Why not a Kashmir ‘plebiscite?’

As we go through yet another cycle of hand wringing over Kashmir, perhaps it is time to put aside irrational pride and ask some very practical questions.

Written by Rohan Parikh | Updated: November 6, 2016 9:41 am
kashmir, kashmir unrest, kashmir violence, kashmir issue, kashmir news, kashmir plebiscite, jammu kashmir, pakistan, narendra modi, BJP, india news A scene of stone-pelting and protests on the outskirts of Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir (Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

India lives with a constant blister in its side, one that infects the moral stature of our nation and sucks up endless resources and attention. As we go through yet another cycle of hand wringing over Kashmir, perhaps it is time to put aside irrational pride and ask the very practical question: What does Kashmir do for us? Is it worth the price we pay? Is it worth the inordinate share of our defense and security expenses? The deaths of our brave security personnel? The large share of national and international attention? The beacon call that it is to jihadists? Can we reconcile Kashmir into the Indian nation?

While India is not without its flaws, we are a largely tolerant and free society, with a growing economy. About 1.2 billion of us live is a border-free state and are able to enjoy economic opportunity and the freedom to live anywhere in the country. If the people of Kashmir truly believe that they were dealt a bad hand at Partition, why not give them their demand and let them decide once and for all, whether to be a part of free and democratic India, or take the chance and join a chaotic Pakistan?

Why not call for some sort of a referendum today?

Before I launch into what is bound to be a controversial proposal, some important facts.

The state of Jammu & Kashmir comprises of 1% of our population, less than 1% of our GDP, and 4% of of our landmass (or 2% of our landmass if we exclude largely uninhabited Ladakh).It is essentially made up of 3 divisions: Jammu – population 55 lakhs (65% Hindu); Ladakh -population 3 lakhs (approx 45% Buddhist, 10% Hindu, 30% Shia Muslim); and the Kashmir Valley – population 70 lakhs (98% Muslim, mainly Sunni).

Essentially, all the civil strife, unrest, and dissatisfaction with the Indian state is limited to a small section of the people of the Kashmir Valley. Thus, I would propose calling a referendum in each of the three districts, thereby allowing each part of Kashmir to choose separately between being administered by India or Pakistan.

It is almost certain that Jammu and Ladakh with their Hindu, Buddhist, and Shia majorities, would choose to remain a part of India (the Shia, persecuted in most Sunni countries, enjoy complete religious freedom in India, and would be bitterly opposed to Pakistani rule). That would leave just the Kashmir Valley’s decision in doubt.

Here too, when put to the actual test of a referendum, I believe that the moderate voices in the Valley too would win out over the secessionist extremists. India would be able to bolster their case by promising a withdrawal of security forces and restrictions in the event of a decision to remain with India. In the best-case situation, the Kashmir Valley decides to stay with India, dealing a death blow to the extremist movements, to the Pakistani claim of mistreatment of Indian Kashmiris, and hopefully ending the ISI’s meddling in the region. In the worst case, a restive, dissatisfied sliver of the country secedes, leaving India free to concentrate on its own problems.

Opponents of a plebiscite in Kashmir generally cite three main reasons:

First, there is the historical-emotional argument that “Kashmir is an integral part of India”. I believe that this was a Nehruvian fantasy. The idea of India was always fluid in 1947. We have tried to live with Kashmir for three post-partition generations. However, it seems increasingly like a bad marriage. No amount of resources, development, or special statuses have been able to end the dissatisfaction of the Kashmiris, trapped as they are in a cycle of violence between their extremists and the response of the Indian security forces. It would be insanity to continue this cycle and expect different results. Thus, it is time to look at other options. I would like to note here that I speak with the greatest respect and gratitude to the innumerable martyrs in our armed forces that have fought to defend our Kashmiri borders. While their opponents may believe in martyrdom as an end to itself, I am sure that our soldiers would not want future generations to sacrifice themselves unless it was for the long term interest of our nation. Hence, the national discussion on Kashmir must be a rational and forward looking one, not one based on past sentimentality.

