid Siddiqui, Azim Premji, A R Rahman, Javed Akhtar, Salman Khurshid, Mamta Banerji, Jesudas, SriSri RaviShankar, Sitaram Yechuri, Mani Shankar Aiyyar, Barkha Dutt, etc, to appeal to the people of Kashmir that they would be far better of becoming full-fledged Indian citizens.

Well, wishful thinking - - -???

But, unless that happens, I can't quite see how we can avoid repeat pin-pricks such as the one below, excerpted from a ToI report (read full text here):

The OIC members also reaffirmed its principled support for the people of Jammu and Kashmir for the realisation of their legitimate right to self-determination, in accordance with relevant UN resolutions and aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and said that freedom struggle must not be equated with terrorism.

Muralidhar Rao
blrpraj's picture

why plebiscite?

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Why advocate a plebiscite?  This would lead to a proverbial "opening up a can of worms".  Sikhs would then start demanding a plebiscite for Khalistan; Bodos in Assam would start demanding one; coorgis could potentially start demanding a plebiscite as well; so, there is no end to it. Plebiscite in Kashmir would just set a prescedent and open the flood gates to the end of modern day post 1947 India as we know it today.

Instead; the political parties should stop playing divide and conquer vote bank politics. The people should realize the value of a united India versus a set of ever warring set of smaller tribes/states/regions (look at failed countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan for example which add no value to the world and are in a perpetual state of fighting).

Instead, people should be constructive and transform their lives and the region in which they live in. Kashmir for example is the Switzerland of India if you will..for lack of better least it "potentially" is.  They have to just stop fighting for gods sake and start cleaning up the state. It is a potential goldmine for tourism given Dal lake and the natural beauty of the Himalayas; there is so much potential for International film crews coming there to film; there is also potential for outdoor activities & camps like mountaineering and trekking for which people from all over the world will pay and queue up. All this requiresd peace, stability and massive investment. This will in turn lead to a lot of jobs and prosperity. Why doesn't anyone think along these lines really baffles me and really underscores how backward and underdeveloped  as a region South Asia is.


murali772's picture

perhaps democratic federalism needs re-invention

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Kashmir is a love story. A dream. A fantasy. Kashmir is a poem… an elegy. Why shatter its pristine beauty with ugly politics? Why not display enough moral courage, and talk? Let sane voices prevail over lethal bullets. Tough. But not impossible. Let’s see if the present government has the guts to go ahead with a referendum to resolve the Kashmir crisis once and for all. Let’s end the lingering pain in the region and allow Kashmiris live in peace, with the dignity and harmony they are entitled to.

For the full text (emphasis added by me) of the blog by Shobhaa De, in the ToI, click here.

Well, more and more, it seems inevitable.

But, then, will Manipur be the next, going by this blog, by Abheek Barman, again in the ToI? Yes, possible. Perhaps, we have to find new meaning to democratic federalism.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

statesmanship, the need of the hour

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In Kashmir, people often confuse the outrageous editorial policy of the national media with the oppressive state policy. When Kashmiri representatives are bullied in TV debates, their aspirations ridiculed, their grievances shouted down, the symbols of Kashmiri pride insulted, or when non-issues are given precedence over the killing of the innocents, when military bravado is encouraged over civilian agony, when positive initiatives of the state government are overlooked, and truth is not shown at all, and most importantly, when cows are made to feel more important than the Kashmiri people, the frustration and anger will, expectedly, be directed against India. Every hour of prime time TV news aggression pushes Kashmir a mile westward from India.

- - - Any dialogue with Kashmiris will bear fruit only in an atmosphere of warmth and will have to be done on equal terms, not as ehsan. The prime minister, who has single-handedly transformed India’s global image, should take upon himself the task of transforming India’s image in Kashmir.

For the full text of the column by Mr Shah Faesal, the celebrated IAS officer, currently the director, school education, Kashmir, in the Indian Express, click here.

In the opening post, I had advocated opting for a plebiscite, preceded by a campaign where "India could perhaps line up, apart from Chetan Bhagat, leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi, M K Muneer (minister from Kerala), Shahid Siddiqui, Azim Premji, A R Rahman, Javed Akhtar, Salman Khurshid, Mamta Banerji, Jesudas, SriSri RaviShankar, Sitaram Yechuri, Mani Shankar Aiyyar, Barkha Dutt, etc, to appeal to the people of Kashmir that they would be far better of becoming full-fledged Indian citizens". Well, if the PM can take the lead in organising such a group to address the issues involved, may be the plebiscite can be avoided even. After all, it is only over year now since close to 75% of the adult population participated in the state election process, bringing the present government to power, and helping re-establish our democratic credentials.

Whatever, quite as Maj Gaurav Arya asserted, during NDTV debate last evening (and, which was more or less endorsed by the most respected Gen V P Malik too), taking guns against Indian Army is equivalent to signing your own death warrant.

Maj Arya's response to letters addressed to him by some militants (accessible here), makes for most interesting reading too. A point he has made is of the so-called separatist leaders pushing the aam Kashmiri youth onto the streets to pelt stones, even as they have sent off their own children to safe havens in the US, UK, and elsewhere. Plainly, it is they and their masters from across the border that are the major part of the problem.

Either way, eventually, it has to have a political solution - quite the ultimate test for NaMo. Statesmanship has not been his forte so far - here's perhaps an opportunity he shouldn't let go.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

sincere voices need to speak up

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With fresh wounds in the 70th year of J&K’s accession to India, Kashmiris have no choice but to go back to the drawing board and see what went wrong. India is an emerging superpower — it is there to stay. Looking at the crisis in the Muslim world, it will serve us well if we help ourselves out of the time warp we are stuck in, abandon false hope and macabre heroism and work towards a dignified exit from the conflict. One possibility is to accept that in spite of all its infirmities, India is the only country in the world with which a culturally diverse and politically disparate entity like Jammu and Kashmir can find anchor.

For the full text (emphasis added by me) of the column by Dr Shah Faesal, IAS, in the Indian Express, click here.

What's required is more such sincere voices coming aloud to drown the purely self-centred politics of Omar Abdullah lot and the Hurriat lot.

Muralidhar Rao
murali772's picture

effect of Hindutva lurch on Kashmir

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- - - the Hindutva lurch in BJP-ruled states arouses Kashmiri apprehensions further. Identity populism fuels more identity populism. In that sense the country is already nationally integrated: to bring down the temperature in Kashmir it is also necessary to curb the majoritarian quotient, draconian food laws and meat vigilantism in heartland Indian states.

For the full text of the editorial in the ToI, click here.

This is indeed another major worrisome aspect of Modi sarkar's functioning, apart from the economic aspects discussed here.

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