Bangladesh lessons for Kashmir, India

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SUBIR BHAUMIK

Chetan Bhagat‘s lessons for Kashmiri youth (16th April, Times of India) misses a few major points on the issue. Clarity on these issues are not just crucial to understanding the Kashmir question but also to evolve a future for this beautiful  South Asian province at the heart of the unending India-Pakistan conflict. Bhagat’s analysis that the Indian army messed it up and that led to Kashmiri angst and revolt is too simplistic. He will have obvious problems with experts who will have no reason to buy his simplistic solution for the simple reason that such solution will not work because they don’t match the ground reality.

bangabandhu's historic 7th march speech where he declared independence

bangabandhu’s historic 7th march speech where he declared independence

Like the Mizos and the Manipuris, the Tripuris and the Assamese, the Kashmiris essentially accepted India as their country, not Pakistan.  Unlike the Nagas, some of whom wanted independence even as the British left, these other battling ethnicities joined India and then took to arms when they failed to get from India what they wanted. Please don’t get this basic fact wrong because here lies the key to understanding several of India’s conflict zones. These ethnicities joined India happily but they were provoked to revolt by Delhi’s neglect, high-handedness and arrogance.

The valley Kashmiri, brought up in the Sufi tradition, was terribly upset with the kabailis (hill tribals) who had been armed by Pakistan and pushed into the Srinagar valley from what is today Pakistan’s Kashmir. Though both the valley people and the Kabailis are Kashmiris in the broad sense, they differ as much as do the soft-spoken West Bengalis (Ghotis) and the rough-and-tough East Bengalis (Bangals). The 1947-48 rape and pillage unleashed by the Pakistan-backed Kabailis not only denied them timely capture of Srinagar but left an indelible mark on the psyche of the Vallley Kashmiri. That is why when Pakistan made a similar attempt to infiltrate armed raiders to foment a Kashmiri insurrection (Operation Gibraltar) in 1965, it did not work. The valley Kashmiri sided with the Indian army and disclosed the location of the armed infiltrators. Altaf Gauhar’s ‘Inside the 1965 War’ and several other studies point to the Valley Kashmiri’s annoyance with the Pakistan-backed armed raiders that led to the huge failure of ‘Operation Gibraltar’. That did not change in 1971. Residents of Indian Kashmir remained loyal to India.

youth protesters throw stones at police forces in the Kashmir

And why not !  Most Kashmiris could not fail to the failure of Pakistan as the projected homeland of the South Asian Muslims in view of the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Bangladesh emerged through a bloody eight month guerrilla war followed by Indian military intervention. But the events leading to the civil war were unmistakably clear. The Awami League led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was forced into the civil war by the huge genocidal campaign unleashed by the Pakistani army on the night of 25th March 1971. Pakistan’s Punjabi military rulers would not accept a Bengali Prime Minister – so they were prepared to set aside the results of the 1970 elections that had given the Awami League a clear majority (168 out of 300 seats) in Pakistan’s national assembly. So, my dear Kashmiri brothers, if  Bengali Muslims who constituted  more than 55 percent of undivided Pakistan’s population got only blood and tears in Pakistan and were brutally denied their democratic rights , what can a Kashmiri Muslim expect ! This is the key question that a Kashmiri youngster needs to ask himself. Not the least because the Kashmiris of the Srinagar valley would constitute a very small part of Pakistan’s population and would neither have numbers (as the Bengalis had) nor any other critical assets that could help them exercise some influence on Pakistani policy making.

it is not India but the Kashmiris who should someday good bye to Art 370 – but he needs to realize that day is still very far off. Kashmiris need to enjoy all the many fruits of Indian democracy and its great economic growth story before they can opt for integration

The Kashmiris may well argue that India is no better, that Delhi has converted Kashmir into 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 also not a failure of the Indian army. 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 popularly elected governments but even be traced back to her father’s mishandling of Sheikh Abdullah. It is a failure of the security establishment and its growing influence on Kashmir policy making, as becomes evident in A S Dulat’s wonderful book on the Vajpayee years in Kashmir. It is also the total failure of the Indian political parties and decision makers close to them. The army becomes a scapegoat. It is drawn into the conflict not because it wants to but because the civilian establishment has failed and is nervous.

Masarat Alam

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. So there is nothing wrong with the constitutional architecture designed for Kashmir – the trouble is that it was undermined and not properly implemented.  Mr. Bhagat is right when he says that it is not India but the Kashmiris who should someday good bye to Art 370 – but he needs to realize that day is still very far off. Kashmiris need to enjoy all the many fruits of Indian democracy and its great economic growth story before they can opt for integration.  There is no doubt that some Kashmiri leaders are self-seeking, but are they any different from leaders elsewhere in India ! Kashmiris and many nationalities elsewhere in India expect Delhi to address the identity question and not push for integration or assimilation. In 1985, the Indian state agreed through the Assam Accord to ‘adopt measure to preserve and protect Assamese culture’. So why do something different in Kashmir !

Muslim majority areas of South Asia whose aspirations centers round their own local identity and not around hardline Arab style Salafist Islam (from Bangladesh to Baluchistan) would be much more comfortable dealing with a democratic and secular India than with a jihadi-centric Pakistan

The very existence of Bangladesh, anchored on its proud Bengali cultural heritage and not on Pakistan type hardline Islam, makes the powers in Islamabad uneasy. Identity driven Muslim majority parties in pre-independence India all wanted to have alliance with Congress, but it was the shortsightedness of the right wing clique in that party that thwarted a process which could have prevented Partition in the first place. If the Congress High Command had listened to the Bose brothers and shooed away the Krishak Praja Party, the Muslim League would be outmaneuvered and denied the chance to form the government in 1937. More than sixty years after the Partition, the ground reality has not changed. Those Muslim majority areas of South Asia whose aspirations centers round their own local identity and not around hardline Arab style Salafist Islam (from Bangladesh to Baluchistan) would be much more comfortable dealing with a democratic and secular India than with a jihadi-centric Pakistan. Kashmir would be no different if it is allowed to flourish on Kashmiriyat and not imposed a ‘Bharat Mata’ syndrome.

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