The woes of Jammu and Ladakh

Arvind Lavakare, July 2002

The very talk of separating Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh is falling in line with the two-nation theory,' said Omar Abdullah to PTI as reported in The Asian Age, Mumbai, of July 1, 2002. He also said, 'These leaders [of the RSS and VHP] do not know anything of Kashmir.'

Well, well, well, Abdullah III, 32, has a lot of reading to do. And if he only yields his acidic tongue to the printed words of history, he will learn of three major realities

  1. With a view to facing the threatening storm of Sheikh Abdullah's separatist postures for J&K state, some RSS workers founded a political party, by the name of Praja Parishad, in November 1947. Among their demands were:
    1. one flag and one constitution for the entire nation, including J&K,
    2. ending of the discrimination against Jammu and Ladakh regions (Page 42 of RSS: A Vision In Action, Sahitya Sindhu Prakashan, second edition, June 1998)
  2. Immediately after the accession of J&K to India in October 1947, the Ladakhis took the stand that their future was linked to India though culturally, racially and linguistically they were closer to Tibet. While [Sheikh] Abdullah was fighting for a separate flag for J&K state, the Ladakhis glowed with pride on seeing the Ashoka wheel on the Indian flag (Claude Arpi, The Land of the Passes).
  3. 'Jammu and Ladakh must be fully integrated with India according to the wishes of their people. Let me repeat and state categorically that I do not want Jammu & Kashmir to be partitioned. But if Sheikh Abdullah is adamant, Jammu and Ladakh must not be sacrificed, but Kashmir valley may be a separate state within the Indian Union.' (From the presidential address of Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee at the first all-India session of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in Kanpur on December 29, 1952.)

Half a century and more after these events, things have hardly changed for the people of J&L in J&K. They still find Article 370 separating them from complete economic and emotional integration with the rest of India; they still complain of discrimination against them by the rulers in the valley. Nehru first and successive Congress party regimes in Delhi thereafter have so appeased the Abdullah dynasty with its satraps of the National Conference that the entire state is lorded over by the nawabs of the teeny Kashmir valley ensconced in Srinagar. The governments of Morarji Desai, V P Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral were all too brief in tenure to make a difference, while the current NDA government is far too hemmed in by circumstances to do what its BJP component knows needs to be done.

That is why the PTI report in The Asian Age, Mumbai edition, dated November 27, 2000, wherein Abdul Rouf Ganai, co-convener of the Jammu Kashmir National Front, denied that his organisation's demand for the state's trifurcation was 'communal and RSS-backed'; in fact, in support of that denial, Ganai stated, 'Both Hindus and Muslims of Jammu are treated as second-class citizens by the Srinagar-based elite.' Equally important was his belief that 'Jammu Muslims are ethnically and culturally different from the Kashmiri Muslims. We are closer to the Hindu Paharis, Gujjars, Dogras and Punjabis.' So what is all that cock and bull about 'Kashmiriyat' that we've been brainwashed with all these years by cunning politicians and two-penny pen-pushers?

Another outcome of Srinagar's domineering suzerainty over J&K all these long, long years is the PTI report in The Asian Age, Mumbai edition, of June 19, 2000, which announced the Ladakhi Buddhist Association's plan for observance of a 'black week' to oppose the 'rule from Srinagar'.

That report also quoted a senior leader of the LBA as saying, 'The Ladakhis are apprehensive that the proposed step for greater autonomy for the state or to restore the pre-1953 position will ruin the interests of Ladakh people who have been clamouring for Union territory status for a long time.' So what is behind all this clamour of the Abdullahs for 'greater autonomy short of azadi?'

This Ladakhi agitation against Srinagar's domination dates back to 1952 when Sheikh Abdullah presented the state's budget to its Constituent Assembly, forgetting Ladakh altogether; when Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, head lama of Ladakh, protested in a strongly worded speech, Abdullah asked his speech to be expunged from the records on the ground that it was in English and not in Urdu. Bakula was the one who recently retired as India's ambassador to Mongolia. The reader -- and Abdullah III -- will discover that fact and more in Arpi's above-referred Rediff Special that is as much a succinct narration of Ladakh's tribulations as it is a tribute to the courage of the Ladakhis and to their love-cum-loyalty for the Indian nation.

It should be clear to the impartial observer that the latest RSS resolution advocating J&K's trifurcation is not rooted in communal soil, but in the discrimination practised against the Jammu and Ladakh regions by the long line of Wazir-e-Azams ruling from the seat of the Kashmir valley. Below is evidence of that discrimination as spelt out in two signed newspaper articles: one in The Tribune of August 27, 2000, written by Hari Om, history professor at Jammu University, and the other in Tarun Bharat of July 7, 2002, by M G Vaidya, chief spokesman of the RSS.

Abdullah III may pounce on the last facet to reiterate his accusation that the demand for trifurcation is, in fact, communal, because the Jammu region has long been perceived as being one of Hindu majority. The 'secularists' will readily buy that accusation and fuel it in the popular media they command. They will ignore, out of ignorance or intent, the fact that Poonch district (area 1,674 sq km), Rajouri district (area 2,630 sq km) and Doda district (area 11,691 sq km) are all part of the Jammu region and have a Muslim population of 85, 55 and 61 per cent, respectively. And, believe it or not, Vaidya says 20 Muslim leaders from those districts who met him on the 20th of last month were firm and insistent on their demand for statehood to Jammu.

Why, Vaidya says the RSS report recommending the trifurcation of J&K is based on the views of 48 delegations expressed to the Sangh's three-man committee headed by the chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court.

In fact, when Abdullah III alleges that the demand for trifurcation is communal because it gives the signal to Pakistan that the valley is up for grabs, it is he who is hoist with his own petard. His reaction mirrors his belief that the Muslims of the valley are all pining to be gobbled by the fundamentalist, India-hating neighbour of ours, and that we, the people of India, will meekly comply. It would seem then that apart from ignoring the 55-year history of our nation's blood, toil, tears and sweat lost in defending Srinagar against the evil designs of Pakistan, the young man hasn't studied even the recent MORI poll of J&K. Tsk, tsk.

Abdullah III has the democratic right to oppose the trifurcation of the state that has become his dynasty's monopoly. We are not Pakistan to fetter that freedom of his. But may we have some logic, not rhetoric, for that opposition? And some explanations, if not solutions, for the half-century of woes of J&L?