BA V21, No1, 2019


Jashn-e-Kashmir: Denial, demotion and dejection – Pushp Saraf

While growing up in the KashmirValley in the mid-1950s I was exposed to a cultural extravaganza Jashn-e-Kashmir (Festival of Kashmir) at the highly picturesque Mughal Gardens in Srinagar. This would be an evening of fun and frolic, of songs and dances, and, of course, the mouth-watering ‘Wazwan”, the ultimate multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine. The “high” and “mighty” of politics and bureaucracy would ensure that their presence was noticed along with the best practitioners of fine arts.

It was a dazzling sensory experience on the banks of the Dal Lake.

As the years rolled by, the realisaion set in that all is not gold that glitters. The ‘1ashn” — the first of which was held in 1956 — was part of a grand strategy to camouflage the bitter truth of widespread tension and anger that prevailed below the surface over the arrest of local hero and “Prime Minister” (the designation then of the popular head of J&K) Sheikh Abdullah and his popular associates in the National Conference,J&K’s premier political outfit, in 1953. It was meant to project that all is well in J&K especially the Valley. Similar scintillating shows were held far and wide.

Almost a decade later, as a teenager, I came across another spectacular phenomenon although it was minus all the sponsored light, action and drama. This was while travelling with the Sheikh after his release from the jail where he spent I I years. It was the sight of common people, especially women, dancing and singing hymns in his praise. It was a breathtaking celebration on public roads in which the masses were involved of their accord. Then as a student of Srinagar’s Sri Pratap College, it was my first introduction to the appeal of a mass leader who was then the moving spirit behind the secessionist Plebiscite Front.Amazingly, the masses had moved along with him from one end of the political spectrum — rejection of the two-nation theory based on religion to accede to India in 1947 to the demand for the right to self-determination in the 1950s and 1960s — and then again to India following his historic written 1975 accord with then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Border Affairs

  • Editorial : Jashn-e-Kashmir: Denial,demotion and dejection
  • Double bonanza for Ladakh: UT and Sixth Schedule
  • Pakistan : Opposition’s search for unity
  • Bangladesh : Slanging match
  • Response : Unity against terrorism

The official ‘Jashn” had not succeeded in turning the people away from him.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s acquiescence in the Sheikh’s incarceration and, worse still, in the oppression of the pro-India opposition parties constitutes a sad chapter of J&K’s political history between 1953 and 1964. Indeed, Nehru was one of the greatest democrats of his era who played a stellar role in strengthening democracy and secularism in the independent country in its formative years. It was also because of leaders like him, Sardar Patel and the Sheikh that the Muslim-majority J&K joined a secular India rejecting a Muslim Pakistan. How could he subsequently shut his eyes — actually become a party — to the repressive measures adopted against pro-India political rivals in J&K? This can’t be easily explained.The late Y. D. Gundevia, his foreign secretary and a distinguished bureaucrat who was involved in Kashmir affairs in the 1960s, has tried to answer the question in his book “Outside the archives.” According to him, Nehru was misled by “Home Ministry files” (intelligence reports) which portrayed a negative picture of pro-India opposition leaders fighting puppet regimes in the state.

It is only well known that the Sadar-e-Riyasat (the designation then of the Governor) Karan Singh and Deputy”Prime Minister” and Home Minister Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad along with his deputy D.P. Dhar planned the Sheikh’s arrest by ensuring that he was woken up from his sleep and taken into custody in the hill resort of Gulmarg. Bakshi was ironically the closest confidant of the Sheikh. The Sheikh could never forgive the Bakshi for his betrayal and refused to condole his death when he passed away in 1972.The succeeding “Prime Ministers”/Chief Ministers of J&K also had August 9, 1953 firmly etched on their minds and never parted with the Home portfolio.

National parties take plunge

A government born of what was a conspiracy could not have delivered because of the resultant loss of popular goodwill. Bakshi became the “Prime Minister” following the Sheikh’s arrest and dismissal. He himself was the product of a popular movement and a fairly good administrator. However, once controlling the levers of power he became extremely intolerant of the opposition and practiced a “gun or gold” policy rewarding his loyalists and severely punishing the rivals. He became jittery when the Praja Socialist Party (PSP), then the third largest party in the country, set up it.s unit in J&K — the first nationalist party to do so with it.sown constitution — on November 9, 1954 and the Praja Parishad, till then a regional outfit working in tandem with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), converted itself into the state unit of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh ( earlier avatar of the Bharatiya Janata Party) the same day.

