Like a putrescent odor that bubbles out of tar, Kashmir has had this uncanny knack of sitting up, waiting to be in your face, to get noticed, and remain firmly part of the nation’s discourse. Sometimes more angrily, but equally when you would think, things were going swimmingly on the surface, very violently. But the bubbles always remain, brimming... Sheikh Abdullah had been arrested in 1953, removed from the scene for fissiparous tendencies. Delhi had more control with his erstwhile deputy and number two Bakshi Ghulam Mohd., who was firmly ensconced in the saddle. The future of Kashmir though remained indelibly inextricably woven into the fabric of a sovereign India; but ideation on what ‘could be’ continued as Pakistan refused to rest a decade after partition, feeling cheated at being denied occupation over the whole of Kashmir. Against this backdrop, another attempt was made to find a solution quietly and unobtrusively. Some of the players remained the same, though the assignation may have acquired a slightly different hue. Abdullah’s two lieutenants—Bakshi and Sadiq—had been conducting back channel dialogue with Pakistan but all to no avail. Now with the centre having the remote and an unchallenged Bakshi installed in Kashmir, a sensational new twist was set to visit the narrative.
A top London School of Economics economist, Vera Anstey, known for her expertise on the Indian economy dashed off a missive to the J&K Prime Minister Bakshi in April 1957, it was a lucid and well argued solution to what Pakistan has claimed is the unfinished business of partition.
She argued that Kashmir should turn into a federation equally supported by both India and Pakistan. Something unacceptable to India because through the accession document India has moral, legal and constitutional validity over J&K. She marked a copy of the same to PM Nehru, Pakistan PM H S Suhrawardhy and Sweden’s Minister to India and Sweden's Permanent Representative to UN Gunnar Jarring. I am reproducing this confidential letter which will appear for the first time in public domain.
THE LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE
(UNIVERSITY OF LONDON)
Aldwych, London W.C.2
Personal 1st April, 1957.
Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed,
Prime Minister of Kashmir,
Dear Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed,
I venture to send for your consideration the enclosed “Solution for the Problem of Kashmir”. The proposal is most unorthodox, but I do believe it has certain features which might—no doubt with modifications—provide a hopeful approach.
I am sending a copy of the enclosed also to Pandit Nehru, Mr Suhrawardy, and Mr Jarring. I beg you to give this “Solution” more consideration than you may, at first sight, think it deserves. You will, I think, find it would place Kashmir in a very favourable position.
A SOLUTION FOR THE PROBLEM OF KASHMIR
The problem of Kashmir poisoning the relationship between India and Pakistan—between those two great Republics whose social ideals are (despite their religious divergencies) so extraordinarily similar. It also threatens their relations with some other countries.
There is only one solution— however fantastic it may, at first, sound—which can secure the approval and indeed warm support, of all concerned, and that without any loss of Izzat to any country or individual. Moreover, despite a misleading aura of impracticability, further consideration reveals that the deliberate pronouncements and actions of India and Pakistan themselves provide a method by which implementation of the proposal becomes perfectly feasible.
This solution is that the State of Jammu and Kashmir should federate at one and the same time with both the Sovereign Democratic Republic of India, and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The main arguments for this solution are as follows :
Both India and Pakistan have strong and indeed irrefutable arguments in favour of the accession of Kashmir to India or to Pakistan respectively. It is unnecessary to recall, at length, these arguments. To illustrate my second argument I merely summarise those points which strike me as outstanding.
The greatest strength of India’s case lies in the facts that she entered Kashmir in response to an appeal for help against the depredations of invading tribesmen, reinforced from the North-West Frontier Province, and that she exercised patience and circumspection before eventually accepting and recognising the accession of Kashmir.
The greatest strength of Pakistan’s case is the fact that the population of Kashmir is preponderantly Muslim, and it is willing that a plebiscite should be held.
It is abundantly clear that these cases fail to join issue (although, of course, much can and has been said against each of them). Hence it is impossible to resolve them by agreement. It is true that the partition of Kashmir along existing lines would be an improvement on the present situation, but it would provoke great opposition and would be unsatisfactory for Kashmir itself. In other words it would be an unstable compromise, but no solution.
To implement the proposed bold and unprecedented constitutional device the following steps could be taken:
An Agreement should be signed at once on behalf of India, Pakistan and Kashmir that steps should be taken to construct a Constitution for the whole of Kashmir which would enable her to federate with both India and Pakistan. To become Law this Constitution should eventually be accepted by first a joint session of the India House of the People and the Pakistan National Assembly, and second, by an elected Kashmir Assembly.
