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Neglected Regional Aspirations in Jammu and Kashmir

Differences between the Jammu and Kashmir regions of the state must be understood in order to comprehend the "Kashmir problem" fully. Bonds of language, regional identity and culture are more important than religion in Hindu-Muslim relations in the two regions.


regions every year. Sheikh Abdullah (his

Neglected Regional Aspirations

in Jammu and Kashmir
entire popular base was confined to the Kashmir valley) and his colleagues could not honour the agreement and the leaders of the two regions again drifted apart. As the national leadership of the Congress Balraj Puri was not willing to accommodate any rival

Differences between the Jammu and Kashmir regions of the state must be understood in order to comprehend the “Kashmir problem” fully. Bonds of language, regional identity and culture are more important than religion in Hindu-Muslim relations in the two regions.

Balraj Puri ( is a commentator on Jammu and Kashmir affairs.

Economic & Political Weekly january 5, 2008

efore 1947 Jammu was a Muslim majority region with a larger population and area than the Kashmir region of Jammu and Kashmir state. But the two regions were as sharply politically divided then as they are today. Most of the complications in the politics of the state are due to unresolved regional contradictions between the two.

The latest demonstration of this contradiction was witnessed on the 60th anniversary of the state’s accession to the Indian Union which was celebrated in Jammu as a great day while Kashmir observed a complete strike. An understanding of the causes of the divergent moods of the two regions is vital for any headway in understanding what has come to be known as the Kashmir problem. For that we have to go back to the pre-independence days.

The initiative for converting the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference into the National Conference was taken by two leaders of Jammu, Mahatma Budh Singh and Chaudhary Ghulam Ahmad Abbas. They were together in the Reasi jail where they developed a close friendship. Both went to Srinagar to persuade Shiekh Abdullah to form a secular all-state political party. While the Sheikh accepted the advice, it was subject to a gentleman’s agreement that leadership of the National Conference would rotate between the two to the Sheikh, the Muslim and Hindu leaders of Jammu region sought the patronage of the Muslim League and the Hindu Maha Sabha respectively, and formed local branches of the Muslim Conference and Jammu and Kashmir Rajya Hindu Sabha.

When the National Conference launched the Quit Kashmir movement in 1946 demanding an end to the monarchy with the slogan “Dogra raj murdabad”, it had a negative effect on Muslims and Hindus of the Jammu region where Dogras were the predominant community. Opposing the Quit Kashmir movement, Choudhary Hameedullah, acting president of the Jammu Muslim Conference said, “We have never been lacking in showing loyalty and respect for him (the king) and it is because of this attachment that we did not support the Quit Kashmir movement”.

Loyal to the Maharaja

Both the Hindu Sabha and Muslim Conference supported the maharaja’s desire for independence when the Partition plan was announced. Hameedullah argued, “accession to Pakistan will disturb Hindus and accession to India will disturb Muslims. Therefore, we have decided not to enter into any controversy either with India or Pakistan. The second thing we have decided is that we should try to acquire independence for the state. The third question before us is what would be the position of the


Maharaja, which could only be secure in an independent state.” He added, “the Indian Muslim League’s past and present policy of non-intervention in Indian states has strengthened us”. Jammu Muslim Conference leaders who met Muslim League leader M A Jinnah in 1946 were also given the same advice as he was negotiating with the maharaja for an independent state. Thus, loyalty to the maharaja was a common link between Hindu and Muslim leaders of Jammu on the issue of accession and hostility to Kashmiri leaders.

As against the stand of the Muslim League which recognised the right of the rulers of the princely state to decide their future, the Indian National Congress stood for the right of the people to decide their fate. This stand was eloquently expressed by Mahatma Gandhi during his visit to Kashmir in the first week of August, 1947 when he declared that after the withdrawal of the British promontory, people of the state had become sovereign and were entitled to take a decision on the future affiliation of the state with India or Pakistan. Congress, in particular Nehru, had actively supported the freedom movement in Kashmir led by the National Conference against the “Dogra raj”, which was opposed by the Muslim League. This plus Nehru’s own Kashmiri origin had resulted in a close emotional and political affinity between the National Conference and the Indian National Congress.

During the fateful days following August 15, 1947, this affinity was further sharpened and clinched by the tribal attack organised by Pakistan on Kashmir which forced even the recalcitrant maharaja to accede to the Indian Union and seek the help of the Indian army. But before doing so he had to agree to put the National Conference in power. After the accession of the state to India, the Muslim Conference leadership was deported to Pakistan, most of them against their wishes. Meanwhile, the Partition riots had spread to the Jammu region where Muslims were the victims in Hindu majority areas and Hindus met a similar fate in Muslim majority areas.

