This article was written by Sushrut Sharma, a student of Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law.
“An idea is something you have; an ideology is something that has you”
The nature of the Kashmir dispute is fairly simple, however, the complexities of the same requires one to plunge deep into the unfathomable depths of a country’s bloody past and its relationship with a mortal foe. These complexities initially manifest in the sentiments and aspirations of the region’s people and develop into full-fledged ideologies in the course of time, assuming the status-quo remains constant. In this essay, the authors seek to examine the multi-faceted nature of Kashmir’s prevalent ideologies and its alleged deviation from the norms observed throughout the majority of contemporary India. Through the course of this paper, the authors shall first discuss the inception and development of the region’s different ideologies and subsequently, evaluate the nature of the same from the perspective of contemporary Indian nationalism.
A glance at the defining socio-political events in the history of Kashmir reveals a pattern of collective injustice and longing for palpable progress or development. These sentiments often crystallise in the form of cyclic mobilisations stretching across generations of Kashmiris. Beginning in 1865 with the first recorded organised protest by Kashmiri shawl weavers against the Dogra aristocracy, the pattern continues with the Silk Factory Labour unrest in 1924, mass mobilisations against the autocratic rule of Maharaja Hari Singh in 1931, the demand for plebiscite from 1953-1975, the civilian uprising and armed struggle against Indian rule in 1990 etc. Most recently, public displays of secessionist solidarity and mass protests against the Indian state after the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani on July 8, 2016, point to the existence of an interweaving pattern behind the unrest in the valley. So concerned were the authorities by the sheer magnitude of rage that swept through the region after the killing that orders were passed to impose a virtual communication blockade by snapping broadband services and cell phone networks, in effect, depriving seven million people the means to communicate with each other. Such actions, which are but contemporary manifestations of India’s historical approach to dealing with unrest in Kashmir, merely serve to aggravate the feelings of injustice and alienation felt by the people.
To properly evaluate the ideologies prevalent throughout Kashmir, with regards to its position towards Indian nationalism, it is essential to have a sound understanding of the history of the latter, the evolution of Kashmiri aspirations and the interrelationship between the two. Indian nationalism, in its contemporary form, is an extension of the country’s anti-colonial sentiments unavoidably modeled along the contours of Europe’s and America’s historical examples of nationalism and republicanism. During the struggle for independence, there emerged a kind of pan-Indian nationalism, one characterised by a resistance against feudalism and imperialism. This ideal was carried forward post-independence and often accommodated the growth of a regional consciousness. The underlying relationship between the two can be best expressed as Indian nationalism in general and regional nationalism in particular. However, due to the preponderance of the Hindu religion and Hindi language, which constitute the majority of the population, the extant nationalist ideologies, before and after independence, tend to align themselves more with the Hindu frame of mind. Kashmiri nationalism, on the other hand, is an offshoot of several endogenous and exogenous factors with respect to the region’s history, sovereignty, and legacy. In its current incarnation, Kashmiri nationalism exists in three distinct moulds. Secular nationalism with a discernable attraction to Indian ideals. Muslim nationalism with a substantial inclination towards the Pakistani nation-state. And Azad Kashmir, the aspiration of the majority; a sovereign social, political, and economic entity with guarantees of self-determination and administrative autonomy. It is pertinent to note that in the extant form, these ideologies leave no scope for compromise through negotiation or dialogue. They are all but irreconcilable with each other and as such, any study of the ideologies of Kashmir must take into account the complexities of the same.
On a closer examination, all three competing ideologies appear to have a great deal in common with each other. Much like the Horseshoe Theory in contemporary political science which asserts that the far right and far left political ideologies, although on opposite ends of the linear political spectrum, have such great similarities that it renders their difference obsolete, the Kashmiri ideologies collectively exhibit a mutual, maximalist, zero-sum solution to achieve their end objective. The three contending maximalist claims to Kashmir can also be considered mirror images of one another in one very important sense. All three expound a rhetorical claim to the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir as it existed before 1947 and demand nothing else but complete control over the same. However, their downfall lies in the fact that none of these ideologies are able to command the respect and loyalty of more than one segment of the regions ideologically divided population. It is in light of this fact that the authors of this essay assert that any media narrative that seeks to generalise the ideology behind the unrest in Kashmir, as observed recently during the JNU controversy, is grossly misinformed and misguided. A comprehensive understanding of the Kashmir issue requires a nuanced appreciation of the ideological and political conflicts engulfing the region and a concerted effort to empathise with the plight of the people.