The initial formulation of a Constitution for Kashmir might well be entrusted to a neutral Authority, preferably an individual, who, by agreement, should be invited to undertake the task.
The problem presented by the occupation of the two parts of Kashmir by Indian and Pakistani troops could be resolved by an agreement for a complete, simultaneous and permanent withdrawal of those troops at a given date, their place to be taken by a Kashmiri militia which would in the meantime be organised by trained at first separately, in the present two parts of Kashmir, but would finally be united by a High Command. The nature of this High Command should be decided by Kashmir, without interference from India and Pakistan, and might well, for a given period, be placed under a Commander-in-Chief chosen from a neutral country.
The cost of this militia, which would be a defence militia, not liable to serve outside Kashmir, would (like other Federal expenditure) be borne in an agreed proportion by India and Pakistan. The general financial principle would be that all Federal expenditure in, or contributions to, Kashmir, would be borne in an agreed proportion of the Indian Union and the Federal Government of Pakistan, whilst all payments due from the Kashmir State should likewise be paid in an agreed proportion to the Indian Union and the Federal Government of Pakistan.
It is clear that to avoid unsurmountable constitutional and administrative complications the State of Kashmir would have to be given more autonomy than the other States and Provinces of the Indian Sub-Continent. But this would only be in keeping with the already expressed attitudes of India and Pakistan. After all “Indian” Kashmir already has its own Constitution, whilst Article 203 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan states that “when the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and the said State shall be determined in accordance with the wishes of the people of that State”.
Special arrangements would clearly have to be made to meet problems arising from differences in policies on vital issues pursued by India and Pakistan respectively. A study of the Constitutions and of the social ideals and policies of the two countries reveals, however, far-reaching and fundamental similarities. All possible safeguards are provided, for instance, in both Constitutions, for the protection and promotion of the interests of minorities. There is no clash between the Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy of the two countries. Even in administrative and economic details there is great congruence, and where divergencies exist, as, for instance, in import policy—the mere geographical position and physical characteristics of Kashmir would make it relatively easy to find a solution. In such matters as International Treaties, Kashmir would have to be given the right to decide, and her separate defence militia should normally enable her to remain neutral in international disputes.
It would be futile at this stage to discuss further difficulties or procedures. My one objective is to secure consideration of an unprecedented but perfectly feasible constitutional solution.
Sd/ Dr. Vera Anstey
London School of Economics,
THE 13 Men and THEIR NEFARIOUS AGENDA
Almost in parallel, another sinister move was initiated in Kashmir. This was done by the so-called thirteen leaders led by another key wingman of Sheikh Abdullah Mirza Mohd Afzal Beg of Kashmir who issued a statement in which they, among other things, dealt with the right of self-determination of the people of Jammu and Kashmir State and the representative character of the Constituent Assembly. They said that the right of self-determination cannot be exercised unilaterally and that the State Constituent Assembly cannot exercise this right. They attacked the representative character of the Constituent Assembly by saying that twenty-five per cent of the population of the State on the other side of the cease-fire line being unrepresented, the Constituent Assembly cannot take a decision on a vital issue like the accession of the State. (This was one of the arguments which Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah wanted to advance in his Id-day speech in 1953). This point was reiterated by these thirteen gentlemen with some detail. This was Sheikh Abdullah’s stalking horse, a pressure group to keep India and Delhi busy with talk of plebiscite and referendum. It was a stratagem employed by Sheikh but rebutted by Centrist forces in New Delhi. PM Nehru's Secretariat was directly controlling Kashmir policy and circumventing these designs.
Their claim was not just childish but outlandish. For they ignored world history or were not conversant with it. The very first Constituent Assembly formed anywhere in the world was the Philadelphia Assembly which was the product of the American War of Independence—and the constitution that was produced was against British rule. Britain and some other European States were, therefore, much opposed to it. But that did not deter the American people from taking vital decisions about the future of their country. They did not wait for the time when the British Government or any other Government would recognise their right, because it is an inalienable right of the people to carve out their destiny and the people were free to exercise it. To put any limitations on that right at once reduced it into something which was not a sovereign right. A sovereign right is never limited. And then again as students of history, one knows that the Constituent Assembly born of the French Revolution was being opposed by the monarchy of the principal States of Europe. But in spite of this opposition, the French people took decisions. Therefore, to say that the State Constituent Assembly’s decision on accession is a unilateral act is childish.
