Home > History, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Pax Americana, Politics > The Kashmir Story: A Western Narrative

The Kashmir Story: A Western Narrative


Western academia and media has little difficulty in justifying military invasions of countries like Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan – but see moral issues with India’s annexation of Kashmir.

On January 25, 1957, Kashmir was merged with India, ignoring a UN ruling. Harold Macmillan, Selwyn Lloyd, Richard Austen Butler hectoring Nehru on Kashmir. Dag is Dag Hammersjold, the UN Secretary General.  |  Cartoonist: Michael Cummings in Daily Express, 28 Jan 1957; source & courtesy - cartoons.ac.uk

On January 25, 1957, Kashmir was merged with India, ignoring a UN ruling. Harold Macmillan, Selwyn Lloyd, Richard Austen Butler hectoring Nehru on Kashmir. Dag is Dag Hammersjold, the UN Secretary General. | Cartoonist: Michael Cummings in Daily Express, 28 Jan 1957; source & courtesy – cartoons.ac.uk

Abdullah, the Lion of Kashmir as he enjoyed being styled, was a Muslim leader who, like Badshah Khan in the North-West Frontier Province, had been an ally of Congress in the years of struggle against the Raj, and become the most prominent opponent of the maharajah in the Valley of Kashmir. There his party, the National Conference, had adopted a secular platform in which local communists played some role, seeking independence for Kashmir as the ‘Switzerland of Asia’. But when partition came, Abdullah made no case of this demand. For some years he had bonded emotionally with Nehru, and when fighting broke out in Kashmir in the autumn of 1947, he was flown out from Srinagar to Delhi by military aircraft and lodged in Nehru’s house, where he took part in planning the Indian takeover, to which he was essential. Two days later, the maharajah – now safely repaired to Jammu – announced in a backdated letter to Mountbatten, drafted by his Indian minders, that he would install Abdullah as his prime minister.

Does Pakistan have any legitimate claim to any further territory or people  |  ZAHOOR'S CARTOON on Wednesday, July 13, 2005; source & courtesy: dailytimes.com.pk

Does Pakistan have any legitimate claim to any further territory or people | ZAHOOR’S CARTOON on Wednesday, July 13, 2005; source & courtesy: dailytimes.com.pk

For the next five years, Abdullah ruled the Valley of Kashmir and Jammu under the shield of the Indian army, with no authority other than his reluctant appointment by a feudatory he despised and Delhi soon discarded. At the outset, Nehru believed his friend’s popularity capable of carrying all before it. When subsequent intelligence indicated otherwise, talk of a plebiscite to ratify it ceased. Abdullah enjoyed genuine support in his domain, but how wide it was, or how deep, was not something Congress was prepared to bank on. Nor, it soon became clear, was Abdullah himself willing to put it to the test. No doubt acutely aware that Badshah Khan, with a much stronger popular base, had lost just such a referendum in the North-West Frontier Province, he rejected any idea of one. No elections were held until 1951, when voters were finally summoned to the polls for a Constituent Assembly. Less than 5 per cent of the nominal electorate cast a ballot, but otherwise the results could not have been improved in Paraguay or Bulgaria. The National Conference and its clients won all 75 seats – 73 of them without a contest. A year later Abdullah announced the end of the Dogra dynasty and an agreement with Nehru that reserved special rights for Kashmir and Jammu, limiting the powers of the centre, within the Indian Union. But no constitution emerged, and not even the maharajah’s son, regent since 1949, was removed, instead simply becoming head of state.

There is an increasing level of noise in Pakistan, that a 'Kashmir solution' was nearly finalized with India. Does this mean, that Pakistanis coming to terms with realities?  |  Cartoon by Jimmy Margulies.

There is an increasing level of noise in Pakistan, that a ‘Kashmir solution’ was nearly finalized with India. Does this mean, that Pakistanis coming to terms with realities? | Cartoon by Jimmy Margulies.

