Following the changes to Article 370 of the Constitution converting the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two Union Territories, J&K and Ladakh, several leaders of the BJP have attempted to construct a narrative that invokes B R Ambedkar to justify the measures. Some of them have even aligned his views and concerns on this issue with those of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, who led an agitation against the mandatory permit to visit J&K, demanding the full merger of the state with India. Ambedkar and Mookerjee are then projected as allies pitted against Jawaharlal Nehru, who by defending an autonomous constitutional status to J&K, undercut the determined efforts of Sardar Patel towards India’s national consolidation. To what extent does this narrative square with what we know about Ambedkar’s stance on this issue?
Kashmir figures prominently in Ambedkar’s resignation speech as the Union law minister in the interim Parliament on October 11, 1951, when he cites his disagreement with the Nehru government’s policy towards the state. He argues that “the right solution” to the J&K dispute “is the partition of Kashmir. Give the Hindu and Buddhist part to India and the Muslim part to Pakistan as we did in the case of India”. “Or if you like”, he adds, “divide it into three parts — the ceasefire zone, the Valley, and the Jammu-Ladakh region and have a plebiscite only in the Valley.”
Ambedkar cites the following reasons for it: First, given India’s commitment to hold a plebiscite in the state and Pakistan’s belligerent claims on it, “the Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir are likely to be dragged into Pakistan against their wishes”. On the other hand, if the Valley chose to be part of India through the plebiscite, then Pakistan’s claim over it can be debunked decisively. Second, if the pot is kept boiling in Srinagar, which Nehruvian policy has resulted in, armed stand-off with Pakistan will be a permanent feature of India’s security policy, eating up resources that should rightfully be used to improve the condition of people in India. He felt that India’s defence expenditure was eating up more than half of the Union revenue. Third, the excessive attention that J&K has cornered in policy circles has led to ignoring several other urgent concerns, particularly those arising from the carving out of East Pakistan. Fourth, India has lost much goodwill, its social capital, at the time of Independence, in global forums, due to the foreign policy of the Nehruvian regime, in which J&K figured prominently.
Ambedkar repeated many of these arguments in the manifesto of the Scheduled Caste Federation in 1951, released soon after his resignation from Parliament. In this context, it is interesting to point out that Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in his autobiography, The Blazing Chinar, takes little notice of these arguments, although the media at the time extensively commented on the issue and conservative Hindu politicians denounced Ambedkar’s position on the Kashmir Valley.
Ambedkar’s critique of Article 370 is directed against its justification by partisans of the measure. While moving the Article (then Article 306 A) in the Constituent Assembly on October, 17, 1949, N Gopalaswami Ayyangar had argued that this special provision is made because “that particular state is not yet ripe for this kind of integration. It is the hope of everybody here that in due course even Jammu and Kashmir will become ripe for the sort of integration as has taken place in the case of other states”. He further said, “the Government of India have committed themselves to the people of Kashmir in certain respects. They have committed themselves to the position that an opportunity would be given to the people of the state to decide for themselves whether they will remain with the Republic or wish to go out of it. We are also committed to ascertaining the will of the people by means of a plebiscite provided that peaceful and normal conditions are restored and the impartiality of the plebiscite could be guaranteed”. Ambedkar thought that such a policy measure had never taken off, and led to nomination of even representatives of the state to Parliament. Ambedkar had consistently opposed representation through nomination from his submission before the Southborough Committee in 1919. He felt that the Article, as it stood in 1951, denied democratic rights to the people of J&K in the name of safeguarding the state’s autonomy.
While Ambedkar’s attack on the Nehruvian policy on Kashmir was scathing, it was not less so with regard to Hindu nationalism and the idea of national unity that Syama Prasad Mookerjee subscribed to. In Pakistan or Partition of India (1946), he had argued that nationality is a “feeling of consciousness of kind” which binds together a people and the absence of a political setting germane to this feeling may reinforce nationalism, that is, “a desire for a separate national existence”. Nationalism enacts itself by forging the common bond and shedding that which divides. Use of force to suppress the feeling of nationalism has proved counterproductive. While there was much in common among Muslims and Hindus in India, the former have increasingly come to consider themselves as a nationality and there has been no conscious and reflective attempt to undo such a feeling. If secession is inevitable, it has to be carried out through a plebiscite in the concerned territory and appropriate institutions and processes for the relocation of people and to protect minority rights must be put in place.
Ambedkar also argued that if a nationality wants to go its way, and efforts to forge a common bond were in vain, then the security of the state and the prosperity of its citizen-community leave one with little option but to part ways, rather than be caught in the quagmire of violence and insecurity. Clearly such a notion of nationalism, and the consequences that follow from it, would not be acceptable to Syama Prasad Mookerjee and his political progeny.
This article first appeared in the print edition on September 6, 2019 under the title ‘Babasaheb and Kashmir’. The writer taught political science at Mangalore University and JNU.