The right of self-determination is a sovereign right of the people which they can exercise—and as far as one knows, the people of the State have exercised this right not only before the constitutional forum but earlier also. Probably, Mirza Mohd Afzal Beg and his twelve associates forgot that it was as early as October 1948 and that the National Conference met in a convention at Mujahid Manzil and a resolution sponsored by Sheikh Sahib himself and seconded by Maulana Sayeed and supported by all the members including Beg and some of his associates like Soofi Mohammad Akbar was passed in which the State’s accession with India was confirmed (this has been documented by me in great detail in these very columns).
Then again in October 1950, the same stand was validated and the National Conference demanded that in order finally to settle this issue constitutionally, a Constituent Assembly should be brought into being by the vote of the people. And it was in pursuance of that decision that the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly was brought into being in 1951.
These thirteen gentlemen going under the nomenclature of Plebiscite Front working on behalf of the incarcerated Sheikh Abdullah thought that this body did not got a legal or constitutional character since one-third or one-fourth of the population is not represented in it, and therefore, any decision taken by this Assembly was not a binding decision. Given that Pakistan had Occupied large tracts of the erstwhile Princely State and even today the J&K Assembly keeps 24 seats vacant for PoK in what is effectively a 111 member assembly.
But Beg and his associates had forgotten that this was not the only decision which this Assembly took. There were many other vital and far-reaching decisions which were taken by this Assembly when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah used to be the chief spokesman in the Assembly and this includes some of the people who later signed the statement. For instance, the decision about the abolition of monarchy was not a minor decision. This decision changed the entire character of the State. But these same thirteen gentlemen were very silent about it. It makes sense for them to maintain that this decision too does not stand. With the monarchy dismantled, all its legislative and sovereign powers were subsequently being exercised by the Constituent Assembly and the legislature of the State.
Further the decision relating to the transfer of land to the tillers to which there is no parallel either in India or Pakistan was equally significant. Does one go back on that too? Does it mean that all the land should be restored back to the landlords from whom it was got or that the decision with regard to non-compensation was a wrong decision or that it had no basis in or that it has no constitutional force because one-third part of the State is not represented in it as the signatories allege?
I now provide excerpts of a top secret and confidential note for the PM drafted by a key personnel handling Kashmir affairs in his Secretariat. It provides a counter point to what the Plebiscite Front was espousing in the Valley. Interestingly, it has FAQs on the prevailing situation in Kashmir which were then disseminated to various people and foras to deal with Mirza Beg's rabble rousing. This was the counter narrative:
It is very surprising that these gentlemen should today talk about democracy and parliamentary government and ignore the basic factor that in democracies or parliamentary governments all decisions are taken on the basis of majority vote. And decisions taken by the majority are binding on all including the minority.
Today seven out of seventy five members of the Assembly are challenging the decision taken by the majority of the Assembly. They are in effect challenging also the decisions taken unanimously by the House in which they also participated and voted. I feel that this is the most undemocratic way of thinking.
I have given you certain instances from past history. You are all aware of the happenings in China. The Chinese Peoples’ Republic was not recognised by various countries in the initial stages. Nor were the decisions taken by the Chinese Peoples’ Republic taken seriously. But this did not deter them from pursuing their policies. Nobody can today say that the people of China or their government did not have the right to take those decisions.
Q: In the right of self-determination indivisible?
A: The Constituent Assembly came into existence in fulfillment of the wishes of the people and took decisions with regard to various issues and so far as the issue of self-determination is concerned, it has been taken a decision and has not abrogated it; from time to time it will take decisions about other allied matters.
Q: Can it abrogate the decisions about accession?
A: It has not done that.
Q: What is the legal and constitutional position? Can it do that?
A: In fact there is no precedent like this that a certain constitutional body takes a certain decision and later on abrogates it. If such a contingency arises, in that case that Constituent Assembly which was brought into being for deciding certain issues and which wants to go back on these issues shall cease to exist as a sovereign body; and subsequently if any such fresh body comes into existence, it may. You cannot take a decision in exercise of your sovereign right and then abrogate that decision. You cannot take both decisions. You cannot support a certain issue and oppose the same. In that case the only solution will be for the Assembly to commit suicide, i.e. dissolve itself. Nobody outside has any jurisdiction or control over the Constituent Assembly. No power outside the Assembly itself can dissolve it. It is upto the Assembly itself to dissolve itself.
Q: Can a country have a Constituent Assembly which might abrogate a decision taken by a previous Constituent Assembly?