The second argument is one of national security. Most of Pakistan’s water and a small, but important, part of India’s originates in Kashmir. The control and maintenance of these waters is important. The mountains of Kashmir also form a defensible border against land based invasion. These concerns can be addressed by making demilitarisation a precondition to the referendum. Any future state would have to be without any army presence, and India must be permitted to retain a UN supervised force to defend its strategic points and its water supplies.

The final argument against a referendum invokes the fear of the threat to national unity – namely, if Kashmir can have a referendum today, why can’t other parts of India demand one tomorrow? I have always found this to be a weak argument. For right or wrong, Kashmir is demographically very different from the rest of India and its status has been legally disputed since 1947. No other part of the country has a similar situation. Also, surely, three generations on from Independence we are secure enough in our national identity to not have to worry about a Tamil Nadu or a Punjab making a successful claim for secession? I believe that the country would survive a loss of the Kashmir Valley, if it comes to that.

Thus, why not give ourselves a chance to once and for all break out of this endless and fruitless cycle of conflict?

(The views expressed by the author are personal.)

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  1. M
    Mayank
    Apr 28, 2017 at 3:37 pm
    You have a viewpoint but have you also pondered upon the situation which india could face after secession of Kashmir. Islamic jihadists who are out to establish caliphate around the world will pick up another region of India to bring to their control. May be am or Bengal who knows. This goal of extremists is widely propagated in stan. To make things worse many pseudo secular indian politicians are encouraging such elements by turning a blind eye to their deeds for their political gains. So in my opinion in this situation India should not lose control of stan to discourage such secessionist elements
    Reply
    1. A
      ansuman
      Jan 16, 2017 at 9:05 am
      writer need to read more about India and write less.
      Reply
      1. A
        Ahmed
        Nov 6, 2016 at 2:16 pm
        a thought provoking article. we never thought on these lines. certainly it will stop blodshed and probably we would be able to concentrate more on education and better life quality of common man in India.
        Reply
        1. A
          Arun
          Nov 5, 2016 at 8:06 am
          ROHAN PARIKH...i think u r still amature about the issue .. i recommend u to plzz refer to the UN plebiscite paper and then advice us for the referendum 👎
          Reply
          1. I
            Ikok
            Nov 5, 2016 at 10:46 am
            Mr. Rohan .good through article but unfortunately more then 90% will take it as a deciet and may try to harm you or your news paper..
            Reply
            1. I
              Ikok
              Nov 5, 2016 at 10:37 am
              Some people still think positive.. a long lasting solution for an old dispute which created enemity for both and sacrifieced so many lives.. the new generation is more genius and future oriented..
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              1. A
                Audie
                Nov 7, 2016 at 9:21 am
                Plebiscite is for entire Jammu and Kashmir, so your analysis goes for a toss with Hindu/ Shia percentage. Also, in a referendum, it is the total majority that counts, so all regions have to accept the verdict of majority. Still a bold effort to write this article in the country of bhakts.
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                1. B
                  Bankim
                  Nov 7, 2016 at 4:02 am
                  Immature article. Putting too much trust in UN and future Peace, Water IS going to be major issue in times to come. Once Kashmir is gone, rest ured, other headaches will start in that region as China, Russia and US want the control of that region. lt;br/gt;When u have head, u don't end up cutting your head.
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                  1. B
                    Biju nair
                    Nov 5, 2016 at 12:21 pm
                    Thank you Indian Express for saying at the end, view is his personal. Not sure from where Rohan Parikh is coming. But I think Indian Express has gone dumb for a second to carry such illogical, dumb, stupid writeup from this novice.
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                    1. C
                      Chandan Chaudhary
                      Nov 5, 2016 at 5:12 pm
                      How can people with such poor knowledge of history, demography, strategy and political science become a journalist in IE.. A very poorly written article that has not really talked about pro and cons. There is no mention of extremists and the poor Pandits, it never talked about the policies stani army is perusing towards India and historical UN resolution. Also, if religion was the basis of a country, should not stan be administered by Saudi.
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                      1. D
                        Dhanus Menon
                        Nov 5, 2016 at 7:59 am
                        Why not call a referendum to see if Indian citizens wants to be a secular republic or Hindu democracy. The results might surprise many. No referendum was held to declare India a secular republic.
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                        1. G
                          Gaja
                          Nov 5, 2016 at 11:55 am
                          "whether to be a part of free and democratic India". lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Free and democratic?lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Ha...ha...ha...
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                          1. F
