The Vale of Kashmir has an enduring and enchanting quality as geography. It stands in splendid isolation from everything around it. It is an exquisite, well-watered and well-wooded valley in the midst of desolate snowy peaks that do not let anything grow. It is approachable only through a single valley route of the Jhelum, and a few impenetrable passes. Yet, this vale not only spawned the greatest efflorescence of creative literature, arts, and spirituality; it also served as the seat for arguably the greatest empire that India, Bhāratavarsha has ever seen – the Karakota Empire. At the zenith of its power, during the reign of Lalitaditya Muktapida (724-760 CE), it spread from the Caspian Sea (Kashyapa Sagara) to Assam (Prāgajyotisha), and from Kashmir to the boundaries of the Chalukyan Empire. The turning point, as in the case of Prithviraj Chauhan in 1339, was the direct result of misguided benevolence of the then Hindu king of Kashmir, Suhadeva. He gave shelter to a fugitive from Swat fleeing the Durrani Empire, Shah Mir. Through conspiracies and political murders, he ascended the throne of Kashmir in 1339, and the dark night for Kashmiri Hindus began.
The tale of the ‘Seven Exoduses’ of Kashmiri Hindus is a tale of blood, gore, rapes, murders and unspeakable atrocities under the guidance of Sufis, Shah-e-Hamadan and Shamsuddin Araqi, Mughals, Durranis, and finally the power elites of post-independence. Sheikh Abdullah’s rise to power in Kashmir bears an uncanny resemblance to the story of Shah Mir of the 14th century. He was the co-founder of the Muslim Conference in 1932, after successfully orchestrating the first riot in the Valley in 1931, and was an inveterate power seeker. When he sensed the discomfort of Congress with Mahārāja Hari Singh in the late 1930s, he promptly morphed into a nationalist and renamed “Muslim Conference” as “National Conference.” It was in this man that India’s leadership placed its utmost trust, to the extent that he managed to prevail on the country’s leadership to do something that was not done with the other 560 plus Princely States.
The Instrument of Accession (IoA) signed by Mahārāja Hari Singh was, word-for-word the same as the IoA signed by every other Princely State. So the argument put forward by the apologists for Article 370 that the IoA for J&K was the product of special circumstances, and has a special significance in the context of J&K’s relationship with India, does not hold water.
Every other State finally signed Covenants of Merger and Merger Agreements, and extended the Constitution of India to their Princely States in full. However, Mahārāja Hari Singh was exiled to Bombay on 20th June 1949. Nobody even asked him whether he was willing to sign a Covenant of Merger on the lines of the other Princely States. Effective power was with Sheikh Abdullah, the Prime Minister forced upon him, who played the role of the Shah Mir reincarnate with consummate expertise. The person who understood the skulduggery inherent in this proposal of special status to J&K was Dr. BR Ambedkar. Recall his famous words to Sheikh Abdullah when he went to persuade Dr. Ambedkar to grant special status to J&K:
“You want India to defend Kashmir, feed its people, give Kashmiri’s equal rights all over India. But you want to deny India and Indians all rights in Kashmir. I am a Law Minister of India, I cannot be a party to such a betrayal of national interests.”
Yet, Art 370 came to be because no effort was made by the leadership to get a Covenant of Merger from the Mahārāja. Unlike all other Princely States where the Rulers were the prime movers, J&K had been virtually handed over to Sheikh Abdullah in March 1948 itself, when Sheikh Abdullah graduated from the head of Emergency Administration of Kashmir to the post of Prime Minister in place of Mehr Chand Mahajan (who later became the 3rd Chief Justice of India). Due to his proximity with the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the pivotal role of Kashmir Muslims, Sheikh Abdullah began his great saga of blackmail that lasted till 5 August 2019, when the bluff was finally called and Art 370 stood nullified.
Sheikh Abdullah must be given the top billing in any pantheon of blackmailers. Some of his seminal achievements are as follows:
It was at this point that Pandit Nehru had to take the decision of arresting Sheikh Abdullah and keeping him detained for the next 11 years.
However, the art of blackmail had been well-learnt by the politicians of the Valley. The natural culmination of this was the Presidential Order of 1954 that provided for institutionalised discrimination against Dalits, tribals, women, minorities, and even against Gurkhas who had been in the Dogra Army for over a century. Art 35A was an artifice that excluded the fundamental rights enjoyed by the rest of country from J&K. It was a betrayal achieved through exactly the same route of blackmail.
This deceit and blackmail were to become a practised art with the Valley politicians. Special constitutional status, special political status, and special financial status did nothing to integrate the Muslim population of Kashmir Valley. Instead, it fuelled the feeling of separatism with even greater intensity. The Jamat-e-Islami Kashmir struck root under the influence of Abu Ala Maudoodi built a separate branch for Kashmir as distinct from Jamat-e-Islami Hind. It got busy doing what it does best – preparing for Dar-ul-Islam, a.k.a. Nizam-e-Mustafa. The Muftis and Farooq and Omar Abdullah were a natural denouement of this process. Fanning the religious feeling among the public, and then blackmailing the Indian leadership into perpetuating their cycle of aggrandisement became a practised art of great finesse. So when the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Hindus happened in 1989-90, it was just a culmination of this long process.
After the insurgency, one more factor became a reason for the perpetuation of the status quo – the intelligence agencies, and the local senior police officers. Senior Intelligence officers like A.S. Dulat spawned the practice of encouraging the so-called moderates of Hurriyat Conference and firmly established the Pakistani fifth column in the Valley. The separatists belonging to the Hurriyat played the classic double agents, taking money from both sides, and facilitating the dynasties of the Valley by keeping the polling low in the various elections. They amassed unbelievable riches, and a part of the secret funds being given to the separatists found its way into the coffers of the security forces as well. It is a truism that appeasing the bully is the best way of ensuring that he never changes his behaviour. This appeasement went to such ridiculous lengths that the Government of India was investing 20 to 25 times greater funds per capita in J&K, most of which found its way into the Valley, than the mainstream States of the Indian Union. A small example from some reports:
This Gordian Knot had no way of being unravelled. That is why the sudden and swift of cutting the Knot through a sword blow was the only solution to getting out of this vicious circle.
Now that Art 370 has been finally nullified, the challenge is to ensure that the appeasement lobby does not gain ground again. The challenge will be to ensure that the rapacious politicians of Kashmir Valley who feasted upon the anxiety of New Delhi to look good in the eyes of the world and blackmailed it to an extent that even MLAs are dollar multimillionaires in the Valley. Separatists have to remain crushed and the architecture of the J&K Reorganisation Bill, in which All India Services, Police, Law and Order, and Advocate General are all going to report to the Lieutenant Governor must stay for a prolonged period. There is no urgency to resume Statehood unless checks and balances are fully ensured and it is made certain that Valley does not call the shots in any future dispensation.