In case of the Pakistani claim to Kashmir, an absolute, unwavering conviction that the future of Kashmir lies within the Pakistani nation-state, the core ideas behind the ideology remain frustratingly ambiguous. The core of this belief revolves around an understanding that the state had become a Hindu state by subjugating its majority population belonging to another faith which was not considered trustworthy especially keeping in mind the fact that during the last 700 years in the Indian subcontinent, Muslim rule had dominated a majoritarian non-Muslim population. The proponents of this belief seem utterly blind to the reality that a vast majority of the inhabitants of India-occupied Kashmir are almost venomously hostile to such an idea. The supporters of this ideology tend to be the most hardcore opponents of Indian secularism. To those with such a train of thought, the very idea of India as a secular state, facilitating a harmonious interplay of all legitimate religions present throughout the country is not only impossible but also repulsive. It must be noted that a substantial majority of pro-Pakistani Kashmiri groups base their convictions on divisive and communal issues and a significant part of their functioning is based on the Muslim religion. This out of control conflagration of communal and divisive propaganda coupled with an ardent dislike for the very idea of the Indian nation-state is what make this ideology the most unpopular among the three. It is, in all senses of the word, a fringe ideology. After considering all of the above, a logical analysis of facts dictates that, from the perspective of Indian nationalism, the instant ideology be categorised as anti-national.
The Indian Maximalist approach to Kashmir is the second most popular ideology in the valley. It asserts the territorial autonomy of the Indian government over the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir as detailed in maps pre-1947 and confers powers relating to defence and national security with the same. The proponents of this ideology point to the Treaty of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh with the Governor General Mountbatten on October 26, 1946, whereby the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to the Indian dominion and the sound legality thereof to corroborate their arguments. Though the legality of the aforementioned treaty cannot be challenged substantively, the circumstances of its creation and implementation, to this day, remain controversial with critics claiming that the Maharaja signed the treaty after being offered help to fend off invading Pakistani tribesmen. An attempt to maintain his authority and nothing else. Another feature of this India-centric ideology is the special status awarded by the central government to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 370 of the constitution of India is the embodiment of the government’s endeavours to reserve a special place for Kashmir wherein its people and culture may flourish. Proponents also point to other perks that Jammu and Kashmir enjoys such as residual powers being vested in the state instead of the centre. Thus, considering the pro-India stance of this ideology, there is absolutely no way in which it can be called anti-national.
Finally, Azad Kashmir. An ideology that grew out due to decades of violence and oppression foisted upon the people of this once pristine valley. More than two decades of life under the spectre of the rifle coupled with acts of callous disregard from those holding positions of power in New Delhi have resulted in a pervasive sense of injustice and alienation among those with the pro-independence bent of mind. It is in this context of alienation that the demand for an independent Kashmir takes shape. Sumantra Bose states that Islam and the Muslim identity contributed immensely to the rise of the struggle against the autocratic Hindu state along with its bureaucracy and military. This along with the various fronts of political ideas along with identity formation was an essential constituent of Kashmiri nationalism and its democratic struggle.
Evaluating the ideas of pro-independence groups from the point of view of Indian nationalism is a rather demanding endeavour. While one has to concede that this aspiration for independence in such a strategically and economically important location is nearly impossible, the process of Kashmir’s accession to India was not without flaws. Originally bought by the Dogra kings from the British Raj for a then royal sum of 75 lakhs, the state has since then, been subject to deliberate subjugation and oppression. Similarly, the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) did not help in alleviating the sense of alienation amongst the people. The systemic nature of police brutality and lack of empathy from the rest of the country only exacerbated the chasm between the Kashmiri mindset and that of the mainland. Incidents such as the mass rapes of Kunan Poshpora and the extreme callousness with which it was investigated is proof of this disconnect. Official figures, which recorded the rape of over 30 women were publically criticised by various human rights groups as being grossly inaccurate with the actual figure bordering on 100 cases of rape. Other incidents include the Gawkadal Massacre, The Doda Massacre, the Bomai incident etc.
On evidence of these findings, it is difficult to ascertain whether mainstream Indian nationalism, in its present form, can be applied to the Kashmiri scenario. Considering the various reservations, privileges and exemptions enjoyed by the state of Kashmir, it is only reasonable to ask whether the same test of nationalism that is applied to the rest of India can be foisted upon Kashmir, and if so, how to reconcile possible discrepancies which will inevitably emerge. The Indian state has been remarkably unsuccessful in winning over the residents of the Kashmir Valley. Even the pro-India National Conference seems to accept Indian a rule as an unavoidable reality rather than the desired outcome. A region with such dangerous levels of alienation, both social and political combined with a crippling unemployment rate and warzone-like existence is bound to produce a citizenry which holds its legal rulers with an utmost disregard bordering on contempt. As such, it is humbly asserted by the authors of this essay that the dominant prevailing ideology in Kashmir must not be termed as anti-national by those without a sound knowledge of their day to day existence and aspirations. We contend that the concept of ‘anti-national’ as understood and accepted by the rest of India, cannot be applied to Kashmir and its people.
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