Kashmir could better be defined as a paradise in turmoil. Persian poet Amir Khusruhad said “Agar Firdaus bar roy-e zamin ast, hamin ast-o hamin ast-o hamin ast” meaning “If there is a paradise upon earth, it is here, it is here, it is here”.
In August 1947 the British divided the subcontinent into India and Pakistan based on religious lines. British India consisted of about 565 princely states and their rulers had the option of joining either of the two new dominions, India or Pakistan.
The princely state of J&K, had three geographically distinct areas – Leh in the North and East with many Buddhist, Jammu in the South mostly Hindus and the Kashmir Valley in the middle with a Muslim majority. The state was ruled by a Hindu Ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh. Under British rule, J&K had its own army, police, post, telegraph, transport, etc, akin to many other Indian princely states then.
Maharaja Hari Singh did not want to accede to either and wanted to remain independent. In order to gain time, Maharaja signed a ‘standstill’ agreement with Pakistan so that trade, travel and communication would be uninterrupted. India did not sign a similar agreement. Pakistan believed that Kashmir would accede to them as it had majority Muslim population, was geographically contiguous to them and the area had better road and rail communications with Pakistan than India. As the Maharaja kept delaying his decision, Pakistan imposed a trade embargo on Kashmir resulting in a lot of misery for the people of Kashmir.
Soon Pakistan’s patience ran out. They covertly sent in Pathan tribals to capture Kashmir. These Pathans were lured with a promise of loot, plunder and rape. The invasion commenced on 20 October 1947. Kashmir was then defended by the state forces and many Muslims from the force rebelled and joined the invaders. Despite the desertions, the state forces fought many pitched battles and were successful in delaying the attackers. The invaders reached Baramulla on 26 October. The Pathans now let loose a savage orgy of loot, rape, murder and abduction of girls. The local Muslims could not believe that a force that had come to liberate them could indulge in such barbarism even against fellow Muslims. Raping, looting and plundering at Baramulla in fact delayed the raiders from reaching Srinagar, thus saving the capital.
As the raiders were knocking at the doors of his capital, Maharaja Hari Singh first sought urgent military aid from India on 24 October. The Indian cabinet under Governor General Mountbatten refused to send troops unless the Maharaja acceded, arguing that the Indian Army could only defend Indian territory.
By about 11 PM, the Maharaja sent another request specifically asking for Indian troops to be sent to Kashmir. The Indian cabinet agreed to the request and on 26 October Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession joining India.
The decision was taken on 27 October to launch the First Battalion of the Sikh Regiment (1 Sikh), located at Delhi, to be flown into Srinagar by Dakota aeroplanes of the Indian Air Force. As there were no administrative echelons of the Indian Army in Kashmir, the battalion had to be self-contained, meaning it had to carry anything and everything – from rations to ammunition. Landing a heavily loaded Dakota on a poorly maintained airstrip at an altitude of around 5000 feet was a feat in itself. Neither the pilots nor the soldiers had any experience in operating at such altitudes and were not equipped to do so. The soldiers had only a thin sweater to beat the cold. Biju Patnaik, who later became the Chief Minister of Odisha State, was one of the first pilots to land in Srinangar that day.
The soldiers of 1 Sikh fought many a bloody battles against the raiders and threw them back to Baramulla and then beyond up to Uri. By November 1948, the Indian Army was in a strong position. They were in fact ready to defeat the Pakistani forces and occupy the entire Kashmir. Yet the Indian government requested United Nations (UN) mediation to resolve the conflict. After protracted discussions at the UN, a cease-fire was agreed to by both countries, which came into effect on 01 January 1949. Why India called in the UN to resolve the conflict when the Indian Army was on the brink of achieving victory remains a mystery.
The terms of the cease-fire as laid out in the UN resolution of 5 January 1949 required Pakistan to withdraw its forces, both regular and irregular, while allowing India to maintain minimum strength of its forces in the state to preserve law and order. On compliance of these conditions, a plebiscite was to be held to determine the future of the territory.
Pakistan claims that a plebiscite must be held to determine whether the people of J&K want join India or Pakistan as stipulated in the UN resolutions. India blames Pakistan for failing to withdraw their forces from the area held by it as stipulated in the very same resolution as a reason for not holding the plebiscite. This simmering bone of contention between two nations resulted in the beautiful state of J&K being divided along the Line of Control (LC) as Azad Kashmir on the Pakistan side with India calling it Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and India Held Kashmir (IHK) as Pakistan calls the Indian part of J&K.
Raja Hari Singh meanwhile appointed Sheikh Abdullah as the Prime Minister, who with three other colleagues joined the Indian Constituent Assembly to discuss provisions of Article 370 of the Indian constitution under draft. In 1950, the Indian constitution was adopted with its Article 1 defining J&K as a state of India and Article 370 conferring it a special status.
Article 370 allowed J&K to make its own laws in all matters except finance, defence, foreign affairs and communications. It established a separate constitution and a separate flag for J&K and denied property rights in the region to the outsiders.
The events and turmoil thereafter only complicated the existence of the state within Indian Union with all political parties fishing in the troubled waters for a few more votes. This situation led to rampant corruption in all spheres of life. Even though Indian government was pumping in lot of money, it never reached the grassroots level. It only alienated the local population from India and they called themselves as Kashmiris and others Indians.
First time I landed in Kashmir was in 1987 as a young Captain and I observed that the most effected due to rampant corruption was basic primary education and healthcare. When I visited the state in 2017, the tale was not different. When these two basic facilities the state must provide is absent, the area becomes an ideal breeding ground for political extremism. Now add religious fanaticism to it, it becomes a real Molotov’s cocktail. This is what has happened in J&K and a similar game is being played in some other areas of Indian hinterland also.
In my view, Article 370 has not served the part it was intended by the authors of Indian constitution, but has led to extreme corruption and difficulties to the common Kashmiri. Lack of education, coupled with lack of employment opportunities encouraged Kashmiri youth to take up weapons, with support and facilitation by Pakistan.
Article 370 though gave a separate identity to Kashmiris, it failed to amalgamate the state and its people with the Indian union. Abolishing it was a mandatory step to ensure the very existence of Indian union. It had to be done now or later and that must have been what the authors of the very same Article 370 intended.
Like many other such ‘special rights’ articles in the Indian Constitution like reserving jobs for the under-privileged castes – Article 338, the number of castes were to be reduced each passing year to ultimate removal of the article from the constitution. The political parties have played hell with this article that the number of castes swelled and beneficiaries have overtaken the normal citizens.
The present Indian Government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the strength and support in the Parliament to move any constitutional amendment. Removal of Article 370 is the first step in the right direction. It must be followed by constructive steps to ‘Educate, Employ and Empower’ the Kashmiris. This will help them to amalgamate with the Indian union and also quell extremist forces fighting for independence or cessation.
When the common Kashmiri finds economic and social upliftment as a result of removal of Article 370, they are sure to amalgamate easily with Indian union than when the article was in force. If necessary steps to improve the lives of a common Kashmiri is not taken up on a war footing, removal of article 370 would prove to be catastrophic.