A: I do not think so.
Q: If that is not so, does it not mean that these thirteen gentlemen want to suggest that all that has been done by the Constituent Assembly is wrong? Do they want to imply that all the decisions taken by the Assembly stand abrogated in the eyes of the people”? Does it mean that they do not want the right of self-determination, which has been exercised by this Assembly, since there is no other such constitutional body?
A: Apparently, they want chaos.
Q: Is it not that the expression “right of self-determination” is being misapplied in the case of Kashmir: Here the people have already given expression to their wishes.
A: Till this question was not decided, till then there was a problem about which decision had to be taken. And then a certain body was brought into being to consider the problem in all its aspects and to arrive at an agreed solution. That has been done and the question has been decided. The right of self-determination is exercised but once. There is no such right left to be exercised, because it has been exercised. It may be that there are many other matters which are pending before the Constituent Assembly for the solution of which we take certain decisions and exercise the right of self-determination.
No sovereign right can be conferred by any other authority. If this right is conferred by any other agency it ceases to be a sovereign right.
It was possible only in Greek States for all people to assemble in the market place and jointly take a decision. But when the States grew in size there were other constitutional methods which were adopted. Formerly in Greece, they used to make law in the market square where all the people would collect and take decisions. But later on when the State grew other devices were adopted for ascertaining the wishes of the people. The people would be asked to choose their representative who would sit in a body and take decision on the issues referred to them.
Q: Maulana Sayeed issued a statement in 1951 that the elections to the Constituent Assembly were being held on the accession issue.
A: The resolution of the National Conference dated that 27th October, 1950, forms the basis for the convening of the Constituent Assembly.
Q: These seven gentlemen voted the elections on this very basis. They have now forfeited the right to represent the people.
A: It is a moral issue. These gentlemen have certain election commitments on the basis of which they took certain decisions in the Constituent Assembly and if they do not feel bound by those commitments and those decisions, they should resign. They have quoted the resolution adopted by the National Conference at the Sopore session. They have not quoted the subsequent resolutions. This is significant. They have said “we” took the decisions. It is not they, but the National Conference which took the decisions.
Q: Another thing which they have alleged: This decision was taken under ‘suspicious circumstances’. Do you think that the vote was taken under suspicious circumstances?
A: Out of these seven Assembly Members, two of them, viz. Mr Hamdani and Mr Goni voted the present government in power. This they did not merely by show of hands; they urged the House to pass the resolution unanimously – and so far they have not explained why they had a different opinion then and why they have changed that opinion.
Q: Don’t you think that it is sheer opportunism?
A: It is very obvious. So long as they vote in a position to utilise this Assembly, this Assembly was a sovereign body and all powerful. It would take any decision with regard to our future. But since they cannot carry the members of the House with them or utilise it for their purposes, they have started talking in a different way. You can interpret it in any way you like.
Q: Since this Constituent Assembly has passed a vote of ratification of State’s accession to India and this decision has become part of the Constitution of the State, does it not mean that any person who says that the State is not a part of India is guilty of treason?
A: I have not considered this. But there is some force in the argument that once a sovereign body has taken a decision whether it lies in the mouth of somebody to come out against that decision, which is, of course a basic decision. For example, if in India somebody were to advocate affiliations of India with Pakistan, that definitely would amount to treason. What is right elsewhere is right here also.
Q: What decision has the Indian Parliament taken about those Members against whom vote of Non-confidence has been passed here in the State?
A: The difficulty seems to be that there is no procedure laid down that once a Member is elected by the electorate for a definite number of years and then he goes against his election commitments, he may be recalled or removed. But they have noted that these Members do not enjoy the confidence of the electorate.
One advantage of this decision is obvious that so far as the Indian public opinion and the Indian Parliament are concerned they do not attach that importance to these Members which they did previously. They can now speak in their individual capacity and not as the representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
Q: Does the government contemplate taking any action against the thirteen gentlemen for treason?
A: This is of course engaging the attention of the Government.
Then in their statement, these thirteen gentlemen have said that the State is at present seething with great discontentment. Actually if one were to analyse this statement, one could easily go back to 1953 and see what were the conditions then. On one side, entire Jammu province was in revolt and Ladakh was going asunder. In Kashmir, the situation was far from normal. There was terrible economic distress — and uncertainty was at its highest pitch. During these two years and especially at the present time, what is the situation? The situation is that all the three units of the State are united and so far as the Kashmir Valley itself is concerned, that economic distress is not there. The situation is very much improved. People are finding employment. Commodities have become cheap and there are numerous developmental activities going on which was not the case in 1953. To say that the State is seething with discontent is preposterous.
