By Amitabh Mattoo
When, in June 1977, then prime minister Morarji Desai visited Srinagar on the eve of the elections for the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly, he was greeted, it is said, by women singing a traditional Kashmiri anthem, the wanwun. “Desai was the prince”, they sang, “Who had arrived from Pakistan (Pakistanuk shahzad aww)”. Unruffled by this unexpected tribute, Desai quickly became a hero for the Kashmiris as he promised and delivered the only fair election in Kashmir’s history till then, even as his Janata Party aligned itself with the pro-Pakistan Awami Action Committee of Maulvi Farooq. For Desai, winning the trust of Kashmiris was critical to India’s strategic objectives; if that happened, Pakistan would remain for most Kashmiris no more than a slogan or a song. It is worth recalling this probably apocryphal anecdote to illustrate not just how the challenge before every prime minister of India since 1947 has been to make the Muslims of Kashmir believe in and perhaps even celebrate the idea of India, but also the complex and ambivalent relationship that the people of Kashmir have had with Pakistan.
The ugly treatment meted out recently by the authorities of a Meerut university and the police to a group of Kashmiri students, who were said to be cheering for the Pakistan cricket team during the Asia Cup match against India, has just added to the disconnect between the Valley and the rest of India. It is precisely such events that demonstrate how that complex and ambivalent relationship manifests itself too often as a lack of understanding of the uniqueness of Kashmir and of the Kashmiri identity.
It is easy to forget that unlike most other parts of India, Kashmiris consciously chose India over Pakistan in 1947. If it had not been for the vacillations of Maharaja Hari Singh, there would have been no Kashmir dispute. The then most popular Kashmiri leader, Sheikh Abdullah, believed in the ideals of India’s freedom movement and was convinced that the Kashmiri identity would be more secure in Mahatma Gandhi’s India than in Jinnah’s Pakistan. In turn, a Muslim majority state that voluntarily acceded to India in 1947 lent tremendous strength to the construction of India as a vibrant, pluralistic state.
Despite the huge resources invested by Islamabad, few in Kashmir have ever really wanted to be part of Pakistan, least of all the dysfunctional state that exists today. Consider this. In 1947, it was the Kashmiri Maqbool Sherwani who led the resistance against the tribal invaders from Pakistan and sacrificed his life in defence of his cause. In 1965, it was the Kashmiris who revealed the presence of Pakistani infiltrators and foiled the Pakistan army’s Operation Gibraltar. More recently, it was the Kashmiris who …continued »