Kashmiri Raj vs Dogra Raj

The same Hindu leadership that had supported independence of the state opposed its autonomy under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which guaranteed it. It was now organised under the banner of Praja Parishad, which became an affiliate of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The motive remained the same: distrust of the leaders of the Kashmir region. After the transfer of power from the Jammu-based maharaja to the Kashmir-based leaders, they opposed what they called the “Kashmiri raj” just like Kashmiris opposed the “Dogra raj” before 1947. And the best way to get rid of Kashmiri raj, they thought, was to erode the autonomy of the state. The polarisation in the two regions around slogans of full and limited accession made the very issue of accession contentious. The chain of events that followed was one of the major factors responsible for dismissal from power of Sheikh Abdullah and his long detention in 1953.

Most of the Muslim Conference leaders, on the other hand, became rulers of the Pakistan part of the state and loyal to Pakistan. There were rumours, though unconfirmed, that Sheikh Abdullah influenced Nehru to stop the Indian army from advancing and liberating the Jammu part of the state that Pakistani forces had occupied. He allegedly told Nehru that while he took full responsibility for Kashmiri Muslims voting overwhelmingly for India in the event of a plebiscite, he could not take any responsibility for the Muslims of Jammu. Even after the rise of a militant secessionist movement in Kashmir, differences between Kashmir leaders and the leaders of the Pakistan administered state re-emerged. The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, which initiated the militant movement, was soon split into two groups led by the Kashmirispeaking Yasin Malik and Pakistan Administered Jammu and Kashmir (PAJK) leader Amanullah Khan.

When the Hurriyat leaders visited PAJK across the line of control (LoC) on the invitation of the Pakistani government in 2005, Sikandar Hayat Khan, the then prime minister of PAJK, challenged their claim to represent the Indian side of the state since not a single person from the Jammu region accompanied them. When the Poonch-Rawalakote bus route was opened last year, his son Farooq Hayat came up to the LoC and openly said in the presence of the media that there was no use opening the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road as there were not many Kashmiris in his part of the state. He demanded opening of more roads on the LoC in Jammu region as most of the divided families lived there. For administrative purposes and more so culturally most of the PAJK was part of Jammu region before 1947.

Region vs Religion

The rousing reception that a few delegations from across the LoC were given by the Hindus and Sikhs in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir and by the Muslims in PAJK to a few Hindus who managed to go across the LoC, after softening of the

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january 5, 2008 Economic & Political Weekly


borders announced by Manmohan Singh and general Parvez Musharraf, was an unforgettable emotional experience for them. An eloquent lesson from the facts stated above is that Jammu and Kashmir is not a problem of Hindu-Muslim relations as many people believe and that religion is not the only basis of identity. Bonds of language, culture, region and ethnicity in certain circumstances, proved stronger than those of religion. Thus, Kashmiri Muslims are as much Muslims as Kashmiris, and Muslims of Jammu also belong to the Pahari, Gujjar and Dogri-speaking communities, that are part of the same family of languages.

How regional factors matter was evident when the Congress swept the polls in the 2002 assembly elections by projecting its Muslim leader Ghulam Nabi Azad as the future chief minister, conceding only one seat to the BJP out of 37 constituencies. Talib Hussain, a Muslim candidate, won the parliamentary election from a predominantly Hindu majority constituency of Jammu-Poonch. Similarly in the 2002 assembly elections Pooran Singh, an independent Hindu candidate, won from the Darhal constituency which has over 90 per cent Muslim voters, against Muslim candidates of the organised political parties as a champion of the Pahari language.

The above mentioned developments have taken place despite official policies which still consider Kashmir a Muslim region, Jammu a Hindu region and Ladakh a Buddhist region, and have so far ignored not only substantial minorities (35 per cent Muslims in Jammu and 48 per cent Muslims in Ladakh) but also regional and cultural identities that have time and again shown their vitality and potentiality for laying the foundations of a secular state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Unless divergent regional aspirations are resolved through appropriate constitutional and institutional agreements, a satisfactory status for the state cannot be evolved. In this context the joint announcement made by the prime minister Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah on July 24, 1952, on my demand, that the constitution of the state, when drafted, would provide for regional autonomy remains as relevant today as when it was made. Before the Sheikh resumed power in 1975, after an accord with Indira Gandhi, he was asked to reiterate his commitment of autonomy to the regions which he did at a conference of representatives of Jammu and Ladakh, convened by him.

As head of the officially appointed Regional Autonomy Committee, I have dealt with, in detail, in my report in 1999, the ways for sharing political power, financial resources and safeguarding cultural identities of all regions and sub-regions. This could be a basis for a discussion between leaders of all regions, irrespective of their views on external status of the state, and on regional relations. There is no reason to make the latter issue hostage to the former issue. The final status of the state cannot be decided by its leaders alone, nor is it feasible without a broad agreement among them on internal relations between the regions.

Economic & Political Weekly january 5, 2008

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