Jammu & Kashmir – When Geography Became History

For Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), history defined geography in 1947. On 5th Aug 2019, that geography became history.

Going Back Into History

On 26th Oct 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir executed the instrument of accession to India. The princely state ceded control to the Union of India in matters of defence, foreign affairs and communications while enjoying special status under Article 370, including its own state constitution and a separate flag.

The instrument broadly provided that “terms of the accession shall not be varied” unless accepted by the maharaja, disallowed making of laws to acquire land in the state “for any purpose”, and also held that no future Constitution of India could be imposed on the state.

This was 1947 and the circumstances were hardly of the maharaja’s choosing. Pashtun ‘tribesmen’ and Pakistani mercenaries were knocking at the doors of Srinagar.

When the Indian Constitution came into force on 26th January 1950, J&K was listed as a Part B state, only to be included through a subsequent amendment under Article 1, as India’s 15th state – an irrevocable “territory of India”. Article 370 continued to be in force. Article 35A was added through a presidential order in 1954, defining who qualified as a permanent resident of J&K, laws regarding property purchase, ownership of properties by permanent residents, etc.

In the 70 years that followed, this ‘crown’ of India blessed with nature’s beauty, bounty and beautiful people has been the bone of contention between India & Pakistan. Thrice the two nations have gone to war, each time returning to a stalemate and status quo. Sometimes, we lost vital ground captured through soldiers’ blood due to political bungling or capitulation. Pakistan on its part continued to pursue its strategy of ‘bleeding India through a million cuts’ by proxy war and sponsoring of terror outfits. Who gained from this is not clear; perhaps the Pak Army who found their raison d’être in keeping this pot on boil.

Who lost is however very evident. The average Kashmiri who wanted to live in peace and get access to jobs and better opportunities for their children, never found escape from the endless cycle of violence and bloodshed. Caught in the crossfire, two generations of Kashmiris grew up staring down gun barrels at an economy in ruins.

This set up a perfect breeding ground for separatism and extremism. Loyalties were split between the iron-fist rule emanating from Delhi (often softened by ‘winning hearts & minds’ campaign of the Indian Army), and separatists and Pak-sponsored outfits fomenting terror and civil unrest against authority. Their own elected leaders, through whom any change in the status quo was to be enacted, failed to bridge the gap between autonomy and Indian control promised by the ‘temporary’ provisions of Article 370. The only lasting solution – a political one – continued to elude the state.

Geography Becomes History

That status quo crumbled 5th August 2019 with Modi government’s ‘surgical strike’ on Article 370, rendering it defunct while scrapping Art 35A and splitting the state into two Union Territories (UT) of J&K and Ladakh. The UT of J&K will have a legislature while Ladakh will not have one.

The legislation breezed through Rajya Sabha with a 2/3rd majority and is hardly expected to find any resistance in the Lok Sabha where BJP has total dominance. An opposition, headless and disoriented after Modi 2.0, watches on like a deer caught in the headlights. Few sound bytes of criticism and alarm were quickly drowned in the din.

With a communication blackout and hordes of additional troops and paramilitary forces pushed into J&K, it is difficult today to assess the sentiment of the average Kashmiri at ground zero. The long-term implications of this move is yet to be fully comprehended. Historians and avid Kashmir-watchers aver that celebrations would be premature and unsound. That hasn’t stopped the bhakts from rejoicing on the streets.

Surgery Without Anaesthesia

This government’s appetite for the spectacular over substantive has been on display since 2014 from sudden, sometimes reckless moves like demonetization. Black money and corruption that was purported to be attacked through demonetization landed a kick on the belly of poor and middle-class folks while crony capitalism continues unabated. Intelligence failure that allowed the Pulwama attack was answered with cross-border air strikes as a general election loomed. Economy and industrial output continues to languish in the face of high-decibel announcements.

Public opinion has been whipped into a frenzy that brooks no debate or disagreement with government policy, veiled as they are in seemingly noble intentions. How can one possibly disagree with an attack on black money (demonetization), cross-border air strikes on terrorists camps, a foreign policy blitzkrieg through ‘hugboat diplomacy’ and oratory that mesmerizes? All this while, the opposition lies decimated, unable to match the multi-pronged, high-calibre ‘weapons of mass mobilization’ the BJP government led by PM Modi has unleashed.

