Breaking the taboo, Indian op-eds suggest Kashmir plebiscite

August 17, 2008

Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar/Fayaz KabliThe last time I visited Kashmir, in November, I was struck by an apparent contradiction: it was more peaceful than it had been in years, at least in the capital Srinagar, and yet the overwhelming mood was one of gloom.  With the peace process between India and Pakistan going nowhere, there was a sense    that thousands of people had died for nothing in the violence that had convulsed the region since a separatist revolt erupted in 1989. Although the soldiers had disappeared from the streets of Srinagar, and tourists were flocking back, it retained the some of the same tinderbox atmosphere that I had known at the height of the violence. One spark, people told me, could ignite it again.

When that spark came, in the form of a land dispute between Hindus and Muslims that triggered some of the biggest protests since 1989 (you can see my last posting on this here), the surprise was perhaps not so much that it happened but that so few analysts in Delhi (or Islamabad for that matter) saw it coming.

Fisherman casting a net on the Dal lake in Srinagar/Fayaz KabliThe sheer size and unexpectedness of the protests have prompted some Indian analysts to ask a question that has been anathema  in Delhi for decades: Is it time to consider giving Kashmir independence, or at least to let Kashmiris vote on their future?

“If the experience of the last two decades has taught us anything, it is that the situation never really returns to normal. Even when we see the outward symptoms of peace, we miss the alienation and resentment within.  No matter what we do, things never get better, for very long,” writes Vir Sanghvi in the Hindustan Times.

“I reckon we should hold a referendum in the Valley. Let the Kashmiris determine their own destiny. If they want to stay in India, they are welcome. But if they don’t, then we have no moral right to force them to remain. If they vote for integration with Pakistan, all this will mean is that Azad Kashmir will gain a little more territory. If they opt for independence, they will last for about 15 minutes without the billions that India has showered on them. But it will be their decision,” he writes.

“Whatever happens, how can India lose? If you believe in democracy, then giving Kashmiris the right to self-determination is the correct thing to do. And even if you don’t, surely we will be better off being rid of this constant, painful strain on our resources, our lives, and our honour as a nation? This is India’s century. We have the world to conquer -the other- and the means to do it. Kashmir is a 20th century problem. We cannot let it drag us down and bleed us as we assume our rightful place in the world. It’s time to think the unthinkable.”

The Times of India runs an editorial along similar lines. ”I was once hopeful of Kashmir’s integration, but after six decades of effort, Kashmiri alienation looks greater than ever. India seeks to integrate with Kashmir, not rule it colonially. Yet, the parallels between British rule in India and Indian rule in Kashmir have become too close for my comfort,” writes columnist Swaminathan Aiyar.

Indian bunker near the Line of Control“We promised Kashmiris a plebiscite six decades ago. Let us hold one now, and give them three choices: independence, union with Pakistan, and union with India. Almost certainly the Valley will opt for independence. Jammu will opt to stay with India, and probably Ladakh too. Let Kashmiris decide the outcome, not the politicians and armies of India and Pakistan,” he concludes.

For two such reputable columnists to make a suggestion like this in national newspapers is extraordinary. India has long maintained that Kashmir is an integral part of the country. It has argued that giving up Kashmir would encourage secessionist movements elsewhere in the country and undermine its commitment to secularism by acknowledging that Kashmir, as a Muslim-majority region, could have special treatment. And it has traditionally blamed Pakistan for stirring up trouble in the region, convinced that if only Islamabad could be persuaded to end what it called “cross-border terrorism”, the benefits of Indian democracy and financial support would eventually win the people of Kashmir over.

Of course, a couple of op-eds calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir does not mean it is going to happen. The issue is phenomenally complicated, not least because the much-vaunted U.N. resolutions passed in 1948 calling for a referendum were meant to apply to the whole of the former kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir, now divided between India, Pakistan and China. The people were to be given the choice between acceding to India or Pakistan, but not of independence; while the resolution also required that Pakistan withdraw its troops first from its side of the region, followed by the bulk of the Indian forces, before a plebiscite were held.

And any vote, even within the Indian part of the former kingdom, could stir up bitter divisions between and within the three regions that make up the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir – Hindu-dominated Jammu, Muslim-dominated Kashmir and Buddhist- dominated Ladakh — that would dwarf the recent protests. Pakistan would also be faced with tough choices over how to handle the people on its side of the former kingdom, including Azad Kashmir and the strategic Northern Areas.