The PSP posed an inter-regional challenge to the Bakshi’s National Conference, virtually an adjunct of the Congress, including in the Valley. It opposed detentions without trial, believed in respect for all regions as well as in winning over hostile elements through dialogue and presented a liberal and secular face of the country. The Jan Sangh, on the other hand, took a strident pro-Hindu and pro-Jammu stance in the country’s only Muslim­majority state garnering mass support in the Hindu-dominated areas of the Jammu region. In fact, it.s entire politics was built around the slogan of “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, Ek desh mein do Pradhan, Ek desh mein do Nishan nahi challenge, nahi chalenge” (A single country can’t have two constitutions, two prime ministers,and two national emblems).The party had initially gone along with a vacillating Maharaja Hari Singh. It was embarrassed as the Maharaja was forced by circumstances to drop his independence plans and opt for accession with India which was delayed. To overcome its discomfiture it raised the demand for complete merger with India assuming no responsibility for strengthening the willing association of Muslims in the Valley with the rest of the country. It cared litde for sensitive issues like Article 370 of the Indian Constitution guaranteeing special status to J&K. It ignored the larger sentiment in the Valley though it had a good leader there in Tika Lal Taploo who was assassinated by the militants in Srinagar on September 14, 1989 in the first wave of terrorist killings of pro-India and liberal leaders that began with the murder of NC leaderYusuf Halwai on August 21, 1989 (once during an informal discussion with me BJP veteran Kidar Nath Sahani described him as the “second Maqbool Sherwani”, a 19-year old follower of the Sheikh who became a legend when he was nailed on a wooden cross and repeatedly shot by Pakistani raiders on November 7, 1947) and also took toll of Maulana Masoodi, a member of the Indian Constituent Assembly, on December 13, 1990 along with several other sane voices.

In the Jam mu region, the Jan Sangh benefitted on different occasions from the presence of three top leaders Balraj Madhok, Premnath Dogra and Kidar Nath Sahani of whom Mr Madhok and Mr Sahani even after moving to the larger national spectrum kept in close touch with the state. Mr Dogra too became all-India president of the Jan Sangh and was a noble leader enjoying general goodwill. He was a government servant for long and was prematurely retired as WazirWazarat (Deputy Commissioner) of Muzaffarabad, now the Capital city of “Azad” Kashmir, as the occupied territory across the Line of Control (LoC) is locally known, when he was not even 45, long before the retirement age of 62. He was “punished for handling situation in the Muslim stronghold of Muzaffarabad in a way that spared the Muslims of any firing or lathi­ charge, unlike some other towns in the state, while the local Hindus and Sikhs who were in a minority also remained safe.” In simple language he refused to follow orders for opening fire on peaceful Muslim demonstrators.

Personal experience

The PSP’s emergence,its emphasis on probity in public life and the electoral and intellectual challenge it posed unnerved the Bakshi. My late father Om Prakash Saraf, a Gandhian to the core, was the founder-chairman of the J&K unit of the PSP and was among the first to challenge the Bakshi’s nominees in the Valley that too in the prestigious Amirakadal assembly constituency, then the nerve centre of Kashmir politics, in the first assembly polls held under the auspices of the Election Commission of India in 1962. He had earlier been expelled from the NC by the Sheikh for not having supported his campaign for evicting Maharaja Hari Singh from the state even though he had worked for and celebrated his abdication. Wherever we stayed in Jammu or Srinagar — it was mostly in rented accommodation — our premises would be surrounded by plainclothesmen. Father’s public meetings were invariably disrupted and he was also once detained in Kathua on the national highway in the Jammu region when he was returning home by bus after attending a PSP meeting in the national capital. He left the PSP in 1964 when some of its national leaders, including his friend Asoka Mehta, joined the Congress. He did not join the Congress and returned to active politics only during Emergency to stand up against it as one of the key leaders of the state Janata Party along with Maulana Masoodi and Thakur Baldev Singh.