Rahul Gandhi, and in turn the Congress party, has been reduced to something that resembles Rajesh Khanna with his stubble walking aimlessly in the song “zindagi ke safar mein guzar jaate hai jo makam” from the 1970s Bollywood movie ‘Aap ki Kasam’. They are literally choking over the by-products of their own UPA’s 10-year rule marked by pacifism and status quo.

Going Forward

Only history will reveal the long-term implications of setting aside Art 370 and downgrade of a state to a UT. History has a way of revealing itself with much more nuance than obtained through the nasha provided by social media channels.

A few thoughts on this occasion, not in any particular order, are penned below for wider reflection by fellow citizens and policy makers:

The basic idea of India – that of inclusivity, diversity and secularism – must remain sacrosanct always

Any move towards majoritarianism or autocracy runs against the founding principles of our nation state.

Humility is a virtue, more important in success than in defeat

If there is any sense of victory in the recent actions of our government, it should be tempered abundantly with humility. The government’s first duty is towards the safety, security and freedom of its citizens. Nobody should be left feeling marginalised.

Public communications must not only be focused on fostering inclusiveness, it should be seen as such

Dissent should not be seen or received as anti-national. The brazen toxicity flowing through social media channels should be doused with informed discourse on the pros and cons of this move.

We must let go of the idea fast gaining traction in our society that ‘you are either with us or against us’

Deep engagements with all stakeholders and dissenting voices must replace shallow chest-thumping and sloganeering. The trolls must be reined in. Many hide behind obscure names and pour vitriol into public perception.

Stop labelling people with catch phrases that galvanise mobs and reduce intellectual discourse to a joke

Is it fair to label people with differing opinions as ‘cocktail circuit’, ‘sickular’, ‘tukde tukde gang’, pseudo-liberals, pseudo-intellectuals, etc? Are we being patriotic by encouraging such divisive thoughts? Remember, blind adulation of one man’s ideology set against an almost intellectually & financially bankrupt society contributed to the holocaust and WWII.

The people of J&K need our empathy, support and unconditional love now more than ever. So do other minorities who may feel threatened with recent developments

India does not live in the cities. Large swathes of India still belong to native communities that have special provisions under the constitution. These have been put in place to protect their unique identity, traditional sources of livelihood and prevent exploitation by vested interests. The J&K example should not be extrapolated without careful consideration of native interests.

Lastly, and most importantly.

If ever there was a greater need for Operation Sadbhavana or ‘winning hearts & minds’, it is NOW

Do not drag those in uniform into polarised debates centred around government decisions. The armed forces are the state’s last bastion – meant to protect national interests against external threats. A lot of olive green, white and blue blood has been spilt over the last seven decades in implementing the nation’s writ upon its own people in J&K. It is easy to view the current developments as a victory or vindication of sorts for the armed forces. There cannot be any victory for the armed forces against its own people. That is for banana republics. The armed forces of India have always been above politics. The gun must always be trained at the enemy, never at our own. Remember, our words can sometimes hurt more than bullets and shells.

May our brothers and sisters of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh find lasting peace, access to more jobs and opportunities, a landscape free of fear and terror, and embrace the warmth and affection of a billion fellow citizens of India, now and going forward. It is the government’s bounden duty to facilitate this.

Together, let us reclaim the paradise that was lost to bullets and pellets. May history be kind to us.


©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2019. All rights reserved. Views are personal. Cover photo of Ladakh courtesy Offbeat Tracks, an experiential travel planner founded by an army brat and avid traveller. Image used with permission.

6 thoughts on “Jammu & Kashmir – When Geography Became History

  1. Excellent write up from a veteran. Must read for all fellow citizens. Amen to the prayer in the concluding line of the article.

  2. Very well put. Each and every point so valid most important being empathy to be shown and check the chest thumping.
    Finally safety and security is what matters and lifting up of the general populace.

