Reflections: J&K and Beyond
This week both the books under review give a ‘non-mainstream’ perspective on J&K’s accession to India. Our generation (born in the first few decades after Independence) grew up with the understanding that it was the procrastination on the part of Maharaja Hari Singh on whether to accede to India which led to the delayed acceptance of the Instrument of Accession, by which time the Pashtuns were knocking at the gates of Baramullaand the no tax campaign and desertion of Muslim troops in Poonch, Mirpurand Muzaffarabad led to the virtual break-up of the state.
PC Dogra’s book 1947: Kashmir Invasion: Why Stalemate (Who failed India) makes the case that all this was avoidable, if not deliberate. The reasons for the stalemate included the personal bitterness between the Maharaja and Nehru, the new strategic objectives of Britain after the Cold war, the influence of Mountbattens on Nehru, his misreading of ‘realpolitik’ of the UN, the reluctance of the British army chiefs on both sides to engage in a full fledged war, the animosity between Jinnah and Abdullah- and last but not the least the transfer of J&K affairs from Patel to Minster without Portfolio Gopal swami Ayyangar at the critical time – all played their part in the cauldron that the state finds itself in today. Although verbose and repetitive at times – perhaps because he wishes to emphasize a point – his book starts with the historical perspective, describes the direct involvement of Pakistan in Operation Gulmarg and the British designs and long-term strategic objectives for Kashmir. Like all princely states under the Raj, the state troops were designed for the ceremonial, and as auxiliary troops for the British Indian army, and they were woefullyinadequate to meet the challenge posed by the Pakistan army. Dogra then analyses the reason for the failure of the Indian army to reach Muzaffarabad before the announcement of the cease fire. He points out that both Nehru and Abdullah were complicit in giving a shabby deal to the Maharaja, forcing him to leave the state and abdicate in favour of his eighteen year old son Yuvraj Karan Singh, and it ends by his unflattering assessment of Sheikh Abdullah – whose unbridled political ambitions were driven by the personal, rather than any ideological agenda – for in the course of his life, Abdullah has been a Muslim communalist, an Indian nationalist with socialist leanings as well as the protagonist for the Independence of J&K.
Dogra is candid in admitting that there was never an organic unity in the state. Quoting Christopher Thomas (FaultlineKashmir) ‘the treaty of Amritsar in 1846 created the state of Jammu and Kashmir and placed it firmly under the thumb of the British. For the next 101 years, this nominally independent non-country would exist to serve British colonial interest at the crossroads of Russia, Afghanistan, China, Tibet, and India. It was one of the oddest political creations on earth. It contained communities and regions that had at various points of time been independent fiefdoms and small kingdoms with little or noting in common. The Kashmir valley, Jammu, Ladakh, Mirpur, Poonch, Muzaffarabad, Baltistan, Nagar and Gilgit were lumped together unhappily, and unnaturally into a single unit for the convenience of British strategic planning’ and that Dogras ruled over a multitude of cultures, each the creation of its isolation, shut off from each other by mountains and rivers so that none traversed other’s territory, nor spoke each other’s language’. In fact, the official name that the state gave to itself was ‘Jammu wa Kashmir wa Ladakh wa Tibet ha’ because the large expanse- from the banks to Tawi to settlements on the Mansrover – were all part of the kingdom’
A word about Dogra’s credentials for writing this polemical volume. He has seen action in the India Pakistan War of 1965 as an Emergency Commisioned officer, and as an IPS officer he served as the IG BSF on the Jammu and Kashmir Frontiers, and as the DGP of Punjab which has given him aground zero perspective of insurgency – and its historical antecedents, especially the links with Pakistan.
