Time to break-up the fiction: The destinies of the people of Jammu and Ladakh have to be delinked from Kashmir
Kashmir is the northernmost geographical region of South Asia. Until the mid-19th century, the term "Kashmir" denoted only the valley between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountain range. The name Kashmir derives from the Sanskrit Kashyapmeru. The Greeks knew it as Kaspeiria.
Herodotus called it Kaspatyros. Emperor Ashoka, who called it Shrinagari, founded the capital near present day Srinagar. The ruins of this Ashokan city still stand. Kashmir evolved with a strong Buddhist tradition, but Buddhism here like in the rest of India drowned in the wave of Hindu revivalism initiated by Adi Shankaracharya in the 9th century AD.
Muslim rule was ushered in by Shamsuddin Shah Mir (1339-42), a courtier in the court of King Udayanadeva who seized the throne after his death. The Mughals took control in 1586 during the rule of Jalaluddin Akbar. The region came under the control of the Durrani Empire in Kabul from 1753 to 1819 when the Sikhs took over. In 1846 the treachery of Gulab Singh, a Dogra general and governor of Jammu, was repaid when the British gave him Jammu for it and further turned over the Kashmir Valley to him for Rs.75 lakhs. These treaties formed the so-called princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and Gulab Singh became its first Maharajah. This was also the first time Jammu and Kashmir became one administrative entity.
As governor of Jammu, Gulab Singh had also captured Ladakh and Baltistan. His son Ranbir Singh added Hunza, Gilgit and Nagar to the kingdom. Thus, a composite state of disparate regions, religions and ethnicities was formed. This is reflected in the present day demographics. The Kashmir Valley of about 6.9 million people is 96.4% Muslim with Hindus and Buddhists accounting for just 3.6%. Jammu which has a population of 5.4 million is 62.6% Hindu and 33.5% Muslims, mostly concentrated in Poonch. Ladakh has a population of just 30 lakhs with its 46.4% of Shia Muslims concentrated in Kargil, 40% Buddhist concentrated around Leh and 12.1% Hindus. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir areas including Gilgit-Baltistan are almost 100% Muslim. The total population now of J&K is 12,541,30, POK is 2,580,000 and Gilgit-Baltistan is 870,347.
The purpose of elaborating on this is two fold. Historically, all the regions of Jammu and Kashmir are part of the present narrative of India’s composite history. Despite its preponderant Muslim population the history of people of the Kashmir Valley is intertwined with all the different local histories of the many nationalities of present day India, which is also home to the world’s second largest Muslim population. There is no separate Kashmir story as there is for Afghanistan or Nepal. It was always a part of the Indian main and except for a brief rule from Kabul. There is no cause or case for a separate Kashmir, like the Tibetans may have or the Palestinians have. The second point here is that the Kashmiri’s are a distinct ethnic group with little of no historical or social affinities, except Islam, with those of the other regions of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. This J&K, with or without POK, is an artificial entity of recent origin.
J&K is not the only princely state that acceded to India without some early hesitations and a bit of acrimony. The Maharaja of Jodhpur was an early ditherer who even contemplated acceding to Pakistan till sanity prevailed. The story of Junagadh is well known. Hyderabad, India’s biggest princely state and an inheritor of varied traditions including the Sathavahanas, Kakatiyas, Bahmanis and Mughals was, like J&K, stitched together with three large and distinct regions. If J&K had to be rescued by the Indian Army from tribal raiders from present day Pakistan and encouraged and provisioned by the new state of Pakistan, Hyderabad, surrounded on all sides by former British Indian Presidencies, had to be taken by the Indian Army from the dithering Asaf Jah ruler and his coterie of Muslim nobles and proselytizing rabble.
But look at how differently these one time princely states were dealt with. Jodhpur is now part of Rajasthan and the princely line are now hoteliers. Junagadh went to Gujarat via Saurashtra and is now better known for its growing population of Asiatic lions, which are now deemed to be symbols of Gujarati pride (asmita). Hyderabad was dismembered into three parts and parceled off to Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in 1956. The present Nizam lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Antalya and wanders around Roman ruins. The only group who feels nostalgic about the Nizam era are some ex-Hyderabad Pakistanis living in Los Angeles.
In the new India, old states got subsumed and new states were created. All the many regions of the erstwhile princely state of J&K, whether in India or under the control of Pakistan have by and large settled down under their new national identities, except the Kashmir Valley. It is now India’s seemingly intractable problem. It has festered for over 67 years. Did we miss something?
Like Malda, Kishenganj, Hyderabad and Malapuram parliamentary constituencies, Anantnag, Srinagar and Baramula are the only Muslim majority constituencies in India. There are no nationality issues in any of the former. Independent India is a nation of many nationalities and for the first time with power vested with the people by a lively democracy. More than being a nation bound together by shared history, shared culture and shared ethnicity, it is bound together by shared aspirations assured by a Constitution, written by our founding fathers that shared an idealism and nationalism forged by shared experience.
It is amply clear that many if not most people in the Kashmir Valley do not share the aspirations, which bind the rest of us together. But history does not offer them any basis for a distinct and independent identity either. On the other hand the narrative of Kashmir’s recent history has taken a distinct course different from the rest of the country. This India must recognize. In these past 68 years, India has made a hash of managing Kashmir either by placation or by iron hand.
Pakistan controlled territory has also been a springboard for terrorists and separatists who think of Kashmir as the unfinished business of partition. They don’t seem to realize that the business of Pakistan too is near finishing. Its majority seceded in 1971. Baluchistan that accounts for three fifths of the land mass too wants out. Sind also wants out. The Mohajirs from India centered in Karachi are now not so sure as their fathers were about being in Pakistan. Khyber Pakthunkwa is barely governed. The Kashmiris are too intelligent, educated and self-centered not to know that Pakistan is not a future in their interests. Nor is it in their future.
The Indian state has now to offer something tangible to satisfy most aspirations in Kashmir, and we are talking only about Kashmir. J&K is an artificial and recent construct. Its long past its use by date. We must also accept that reunification with the POK part of it is neither desirable nor feasible. Historically, culturally, ethnically and linguistically Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir have as much in common as Tamil Nadu has with Punjab or Assam with Gujarat. The destinies of the people of Jammu and Ladakh have to be delinked from Kashmir. Nor are they exactly happy to be dominated by Kashmir.
India must then seek to accommodate Kashmir with an autonomy that will satisfy the aspirations nurtured by this long period of revolt. With accession to Pakistan or a complete independence not options, an acceptable via media must be and can be found. The breakthrough for that must happen in the minds of the rest of India. Heavens are not going to fall, if Kashmir becomes an autonomous region within India. The extent of autonomy then becomes the only matter for discussion. We can afford to be generous. But is India ready for it?