  3. Getting 2/3 votes in RAJYA SABHA where BJP is in minority..
    speaks aloud that most of the people’s representative had it in heart but couldn’t bring it on paper. The devil of 370 had to go.

    Look at the opposition with BJP on this issue…..paries like BSP, SP, TDP & AAP.

    All the wars & battles have not been won only following the books and orders. They had to break some and reinvent some to win. Therefore even if some rules have been broken or circumvented to win this war of 370 for the people of Kashmir…then be it.

    Kashmir people have been in the middle of undeclared war for far too long. They have suffered through two generations. It badly needs PEACE.

    The common people in valley remain where they were 70 years back. They need to move on with new system and new horizon….

    Now that virtual BERLIN wall is down its duty of each and every Indian citizen, where ever we are to make people of Kashmir actually feel at home. Let us by our humility, love and care make them welcome in each and every corner of the country.

    Let us wish and pray that KASHMIR gets back to old GLORY and we can say….

    “Agar firdaus bar roo- e zameen ast,
    Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.”


    If there is a paradise on earth,
    It is this, it is this, it is this.

    Jai Hind…Jai Kashmir

  4. Kashmir could better be defined as a paradise in turmoil. Persian poet Amir Khusruhad said “Agar Firdaus bar roy-e zamin ast, hamin ast-o hamin ast-o hamin ast” meaning “If there is a paradise upon earth, it is here, it is here, it is here”.
    In August 1947 the British divided the subcontinent into India and Pakistan based on religious lines. British India consisted of about 565 princely states and their rulers had the option of joining either of the two new dominions, India or Pakistan.
    The princely state of J&K, had three geographically distinct areas – Leh in the North and East with many Buddhist, Jammu in the South mostly Hindus and the Kashmir Valley in the middle with a Muslim majority. The state was ruled by a Hindu Ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh. Under British rule, J&K had its own army, police, post, telegraph, transport, etc, akin to many other Indian princely states then.
    Maharaja Hari Singh did not want to accede to either and wanted to remain independent. In order to gain time, Maharaja signed a ‘standstill’ agreement with Pakistan so that trade, travel and communication would be uninterrupted. India did not sign a similar agreement. Pakistan believed that Kashmir would accede to them as it had majority Muslim population, was geographically contiguous to them and the area had better road and rail communications with Pakistan than India. As the Maharaja kept delaying his decision, Pakistan imposed a trade embargo on Kashmir resulting in a lot of misery for the people of Kashmir.
    Soon Pakistan’s patience ran out. They covertly sent in Pathan tribals to capture Kashmir. These Pathans were lured with a promise of loot, plunder and rape. The invasion commenced on 20 October 1947. Kashmir was then defended by the state forces and many Muslims from the force rebelled and joined the invaders. Despite the desertions, the state forces fought many pitched battles and were successful in delaying the attackers. The invaders reached Baramulla on 26 October. The Pathans now let loose a savage orgy of loot, rape, murder and abduction of girls. The local Muslims could not believe that a force that had come to liberate them could indulge in such barbarism even against fellow Muslims. Raping, looting and plundering at Baramulla in fact delayed the raiders from reaching Srinagar, thus saving the capital.
    As the raiders were knocking at the doors of his capital, Maharaja Hari Singh first sought urgent military aid from India on 24 October. The Indian cabinet under Governor General Mountbatten refused to send troops unless the Maharaja acceded, arguing that the Indian Army could only defend Indian territory.
    By about 11 PM, the Maharaja sent another request specifically asking for Indian troops to be sent to Kashmir. The Indian cabinet agreed to the request and on 26 October Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession joining India.
    The decision was taken on 27 October to launch the First Battalion of the Sikh Regiment (1 Sikh), located at Delhi, to be flown into Srinagar by Dakota aeroplanes of the Indian Air Force. As there were no administrative echelons of the Indian Army in Kashmir, the battalion had to be self-contained, meaning it had to carry anything and everything – from rations to ammunition. Landing a heavily loaded Dakota on a poorly maintained airstrip at an altitude of around 5000 feet was a feat in itself. Neither the pilots nor the soldiers had any experience in operating at such altitudes and were not equipped to do so. The soldiers had only a thin sweater to beat the cold. Biju Patnaik, who later became the Chief Minister of Odisha State, was one of the first pilots to land in Srinangar that day.
