In Kashmir, ‘democracy and morality can wait’: Echoes of betrayal

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said at that time that that democratic rights were not applicable to Kashmir. Photo - NMML

When it comes to Kashmir, ‘democracy and morality can wait’.

Dawn of August 5, 2019, came on Kashmiris like a ‘betrayer’. In the eyes of many perceptive Kashmiris, “the latest betrayal should not be a cause of real surprise or shock if one were a good student of history and the Kashmir conflict”.

For them what happened on August 5 this year was a stark reminder that something similar had happened several times before — first in August 1953, and then again in 1964.

For Kashmir, the season of betrayals has been never-ending.

On August 9, 1953, the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah was unceremoniously dismissed as the head of the region, and then imprisoned for over two decades in separate stints from 1953 to 1975. To begin with, Abdullah, on charges of ‘treason’, remained in prison for twelve years with two brief intermissions in 1958 and 1964.

Independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru allowed Sheikh Abdullah, his once bosom friend, to visit Pakistan to meet the Pakistani military dictator Ayub Khan in Rawalpindi, in 1964. However, Abdullah was again put behind bars on his return to Srinagar. This time, however, for a longer term. By then, Nehru had passed away.

Also read: Prolonged internet ban has hit lives and livelihoods in Kashmir

Celebrated historian Perry Anderson noted in The Indian Ideology that, “The Intelligence Bureau had little difficulty convincing (Pandit Jawaharlal) Nehru that he (Abdullah) had become a liability, and overnight he was dismissed by the stripling heir to the Dogra throne he had so complacently made head of state, and thrown into an Indian jail on charges of sedition.”

Not only was the Sheikh accused of being ‘seditious’, he was also falsely charged for ‘receiving money from Pakistan’ in The Kashmir Conspiracy case.

Jawaharlal Nehru in a discussion with Sheikh Abdullah. Photo – NMML

In the 1940s, Abdullah was largely seen as an unrelenting figure of Kashmiri nationalism. He was the founder of the National Conference, which in 1931 began as the Muslim Conference and was the first political party of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir.

Besides this, Abdullah became the first Muslim Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir after a Kashmiri Pandit (Hindu) PM, Ramchand Kak. He had also spearheaded the Quit Kashmir movement against the Dogra ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh.

Also read: Anger, helplessness in Valley as J&K officially loses its statehood

The late professor Balraj Puri, a noted academic from Jammu region, was enraged over Abdullah’s dismissal as Prime Minister and his detention. With the aim to register his protest, he met Prime Minister Nehru in Delhi. But Puri’s earnest trip to Delhi did not bear any fruit.

He wrote in his book In Kashmir Towards Insurgency that “Nehru warned me against being too idealistic and asserted that the national interest was more important than democracy”.

Historian Anderson while referring to Puri as “an anguished admirer (of Nehru) from Jammu” wrote: “When an anguished admirer from Jammu pleaded with him not to do so, he replied that the national interest was more important than democracy: ‘We have gambled at the international stage on Kashmir, and we cannot afford to lose. At the moment, we are there at the point of a bayonet. Till things improve, ‘democracy and morality can wait’.”

Similarly, according to Kashmiri academic, Professor Ghulam Rasool Malik, “Nehru’s quiet reply (to Balraj Puri) had been that democratic rights were not applicable to Kashmir.”

This, Prof Malik, wrote in his essay In The Arms of Fire in a book titled A Desolation Called Peace.

Also read: EU MPs visiting Kashmir are united by a cause and have a message

Meanwhile, soon after Abdullah’s dismissal from office and subsequent arrest in 1953, the Congress party installed Ghulam Mohammed Bakshi’s regime. Bakshi’s regime was considered both brutal as well as corrupt and, according to Anderson, “depended entirely on the Indian security apparatus”.

When after a decade in office, Bakshi’s utility was over and he too was considered a liability to Delhi, the Congress installed another man named GM Sadiq. Unlike Abdullah and Bakshi (both Prime Ministers), Sadiq was installed as Chief Minister. Abdullah was discarded for Bakshi. And Bakshi for Sadiq. As an aside, all assembly elections till 1977 and also in 1987 were rigged.

Additionally, it was during Sadiq’s regime that the nomenclatures of Sadr-i-Riyasat (president of the state) and Wazir-e-A’zam (prime minister) were dispensed with and replaced by those of ‘governor’ and ‘chief minister’, perceived by native Kashmiris as a major assault on Kashmir’s regional autonomy after the Sheikh’s arrest and removal.

In the mid-1960s, Chief Minister GM Sadiq dropped all cases against Sheikh Abdullah and his associates, including the infamous Kashmir Conspiracy case.

In the eyes of many key Kashmir watchers, there has been hardly any difference between how the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is operating in Kashmir at the moment and how the so-called secular Congress party has dealt with Kashmir in the past. Both the parties have stripped off Kashmir’s autonomy in the name of ‘national interest’, ‘national security’ and ‘national integration’.

On August 5, the BJP not only removed Kashmir’s autonomy, but the saffron party also divided the state into two separate Union territories viz Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. The native Kashmiris have interpreted the BJP’s move as a “strategy of revenge and repression” with an ideological and civilizational view on Kashmir. A Kashmiri on the streets says that it is a “smash and grab” operation.

But please do remember, when it comes to Kashmir, ‘democracy and morality can wait’!

(Gowhar Geelani is Kashmir-based journalist and political commentator.)