Article 35A is set to take centre stage once again and tensions in Kashmir, never abating since 2016, are certain to gain a new basis the hearings in the Supreme Court. Governor NN Vohra wrote to the Centre last week seeking deferment of the proceedings till an elected government is in place because of the sensitivities attached to Article 35A. But India has hardly followed wise counsel on Kashmir. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Saifuddin Soz’s Kashmir – Glimpses of History and the Story of Struggle has chosen to look at this history through the lens of a hoary past, working its way to the present chronologically from the land’s prehistoric roots. A veteran Kashmiri politician, once with the National Conference and now with the Congress, Soz has put together in his latest literary effort a vast amount of existing material, offering his own critique of each.
Soz attributes the Court’s intervention on Article 35A to the “RSS ideology and narrative on Kashmir [that] has always created a problem and this organisation never tried to be a part of the solution”. He quotes AG Noorani to underline any revocation of 35A as “a threat to Kashmir’s very existence, which Kashmiris can never accept, under any circumstances”.
Cautioning the government, Soz writes that “the Union of India could, therefore, be well-advised at this critical juncture to take a serious look at what went wrong in the past, as in many ways the past is much more important than the present and the future can be organised well on the basis of full knowledge of … the past”. Ten recommendations for the “way forward” include dialogue at several levels: between Hurriyat and the mainstream Indian political class; between the three regions — Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir — of the state; and, between India and Pakistan. “Since our neighbourhood can’t be changed and India and Pakistan can’t live in perpetual animosity, the Union of India has … to organise a dialogue on two axes — New Delhi-Srinagar-Jammu axis and the New Delhi-Islamabad axis. I accept that proposition as a compulsion woven into the situation, that is, the Kashmir dispute”. Soz wants the Centre to demilitarise Kashmir, and says the Musharraf-Vajpayee-Manmohan Singh formula of making borders “irrelevant” for Kashmiris, and a system of joint governance, could provide a “background situation” for any future settlement.
Offered without comment is the oft-quoted exchange between Sardar Patel and Liaquat Ali Khan, in which Patel offered Kashmir in exchange for Hyderabad, but was turned down. Liaquat’s reasoning for rejecting the offer: “…have I gone mad to give up Hyderabad which is much larger than Punjab for the sake of the rocks of Kashmir?”
In keeping with the view that knowledge of the past offers a grip on the future, the book is a quick take on works on Kashmir, ranging from Aurel Stein’s Ancient Geography of Kashmir to Kalhana’s Rajatarangini, held to be inaccurate in parts; from the travelogues of Fa Hien (who travelled in Ladakh but did not make it to Kashmir), Hiuen Tsang (“the most credible eyewitness record of facts … focussing … on the lives of the people”), Alberuni’s “largely accurate” account of Kashmir’s geography (he never visited), to François Bernier, who described Aurangzeb’s only journey to Kashmir from Lahore through Bhimber and the Mughal Road, the German Charles von Hugel and Victor Jacquemont, a French guest at Ranjit Singh’s court who claimed an appointment as “viceroy of Kashmir”.
Soz quotes various sources to underline that Islam was not forced upon Kashmir, but adopted in the 14th century by Renchan Shah, who was inspired by the faqir Bulbul Shah. Renchan adopted the name Sultan Sadruddin and became the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir, and a wave of conversions followed. Subsequently, the teachings of the Iranian preacher Syed Ali Hamdani led to the unique rishi cult, and the syncretism of Kashmiriyat. Soz quotes from Ajit Bhattacharjea’s Kashmir: The Wounded Valley on the two most important symbols of this syncretism — Laleshwari or Lal Ded, and her disciple, Sheikh Noorudin or Nund Rishi. His grave at Charar-e-Sharif has provided solace to Kashmiris over generations.
The brief mentions of Lal Ded, Sheikh Noorudin, and the benevolent Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, are the most interesting parts of a book that seems on the whole hurriedly written, and will hopefully inspire a more detailed work on Kashmiriyat.