So far as the National Conference is concerned its entire membership was not more than 2,00,000 and today, at least last year, the membership stood at 7,00,000. Formerly, the bulk of membership come only from Kashmir. There was no membership from Jammu or Ladakh. But now we have lakhs of members who come from Jammu and similarly thousands who come from Ladakh.
Q: Does not the formation of the so-called ‘Plebiscite Front’ amount to treason?
A: Actually, so far as this aspect of the question is concerned, it is a matter both for the Constituent Assembly and the State Government to consider. This is a very vital issue and it constitutes a challenge to the very basis of the State.
And then another thing which is evident in this statement is that these thirteen gentlemen have approached the problem from a very non-political angle; because they probably consider that the whole Kashmir situation has been put in a test-tube and any time they take up the test-tube the situation will be like that there. The fact is that this is a dynamic situation. Many things have happened since October 1947 and one can very safely say that a certain qualitative change has taken place in that test-tube. The substance in it has changed its character altogether and no test-tube babies can be produced.
Q: Is it not that these gentlemen are trying to revive the idea of independence by means of this statement although they do not openly say so?
A: The difficult with them at present is that they seek support in Pakistan and from others who are pro-Pakistan. Therefore, they find it very difficult to be clear about their decision. If they have a clear line and announce it, they will have no following. Their position is like that of a rope-dancer. It is possible for a rope dancer to be on the rope for sometime. But if he continues to be on the rope all the time it becomes fatal for him.
Q: Have you any inkling that by issuing this statement, they are speaking the mind of Sheikh Abdullah?
A: Obviously, because whatever Mr Beg says at present is in accordance with the wishes of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. From time to time people go and meet Sheikh Sahib. There is no restriction on his interviews. He is aware of what is happening here and what statements are being made and naturally it seems that they have his blessings. If Sheikh Sahib had any reason to feel that he was being misrepresented there is nothing that prevents him from coming out with a statement saying that whatever these people have said represented their own views and does not in any way reflect his views. But all these months he has not done so.
Q: Is this not a clever way of propagating that idea again, that they have more faith in the U.N. than in Pakistan or India or even in themselves?
A: At least some of them have that idea. I am inclined to feel that they are looking forward to some sort of independence because their independence is like their sovereignty which is conferred on them by somebody. There is no appropriate term in the political dictionary which can describe a sort of arrangement which they are advocating. It does not mean independence. It is time that they find a correct term for it. It definitely means dependence.
Q: Is there any similarity between Sheikh Abdullah’s statement of 13th July, 1953, and the present statement issued by the thirteen gentlemen?
A: There is a similarity between the Id speech and this statement. The first point he had made was that the present arrangement with India was not permanent and secondly, that the Constituent Assembly did not have the representative character because certain people did not recognise it and that B.N.Rao had said something in the Security Council, and therefore, it was not in a position to decide the issue. And then he had again said that it is the people who had to decide this issue.
He clean forget that these decisions had been taken. If once you do not concede the sovereign character of this Assembly, then the Maharaja becomes the sovereign authority of the State. Then any decisions taken by the Assembly should have the approval of the Maharaja. If you go through the Assembly proceedings, you will find that on numerous occasions both Sheikh Abdullah and Mr Beg—I was not in a position to speak in the Assembly—have Asserted with all the emphasis at their disposal that the Constituent Assembly was a sovereign body.
Q: Have you any reports that these gentlemen or at least some of them have been trying to revive their foreign contacts excluding Pakistani contacts because those contacts are very obvious?
A: From their statement, if you read in between the lines, you will find what the Gods whom they want to invoke are the foreign Gods.
Q: How about giving the people on the other side of the cease-fire line the right to express their wishes?
A: If the people living in on the other side of the cease-fire line were also given an opportunity to express themselves on the issue of accession, Mr Beg and his twelve associates would get the shock of their lives.
Kashmir valley and its problems have manifested themselves in different ways over the years. Beg tried his best to act as a counter weight to the Govt. of India in the region, given that the Plebsicite Front’s thinking was that Bakshi was Delhi’s puppet installed to rule.
Like many other plans and blueprints for Kashmir, Vera Anstey’s too gathers dust, consigned as it is to the rubbish heap of history, for anything other than maintaining a sovereign right over Kashmir remains unacceptable to us.