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Three Books on Kashmir

Kashmir tumbled into the basket of international disputes on January 1, 1948. It was none other than the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru who decided to put it in the UN basket. Ever since that day it has been hot subject for journalists, scholars, and historians. Hardly a year passes when about a dozen of new titles are not added to the already bulging bibliography of the Kashmir dispute. It is, in fact, difficult to keep pace with the number of books written on Kashmir and its allied dimensions. This year, three important titles caught my attention: My Kashmir — Conflict And the Prospects of Enduring Peace by Wajahat Habibullah published by United States Institute of Peace Press, The Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer, Published by Random House and, Sheikh Abdullah Tragic Hero published by Rolli, New Delhi.

Of the three, two books are different from many others published from New Delhi as they have been written by people who have experienced living through the conflict that has consumed tens of thousands of people during the past sixty one years. Ajit Bhattarchaji’s book on Abdullah does not have much to offer. The Curfewed Night is odyssey of a young man who has grown up under bayonets like thousands of Kashmiris in his age group.

My Kashmir is a different book. It is not just an eyewitness’s reportage of happenings in Kashmir but it is an insider’s account of the Kashmir situation. It not only provides a slit to peep into the mind of the establishment but exposes many behind-the-scenes hideous decisions taken at the highest level to subvert democracy in the state, to deny fundamental rights to the people. It also exposes the ugly role by the state bureaucracy in subjugating people. The book, as Teresita C. Shaffer very aptly writes in her forward “has combined several approaches in this thoughtful and incisive book that is part memoir, part history, and part prescription”.

The memoirs of the authors unveil many behind-the-scenes happenings. One may not agree with the prescriptions offered by the author for the resolution of the problem but they do provide an insight into the thinking in the highest echelons of power at New Delhi. The author in his introduction to the book raises a pertinent question that whether Kashmir situation was simply a Hindu-Muslim problem as seen by many Indian intellectuals. The author has shied away from debating over this question, which has simplest answer in the history of the dispute. He very frankly admits that he has been looking at Kashmir as a member of Indian Administrative Service ‘committed to India’.

Despite his deep commitment to the Indian State the author in his book has brought out certain hard realities with the courage of conviction about New Delhi’s handling of Kashmir. Compared to the 1990s when Kashmir was poorly understood, he writes that there is growing awareness of Kashmiris’ sensibilities in India and abroad. “The employment of Kashmiris as journalists as newspaper correspondents have made a striking contribution to this awareness.” The 1990s undoubtedly saw birth of a whole crop of journalists some highly talented and committed to objectivity.

He briefly touches history of Kashmir and birth of the Kashmir problem. In dealing with the question of accession of the state the author has avoided joining the controversy about its date and fact. But he very boldly writes that “neither India’s nor Pakistan’s case rested on justification by the will of the Kashmiri people. But here lies a paradox: India’s Congress Party, which led it into freedom, had traditionally argued for decisions in case of problematic accession by reference to people, whereas the Muslim League had argued for decisions in case of problematic accession by reference to people, whereas the Muslim League had argued in favour of decisions made by the princes. In the case of Jammu and Kashmir these positions were reversed”.

Ajit Bhattacharya

Ajit Bhattacharya with Zahid G Muhammad in an Exclusive Interview

In the series of blunders made by the Indian government in Kashmir the author calls 1953 when Sheikh Abdullah was arrested as the first from ‘the standpoint of relations’ with this state. The author’s knowledge of 1953 happenings is scant and faulty. Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest in 1953 was not provoked by his attending the Afro Asian Conference in Algiers and meeting with China’s Prime Minister Chou en Lai. Sheikh met Cho en Lai in 1965 and not in 1953. There were more than one reasons for Sheikh’s deposition in 1953, major one was his abolishing of big landed estate and land to tiller reforms. The author has put at rest the theory of Sheikh having entered into conspiracy for an independent Kashmir with the US through Adlai Stevenson. “Nehru did not buy this theory.”

Had the author delved deeper into the subject it would have been revealed that the theory was not only invented to ‘alienate India’s left until then supportive of Sheikh but to placate the Hindu chauvinists who were agitating against state’s autonomy, including having a separate constitution, flag, and head of state being designated as Prime Minister. The after events have fully authenticated that the whole exercise of 1953 was undertaken to fully integrate the state with India as was demanded by the communal organisation.

So far as the memoirs of the author are concerned they blow the lid off many an incident that had hitherto remained shrouded in mysteries. He shares his rare experience as SDM Sopore about the mysterious fires that had swept across Baramulla in early June 1970. He laments his helplessness as a civil service officer before army and police. Police would not bother to take civil administrators into confidence about any action even during the rule that in general terms is pronounced as a period of ‘liberalisation’. Quoting an instance the author writes, “I was presumably the highest authority within the sub-division, but I did not know even Damoo’s arrest, let alone its reasons. Of course, I pretended to know, nodding sagely and smiling enigmatically.”

The fort of the book is author’s memoirs as Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Deputy Commissioner of border district of Poonch — a highly politically volatile district of Srinagar and Divisional Commissioner Kashmir. And for his proximity with Nehru-Gandhi family the book drops many hints that provide scope for in-depth studies for understanding New Delhi’s Kashmir policy. The author has also attempted at identifying the ‘deepening mistrust’ between Kashmir and the Indian Government. The author exposes how sham elections in the state were facilitated by the state bureaucracy. He narrates awful story as how he was instructed by his superiors to rig the 1977 elections.

Seeing the Janata Party triumphant in the elections the government had passed instructions to all Deputy Commissioners to arrest National Conference cadres under Preventive Detention Act. He writes that the then Chief Secretary Pushkar Nath Kaul had called an explanation for being slow in issuing detention orders against the National Conference workers. The 1987 elections were ‘sullied’, so believes the author. It was, in fact, Morarji Desai, the then Prime Minister who upset the apple cart of both sleuths and bureaucrats who had drafted plans for rigging the 1977 elections. The book is revealing in more than one ways. The author has served as Divisional Commissioner on two terms during nineties. He was the main person involved in negotiating with militants during the Hazratbal siege.

The book is an important addition to the great list of studies and books for understanding the post 1990 development. One may not agree with the conclusions drawn by the author but the book is essential read for all scholars and academicians engaged in Kashmir studies.


Published in the Post October 6, 2008

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