POST TIME: 19 August, 2019 00:00 00 AM
What lies behind India’s bold bet on Kashmir?
Atul Singh

What lies behind India’s bold bet on Kashmir?

On August 5, the press around the world noted that India had ended special status for Jammu and Kashmir. The media in the Muslim world such as Dawn and Al Jazeera shone the light only on Kashmir. So did the BBC and The New York Times. This is understandable. Given that India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers, Deutsche Welle has rightly called the conflict over Kashmir the most dangerous in the world.

Yet it makes sense to take a deep breath and examine key facts to make sense of what is going on. Many journalists forget that there is no state in India named Kashmir. The state of Jammu and Kashmir includes three distinct regions: Buddhist Ladakh, Hindu Jammu and Muslim Kashmir. These comprise 62.3%, 22.7% and 15% of the area of the state. This means that Kashmir is merely 15% of the total area of the state. The tables are turned when it comes to demographics. Kashmir is most populous, comprising 53.9% of the state population with Jammu forming 43.7% and Ladakh a mere 2.3% share. The statistics above reveal an important point that the Indian, Pakistani and international media almost invariably miss. Kashmir is just one of the three regions of a highly diverse state. Conflating Ladakh and Jammu with Kashmir is sloppy, inexact and misleading. So, why do most journalists do it? Ignorance rather than ill will is the most probable answer.

The Roots of Conflict

Like many a political entity, the modern state of Jammu and Kashmir is a historical accident. During the dying days of the Mughal Empire, the revolting Sikhs established their own short-lived empire. They first conquered Jammu and then expanded to Kashmir. Starting in 1834, Zorawar Singh Kahluria, the Dogra general of the Sikhs, led audacious campaigns in high altitude to conquer Buddhist Ladakh and Shia Baltistan. In 1841, Kahluria ended up with a lance in his chest when he attempted to conquer western Tibet, but the Dogras now controlled a swathe of territory, which is currently shared between India, Pakistan and China.

In the 1840s, the Sikh Empire disintegrated. The Dogras led by Gulab Singh seized their chance. In 1846, the Sikhs and the British came to recognize Dogra sovereignty and they became one of the 584 princely states of British India. Singh and his progeny ruled over a Muslim-majority kingdom while paying obeisance to the British. Hari Singh, the last Dogra ruler, was portly, extravagant and worthless. This former page boy to Lord Curzon was blackmailed by a Parisian prostitute for a princely sum of £300,000 in 1921, or $16 million in today’s terms. Needless to say, such debauchery did not enamor Singh to his subjects.

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While most royal families joined newly independent India or Pakistan, Hari Singh had illusions and delusions of grandeur. He wanted to rule a Himalayan Switzerland. Pakistan saw Muslim-majority Kashmir as a natural part of its nation-building project and dispatched Pashtun tribesmen to wrest it. In a panic, the Dogra ruler signed the Instrument of Accessionon October 26, 1947, and Indian troops landed in Srinagar. Even as Indian troops were pushing back Pashtun tribesmen, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, took the matter to the United Nations on January 1, 1948. Nearly four months later, the UN Security Council called for a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir. First, Pakistan was supposed to withdraw Pashtun tribesmen and its nationals. Second, India would then reduce its forces “progressively to the minimum strength required for the support of the civil power in the maintenance of law and order.” Then, there would be a plebiscite that would decide where the state would go. The resolution remains stillborn till this date because neither party has followed it.

The writer is an Indian

political commentator