Bending history –Pushp Saraf
It was a clash of former princes, both reveling in heady past laced with current achievements, in the Lok Sabha almost four decades ago. One was Dr Karan Singh, the scion of the erstwhile Dogra ruling family of Jammu and Kashmir. He had made a bold democratic transition joining active politics as the youngest member of the Indira Gandhi Cabinet leaving behind the post of constitutional head of J&K which he had first acquired by virtue of his royal lineage in the critical 1947. The other was the late Dr Karni Singh, the last ruler of Bikaner in Rajasthan who was an Olympian shooter and an elected parliamentarian of quarter of a century experience.
A heated wordy duel turned personal. Dr Karan Singh prided himself on the fact that his father had acceded to India. Unyielding, Dr Karni Singh retorted that the only difference was that “my father” was the first to accede while “his father” was the last.
What would have Dr Karni Singh said had he known then that the one to accede the last might end having the last laugh?
October 26, the day in 1947 when Maharaja Hari Singh, father of Dr Karan Singh, signed the Instrument of Accession belatedly overcoming his urge for retaining his independent empire, has been declared a gazetted holiday (Accession Day) in the Union Territory of J&K in the official calendar for 2020. This is not without irony. The move has been made within months of the abolition of J&K as a state. It is the delayed commemoration of the delayed accession of a non-existent state!
J&K as it existed in 1947 was already divided and sub-divided with China and Pakistan also illegally occupying and swapping parts of it has been further split with Ladakh carved out of it as a union territory. Which part will observe what as a holiday? Ladakh would rather celebrate October 31, the date on which its demand for separation from J&K was met. The clarity that marks the “Goa Liberation Day” (December 19) and the “Puducherry De jure Transfer Day” (November 1) is missing in the declaration of October 26 as a local public holiday
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The Bharatiya Janata Party has never bothered about the emotional integration of the Valley with the rest of the country. This is only too well known. It now seems determined to bend history according to its own perception. The first step has been to do away with the Muslim-majority J&K as a state. It has been followed with the cancellation of two public holidays on July 13 (Martyrs’ Day observed in memory of 22 people of the Valley killed in a protest in 1931 outside Srinagar’s Central Jail) and December 5 (the birth anniversary of Sheikh Abdullah, the most popular Kashmiri leader who stood up against Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s religion-based two-nation theory and endorsed J&K’s accession with India signed by Maharaja Hari Singh. The Sheikh enjoyed a unique status in the national and sub-continental politics. He converted the fundamentalist pro-Pakistan Muslim Conference into secular National Conference in July 1939 to align with the Congress fighting for independence and lead a popular movement against the feudal order. As a member of the Indian Constituent Assembly he signed an original copy of the Constitution in Hindi. New Delhi issued a postal stamp in his memory in 1988. In recognition of his exceptional role, President Zail Singh made a notable departure from protocol to attend his funeral procession following his death as the J&K Chief Minister in Srinagar on September 8, 1982. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was also present on the occasion. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has often referred to Nehru holding the Sheikh in prison for 11 years to justify his own government’s action of detaining a large number of mainstream and separatist J&K leaders. One small bit of information has escaped his attention. The late Bharatiya Jan Sangh president Prem Nath Dogra, who belonged to the Jammu region of the erstwhile J&K state, was among the first to greet the Sheikh on his coming out of the prison even though he had never spoken against his detention without trial).
By playing around with the holiday calendar the BJP has sent an unmistakable signal about what it thinks of the Valley and its leaders (technically the Union Territory Government of J&K has notified the new holiday schedule. Everyone knows that a UT Government in our dispensation is proxy of the Central Government which is presently headed by the BJP). It has paved the way for the further disintegration of J&K. Two regions of Kashmir and Jammu would look at each other with more suspicion than before despite a bold attempt by a concerned small section of population on both sides of the Pir Panjal to hold them together whatever the odds). The writing on the wall for a secular and united J&K which became part of the country in 1947 is clear. The anti-Sheikh as well as the pro-October 26 holiday lobbies in the Jammu region are happy. It does not seem to matter that October 26 is a grim reminder that August 15 was bypassed at a decisive turn in history with Maharaja Hari Singh unable to timely put aside his personal ambition.
