The Kashmir Dispute: 1947-2012 Volumes I and II By A.G. Noorani, Tulika, Rs 500 and Rs 1,500
A nagging old man is often a cause of displeasure, especially if he is a man who has been constantly repeating himself for the past 50 years. With his plainspeak about the fraud India has perpetrated in Kashmir, for as long as one can recall, A.G. Noorani is not exactly the poster boy of the establishment. But unlike most old men, he will not shut up, and now with his tome on the Kashmir dispute, he intends to sit as heavily on the establishment’s conscience as he has before.
Noorani’s two volumes on Kashmir complement each other, but they can also be read separately. The first has a 154-page long introduction, not to the second volume but to the Kashmir problem in its entirety. It sums up his views that are found scattered in the innumerable essays — published before as articles in newspapers, magazines or in books —that have been compiled into the voluminous second.
Noorani remains single-minded in his pursuit of the uncomfortable ‘truth’ about India’s obfuscations on Kashmir’s accession and the State’s misdeeds in Kashmir, one largely unaltered by new findings. Some of these — papers of the former prime minister of Kashmir, Ram Chandra Kak, or M.O. Mathai’s note to Indira Gandhi on her desire to visit Sheikh Abdullah (picture) in prison — reproduced and commented on in the first book, have their own surprises. But Noorani remains convinced that Kashmir is the cumulative result of the failures of the tallest leaders of India, Pakistan and Kashmir — M.A. Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah — to start with. And that of the three, Nehru is the most culpable.
It is apparent from the way Noorani presents the history that it was surely a case of poor judgment on the part of M.A. Jinnah that cost Pakistan Kashmir. His “monumental arrogance” led him to reject Lord Mountbatten’s formula for the accession of all the three states of Kashmir, Junagarh and Hyderabad, mishandle Sheikh Abdullah and tacitly support the tribal raid of Kashmir that made Maharaja Hari Singh walk into India’s waiting arms.
In the case of Abdullah, Noorani does not deny his follies, but treats the Kashmir hero as a victim of circumstances. Sometimes this flies in the face of evidence — Abdullah’s realpolitik that made him avoid plebiscite for the fear of losing control over his people, and then enter into humiliating accords with the Centre during his post-internment phase while trying to hold on to power at any cost, even if that meant unleashing unprecedented repression. But Noorani believes that he had his heart in the right place — with the people of Kashmir.
Not so with Nehru, who, along with Vallabhbhai Patel, “plotted” for Kashmir’s accession, and started doing so even before Partition. Noorani shows that a standstill agreement was pushed on Kashmir to disguise the instrument of accession, and eventually a plebiscite was promised to honour the “wishes” of the people. But in a secret note to Abdullah in 1952, Nehru made it plain that the people did not matter, and Kashmir’s accession had to be accepted as non-provisional. He expected Abdullah to carry the people with him, and when his friend started having second thoughts, he threw him into prison, keeping him there for the next 11 years.
Just as any ace lawyer, Noorani builds up an irrefutable case against Nehru, who is shown up for his perfidy —to the people of Kashmir, to the nation, to his friend and even to his daughter, Indira, who was made to believe in Abdullah’s betrayal (Indira, of course, proved too canny for that). To most of the world, and even to Indians, it is no longer news that Nehru was “absolutely dishonest” about plebiscite. But it still appears strange that Noorani should excuse Abdullah for the same sin — of realpolitik — that he hangs Nehru for. Nehru, as the first prime minister of independent India, and Abdullah, as the first elected prime minister of Kashmir, could scarcely have done without this basic ingredient of leadership. By deciding to play along with India, despite knowing the mind of his people and despite the wrongs done to him, Abdullah may have sinned more than Nehru, who evidently had less quibbles about preserving his own self-interest or those of the nation he had been chosen to lead.
There are other things that are jarring about Noorani’s reading of Kashmir politics. Take his sympathy for the secessionists, who, he insists, actually represent the mainstream in Kashmir. They apparently symbolize the popular aspiration to break free of India, and not necessarily Kashmir’s union with Pakistan. Noorani believes that today there is, in fact, little difference between the unionists and the separatists, in that they both demand self-rule for Kashmir within India. There can be no disagreement with Noorani’s plea for the inclusion of the separatists in meaningful talks, but do Kashmiris themselves value their opinion as much as Noorani would have us believe?
Noorani’s long association with Kashmir and its people has added a personal colour to his interpretations. His heart bleeds for the people of Kashmir whom he has seen being taken for a ride by India’s politicians and their own, whom he has seen being trampled upon by military boots and shot in the dead of night. It is strange that despite his acute grasp of the reality, Noorani should behave like an incurable romantic. He believes both the Kashmirs can have self-rule, and both India and Pakistan can watch over them, across soft borders, playing helpful nannies. With his erudition, profound understanding of regional, national and international politics, it is surprising that Noorani can have this dream. Perhaps age brings with it its own bliss.