                            Faiz
                            Nov 7, 2016 at 10:03 am
                            Good Article Sir......Thank God their are humans in India ....lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;But the Question is that "is Indian Democracy so mature....Living is the conflict area i have doubt on Indian Democracy ,which i never tastedlt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;I But will Thank You for Opening a good thought...lt;br/gt;Thanks
                            Reply
                            1. D
                              Dave
                              Nov 5, 2016 at 8:56 am
                              You stupid Journalist , read the UN charter that why it cannot happen . lt;br/gt;That will give the proper reason that it cannot happen because Your favourite stan has troops in Kashmir and till they take their troops back there won't be any plebiscite. I am sure your must've from JNU , that's why writing such article with half knowledge .
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                              1. S
                                Subaru
                                Nov 5, 2016 at 9:36 am
                                What about the trillions of rupees spent on JandK by Govt of India? Kiska baap ka paisa hai wah sab? After all its all Indian tax payers money. Nehru has taken Indians for a ride on JandK. How to get that amount back if plebiscite result is otherwise?
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                                1. H
                                  Harish garg
                                  Nov 5, 2016 at 11:48 am
                                  Dear Rohan Survival of India will be difficult because demand of independence will come from every where from west to north east and south I can only say if this could happen only at 1947 or end of the problem in unification of Indian subcontinent it requires 500 years for maturity and understanding of public
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                                  1. R
                                    Rhea
                                    Nov 5, 2016 at 12:14 pm
                                    Main reason for India to not give up Kashmir:lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;To protect a few deable Indic-aryan fleas called pandits.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Indic-aryan fleas are not indigenous people. Those deables are from Central Asia, kicked and driven out of all empires for 3000 years now for, you guessed it right, for their natural macres of indigenous people using then ruling kings and hired mercenaries.(Harappans and Mohanjedaro).lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;So if there were no bandits in Kashmere, Indics wouldn't have any interest. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;If they still have, then they are perverts, even otherwise.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Pleabisite isn't going to work.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;What would work is emigrating bandits. 1/2 done, remaining pending.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;If you instill fear on an Indic-aryan, he goes bonkers. He goes to nadir in his morality which is already a nadir, even by animal standards.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;That would be the right time.
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                                    1. R
                                      Rhea
                                      Nov 5, 2016 at 12:59 pm
                                      Indic-aryans don't have human brains and therefore no logic. It is this that makes them hold on to Kashmere. Even after losing their potion all along their migratory path from Central Asia, they won't reform, because it is their non-existent ego that drives them. Indic-Aryans are preparing for another holocaust of themselves!
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                                      1. V
                                        VP Joshi
                                        Nov 5, 2016 at 6:39 am
                                        Perhaps the agitators don't want to join stan either? Do they want to be independent of both? That they wanted independence is also seen in their Hindu king signing the deed of accession late and under duress?
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                                        1. B
                                          Bushan
                                          Nov 5, 2016 at 6:29 am
                                          Kashmir has in fact been divided already by forceful occupation of stan in 1947 itself. stan occupied more than 40% of geographical area of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir Kingdom. Those muslims who are not happy in the Kashmir valley being part of India should be moved to stan Occupied Kashmir so that the rest of the potion can live in peace. This is the only lasting solution to Kashmir problem.
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                                          1. R
                                            Rationalityaddicted
                                            Nov 5, 2016 at 7:23 am
                                            While it looks the most sensible thing to do and I fully agree with Author about Kashmir becoming blister on India which is trying to move on with rest of progressive world, this decision is fraught with too many strategic risks.I refuse to believe that Kashmir issue is about freedom from India. kashmir has become a quintessential Islam issue which is infested with Jihadi philiosophy. Kashmir will become a very strategic launchpad for Jihadi Terrorists and this Idea that Kashmir Freedom will guarantee a peaceful India will just be a plain utopia.
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