Harbans Singh’s Jammu & Kashmir trilogy: The Kashmir question, Sheikh Abdullah and reorganisation : The Tribune India

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Harbans Singh’s Jammu & Kashmir trilogy: The Kashmir question, Sheikh Abdullah and reorganisation

Harbans Singh’s Jammu & Kashmir trilogy: The Kashmir question, Sheikh Abdullah and reorganisation

A Modern History of Jammu and Kashmir: The Times of Turbulence (1975-2021) by Harbans Singh. Speaking Tiger. Pages 456. Rs 799

Book Title:

Rekha Chowdhary

This is the third and final part of the trilogy on the modern history of Jammu and Kashmir by Harbans Singh. The first volume sought to give an alternative interpretation of the times of Maharaja Hari Singh, presenting him as a liberal, modern ruler who became a victim of the colonial design and was forced to abdicate after accession of the state with India. The second volume focused on the post-accession period, particularly the time when his son Karan Singh was appointed as the Regent and later the Sadar-e-Riyasat of the state. What is so particular about these two volumes is that Sheikh Abdullah remains at the centre of the narrative. The author problematises his role in the politics of the state, holding him responsible for the muddled situation in which the state came to be rooted in the post-1947 period.

The third volume covers the period when Sheikh Abdullah is back at the helm following his accord with the Central government. This is the time when the legitimately-elected Congress government makes space for Sheikh to come back to power after his incarceration and political wilderness for around two decades. The Congress and Indira Gandhi expected that Sheikh would soon merge the newly-revived National Conference (NC) with the Congress or would at least ally with it for election purposes. That not happening and Sheikh asserting his and his party’s political identity ultimately leads to a bitter rift between the Congress and the NC.

The author makes it very clear that the accord failed to fulfil any purpose — least of all of resolving the Kashmir question, but also of easing the tension between Delhi and Kashmir. The tension is actually perpetuated after Sheikh’s demise. His son and successor Farooq Abdullah wins a bitterly competitive Assembly election against the Congress in 1983 and faces the brunt in 1984, when he is ousted as CM of J&K. Communalisation and religious polarisation are at a new peak now and there is a widening regional gulf, particularly between the Kashmir and Jammu regions.

Though Farooq ultimately comes around and enters into an alliance with the Congress in 1986, it has its fallout in the unleashing of ominous tendencies, religious extremism and separatism. Soon, there is the onset of militancy. The author locates the roots of separatism in multiple factors: disillusionment of the youth with Sheikh Abdullah, flawed federalism, erosion of democracy, political manipulations of the Congress, jihadi ideology, and, of course, the political manoeuvres of Pakistan.

With the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits being a major fallout of separatist politics, the author focuses on the political environment in which the community was forced to leave the Valley. He gives special attention to the night of January 19, 1990. He says it so terrorised the Pandits that it triggered their movement out of Kashmir en masse over the next few months.

This volume covers various other important developments that took place in the last three decades, including the 2003-2008 peace process. A full chapter is devoted to this. It also describes the restoration of political processes after their collapse in 1990. It focuses on democratic politics at a time when separatism was still having its sway. The author discusses in detail various elected coalition regimes and the challenges that these faced from separatist politics. This includes the challenge of the 2008 separatist upsurge during the Congress-PDP government; the 2009 and 2010 upsurge during Omar Abdullah-led NC-Congress coalition and 2016 upsurge during the PDP-BJP government. The book also covers the post-2018 period and mentions the developments of August 2019 when Article 370 was abrogated and the state of J&K was reorganised.

Besides dealing with the internal politics of J&K, the volume portrays the complexity of the conflict situation which Kashmir has been embroiled in since 1947. Exploring the intricacy of the external context of the conflict, it focuses on the Pakistan dimension and seeks to understand the importance of Kashmir question for this nation carved out of India on the basis of religion. Dealing with the historical and ideological basis of Pakistan and its urge to seek legitimacy, the author links its quest for Muslim-majority Kashmir with its perennial crisis of existence. Besides analysing the role of Pakistan, especially the role of its army and its Islamic ideology, the book also details the global Islamic ideology as well as the concept and practice of jihad and its transnational nature.