The nature of the Kashmir dispute has evolved dynamically over the last seven decades. What now is a fragmented territory administered by three sovereign nations was for a short duration of one and half month—between the effective withdrawal of British Raj on 14/15 August 1947 from India to fateful 27 October 1947 when Instrument of Accession was signed—a sovereign nation since it had rejected accession to any of the newly formed republics of India and Pakistan. And it’s precisely at this juncture of the history; a solution can be searched for, where the main concerned subjects, the people of Jammu and Kashmir can be taken on board for their ultimate discretion.
The current dispensation of affairs of the state, further scrambled by the hasty decision of the Indian government to rip the state of its special status and demotion into two Union territories, has no affirmation from the local people. The cleave that non-consultation of Jammu and Kashmir’s people has earmarked will further alienate the local people and set the stage for a spike in the insurgency, as many eminent people have anticipated after the latest presidential order.
Kashmir dispute originates from a basic human right principle of being “free to decide”. The people of any region, anywhere in the world, reserve a right to determine their present and future fully. Kashmir dispute is internationally recognized with the backing of Instrument of Accession and Shimla accord, besides, a charter in the United Nations. But does a popular regional sentiment elicit a compendium of legal sanctities or UN resolutions to make its case? The history ‘doesn’t seem to agree.
South Sudan and East Timor are the most relevant examples in this regard. In the South Sudan case for self-determination, the referendum saw 99% of voters in favour of independent country and internal community backed by United Nations readily accepted the will of the people. Similarly, East Timor delivered a clear vote in a referendum to disintegrate from Indonesia rejecting the proposal of “special autonomy” within the country. Kosovo on another side, exhibited the authority of the United Nations when the world peacekeeping organisation acknowledged the sovereign statehood of Kosovo, independent from Serbia in 2008 after decade long dispute.
The case of autonomy which the special status provided to the state is a half-finished narrative and doesn’t tell the whole story. Article 370 in local opinion—especially the people of Kashmir Valley, the Chenab belt, and Kargil—is not even a final settlement, but a mere concession that upheld the disputed status of the territory pending at United Nations till the plebiscite occurs, and for a while, linked the state to the Indian Union on “temporary grounds”.
The popular sentiment of the overwhelming majority in these regions has since never ceased to vow for the absolute independence, which Article 370 didn’t accord them in the first place but certainly held ground for them. Pro-freedom slogans of Azadi and right to self-determination that have echoed in Kashmir Valley since ages refer to the same sentimentality. Separatist conglomeration in Kashmir Valley which reflects the ideology of masses at least concerning the absolute independence saw the now-defunct autonomy as handcuffs of occupation, not leitmotif of independence.
When Maharaja Hari Singh, the Hindu Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, hesitatingly signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947—which was later baptized as Article 370 in the Indian constitution—he had the support of most prominent leaders from all sections of Kashmiri society, both Muslims and Hindus. Sheikh Abdullah, the face of Kashmiri political movement at that time consented on the accession. Some, however, remained resistive. While the resistance to accession came primarily from the Muslims, many pandits, too, reverberated dismay.
Prem Nath Bazaz, the leader of socialist Kisan Party, had preferred accession to Pakistan while Ram Chandra Kak, the Prime Minister of Maharaja Hari Singh, is on record to have said: “If Kashmir would not accede to India, it could not accede to India either.” There are still many pandits who do not intertwine the right of self-determination with the monistic event of pandit exodus, and recent instance of numerous Kashmiri Pandits voicing their consternation over the abrogation of Article 370 testifies this.
Most of those out of both religious solidarity and moral case are supporting the removal of special status because they see it as justice for Kashmiri Hindu Pandit community also known as KP’s (Kashmiri Pandits), who after the dreaded genocide in the early ’90s had to leave the Valley. There are over 62000 KP households registered in different cities of India, mostly in North. But the exodus of KP’s is the product of militant uprising that ignited after the 1987 rigging of State election of Jammu and Kashmir by the centre. The fact that even Amit Shah conceded on the floor of parliament on August 5, 2019, when he introduced the J&K Reorganizational bill, 2019.
So, seeing the dismissal of special status as the causation of militant uprising and justifying it is not only historically absurd but also misinterprets the context of autonomy of the state which many in KP community also uphold. It should be noted that Article 35A defined residents of the state and provisioned special guarantees and equal rights to both Kashmiri Hindus and Muslims, and entitled residentship of the state to enjoy equal liberties and resources.
When Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, the BJP parliamentarian from Ladakh spoke about the wishes of his constituents, to much acclaim of the supporters of the legal betrayal of special status, he undermined a large composition of the region on behalf of which he spoke. Kargil, a Muslim majority area, opposed the revocation as much as people of Kashmir Valley and observed a complete shutdown. Buddhist residents of Ladakh region and Hindu residents of Jammu are probably going to welcome the latest decision.
People of Ladakh have year after year cried of disparity and non-priority, that the state had given them whereas the Hindu majority Jammu have criticized about Kashmir’s domination and monopoly in the internal affairs of the state. Mixed with the anti-Muslim sentiments, that has spiked in recent times, the Jammu’s Hindu populace is more than ever determined to cede out from Kashmir, demanding for separate statehood.
The incident in 2015 is a recent reminiscent of polarization, which saw protests from Jammu about the Center’s decision to allot AIIMS to Kashmir. Ultimately, given the hue and cry, the Center decided to allocate one each medical institute to both regions of the State. Sikhs, on the other hand, which make approximately 1% of the State’s population have been supportive of the special status.
The first undertaking for the honest solution of Kashmir lies in decoding the origins of the dispute, and not just adhering to one facet of its complex history. Till that is done, the peace will remain elusive and would alienate the people further, probably for worst.