    The soldiers of 1 Sikh fought many a bloody battles against the raiders and threw them back to Baramulla and then beyond up to Uri. By November 1948, the Indian Army was in a strong position. They were in fact ready to defeat the Pakistani forces and occupy the entire Kashmir. Yet the Indian government requested United Nations (UN) mediation to resolve the conflict. After protracted discussions at the UN, a cease-fire was agreed to by both countries, which came into effect on 01 January 1949. Why India called in the UN to resolve the conflict when the Indian Army was on the brink of achieving victory remains a mystery.
    The terms of the cease-fire as laid out in the UN resolution of 5 January 1949 required Pakistan to withdraw its forces, both regular and irregular, while allowing India to maintain minimum strength of its forces in the state to preserve law and order. On compliance of these conditions, a plebiscite was to be held to determine the future of the territory.
    Pakistan claims that a plebiscite must be held to determine whether the people of J&K want join India or Pakistan as stipulated in the UN resolutions. India blames Pakistan for failing to withdraw their forces from the area held by it as stipulated in the very same resolution as a reason for not holding the plebiscite. This simmering bone of contention between two nations resulted in the beautiful state of J&K being divided along the Line of Control (LC) as Azad Kashmir on the Pakistan side with India calling it Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and India Held Kashmir (IHK) as Pakistan calls the Indian part of J&K.
    Raja Hari Singh meanwhile appointed Sheikh Abdullah as the Prime, who with three other colleagues join the Indian constituent assembly to discuss provisions of Article 370 under the Indian constitution under draft. In 1950, the Indian constitution was adopted with its Article 1 defining J&K as a state of India and Article 370 conferring it a special status.
    This article allowed J&K to make its own laws in all matters except finance, defence, foreign affairs and communications. It established a separate constitution and a separate flag and denied property rights in the region to the outsiders.
    The events and turmoil thereafter have only complicated the existence of the state within Indian Union with all political parties fishing in the troubled waters for a few more votes. This situation led to rampant corruption in all spheres of life. Even though Indian government was pumping in lot of money, it never reached the grassroots level. It only alienated the local population from India and they called themselves as Kashmiris and others Indians.
    First time I landed in Kashmir was in 1987 as a young Captain and I observed that the most effected due to the rampant corruption was basic primary education and healthcare. When I visited the state in 2017, the tale was not different. When these two basic facilities the state must provide is absent, the area becomes an ideal breeding ground for political extremism. Now add religious fanaticism to it, it becomes a real Molotov’s cocktail. This is what has happened in J&K and a similar game is being played in some other areas of Indian hinterland also.
    In my view, Article 370 has not served the part it was intended by the authors of Indian constitution, but has led to extreme corruption and difficulties to the common Kashmiri. Lack of education, coupled with lack of employment opportunities has encouraged the Kashmiri youth to take up weapons, with encouragement and facilitation by Pakistan.
    Article 370 though gave a separate identity to Kashmiris, but failed to amalgamate the state and its people with the Indian union. Abolishing it was a mandatory step to ensure the very existence of Indian union, It had to be done now or later and that must have been what the authors of the very same Article 370 intended.
    Like many other such ‘special rights’ articles in the Indian Constitution like reserving jobs for the under-privileged castes – Article 338, the number of castes were to be reduced each passing year to ultimate removal of the article from the constitution. The political parties have played hell with this article that the number of castes swelled and beneficiaries have overtaken the normal citizens.
    The present Indian Government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the strength and support in the Parliament to move any constitutional amendment. Removal of Article 370 is the first step in the right direction. It must be followed by constructive steps to ‘Educate, Employ and Empower’ the Kashmiris. This will help them to amalgamate with the Indian union and also quell extremist forces fighting for independence or cessation.
    When the common Kashmiri finds economic and social upliftment as a result of removal of Article 370, they are sure to amalgamate easily with Indian union than when the article was in force. If necessary steps to improve the lives of a common Kashmiri is not taken up on a war footing, removal of article 370 would prove to be catastrophic.

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