An illuminating account of Kashmir History

Dr K L Chowdhury
Ten Studies in Kashmir
History and Politics
(ICSSR Publication – 2019)
The title of this well-written book is quite descriptive of what the reader should expect. This is the history of Kashmir and her people and politics – partly studied, partly lived and partly researched by the author who is an intrepid historian and a living witness to Kashmir’s tumultuous contemporary history. He has passionately delved into archives to search for grains of truth in the voluminous chaff of falsehoods and half truths written about Kashmir. He is largely aided in his scholarly pursuits by a good knowledge of Persian and his travels in Central Asian countries. His translations of Baharistan-i-Shahi (A Chronicle of Medieval Kashmir) and Tohfatu`l Ahbab (a Muslim Missionary in Medieval Kashmir) have been well received. They help to fill in some of the hiatuses and correct some of the biases in the recorded history of medieval Kashmir.
The ten studies written in ten chapters are not in continuity and can be taken up at random depending upon the reader’s choice, but taken collectively, they provide an excellent overview and, at places, a deeper inside view of this terror-besotted land with an unfortunate history of oppressive and tyrannical foreign rule over successive centuries ever since the advent of Islamic missionaries, proselytizers and invaders. Alas, the tyranny grew worse after independence under the garb of democracy, perpetuated by a deadly coterie of politicians, bureaucrats and rich businessmen, who monopolized all power, pelf and position at the cost of the common citizen. Prof. Pandit eloquently sums it up about the greedy and corrupt ruling elite who formed ‘a government within the government with funds from the Union government’. Misgovernance primed the ground for insemination with radical Islam that led to insurrection, aided and abetted by neighboring Pakistan. The result is a hybrid society that is progressively tending to Arabic social-cultural-religious traditions as evidenced by the adoption of names of people, places and institutions; the lingo; the dress codes; and the social discourse. It is a metamorphosis that has left them unrecognizable from what they were like just a few decades back.
In his exhaustive write up on the October 1947 tribal invasion, Prof Pandit reveals how it was conceived and put into action as Operation Gulmarg as early as August 20, 1947, merely a week after Pakistan was created; how a majority of the Muslims of Maharaja Hari Sing’s army joined hands with the invaders; how the locals became the guides to identify ‘infidels’ for the carnage resulting in the massacre of more than 35 thousand Hindus and Sikhs and large-scale abduction and rape of women.
The author concedes the Maharaja’s dilemma of being a Hindu ruler of a Muslim-majority J&K that forced him to request a Standstill Agreement both with India and Pakistan in order to buy time for a considered decision. While India rejected it, Pakistan craftily agreed but lost no time to flout it and invade and annex Kashmir by force, leaving the Maharaja no option but to accede to India and call for urgent help. Prof Pandit laments Nehru’s ambivalence and delay in accepting accession, because of his hatred of Hari Singh, which led him from one blunder to another in Kashmir. He makes a pithy observation: ‘At the time Nehru’s ancestors were cooling their heels at the Mogul court for petty favors of finding a revenue job, the ancestors of Maharaja Hari Singh were fighting man and nature to carve out a kingdom.’
Prof Pandit lays the primary blame of Kashmir conflict on Muslim Conference with its strongholds in Poonch-Mirpur-Bagh sectors. He reveals how Lord Mountbatten, the first viceroy of independent India had advance knowledge about the impending tribal attack, and how the first three defense chiefs of India, all British, cunningly contrived the delay in sending troops to repulse the tribal invasion, and finally the decision by Nehru agreeing to cease fire, when more than a third of J&K was still under Pak occupation and the Indian army in a vantage position to push them back. Nehru made yet another blunder to approach the Security Council where the western powers leaned heavily in favor of Pakistan, identified as the ‘keystone in the arch of the Indian Ocean’ and one of the ‘5 bricks in the wall against Soviet expansion’ in the area.
The Sheikh adopted the Naya Kashmir manifesto, but while his first task was to do away with the zamindari and jagirdari system, he allowed a new class of landlords to legitimize their usurpation of land through influence and subterfuge. In the process Muslims just moved into the lands that the Pandits were deprived of with the stroke of a pen. It took only a few years of power for the Sheikh to emerge from the image of the savior to that of a Sultan of Kashmir.
Nehru had a blinkered view of the Sheikh whom he ‘eulogized and lionized’ as a great secularist and anti-feudal. His word was final for Nehru who committed all the blunders in Kashmir from that blind faith. The relationship between the two major actors in the genesis of Kashmir crisis is summed up in these words: ‘Nehru’s stubbornness stood in contrast to Sheikh’s capriciousness.’
Prof Pandit explodes the myth about Kashmiriyat, which is not the amity and brotherhood between communities that it is made out to be but, in essence, a quest for Muslim precedence, a reiteration of their separate identity and a false veneer to their sub-national aspirations, This is borne out by the campaign for Islamization of every possible institution including the change of names of thousands of villages, streets, hills, springs, rivers etc. Tragically, the 2000 year Hindu rule before the advent of Islam is being undermined and erased in the desperate bid to rewrite the history of Kashmir.
The metamorphosis is bolstered by their fatal attraction to Pakistan and the evil axis between Saudi Arabia and the Kashmiris of all hues – those employed or doing business in Saudi, carpet exporters, members of Jamaat Islami and even the Kashmiri elite, nearly one thousand of who were on the payrolls of ISI as far back as 1990.
Prof Pandit debunks the largely accepted argument that the cause of militancy was the rigged 1987 elections. Much earlier, during GM Shah’s brief tenure as CM, two battalions of Jammat-e-Islmai were raised to augment (infiltrate) State police force to create massive internal subversion. Much before militancy erupted, Farooq Abdullah had allowed the establishment of a training camp for the Khalistanis at Shajamarg in 1984, and eulogized Bhindrawale as the 11th guru of Sikhs.
Commenting on the apparent rift between Jamaati Islami and non-Jamaitis, or between JKLF and Hizbul-Mujahideen, he clarifies that it is a conflict not of ideologies but of the different shades of Muslim communalism. The same applies to the mainstream organizations, be it NC, Congress, PDP or the Marxists. They are not able to hide for long their communal spots behind the thin veneer of secularism and pseudo-Kashmiriyat. The stand of the Kashmiri political leadership during the last seven decades is ‘subject to the quantum of funds provided (by the Central Government) minus a utilization certificate’ and the philosophy adopted is ‘guns from Pakistan, money from India’. All of them are working in tandem to keep the Kashmir issue burning and make Kashmir an ‘industry’ from which everyone is making profit, be it the Kashmiris, be it the so called NGOs, the Track II diplomats, the left-liberals, the Sarvodayas, the Royists, and even the Naxals.
In order to understand the real colors and contours of the Kashmir problem everyone must read at least the two highly informative studies in the book: The Ethnic Cleansing (and Genocide) of Pandits (about which a lot has been written, yet not enough) and Kashmir Muslim Society. As for the return of Pandits to their homeland, the author makes no bones about his total disappointment with the apathy and the absence of any concerted moves from the State and Central governments, that makes him utter some home truths viz ‘Diasporas have built great civilizations. The Pandits belong to the world.’
Understandably, the narrative is bound to be meandering and repetitive in patches but, on the whole, it is quite illuminating, and an important addition to the mounds of material written on Kashmir.