VED BHASIN in conversation with KATHY ARLYN SOKOL - II

Kashmir Times. Dated: 11/21/2015 9:24:49 AM

'Kashmir problem is not a territorial problem, it is a people's problem'

In 1954 when I was supporting Abdullah and criticizing his arrest, the state government banned my newspaper. I started another newspaper in Delhi but copies were confiscated before going to J&K. So, I started filing from Srinagar and in 1955 I started the Kashmir Times in Jammu under another's sponsorship.
I was then forced to join the paper owned by Prime Minister Bakshi, the Kashmir Post, which I edited for five years, although thrice I resigned.
Over these last decades we have been in constant conflict. Let us freeze the issue for the next 20 years and let J&K enjoy maximum autonomy on both sides of the Line of Control. There should be elections on both sides under international supervision, and to give a semblance of unity, we should have a common counsel of both assemblies and have representatives in accordance with their population. Then we could discuss the problems of trade relations, etc.
Abdullah cancelled all debts under the Reconciliation Act, enraging money lenders who fleeced people and usurped their land. Revolutionary steps like the reconciliation councils were very effective, but big landlords opposed the act because they could only retain 22 or 23 acres and the rest of the land would be taken over by the state.
The government of India also opposed it and declared that there could be no takeover of land without compensation.
If both Pakistan and India agree, Pakistan can stop the movement within J&K. They have been coming here with the support of Pakistan but now militant and fundamentalist groups also threaten Pakistan's borders. It can be controlled if the two nations agree.
Ved Bhasin, Sheikh Abdullah at a function. Former deputy chief minister (Late) DD Thakur addressing the gathering.
Ved Bhasin listening at Sheikh Abdullah's press conference
From L to R: Kathy Arlyn Sokol, Jaffar Ahmed, Ramu Ramdas, Altaf Khan, Ved Bhasin and Lolita Ramdas. Peace Boat Voyage 2002.
KATHY ARLYN SOKOL, an American journalist based in Japan, author and social activist interviewed veteran journalist and founder Editor of Kashmir Times, Ved Bhasin, several times between 2000 and 2008. This interview primarily focusing on the Kashmir conflict, its history and Bhasin's own role in the history of Jammu and Kashmir is based on some of those conversations. Some excerpts from the second and final part of the series:
KAS: In this when you began the Kashmir Times?
VB: During my college days I had an interest in writing. I was head of the debate team and editor of the Hindi section of our college magazine, TIVI. As a student activist I had to send information to local newspapers, so I began writing articles and became involved with journalism.
I did my post-graduation in political science in New Delhi while working on the Hindustan Times. When I came back to Jammu in 1952, I started the Urdu weekly, New Society, a leftist, pro-socialist, pro-National Conference paper that was against the Maharaja's autocratic rule and wanted democratization of the state.
In 1954 when I was supporting Abdullah and criticizing his arrest, the state government banned my newspaper. I started another newspaper in Delhi but copies were confiscated before going to J&K. So, I started filing from Srinagar and in 1955 I started the Kashmir Times in Jammu under another's sponsorship.
I was then forced to join the paper owned by Prime Minister Bakshi, the Kashmir Post, which I edited for five years, although thrice I resigned.
I supported limited accession as espoused by the PSP, the Praja Socialist Party, of which Jay Prakash Narayan was head. I convened a conference where the state branch of the PSP was announced and I became its first secretary. I contested only one election but due to ill health, I then went back to journalism. Then I was involved only in forums, worked for restoration of state autonomy and the release of Abdullah. In 1958, the Plebiscite Front was formed and he was briefly released. Again he was jailed, and when he was re-released in 1964, I organized the reception.
KAS: How close was Abdullah to achieving independence when he was first imprisoned in 1952?
VB: His main fight was for preserving J&K's autonomy. But at the time of partition, it is my belief that if the Maharaja and Abdullah had remained in agreement, independence today would be a fact. Abdullah wanted power handed over to the people's representative, but the Maharaja failed to create a responsible government. If that had happened then they would have jointly struggled for independence, an independence that could only be achieved if the Maharaja had turned power over to the people. He controlled the armed forces and created hurdles to a democratically elected government. If he had agreed to be a constitutional monarch, this system would have worked.
KAS: Despite over 150 meetings held for implementation of the promised plebiscite, it remained a nonstarter. Why?
VB: Although the government of India supported the plebiscite, it was not prepared for it. Pakistan opposed it and was not willing to fulfill its conditions. The plebiscite would have let loose communal groups. At that time the plebiscite was to be limited to accession; no other option was available. It was a very limited "right of self-determination." Kashmir now is such an emotive issue that an outright plebiscite is still not possible.
Today we must consider other ways to ascertain the wishes of the people of the J&K state. A majority solution will also create problems, so minority groups need to be brought into confidence. A consensus needs to be evolved with minority groups.
The UN resolution is no longer relevant. Pakistan insists on it, but still does not accept its conditions. The Kashmir problem is not a territorial problem, it is a people's problem and has to be decided by the people. The voice of the people must be taken into consideration.
The objective of the plebiscite was to ascertain the wishes of the people and there are other ways to ascertain that such as direct, indirect, free and fair elections under international supervision for a constituent assembly. That is a democratic method, provided it is free, fair and impartial.
The only way to achieve peace is to give an opportunity to all sections of J&K state as it existed on August 14, 1947 - all areas including the frontier areas to talk amongst themselves and find a solution for the majority of J&K through a process of elimination. It is not possible to satisfy everyone -- maybe it will be independent, maybe semi-independent, maybe there will be joint control. Whatever is acceptable to the consensus.
