Minoo Masani

Kashmir: Case for Self-Determination

Minoo Masani

The state of Jammu and Kashmir was never a part of India. Lord Mountbatten gave the Maharaja of Kashmir the option to join either India or Pakistan. Led by Sheikh Abdullah the Muslims of Kashmir persuaded the Maharaja to accede to India on the strength of a solemn promise that the accession would be subject to plebiscite.

A lady asked me other day, “why Gorbachov would not agree to the Lithuanian demand for independence from the Soviet Union?” I countered with the question: “Do you believe that Kashmir belongs to India?” “Yes, of course” she said. “That is why?” I said. “There are too many Russians who wrongly believe that Lithuania belongs to the Soviet Union, just as you believe that Kashmir belongs to India; so poor Gorbachov does not feet free to accede openly to the Lithuanian demand.” Unfortunately, the good lady’s answer could have been by nine out of ten Indians. Let me make it clear at the outset that while my sympathies are with those who want the valley to be independent, I condemn the methods of violence and terror to which some of them are resorting.

I am delighted to read two recent articles in the press, one by Ajit Bhattacharea, entitled: “The last chance in Kashmir” which appeared in “The Statesman”, on 7th January and the other by Pran Chopra, which appeared in the “Independent” of 15th January under the title: “We have failed Kashmir”. From what these experienced and prominent members of the press whose patriotism cannot be doubted have said, the responsibility for the current situation lies not with the people of Kashmir but with the government of India in Delhi. Even more encouraging have been the statesman-like words of Mr. Simranjit Singh Mann on 26th January, asking the Governor of Kashmir to lift the siege by the Indian Army, he went to say, “The Indian Government is bound by Article 51 of the Constitution to its international commitments. Under the United Nations charter the State of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed territory”. He further observed “The people of Kashmir have their rights and I support every democratic action. Plebiscite is not a bad word. The right of vote must prevail over the right of the bullet.” Along with me, there are thus at least three Musketeers in the field. Having been a student of this matter since independence, I heartily concur with these gentlemen even though it is not fashionable to say so.

Conditional Accession: The state of Jammu and Kashmir was never part of India. Let me repeat that at the time of the transfer of power by the British, Kashmir was not part of India. Lord Mountbatten gave the Maharaja of Kashmir the option, if he so desired, to join either India or Pakistan. The Maharaja, better known as Mr. A, dithered but led by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the Muslims of Kashmir persuaded the Maharaja to accede to India on the strength of a solemn promise given by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, that the accession would be subject to a plebiscite which would enable the people of Kashmir to decide their destiny. India later forgot all about the plebiscite and to this day the people of Kashmir Valley have been denied the right of self-determination.

Nehru’s Regret: The later story is a sad one. Nehru joined a conspiracy to make a ‘coup d’etat’ against the Kashmir Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah, arrested him and put the corrupt Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad as a puppet in his place. Abdullah then remained under trial on false charges for about twelve years because against him could not be proved. In January 1963 my friend, Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was then minister without portfolio in Nehru’s Government, told me that Jawaharlal Nehru wanted Abdullah to be released. “Maine Sheikh Saheb ko badanam kya hai” (I have done great wrong to Sheikh Abdullah). So the Sheikh was duly released and sent by Nehru to Pakistan to negotiate a settlement of the Kashmir problem with President Ayub Khan. He was to bring Ayub Khan to Delhi to sign an agreement if he agreed to do so. Sheikh Saheb telephoned Nehru from Pakistan to say that Ayub was willing for a settlement and so the day of his visit to Delhi was fixed for June 20. Tragically, Nehru died in May and Kashmir remains a problem to plague both countries.

JP’s Mission to Pakistan: When Lal Bahadur Shastri was Prime Minister, he sent my friend, Jayaprakash Narayan, to Pakistan to find if the settlement of Kashmir was possible. When Jayaprakash returned to Delhi, he saw me before he saw Lal Bahadur and he told me what Ayub had suggested. Jayaprakash told me that Ayub suggested that “Ladakh and Jammu should join India but the Kashmir Valley should be independent and, as in the Austrian Treaty between the Soviet Union and the USA, India and Pakistan should guarantee the independence and integrity of the valley.” When Jayaprakash returned from Lal Bahadur Shastri later that evening, he was depressed because the Indian Prime Minister had failed to respond. “Yeh cheez bahot acchi hai, lekin Parliament aur meri party nahin manne gi” (This is very good, but it will not be acceptable to parliament and my party). How sad, I commented to Jayaprakash that perhaps he and I were the only Indian, who could see our country’s Imperialism along with that of other countries.

Rajajis’ warning: Rajaji, always the statesman and a realist, wrote in “Swarajya” as far back as September 25, 1965, “…. it would be as foolish as any foolish thing a nation can do, if we proceed on the assumption, that we can hold any people down by sheer force and without making it absolutely manifest to world nations that we have the consent of the people concerned by imposing any administration on them. Like injustice, the political decision concerning Kashmir, or any part of it, should…. be on the basis of self-determination….”

It is all very well to send Jagmohan as Governor and start shooting. The first result of this repression is a revolt of the Kashmir police, who have alleged atrocities committed by the Indian Armed Forces on the people of Kashmir. So, now we have only an army of occupation to rely on. It is possible by brutal terrorism to suppress a national urge for freedom, but for how long? Don’t recent events in Eastern Europe have a lesson for our government?

Neutralizing the Valley: Many of my friends tell me, that if a plebiscite was held, the people of Kashmir would vote to join Pakistan. I do not agree. They would vote for independence. But why not try this out by asking Pakistan government whether they would join India by neutralizing the valley on the lines suggested by President Ayub Khan? If she declines, the blame will be on Pakistan. If she agrees, let us go ahead and do the right thing.

This advice may not be palatable to many, but sooner or later, it will have to be carried out, so why waste time? Why not turn to the path of conciliation right now? For one thing, we can stop spending the large amounts of money that we rather stupidly spend on Kashmir without getting any gratitude.

Minocher Rustom “Minoo” Masani (20 November 1905 – 27 May 1998) was an Indian politician, a leading figure of the erstwhile Swatantra Party. Masani was a three-time Member of Parliament, representing Gujarat’s Rajkot constituency in the second, third and fourth Lok Sabha

                                                                                                      Courtesy- Dalit Voice, Bangalore, August 1, 1990 

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