By now, however, Delhi was becoming uneasy about the regime it had set up in Srinagar. In power, Abdullah’s main achievement had been an agrarian reform putting to shame Congress’s record of inaction on the land. But its political condition of possibility was confessional: the expropriated landlords were Hindu, the peasants who benefited Muslim. The National Conference could proclaim itself secular, but its policies on the land and in government employment catered to the interests of its base, which had always been in Muslim-majority areas, above all the Valley of Kashmir. Jammu, which after ethnic cleansing by Dogra forces in 1947 now had a Hindu majority, was on the receiving end of Abdullah’s system, subjected to an unfamiliar repression. Enraged by this reversal, the newly founded Jana Sangh in India joined forces with the local Hindu party, the Praja Parishad, in a violent campaign against Abdullah, who was charged with heading not only a communal Muslim but a communist regime in Srinagar. In the summer of 1953, the Indian leader of this agitation, S.P. Mookerjee, was arrested crossing the border into Jammu, and promptly expired in a Kashmiri jail.

Pakistan's Faustian Deal with British-American clique has harmed Pakistan more than they have been able to harm Pakistan  |  Cartoon by Zahoor on February 15, 2011, in tribune.com.pk

Pakistan’s Faustian Deal with British-American clique has harmed Pakistan more than they have been able to benefit Pakistan | Cartoon by Zahoor on February 15, 2011, in tribune.com.pk

This was too much for Delhi. Mookerjee had, after all, been Nehru’s confederate in not dissimilar Hindu agitation to lock down the partition of Bengal, and was rewarded with a cabinet post. Although since then he had been an opponent of the Congress regime, he was still a member in reasonably good standing of the Indian political establishment. Abdullah, moreover, was now suspected of recidivist hankering for an independent Kashmir. The Intelligence Bureau had little difficulty convincing Nehru that he had become a liability, and overnight he was dismissed by the stripling heir to the Dogra throne he had so complacently made head of state, and thrown into an Indian jail on charges of sedition. His one-time friend behind bars, Nehru installed the next notable down in the National Conference, Bakshi Gulam Mohammed, in his place. Brutal and corrupt, Bakshi’s regime – widely known as BBC: the Bakshi Brothers Corporation – depended entirely on the Indian security apparatus. After ten years, in which his main achievement was to do away with any pretence that Kashmir was other than ‘an integral part of the Union of India’, Bakshi’s reputation had become a liability to Delhi, and he was summarily ousted in turn, to be replaced after a short interval by another National Conference puppet, this time a renegade communist, G.M. Sadiq, whose no less repressive regime proceeded to wind up the party altogether, dissolving it into Congress.

Abdullah, meanwhile, sat in an Indian prison for 12 years, eventually on charges of treason, with two brief intermissions in 1958 and 1964. During the second of these, he held talks with Nehru in Delhi and Ayub Khan in Rawalpindi, just before Nehru died, but was then rearrested for having had the temerity to meet Zhou Enlai in Algiers. A troubled Nehru had supposedly been willing to contemplate some loosening of the Indian grip on the Valley; much sentimentality has been expended on this lost opportunity for a better settlement in Kashmir, tragically frustrated by Nehru’s death. But the reality is that Nehru, having seized Kashmir by force in 1947, had rapidly discovered that Abdullah and his party were neither as popular nor as secular as he had imagined, and that he could hold his prey only by an indefinite military occupation with a façade of collaborators, each less satisfactory than the last. The ease with which the National Conference was manipulated to Indian ends, as Abdullah was discarded for Bakshi, and Bakshi for Sadiq, made it clear how relatively shallow an organisation it had, despite appearances, always been. By the end of his life, Nehru would have liked a more presentable fig-leaf for Indian rule, but that he had any intention of allowing free expression of the popular will in Kashmir can be excluded: he could never afford to do so. He had shown no compunction in incarcerating on trumped-up charges the ostensible embodiment of the ultimate legitimacy of Indian conquest of the region, and no hesitation in presiding over subcontracted tyrannies of whose nature he was well aware. When an anguished admirer from Jammu pleaded with him not to do so, he replied that the national interest was more important than democracy: ‘We have gambled on the international stage on Kashmir, and we cannot afford to lose. At the moment we are there at the point of a bayonet. Till things improve, democracy and morality can wait.’ Sixty years later the bayonets are still there, democracy nowhere in sight.

via Perry Anderson · After Nehru · LRB 2 August 2012.