We now come to the second book ‘Reflections: Anthology of Essays by Karan Singh’. This is a collection of some of the best essays, public lectures, and frank interviews of the Yuvraj, the heir apparent to the throne of Jammu and Kashmir, the Regent and the first Sadr-e- Riyasat who had to enter public office at the age of eighteen when his father, Maharaja Hari Singh was advised to abdicate in favour of his son. However, he will be known as a scholar administrator, Minister, a parliamentarian, diplomat, Vedantist and as one who carried forward the life- message of India’s foremost Rishis, Sri Aurobindo. The publisher has done a fine job inplacing these in four categories: Politics/ History, Religion /Philosophy, Culture/ General and Education: there by making it easy for the reader to focus on whatever she chooses. Each of the forty essays can be read individually – or together with another with a similar focus, and while there is some overlap, in general, it’s a fine read. In the first section: Politics and History there are personal tributes to Nehru, Patel and Malviya as well as their contribution to the transformation of India from a nation under the British to a proud and self-confidentnation. However, the best essay in this section is ‘A Judgement for India’ in which he celebrates the decriminalization of acts consensual sex among adults and acknowledges the rights of the LGBTQ. He says, ‘Nature is much more varied and inclusive than many realize, and alternate sexuality has been found in almost all cultures- ancient and modern around the world’. In fact, in this essay he also gives credit to Dr Ambedkar and Nehru for pushing the Hindu Cde Bill which brought in the element of gender equity and equality. Here the authorhints but does not specifically say that this was the time when the entire country could have been brought under a common civil code.
In the section on Religion and Philosophy, Dr Singh expounds the lofty ideals of Vedanta, the essence of the Bhagwad Geeta and the need for a frank and honest inter faith dialogue. He explains the six cardinal principles of Vedanta – unity of all existence -Isa vasyam idam sarvam, yatkinca jagatyamjagat, that the Supreme Power resides in all beings – Ishwar sarva bhutanam hrudyeshe tishthi, that the essence of Yoga is the joining of the individual atman with the cosmic Brahman. The fourth is of Vasudev Kutambakam: the world is one family. The next aphorism is Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti, which means that the wise men (and women) seek and speak the Truth in their own ways. The sixth is Bahujan Sukhay, Bahujan Hitaya: the welfare of all Beings. In fact, one’s own individual salvation is not an end. Swami Vivekananda said Atma Moksha Jagat Moksha – work also for the liberation of the world.
The third section on Culture has a chapter ‘Cultural Roots: India and South East Asia ‘in which he talks about the tradition of age old cultural ties with India, which continue till today. The interaction started in the third century BCE – in the times of Ashoka, when he sent two Buddhist monks to Suvarnabhumi – the land of gold. Nalanda attracted students from the entire South East Asia, including the Malay Archipelago, and beyond. Although India spread her cultural and spiritual rootsin theentire region, they did not fit into the stereotype of an occupying force. Throughout Indonesia, the symbols of the Mahabharata arevisible, and the epics are performed by all – irrespective of religion.
The last section has two seminal columns: on liberating Sanskrit from sectarianprejudice, and the Message of Sri Aurobindo. He is appalled at the opposition to the appointment of Feroze Khan to the Sanskrit department because of his denomination He says ‘the fact that Muslims are studying should in fact be a matter of pride and satisfaction… let us celebrate our diversity, rather than denigrate it’
The last essay in Reflections is perhaps the best offering, or let me say, my personal favourite. Here he talks of the life of Sri Aurobindo – his Janamabhoomi at Kolkata, his Shikshabhoomi – England, his Karambhomi – Kolkata and Baroda, and finally his Yogabhoomi at the Pondicherry. He hopes the India will contribute her mite, not just to the developmentof SAARC but also to a virtuous global order. He does mention here that he wishes that J&K could become a source of concord, rather than discord between Indian Pakistan and China.
Nowhere in the essays do we find a trace of regret, or a lament about the treatment meted to his father and his family. Lesser mortals would have built a narrative of loss. On the contrary, Dr Karan Singh’s lectures are about hope, they are about integrating the spiritual and temporalworlds. They ask probing questions: the world is getting integrated – but is this the integration of markets, or integration as a family? Is knowledge liberating, or is it plainly instrumental? For an answer to these and many other questions, I suggest that you should pick up a copy of this book. My suggestion for the next edition is that the date and the context of the lecture/conversation should be added as an editorial note for further embellishment!
By Sanjeev Chopra