India and Pakistan should allow discussions, a series of inter-Kashmiri dialogues. Once the tension between India and Pakistan subsides, they will join together on all issues, most importantly the economy of South Asia. The Kashmir issue will no longer be relevant. It is in their best interests to join together as members of a family. It will bring prosperity to India, to Pakistan, and to Jammu and Kashmir.
KAS: That sounds rational. Why is this approach rejected?
VB: Shortsighted policies, imperialistic designs, and a narrow nationalistic point of view. We have to look at it as human problem, which is more important than the geographic boundaries of a nation. A nation is not comprised of territory, it is comprised of people, and people who are alienated will not stay with you. They can and will live separately.
Unfortunately, there is so much narrow-mindedness, and it is thought that the concept of a nation state will be damaged. But India is not a nation in the European sense. Many nations have come together to form India. It is a federation of nations and if one nation does not want to be a part of it, let them leave peacefully. The alienation of Kashmir is worse than if Kashmir leaves India. If Kashmir remains friendly as an independent nation, it is a better proposition that staying in the federation by force.
KAS: Kashmir is known for Kashmiryat, a rich syncretic tradition whereby all communities resided together in harmony. How did communalism begin?
VB: The establishments in New Delhi and in J&K state, and certain vested interests created this communal polarization. India adopted the colonial approach - divide and rule on communal, regional, and religious lines. Before there was no communal polarization in Ladakh, but now all has changed. All who lived in Ladakh, Buddhists and Muslims alike, were all Ladakhis. But by creating a separate hill state for Ley, communal polarization was created and the identity of Ladakh eroded and broke down. Similarly, Kashmiri rulers are trying to erode the identity of Jammu. And the overall identity of J&K has been eroded by New Delhi.
To my mind, if both India and Pakistan agree and rise above chauvinistic territorial interests, an independent, secular, federal, demilitarized J&K state with internal autonomy is the ideal solution and can serve as an inspiration for other nations in Asia.
Over these last decades we have been in constant conflict. Let us freeze the issue for the next 20 years and let J&K enjoy maximum autonomy on both sides of the Line of Control. There should be elections on both sides under international supervision, and to give a semblance of unity, we should have a common counsel of both assemblies and have representatives in accordance with their population. Then we could discuss the problems of trade relations, etc.
Let the LoC be a porous border with armies from both sides withdrawing from the civilian populated areas. Let only defense be dealt with by the army. Let there be free movement from one side of Kashmir to the other with open roads and borders. Now families have been divided for generations.
Let us try this experiment for the next 20 years. We have already fought for 60, so why not try this experiment? After 20 years, the two assemblies can meet and whatever they see as their future should be acceptable to both India and Pakistan.
KAS: But how can that happen. The insurgency that began in 1989 is no longer in control of the situation. Could you talk about the rise of militancy and how the face of militancy has changed?
VB: At one time the people of J&K were reconciled to accession (under three specific areas of defense, foreign relations and communications and finance) and given an opportunity to ratify it. If there had been democratic conditions, maybe they would have endorsed accession. After a series of betrayals and feeling that New Delhi never trusted the people of J&K, especially the Muslims, there was a breach of faith, a crisis of confidence.
First we must restore confidence. Kashmiris tried for restoration of autonomy, they tried for a representational government, but were never given any opportunities. All assembly elections were rigged and draconian laws were implemented. When people started protesting on popular issues like electricity rates they were fired upon and put in jail. They were denied civil liberties. And after the rigged 1987 elections, the immediate cause for the present conflict, boys did not believe in their future. They elected someone and another is put in power. They had no democratic rights, so they were forced to take to guns and Pakistan was in search of an opportunity to supply them.
I don't believe Pakistan is using it as proxy war. It is basically a struggle for freedom by the people of the J&K state and Pakistan has exploited the situation. Initially the JKLF was in power. It stood for a liberal, democratic society in Kashmir, but subsequently the armed struggle passed on to fundamentalist organizations, pro-Pakistan organizations, and Pakistan gave this impetus. The armed struggle is supported by Pakistan.
But if the people are satisfied with local leadership, then foreign militants cannot function without the support of the local population. It will be eliminated in days. This happened in 1965 when Pakistani guerillas entered all the way up to Srinagar and spread throughout Kashmir, but within days they were eliminated because they had no popular support. It is the same now with foreign militant groups coming in. They will not survive.
If both Pakistan and India agree, Pakistan can stop the movement within J&K. They have been coming here with the support of Pakistan but now militant and fundamentalist groups also threaten Pakistan's borders. It can be controlled if the two nations agree.
KAS: But can Kashmiryat be recreated?
VB: It can be. Kashmiryat is not lost because the foundation is still there. The mind of the people of J&K is soft; they adhere to age-old traditions of tolerance, compassion, and peace. Sufism and Shaivism are centuries-old traditions and cannot evaporate overnight. What is happening now is an aberration.
Muslims want to live with the Pandits. The feeling of fear and insecurity is for every Kashmiri, not just the Pandits. It has been to the advantage of India to present the Kashmiri struggle as a fundamentalist struggle and a fear psychosis has been created.
KAS: It seems that the fundamentalist meme has succeeded. Even moderate Indians now believe autonomy is not an option.
VB: That's true. Even leftists who once supported independence for J&K lack trust in the people. The clock can't be turned back, but the people of J&K are still the key factor and if they are satisfied, fundamentalist elements can be eliminated.
—(Concluded)

 

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