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  1. Chandra Neelakantan
    September 21, 2012 at 7:54 am

    1) The Chinese consider any territory that was once part the Han dynasty as part of their land now and make claims for it. Using the same yardstick, the Kamboja dynasty ruled Kashmir. And their fought with the Pandavas. WE go a long way back with Kashmir … 5000 thousand years!

    2) Vallabhai Patel indeed offered a Kashmir for Junagadh deal. The Pakis, claiming Junagadh was linked to Pakistani terriroty by sea (!!!!) , wanted both.

    3) Pakistan violated the Standstill agreement signed with Maharaja Hari Singh by blocking essentials and sending in invaders! That really forced India”s hand

    4) Finally , everyone can shove it. The lot on this side of the LoC are better off than the servile , cringing slaves on the other side bowing to Paki-Punjabi masters!

    The risk of appearing weak for any party in India that yields on Kashmir is very very high! No one will touch it . Article 370 it is . The Pakis are helping us by crumbling!

  2. desicontrarian
    December 22, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Brits have a peculiar way of claiming territories far away from the British Isles.

    Take Falklands (FK). The UK bases its position on the islanders having a “right to self determination, including their right to remain British if that is their wish”. The emotional reason is that the islanders claim British descent. So much so that they can go to war on their behalf, and lose 254 soldiers in the process (high by Anglo-American standards, which count each “own” war casualty rather ceremoniously). Never mind that Argentina has a natural proximity to the FK, and has some claim via inheritance from Spain.

    Take Hong Kong(HK). Grabbed by Britain after the first opium war, it remains with them nearly fifty years after the Chinese revolution, though the people are on Chinese descent.. Hong Kong Island was occupied by British forces on 20 January 1841 and in August 1842 the island was formally ceded in perpetuity to the United Kingdom. This was Victor’s justice. And it took Britian 50 years to return HK to the Chinese.

    Take Northern Ireland. The region was the bedrock of the Irish war of resistance against English programmes of colonialism in the late 16th century. The English-controlled Kingdom of Ireland had been declared by the English king Henry VIII in 1542. Following an English victory of 1691, and contrary to the terms of the Treaty of Limerick, a series of penal laws was passed by the Anglican ruling class in Ireland. Their intention was to materially disadvantage the Catholic community and, to a lesser extent, the Presbyterian community. In the context of open institutional discrimination. We know these patterns well by now.

    Take Mysore. What was the legitimacy of the company in waging four wars, hold Tipu Sultan’s children hostage, do Machiavellian deals with the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad, only to do the same to them later on?

    We need not go on about Bengal, the wars with the Sikh kingdoms etc. We know the pattern.

    Take the Radcliffe line. ll lawyers by trade, Radcliffe and the other commissioners had all of the polish and none of the specialized knowledge needed for the task. They had no advisers to inform them of the well-established procedures and information needed to draw a boundary. The absence of some experts and advisers, such as the United Nations, was deliberate.. Before his appointment, Radcliffe had never visited India and knew no one There.there were instances where the border was drawn leaving some parts of a village in India and some in Pakistan. Since he had just a month, Radcliffe saw little point in being careful to skirt villages. His border was drawn right through thickly populated areas instead of between them. There were even instances where the dividing line passed through a single house with some rooms in one country and others in the other.

    It is emotional and intellectual overload to start thinking about Kenya, Cyprus, Iraq etc. Wherever they went, they carved up societies, communities and left a devilish legacy of conflict. Kashmir is also one of their legacies, apart from the partition of India itself,

    It takes particular chutzpah for a Brit to now sit in judgement over India’s treatment of Jammu & Kashmir. But the more amazing thing is Indian Anglophiles (Praful Bidwai in Outlook magazine) queuing up to reverently interview such people, since “Marxists” cannot be sneaking admirers of residual British colonialism.

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