Bangladesh lessons for Kashmir, India

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SUBIR BHAUMIK

Chetan Bhagat in a recent article on Kashmir has missed a few major points. Clarity on these issues are not just crucial to understanding the Kashmir question but also to evolve a future for Kashmir that is at the hear of an unending India-Pakistan conflict. Bhagat’s analysis that the Indian army messed it up and provoked Kashmiris to revolt is too simplistic. His problems with experts are obvious but that cannot justify simplistic solutions which will just not work.

Like the Mizos, Manipuris, Tripuris and the Assamese, the Kashmiris essentially accepted India as their country in 1947.  Unlike some Nagas who wanted independence, these other battling ethnicities joined India but later took to arms when India failed them. And it is politicians like Nehru and Indira Gandhi and not the army, which created the Kashmir problem and let India down.

The valley Kashmiri, brought up in Sufi tradition, hate the kabailis (hill tribals) who were unleashed on them by Pakistan, first in 1947 and then in 1965. The 1947-48 rape and pillage upset the valley Kashmiri so much that when Pakistan made a similar attempt to infiltrate armed raiders to foment a Kashmiri insurrection (Operation Gibraltar) in 1965, it just did not work. Altaf Gauhar’s ‘Inside the 1965 War’ and several other studies point to the Valley Kashmiri’s annoyance with the Pakistan-backed armed raiders as the single biggest cause for failure of ‘Operation Gibraltar’. That did not change in 1971.

Like the Mizos, Manipuris, Tripuris and the Assamese, the Kashmiris essentially accepted India as their country in 1947.  Unlike some Nagas who wanted independence, these other battling ethnicities joined India but later took to arms when India failed them

And why not!  Most Kashmiris saw in 1971 Pakistan’s failure as the projected homeland of the South Asian Muslims. Bangladesh emerged through a bloody eight month civil war which was forced on Bengalis by Pakistan army’s genocidal campaign that began on 25th March 1971. Pakistan’s Punjabi military rulers would not accept a Bengali Prime Minister – so they set aside the verdict of the 1970 elections that gave the Awami League a clear majority in Pakistan’s national assembly. So, dear Kashmiris, if Bengali Muslims who were nearly 60 percent of undivided Pakistan’s population were brutally denied their democratic rights, what can a Kashmiri Muslim expect in Pakistan! This is the key question you must pose to the Geelanis and Andrabis, especially because Kashmiris would constitute a very tiny minority in Pakistan. They would neither have numbers (that the Bengalis had) nor any other critical assets to help them exercise any meaningful influence on Pakistani policy making.

The Geelanis and Andrabis could well argue India is no better, that Kashmir now is a large prison and a conflict zone. That brings us to the second key issue of the Kashmir question. India’s failure in Kashmir is not a systemic failure, not a constitutional failure. Mr. Bhagat, it is neither a military failure. It is a huge governance failure that turned the Kashmiris against India. The roots of that go back to Indira Gandhi’s haughty toppling of the Farooq Abdullah government but could be traced back to her father’s mishandling of Sheikh Abdullah. It is also the total failure of the Indian political parties and civilian decision makers close to them. The army has been made a scapegoat, despite laboring on with a thankless job they were not trained to handle in the first place. Even poster boy of Kashmiri militancy Burhan Wani, whose death in an encounter, had triggered a huge groundswell of agitation, wanted to be an Indian army officer as a child, says his father Muzzafar Wani.

The key point is that Indian Constitution has Article 370 that provides for the most extensive kind of autonomy an Indian province can hope to get.  The failure of India is that it could not develop the Kashmir arrangement into a national model for provincial autonomy that could be offered to the less Indianized areas of post-1947 India. Instead, Delhi undermined Art 370 and the arrangement that it provided because it was nervous that others could ask for it. The Mughal mindset exacerbated by the British viceregal style was India’s worst legacy, one which we should dump. In a civilization state that India is (like Europe), multiplicity of identity is a fact of life and our polity should reflect acceptance of plurality rather than legitimize its denial.

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