Some of the leading lights of the PSP like Devi Dass Thakur, Balraj Puri Abdul Gani Goni,AdarshAnand,Acharya Nand Kumar;”Gauhar” Ghulam Nabi andAmrit Malhotra made it big on the national spectrum in political, legal and diplomatic fields. {My father and grandfather Lala Mulk Raj Saraf, who founded J&K’s first newspaper namely”Ranbir” in 1924, worked for the state’s emotional integration with the rest of the country. The “Ranbir” invited the wrath of the Maharaja and the British India Government and was banned on a couple of occasions including on May 9, 1930 for reporting Mahatma Gandhi’s arrest in “British India” and, to quote the official order, “disgraceful demonstrations which lately took place in the city of Jammu in connection with the arrest” and on June 23, 1947 for pleading the state’s immediate accession with India and the Sheikh’s release from jail which was viewed by the Maharaja’s administration as threats to “public safety” and “maintenance of public order” before, ironically, “falling martyr’: to quote media reports of that period, “to the “hero (Sheikh Abdullah) it created” on May 18, 1950 as the Sheikh’s “advisers began to adopt taaics which were more reprehensible than even those adopted by an autocratic regime in the past to stifle the voice of the Ranbir.” Maharaja Hari Singh, in a bid to retain his independence, offered the Standstill Agreement “on all matters on which these exist at present with the out.going British Indian Government. .. pending settlement of details and formal execution of fresh agreement” to both Pakistan and India; Pakistan accepted it only to stab the Maharaja in the back by organising a tribal raid hurrying him to settle for accession with India).

The Bakshi appeared to rejoice in the harassment of his political opponents. What was galling was that Nehru went along with him to the extent of dubbing his critics, who were for strengthening the state’s integration with India but were opposed to a corrupt and vindictive state administration, as “enemies of the nation.” When Nehru woke up to the reality it was too late (he sacked the Bakshi under his famous “Kamaraj plan”, agreed to the withdrawal of the “Kashmir conspiracy case” against the Sheikh and his close associates facilitating their release and invited the Sheikh to stay with him at the Prime Minister’s residence in New Delhi. It was a dramatic reversal of fortunes in which the Bakshi not only lost power but also later landed in jail under the Defence of India Rules).

Jashn-e-Kashmir was the Bakshi’s idea of creating a feel-good environment to knock off the bitter memories of 1953 and its bloody aftermath. He himself said it was intended as a break from “tension and politics” and was “a fitting climax to the conditions of normalcy and the change-over in 1953.” Hafsa Kanjwal, a history professor in the United States, has mentioned in a chapter on the festival in her dissertation “Building a new Kashmir: Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad and the politics of state formation in a disputed territory” submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy {History and Women’s Studies) in The University of Michigan 2017: “While a number of writers offered an indirect social critique of this period, some, like Rahman Rahi, took on Bakshi himself. … Perhaps no account of Bakshi’s rule was as damning as Rehman’s satirical poem in Kashmiri, Maefi Nama (apology) … He joined the bureaucracy under Bakshi and took part in Jashn-e-Kashmir… In the poem the poet apologises for having insulted ‘the golden-laden ruler’, referring to Bakshi…Later on, he suggests the ruler was insulted because Rahi had dared to mention the ineffectiveness of a particular policy. Evoking a series of images, the poet satirises the ruler’s dictatorial style (‘if someone dares to smell a rose without your due permission that is mutiny’), and his total control over all aspects of life in the country, including life and death, ‘if you call a mirage a sea, that will be the reality; if you call blood ‘Zam Zam’, who has the guts to say it is not?; if you call stumbling dance, who can question you?; an insane person with whom you are happy, he gets the seal of being a dervish; if you are not ready to tolerate Socrates you will give him poison; whom am I to challenge you?”(Zam Zam is a well in Mecca whose water is considered holy).

In his nineties now, Rahman Rahi is the only Kashmiri litterateur to have been honoured with the country’s prestigious Jnanpith award.

History repeats itself

Jashn-e-Kashmir comes to mind at this point in history because of the celebrations by the BJP and a section of population in the rest of the country over the abolition of J&K’s special status and its bifurcation into two union territories on August S and 6.The Bakshi organised his show because he was conscious that he had to regain his and his government’s popularity and credibility eroded by the Sheikh’s arrest. At least he had the satisfaction of doing whatever he did on the home turf. The irony of the BJP’s merriment over the successful culmination of a long-held belief is that it is not shared by the area and the population in the name of which it is being held. The dominant sentiment of J&K (except that of the Ladakh region} has not been taken into account even as the state has been subjected to the ignominy of becoming the first to be demoted to a union territory. It is not surprising, therefore, that normal life in J&K has been thrown out of gear ever since the Union Government scrapped Article 35-A and nullified the basic emphasis of Article 370 on August 5, There has been a virtual shutdown in the Valley in particular. How can it be a cause for celebration in a democracy that an entire population is under lockdown in a part of the country: there is communication blockade, denial of freedom of expression, detention without trial of a large number of mainstream leaders, lawyers and human rights activists? How can it be explained to the people running around in search of their relatives lodged in different jails in the country?

