Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Birth of a Nation.. oops 2 Nations..

The history of Indian independence struggle, the creation of Pakistan and the Kashmir conundrum have always intrigued me. Of late, I have had the opportunity to go through a lot of literature on these topics. What I have read, whilst clearing some doubts, has also raised more perplexing questions in my mind, about why things happened the way they did, and what could have been......

To understand the reasons for the partition of the country, we need to go back upto 1000 years in history, and try to understand the reasons for Hindu-Muslim differences. Islam was brought to India by successive muslim invaders from the north west. The atrocities committed by these aggressors on the natives, the forced conversions, and the vandalisation of temples created a distinct sense of hatred in the hearts of the hindu people towards these invaders, a feeling which later got directed towards the muslims themselves. For hundreds of years to follow, hindus tended to treat muslims with disdain, many families going to the extent of refusing to touch anything touched by a muslim. Such grossly unfair behavior on part of the hindus only alienated the muslims further. One remarkable piece of history says that, in the 19th century, the Maharaja (who was a hindu) of Kashmir (were the majority of the population was muslim, who had been converted to Islam in the 14th century) tried to reconvert the people of Kashmir back to Hinduism, and asked the hindu priests of Kashi to perfom the requisite religious ceremonies. But the priests refused, and as a result, majority of Kashmiri people remained as muslims. One wonders, had the Maharaja of Kashmir had succeeded in his efforts then, the Kashmir problem as it is today, may not have existed at all!!

Now to the Indian independence struggle. By the 1920s, the Congress had positioned itself as a party representing all Indians (hindus + muslims + Sikhs etc.) against the British. But this did not stop leaders like Jinnah from creating the Muslim League, which claimed to fight for the rights of muslims. The British took full advantage of the simmering differences between the 2 communities and tried to maintain the divide. Although Gandhiji tried everything in his power to appease muslims, as well as treated Jinnah with great respect, he could never bring Jinnah close to his line of thought. Experts say that one of the many reasons for Jinnah’s reluctance to appreciate Gandhiji’s ideas could have been the fact that he was a typical high society, westernized and modern person, who did not identify himself with the “half-naked” saintly figure who preached “swadeshi”.

Gandhiji’s actions used to routinely invite protests from hindu fundamentalists who believed he unfairly favoured muslims, even at times sacrificing the interests of hindus. They sighted examples like-
1.Gandhiji reportedly asked for recitations from The Holy Kuran in temples as a mark of communal harmony, but never for the recitation of The Gita in mosques.
2. He favored Sheikh Abdullah ( leader of the muslim majority in Kashmir) over the hindu king Hari Singh, but did not voice his support for the majority hindus in Hyderabad, who were under the Nizam.
3.His reported statements that hindus in Pakistan should embrace death rather than come to India, and asking hindu refugees to vacate the mosques they had taken shelter in, in Delhi.
But inspite of all his efforts, he could not placate Jinnah, who even after Gandhiji’s death, reportedly said “.. a hindu leader has died..”.

Gandhiji’s philosophy of non-violent struggle against the oppressor has no parallels in human history. It was quite miraculous how one man could energize an entire nation to follow his novel ideals. Gandhiji’s methods succeeded against the British, but would they have succeeded against an enemy like Hitler, who believed in terminating any opposition at 1st sight?? Gandhijis ability to persuade people to follow his ideals through “anshans” (fasts) was also exemplary. That one man could make so many people follow the path shown by him, without any threat or use of force, speaks volumes of the stature he commanded in the masses. But his detractors may say that the way he forced the Congress, and later the Indian Govt. to change their decisions just because he did not agree to them, showed that he behaved like a dictator himself, and his fasts were some sort of “emotional blackmail”. All said and done, Gandhiji’s leadership was no doubt the single biggest influence behind India’s independence. And no matter what anyone says, no other Indian can ever reach his heights.

Coming back to the Kashmir problem, it is highly puzzling that after the Maharaja of Kashmir signed the accession accord with India, and the Indian army was called in to drive away the tribal invaders who had infiltrated into Kashmir, why did the army not finish off the job and drive them completely out of the state. Why did they stop half way through, which resulted in the creation of what we call “PoK” today. Kuldeep Nayar, in his book “Distant Neighbors” says, “Nehru’s idea was to clear the Pakistanis only upto a point which could be militarily defensible”. He also writes “Going further..... would have embroiled the Indian forces unnecessarily in an area and terrain which was unfavourable, geographically, as well as population wise”. Maybe this was the reason why recapturing “PoK” has never been on the agenda for India, in any of the 3 subsequent wars with Pakistan, although the Indian Parliament has passed a resolution proclaiming India’s right over Kashmir in it’s entirety. Why plebiscite was not held in Kashmir in the early 1950s in accordance with the UN resolution, when India would have won hands down ( since Kashmiris were extremely agitated over the atrocities committed by the Pakistani infiltrators), is another tricky question. Maybe because one of the basic conditions for the plebiscite, that the Pakistanis should vacate the area under their occupation, was never fulfilled, or maybe because of India’s distrust of the UN, which was completely favouring Pakistan at that time, under the influence of the US and UK.

Even today, the 2 countries are grappling to find a solution to the K-factor. For Pakistan, Kashmir has been a fantastic way of diverting attention from it’s domestic problems, created by half a century of corrupt politicians and military dictatorships. Perhaps, converting the LoC into an international border is the only feasible solution now, which successive govts. on the 2 sides continue to ignore, under domestic pressure. Till then, the “Kashmir” soap opera would countinue to be broadcast to high TRP ratings in both countries. Funnily enough, the word “Kashmir” too starts with a “K’.....


Ganesh Iyer said...

Insightful and thought provoking !

Milind M. Tapaswi said...

i forgot the name of the book, but its Karan Singh (the prince in the royalty of Kashmir) who wrote an autobiography that gave a much better insight into the kashmir issue and its history in a much better manner.