Recently former Home and Finance Minister of India, Shri P Chidambaram, made a statement that dialogue should be held with Kashmiris and Jammu & Kashmir should be offered a higher degree of autonomy under article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Since the statement was made in the midst of Gujrat and Himachal elections, the Congress party could not openly come in support of Shri Chidambaram. After all , a very large number of Indians do perceive the autonomy demand of Kashmiris as somewhat anti national, though not unconstitutional. Indians often ask, “Why can’t Kashmiris live in peace without autonomy like the other 29 nationalities living in India as well as the Dogras of Jammu and the Ladhakis of Ladakh who never raise these issues? Do they ask for this special treatment just because it is a Muslim majority area?”
The Kashmiris, however, feel that their Maharaja had only temporarily acceded the State to India and that the Maharaja had never merged the state with India fully and hence the question of autonomy/azaadi remains relevant, specially because the wishes of the people were never ascertained through plebiscite.
The PM as well as other BJP leaders took this statement as a God sent opportunity to attack the Congress. The PM thundered in his election speeches that the ex Congress Home Minister was speaking in the same tone as the azaadi seeking,’Hurriyat pasand’ Kashmiris. BJP is following a highly nationalist, no nonsense muscular policy in Kashmir. So far they have shown no eagerness to talk to Hurriyat leaders or Pakistan although it is well known that the pro-Pakistan Hurryiat Conference holds considerable sway over the minds of the 75 lakh Kashmiri Muslims who live in J&K. Even Mr. Chidambaram was quite wrong when he said that when Kashmiris talk of azaadi they actually mean autonomy. It may be very convenient for Indian leaders to think like that, but we should know that this statement is actually not correct.
The Congress appointed interlocutors group had also recommended that the easiest way to come to a compromise in J&K is to grant the whole state a high degree of autonomy under article 370, without taking hard decisions regarding breaking up of the state into 3 or 4 parts and then look at the question of autonomy with a magnifying glass. In 2002 the NC dominated J&K Assembly also passed a similar resolution asking for 1953 type of autonomy for the whole state of J&K. However, if this ready made solution is adopted, it will create huge unrest and dissatisfaction among the Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists living in Jammu and Ladakh who are 45% of the total population. This formula will be liked by NC PDP and all other Kashmiri groups because then power will pass on to the 55% Kashmiri Muslim majority and the minorities will be left high and dry with the protective umbrella of Delhi moving even further away from them. It is for very similar reasons that India had to be divided before the British left. Had it not been done, the 35% Muslims of India would have been left high and dry with power passing from the British to the 65% Hindu majority. For solving the Kashmir issue permanently we may have to partition the Indian part of J&K into 3 parts strictly under the Indian constitution.
Now let us have a close look at the ground situation of J&K. Geographically J&K is located at the trijunction of central Asia, south Asia and Mongolian region. Kashmir valley falls in the central Asian part of the Middle East, Jammu province falls in south Asia and Ladakh province in Mongolia. Kashmir is Muslim dominated, Jammu is Hindu and Sikh dominated and Ladakh is Buddhist dominated. The Maharaja had stitched these three regions together and made it into an administrative unit but it is, strictly speaking, not one state with multiple languages and religions. Kashmir is NOT J&K as is often depicted. Kashmir is only 55% of J&K. The Kashmiris would dream of making the whole of J&K an independent Muslim dominated country where the national flag would have the hilal sign, because for the Muslims,”Azaadi ka matlab kya, la ilaha illallah”. The government of India would be seriously wrong if they think that the azaadi cry is linked to Kashmiriat. It is actually a cry for Islamic identity, separate from Hindu majority India. Make no mistake, the cry for autonomy, as advocated by NC and PDP is also linked with the cry for Islamic identity separate from India. If azaadi is impossible to achieve because of India’s military and political might, then the Kashmiris may reluctantly settle for a high degree of autonomy so that they could gradually marginalise the Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs living in Jammu and Ladakh. No Indian government can ever allow that. That is why both Congress and BJP are against such a proposal.
Then what could be done for satisfying our Islamist Kashmiri brothers who shed buckets of tears for Rohingya muslims but have no sympathy for their own Kashmiri Pandit brothers? Obviously we cannot grant them azaadi or full autonomy for the whole state. J&K state is best described by the simple algebraic equation 87=28+9+4+46. The state assembly has 87 seats out of which 28 seats in Jammu are Hindu/ Sikh dominated, 9 seats of Jammu have Muslim majority with substantial Hindu population situated in the southern part of the Pir Panjal mountain range, 4 seats are in Buddhist dominated Ladakh and 46 seats are in Kashmir with an overwhelming Muslim majority. Will the Kashmiri Muslims be satisfied if 1953 type of autonomy is granted to these 46 seats? It could also be considered for the 9 Muslim majority seats of Jammu, but for that a plebiscite has to be held in those 9 segments to know the will of the people. Will they agree to go with autonomous Kashmir, against the forces of geography and the will of the Hindu minority? Will they agree to leave their natural motherland of Jammu? If the Kashmiris accept such a proposal then these 46 seats, along with the 9 seats of Jammu (if plebiscite allows) could be straight away declared as parliamentary constituencies of an autonomous Kashmir parliament and the other 32 seats could be merged permanently with India without article 370.
Kashmiris will themselves have to take the initiative for getting such a proposal passed in the state assembly. Indians may be greatly annoyed if Kashmiris gets a parliament and PM of their own (within Indian framework) but for solving the vexed Kashmir problem this type of autonomy could be considered in this limited area of 46+9 assembly seats, or only 46 seats. For most Kashmiris this will not be to their liking because they dream of azaadi or autonomy for the whole state. But for any type of compromise both sides have to move a few steps towards each other. Jammuites and Ladakhis also should be ready for this compromise because then they will be permanently rid of Kashmiri domination.
(The author is former Financial Commissioner of J&K)
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