Whatever be the truth, this led to acrimonious relations between Srinagar and New Delhi, and the people of Kashmir were given the feeling that it was the Indian Government who had gone back on her assurance of providing Aazadi to the state. Sheikh Abdullah played politics and balanced ‘Greater Autonomy’ for the state and the finality of accession with India, and this sowed fresh seeds of alienation in the masses. For New Delhi, while the accession remained non-negotiable, they maintained an ambiguous stance. On the other hand, the opposition leader, Mr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee was vociferous in the Parliament regarding the disintegrative consequences of the Sheikh’s actions and in his words, ‘revolting against the Centre.’ On the other hand, Nehru told him that he understood Kashmir (his reason to keep Sardar Patel out of the negotiations) better and compounded the situation by refusing to meet Mookerjee before he left for Kashmir, where he was detained by the Sheikh. It was his mysterious death that made Nehru realize the mistake of backing the Sheikh blindly.
The same Sheikh who had stood steadfast against Mr. Jinnah and his marauders was now placed on a pedestal and his arrest invoked renewed calls for a jihad in both Pakistan and POK.
Mr. Ajit Prasad Jain, an Indian Parliamentarian who was sent to Srinagar by Pundit Nehru recounts the circumstances of the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah and has narrated the high drama that was enacted at Srinagar and Gulmarg. He starts with his briefing by Mr. Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, who handed over papers and transcripts of the correspondence exchanged between Pundit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah unveiling the acrimony that prevailed. Mr. Jain was tasked to proceed to Kashmir backed by the authority of Nehru under which he could even arrest the Sheikh, if warranted by the situation. Since this was a carte blanche on a highly explosive issue, Mr. Jain took his instructions from the Prime Minister himself. His brief was clear-the Kashmiri politicians were divided. Heavy weights like Abdullah and Afzal Beg were on one side, while Bakshi, Dogra and Shamlal Saraf were on the other; the former were considered Anti-Indian, as demonstrated by the Sheikh. On the other side, the other group under Bakshi was considered Pro-Indian.
Mr. Jain records that on reaching Kashmir, the tension was perceptible and he apprehended that the Sheikh might announce ‘Independence’ and he records, “I was left with no doubts that the hazards of inaction were greater than wrong action.” In the meanwhile, Mr. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, based on the internal party differences submitted a memorandum to the (first and last) Sadar-e-Riyasat, Yuvraj Karan Singh (son and heir of Maharaja Hari Singh), stating that Abdullah had lost the support of the Party and the Assembly; hence should be removed. In the light of the circumstances, Bakshi was nominated as the Prime Minister, and Abdullah, lacking the support of his own party, was dismissed and it was only then that he was arrested on charges of treason. Surprisingly, despite the apprehensions, Abdullah’s arrest was a tame affair and the only demonstrations that flared up were limited to the valley. However on the other hand, this was just the development that Pakistan had prayed for. The same Sheikh who had stood steadfast against Mr. Jinnah and his marauders was now placed on a pedestal and his arrest invoked renewed calls for a jihad in both Pakistan and POK.
Though Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed proved to be a man of great ability and energy, his political outlook was less radical than the Sheikh. He lost no time in declaring Kashmir as an integral part of India and stating that no power on earth can separate the two, and this was mandated in the same resolution where Sheikh Abdullah lost the trust of his party. In February 1954, the Kashmir Constituent Assembly not only confirmed the legality of the accession but also accepted the new bi-cameral constitution that became operational on 26 January 1957. This allowed the jurisdiction of the Indian Supreme Court and the Comptroller and Auditor General, thereby cementing the ties of the state and the Union of India further, and in doing so, the state was ‘almost’ brought at par with other Indian states, especially in terms of Centre – State fiscal relations. After the military victory of 1971 over Pakistan, the same Sheikh was brought back to power, but this time not as the Prime, but Chief Minister, reflecting the changes that came in with the times.
Another issue that often obfuscates issues of the state is the restriction of Indian citizens from outside the state to buy property in Kashmir. This has nothing to do with Article 370, and the state government is simply preserving the law laid down by the Maharaja in 1921.
What followed the second innings of the Sheikh were to prove the most productive years and the state’s prosperity levels and growth charts shot up, even above the figures turned in by the most prosperous states of the union. However, what followed his demise, especially after the two decades of Pakistan sponsored militancy and terror, retarded the progress of the state. After much bloodletting, the current phase in the long and drawn out Counter-Insurgency campaign has seen the situation change for the better. It would be prudent for both the centre and state to build on their ‘collective’ success, without letting differences induced by short term electoral gains cloud their judgement and place another shroud on the fate of the state. If this is allowed to happen, Pakistan definitely would have the last laugh, and like it happened in 1989, the people of Kashmir and the Indian state would be the ones who would have to pay a heavy price.
Another issue that often obfuscates issues of the state is the restriction of Indian citizens from outside the state to buy property in Kashmir. This has nothing to do with Article 370, and the state government is simply preserving the law laid down by the Maharaja in 1921. At that stage, it was important to prevent the Punjabi Mussalmans, of what eventually became Pakistan to take control over the valley. Whatever be the merits under the current dispensation, by continuing with the law, the state, like many others is simply maintaining the character of the state.
The recent history of the state as of the story of the integration of the Indian nation is sadly one of lost opportunities and unfortunately this continues because of India’s self-induced doubts and electoral politics. The politico-economic-social plight of erstwhile Princely State that threw in its lot with India has many external fractures and internal fissures and need to be addressed in a mature and dignified manner. Amongst others, the case of expulsion of Kashmiri students from educational institutes, simply because they cheered for Pakistan in a cricket match does not behove modern and secular India who eulogises ‘inclusivity’ in intellectual discourses. Amongst others, and there are many, these need to be addressed by imaginative politics and pro-active diplomacy and it is this which is the larger of the challenges that faces the new political set-up in New Delhi – that is what the expectant electorate of modern India expects from their leadership.
Since the cast is set with regard to the accession, let the future of Article 370 also be decided as it was deemed to be – by the people of J & K. Let them make their own decision that the benefits of revocation of the article would be better for them and their future generations. Let not irresponsible statements and rabble-rousing debates do more damage that what has already been done over the last sixty-seven years. As Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, the American President reminded his people: “cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance. On the other hand, a national debate on Kashmiriyat, which is a unique gift of secularity by Kashmir would be more productive for the inclusive growth of the myriad regions and people of a disparate nation like India. This portends to be a beacon of hope for secularity and for the future of India. Let these become the desired aims and objectives of an inclusive debate, not Articles 370 or even 371 – these debates are already closed and it is for the people of the regions, including the Kashmiris to decide and ask for their revocation ‘as and when’ deemed desirable from their point of view.