The fears in the Valley about the forcible change in its demography which already exist after the Union Government knocked the teeth out of Article 370 on August 5 would be further strengthened now. Basharat Masood of the Indian Express has rightly “explained” the impact of the cancellation of the “two existing public holidays” and the introduction of “a new one”: “The Muslim majority in Jammu and Kashmir sees this as a reflection of the Centre’s assertion, and as a move against their own assertion of their Muslim identity…The BJP leaders, most of whom hailed from Jammu, also stayed away from government functions organised to commemorate those killed in 1931…It was Abdullah, a close friend and political ally of Jawaharlal Nehru, who converted the Muslim Conference into the secular National Conference in 1939. Unlike the Muslim Conference, the NC advocated a future with secular India rather than with Pakistan. Once the tallest leader of Kashmir, Abdullah saw his popularity dwindle over the years, but his party continued to advocate Kashmir’s future with India…Many people see this as an effort to erase the role of Sheikh Abdullah, and J&K’s Muslim assertion. They see it also as a refusal to recognise Kashmir’s popular Muslim leaders who sided with India in 1947, and leaders who continue to identify with India. It also raises a question mark over the revival of a political process in Jammu and Kashmir. After the abrogation of Jammu & Kashmir’s special status and division of the state into two Union Territories, the government has cracked down even on mainstream political parties, jailed their leaders and workers including three former Chief Ministers, and stayed away from any political engagement. The move comes when normalcy is yet to return even five months after the abrogation.”
All signs are that the BJP wants to enforce its anti-pluralist idea of peace and stability on the land and the people. Its leaders are roaming around freely unlike their political rivals who have been lodged in regular and makeshift jails in the Valley and the rest of the country and are from time to time shut out in its stronghold of the Jammu region. They are thumping their chests over the Central Government’s “achievements” successfully camouflaging in the process their well-founded apprehensions about the natives’ concerns about their land and jobs triggered by the abrogation of the state and its special status. Since the party neither has the necessary organisational capability giving it total sway nor acquired the moral authority over all men and matters it does not want to risk the loss of the current unbridled power by holding assembly polls. It is heavily dependent upon the state apparatus which is increasingly exposed to the charge of being pliable. Political opponents are forced into submission and put under house arrest at the slightest pretext. The continuing detention of Farooq Abdullah, a political stalwart and a sitting member of the Lok Sabha who has been the chief minister five times, under the Public Safety Act (PSA), and ex-chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti along with their senior associates, is a sordid chapter of the present scenario. Their party colleagues in the Jammu region as well as leaders of the other parties including Congress are holding out despite being denied on most of the occasions the right of carrying out their legitimate activities. It speaks of their courage of conviction. As is well known by now the Internet services are disrupted. Education and its quality especially in the Valley is a serious casualty with poor attendance in schools and colleges.
Non-BJP leaders in the Jammu region, especially of the National Conference, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) speak up through every possible means they are allowed to use. The thrust of their argument is that political leaders should be set free soon and their activities allowed to be resumed. Lifting of curbs and the restoration of Internet services are among their major demands.
In a joint press release on January 5, 2020, marking five months of detention of Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and others, top NC leaders of Jammu including provincial president Devinder Singh Rana, Ajay Sadhotra, Surjeet Singh Salathia, Rattan Lal Gupta, Syed Mushtaq Ahmed Bukhari, Sheikh Bashir Ahmed, Rachpal Singh. Kashmira Singh, Khalid Najeeb Suharwardy and Javeed Rana, have expressed anguish over slapping of the PSA on Farooq Abdullah and its extension by three months in utter disregard of “his towering political stature in the country and contribution towards nation building and steering J&K to peace, tranquility and development despite numerous challenges over the decades.” They have also “highlighted the huge contribution of Omar in maintaining peace and harmony, recalling his earnest appeal for maintaining calm and tranquility hours before his detention on the midnight of August 4 last year.”
Senior Pradesh Congress leader and chief spokesperson Ravinder Sharma wonders: “Why the BJP leaders are allowed to move freely, while curbs are being put on the opposition to keep them away from the public.” This question is on the lips of every right-thinking person. Since there is no categorical reply all claims to normalcy will be taken with a pinch of salt. The BJP is unmindful. Confident of its overwhelming command over the power structure it is going ahead with selective retention of history. It has evidently closed its ears to Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s nazm (verse) “Hum dekhenge” making waves in this country at the moment.