Half a century ago, India was partitioned. With the Muslim League violently pressing its demand, the Congress saw the inevitability, and agreed. One proposed, the other accepted. Partition, then, became responsible for the tragedies that unfolded in Punjab and Bengal, two of the most vigorous and resourceful provinces of undivided India, as also Sindh.
But when it came to Kashmir, where he had his roots, Jawaharlal Nehru was determined not to allow the application of the two-nation principle. Jinnah, on the other hand, was determined to take Kashmir. Sardar Patel, hero of the present Home Minister of India, L. K. Advani, had this to say when Pakistan came into being: “The poison has gone out.” He then went after the cherries (the princely states), and was committed to ensure that they all came to India. Scruples were shed. In Hyderabad and Junagadh, the Sardar used the ´people´s principle´. The Nizam of Hyderabad and the Nawab of Junagadh were put on the mat for their desire to join Pakistan, and the two states were annexed to India by police action—on the basis of ‘people´s desire’.
In Kashmir, however, this desire did not count. The ´ruler´s desire´ to stay with India, under pressure from a Pakistani-sponsored invasion, was all that mattered. The Indian army went in, trying to recover lost ground. They were partially successful. Nehru agreed to a UN plebiscite, only to later rescind. The Kashmir problem was born…
Fifty years later, India says it is determined to recover all of Kashmir. Pakistan says Kashmir as a Muslim-majority state should merge with it. So, this fight is all about two national egos, with Kashmir merely a manifestation. What can Pakistan offer its Muslim brethren in Kashmir when it could not keep the Bengalis from feeling cheated on all scores? How can India justify its huge military spending on Kashmir, when it let Punjab and Bengal go for a song?
As a Bengali, as a resident of India´s remote Northeast, and as an Indian taxpayer, how can I feel comfortable with the huge military and political investment that Delhi is making in Kashmir. Why should I accept the Partition of Bengal in the first place, when Nehru was not willing to accept the Partition of Kashmir. The indivisibility of our homelands is dear to each one of us.
Northeast India is rich in resources tea, timber, oil, gas and minerals. Yet Nehru had no compunction in leaving Assam to its fate in the face of the Chinese advance, even as he remained committed to defend every inch of Kashmir from Pakistani aggression. Kashmir does have handicrafts, dry fruits, houseboats and carpets to offer—but no strategic mineral reserves. The Northeast is India´s gateway to Southeast Asia. Strategically, both areas are important to the Indian nation-state, but Kashmir has secured much greater emotional weightage for the mandarins in Delhi.
If it is true that the government believes in disinvestment in loss-making entities, Kashmir should be the first on the list. I risk the ire of the chauvinists as I say all this, but should I care? Look at the price to be paid—a South Asia doomed to possible nuclear war just because the satraps in Delhi and Islamabad are spoiling for a fight to the finish on Kashmir, Why should India make a heavy military and political investment in Kashmir, when so little in terms of foreign exchange earnings come from there? They say Kashmir is great for tourism, and I say the rest of India is just as beautiful. If you can shoot Roja, the film, in Himachal and pass it off as Kashmir, obviously other hill regions are just as good as the Valley.
This is not to suggest that India give away its Kashmir to Pakistan on a platter. After the genocide in Bangladesh, Pakistan has no moral right to ask for Kashmir. If Bengali Muslims, more than 65 percent of undivided Pakistan´s population, could not get justice in Pakistan, the Kashmir Muslim, much smaller in number, will never get it.
But Delhi will have to let Kashmiris decide their fate. After all the atrocities of the Indian security forces, the Kashmiris, allowed to express themselves without fear in a plebiscite, will obviously vote for independence. India feels that this would unleash the dominoes, but nothing of the sort will happen. If Kashmir thrives as a small, successful nation-state in South Asia, (in any case it is the Valley we are talking about, since Jammu and Ladakh will opt to stay with India), it will encourage some states in Pakistan to think of going the same way. Pakistan was born on a principle that was untenable. Religion has never succeeded as the organising principle of a nation-state. The wars in West Asia, the break-up of Pakistan, the strains in relations between India and Nepal, the two World Wars in Europe all prove that holding a common religion doesn´t make for a conflict-proof scenario.
Religion will work neither in Kashmir, nor in Pakistan. India should not worry, and let the Kashmiris decide their fate.