There is denial of the historical context in which J&K merged with India, demotion of one of the most vibrant states and, as a result, widespread dejection. The Union Government has extracted a heavy price from J&K for its own abject failure to control militancy.
In the Jammu region, a BJP stronghold otherwise, the initial enthusiasm is giving way to despondency over the loss of the statehood of a historic state which extended its territory first to Kashmir and then to Ladakh (The full title of Maharaja Hari Singh when the circumstances compelled him to sign the Instrument of Accession in 194 7 was “Shriman lndar Mahandar Rajrajeshwar Maharajadhiraj Shri Hari Singhji, Jammu Kashmir Naresh Tatha Tibbet adi Deshadhipathr’). It is coupled with an uneasy feeling over the future of children deprived of their privileged status and the loss of land to affluent business persons from outside (top BJP leaders like Speaker Nirmal Singh are going around to alleviate the local concerns with the assurance that domicile certificates may be issued to “protea the interests of locals in respect to land and state jobs,” and Governor Satya Pal Malik himself has spoken that “their identity is neither at stake nor has been tampered with.’} The feeling is sinking as if Jammu has been used as a guinea pig in a broader scheme despite its proven nationalist credentials and massive contribution to the armed forces. The BJP has exposed itself to the charge of having acted with an eye on the electorate in the rest of the country. The Jammu region has never sought a UT status. So is the case with the Valley. Ladakh is the only region which has got it after a long struggle as it has mostly found itself crushed between Kashmir and Jammu evoking the Swahili saying: “When two elephants fight, the grass suffers; and, when the same two elephants make love, the grass also suffers.”

Detentions without trial

Even during the Bakshi’s time or during Emergency later there has not been such large-scale detention of mainstream opposition leaders on both sides of the Pir Panjal range as at the time of this writing. The BJP has cracked the whip on them before going ahead with unilateral announcements on August 5. One former chief minister Farooq Abdullah has been formally arrested under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) after having been put under house arrest all along. Two other former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are confined to makeshift jails. A fourth ex-chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is also Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, has had to invoke the Supreme Court’s intervention to visit his home state after his three attempts were scuttled forcing him to return from Srinagar and Jammu airports.

Almost everybody who is anybody in J&K’s mainstream opposition politics, leave alone separatist spectrum, is under detention. The mainstream and separatist politicians have thus been pushed on the same side of the fence with the former facing the sarcastic “we-told-you­-so” (implying that New Delhi would let down you) looks from their traditional opponents. The judiciary’s intervention has been evoked by relatives and party members to meet their detained family members and leaders and to ensure that the ailing Communist Party of India-Marxist stalwart Yusuf Tarigami gets proper treatment at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi. In the Jammu region, popular leaders like Devinder Singh Rana, provincial president of the NC, Harsh Dev Singh of the National Panthers Party and Raman Bhalla of the Congress have been put under house arrest as have been many others. Any mention of a leader holding a press conference makes the administration edgy and it moves in swiftly to thwart it. Except for the Governor and BJP leaders there is no political face visible on the ground.

Indeed, it is amazing that the leaders, who have undergone detentions without trial during Emergency as many BJ P leaders have and know that as a strategy it can boomerang on its practitioners, should evoke the same tactic to silence their ideological rivals.

Besides protests by concerned citizens and sections of the media, occasionally important individual voices have also been raised against the manner of diluting the state’s special status as by former top cop Julius Ribeiro, who tackled terrorism with a strong hand in Punjab in the
1980s (“From the police point of view. I will give full marks. But from the moralistic, I would not do. The people are supposed to be involved … Getting people on the side is the most important thing and that the government will have to do. Otherwise, you get this trouble. Getting people on your side is the crux of the matter’J; Kannan Gopinathan, an AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh-­Goa-Mizoram-Union Territories (excluding Andaman and Nicobar Islands) cadre IAS officer; and S. Sasikanth Senthil, a Karnataka cadre IAS officer, both of whom have quit the elite service in disappointment, the latter taking a broader view with his assertion that “fundamental building blocks of democracy are being compromised in an unprecedented manner.”

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Border Affairs

  • Editorial : Jashn-e-Kashmir: Denial,demotion and dejection
  • Double bonanza for Ladakh: UT and Sixth Schedule
  • Pakistan : Opposition’s search for unity
  • Bangladesh : Slanging match
  • Response : Unity against terrorism