Misguided feelings

A plebiscite now may lead to a repeat of the 1947 Partition holocaust. The misguided feelings of some cannot be allowed to override the interests of others.

The recent unfortunate statement of a distinguished Supreme Court lawyer urging plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir ignores both history and present ground realities. From time immemorial, Kashmir has been an integral part of India. The city of Srinagar was founded by emperor Ashok. Kashmiris are by no standard a separate nation.
The Indian Independence Act of 1947, passed by the British Parliament, provided for Muslim majority provinces to go to Pakistan and the rest to remain in India.

Bengal and Punjab provinces were also to be partitioned on the basis of religion. The 500-odd princely states which had signed a treaty acknowledging British suzerainty, enjoyed internal autonomy. On the lapse of British paramountcy the ruling princes had to decide which dominion to join. There was no provision for consulting the people in this regard. This suited Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He hoped that the richest princely state, Hyderabad, bigger in size than France, would join Pakistan. He even attempted to tempt the rulers of Jodhpur and Jaisalmer with a blank cheque. As for Kashmir, he felt geography was in favour of Pakistan and it would fall like a ripe plum in Pakistan’s lap.
The Nizam of Hyderabad was a Muslim with 90 per cent Hindu subjects. The Maharaja of Kashmir was a Hindu with 77 per cent Muslim subjects. Maharaja Hari Singh could not make up his mind on which dominion to join. Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan, commanding a force of 10,000 mostly tribesmen and some Pakistan Army personnel in civilian clothes, commenced the invasion of Kashmir on October 22, 1947. A mixed battalion of Maharaja’s Army comprising Punjabi, Muslim and Dogra soldiers was defending Muzaffrabad on the border. The Muslim soldiers of the battalion killed their Hindu commanding officer and joined the enemy. Muzaffrabad was captured and the enemy advanced to Uri. Brig. Rajendra Singh of the State Army with a small detachment offered resistance at Uri. He blew up the bridge, imposing a two-day delay on the enemy. The enemy overcame this resistance and Brig. Singh was killed. On October 25, the enemy entered Baramulla, subjecting it to most barbarous rapine and plunder. Srinagar was now defenceless. The Maharaja fled to Jammu. He wrote to Lord Mountbatten seeking Indian assistance to rescue the people of Kashmir. He offered unconditionally to accede to the Indian Union and invite Sheikh Abdullah, the leader of the largest political party, to head the government. He signed the Instrument of Accession at Jammu on the evening of October 26. The first detachment of the Indian Army flew into Srinagar on October 27. While accepting accession of Kashmir, Lord Mountbatten wrote that after peace was restored the people of the state will be allowed to decide their future. In January 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations. This was a grave mistake. The August 13, 1948, resolution of the UN Security Council proposed solution of the Kashmir problem in three phases — Phase 1: Ceasefire and delineation of the Ceasefire Line; Phase 2: Withdrawal of all Pakistan forces from Kashmir while India was to retain her forces and be responsible in Kashmir; Phase 3: Plebiscite, under UN supervision.
Thus the resolution endorsed the legality of Kashmir’s accession to India. Both India and Pakistan accepted this resolution. Pakistan failed to honour its commitment to withdraw its forces from Kashmir as required in Phase 2 and hence plebiscite as per Phase 3 could not be held. Sheikh Abdullah was in power with massive popular support. Pakistan feared the outcome of a plebiscite. After the dismissal and imprisonment of Sheikh Abdullah, Pakistan became vocal about plebiscite. It unleashed virulent propaganda against India, blaming her for not holding plebiscite fearing the verdict of a Muslim majority state. During the Cold War, for its own vested interests, the West fully supported Pakistan.

Today the holding of a plebiscite is out of the question. Unlike India, which does not allow non-Kasmiris to settle in the state, Pakistan has altered the demography of PoK by allowing unrestricted influx of people from its mainland. There has been widespread agitation and frequent clashes in Gilgit-Baltistan on that account. The settlers are of a different ethnic stock and are all Sunnis while the local population in that region is entirely Shia.
As mentioned earlier, India has fulfilled its commitment of allowing self-determination to the people of Kashmir by holding regular elections. The elections held in 1977, after Sheikh Abdullah returned to power, were acknowledged by all as free and fair. Similarly, the elections of 2002 were observed by international journalists who confirmed the same. In 2008 again there was no complaint about the election not being free and fair. The voter turnout in this election was much higher than the national average.
The separatists argue that elections were fought on local issues and cannot be considered endorsement by the people of remaining in India. Even so, the fact remains that the people showed little regard for the boycott call of the separatists. In Assam, when the separatists gave a boycott call before the 1984 elections, the voter turnout there was an all-time low of a mere three per cent. Further, the Mori Poll conducted in 2002 by a British NGO patronised by Lord Avebury, a known Pakistan protagonist, recorded that 61 per cent people wanted to remain in India, only six per cent wanted to go to Pakistan and 33 per cent were undecided. In 2007, Baroness Nicholson, an MP of EU Parliament, came on a fact-finding mission to both parts of Kashmir. She condemned lack of democracy in PoK, particularly in Gilgit-Baltistan region, and praised democratic functioning in India-administered Kashmir. Pakistan desperately tried to get this report scuttled but the EU Parliament endorsed it by some 400 votes, with only nine against.
We must note the demographic structure in Kashmir. There are 45 per cent Kashmiri Muslims, 20 per cent other Muslims like Gujjars, Bakherwals and Kargil Shias and 35 per cent Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. Separatist and terrorist activities are confined almost entirely to Kashmiri Muslims. The other Muslims and non-Muslims do not harbour any anti-national sentiments. In the event of a plebiscite, the separatists will play the communal card to mobilise all Muslim votes as they did on a non-issue during the Amarnath land controversy in 2008, leading to a communal tornado in which nearly 100 people were killed. A plebiscite or referendum now may lead to a repeat of the 1947 Partition holocaust. The misguided feelings of less than half-a-million Muslims in the Valley cannot be allowed to override the interests of more than a hundred million Muslims of India and negate our much cherished secular values.
We are combating a totally communal, separatist movement in Kashmir not only to uphold our national integrity but also to make the civilised world, including liberal Muslims, who constitute the silent majority of their community, safe from jihadi terrorism. The bleeding heart human rights and civil liberties activists must appreciate that plebiscite or self-determination is now totally uncalled for.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and J&K

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