However, they do suggest a new thinking in India, which, determined to win its place as a global player on the political and economic stage, no longer wants to be dragged down by the Kashmir conflict. The question is whether this new thinking — coming at a time when Pakistan is struggling to reinvent itself as a civilian democracy —  could contribute to a genuine effort towards a durable peace. Or will it simply make an intractable problem even more complicated?



Dr S.K.Ghosh,
Quite an interesting comment.
Could you please provide reference for the points you have mentioned about Quran?

Because one of my muslim friend seems to disagree that both the points are not mentioned in Quran!


Posted by an indian | Report as abusive

look up:

Posted by info | Report as abusive

Regarding beating wife the reference is Verse 34 of An-Nisa, regarding 72 virgins read Imam at-Trimidhiin his sunan(vol 4)chapters on the features of heaven as described by the messenger of Allah, also Hadith 2687.
There is nothing to gloat for us hindus. The shiv lingam of which so much rabble rousing is going on in Jammu, is Shiva’s phallus , people will be outraged to know the base on which it stands is vagina, and if you look carefully, it needs no imagination. Again there is nothing to snigger about. This only shows the antiquity of the religion. Greeks and all religion of antiquity had phallic workship. Infact the relics are still present and it leaves nothing to imagination. If Muslims gave precedence to Allah and forgot about Islam it would be a much better world.Its incredible why people cant religion for what is worth. In those days there was no antibiotics no vaccine , no in vitro fertilisation , and no genetic engineering. Fear was the guiding factor in shaping these beleif. Essentially it was an awful period to be born. Yet people cling to all things said and done in that period as sacrosanct. The point is there is nothing called hindu appendicitis or muslim appendicitis. In fact you suffer from one you need an operation and that’s the end of it. People need GOD, for all sorts of reason , insecurity being the top reason. Now if have to go through somebody , they will exploit your weakness, as the religions do.Islam will not change until oil goes or an alternative is found, then the introspection and debate will start ,till then I am afraid lot of suicide bombings.

Posted by DR S.K.GHOSH | Report as abusive

I quote the world renoun Islamic Scolar Ali Sina, its relevant to the Kashmir situation:

“The formation of Hindu and Christian fundamentalist groups does not only not reduce the rise of Islamic
fundamentalism, but it actually throws gasoline on their fire. This will only hardens the Islamist fanatics and strengthens their resolve. It creates an atmosphere of competition among the fundamentalists of all the religions. In this mindless race the winner is the loser. This is the race of ignorance. The runners are heading towards the precipice and an Armageddon is awaiting them at the end of the lane. The best thing non-Muslims can do to stop the Islamic fundamentalism, is to stop fundamentalism in their own religions.”

Posted by sina-quote | Report as abusive

There are several columnists and academics in India who have been talking about holding a plebiscite for many years. This is nothing new, although Mayra MacDonald has only just discovered that a few editors in a democratic country like India can take a view which goes against the thinking in the government.

However, in suggesting that Kashmiris should be allowed to decide for themselves, these commentators as well as Mayra MacDonald are implicitly buying into the two-nation theory – that Hindus and Muslims should live separately. In the Europe religion plays no part in politics, in North America freedom of religion is protected by the constitution. But by the look of it Western commentators like Mayra MacDonald would like to see an Indian sub-continent divided on religious lines.

Posted by Boman | Report as abusive

From Vineeth: “…Then what defines the mainstream or core India then? The core of India is what stretches from Himachal Pradesh and Punjab in the North to Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the South, Gujarat and Rajasthan in the West to Bihar and West Bengal in the East. People in these regions share strong cultural and historical links and have strong enough bonds to feel that they belong to one nation. I would have liked to include the regions of Pakistan too in this list, but our mistakes have resulted in history taking an unfortunate course…”.

Vineeth: In your post you have given us enough of arguments against your self-styled “moral” conclusion. For instance, your basic premise about what defines Indian culture assumes that “cultural and historical links” are essential to the formation and existence of a modern nation state.

History has shown that they are not. “Culture” does not explain why the nations of Europe exist as separate nations, nor does it explain why these nations fought so many wars against each other. The basis for a modern nation state is the rights of the individual, and that encompasses the concept of welfare – a quantity absent from political debate in India, not to mention Pakistan.

But obviously, Europe has learned from its mistakes, and today a citizen of the European union can travel and work anywhere within the union – despite the differences in language and culture within Europe.

If you insist on believing that “culture” is basis of a modern democracy, you may amuse yourself by dividing and subdividing India along its myriad cultural and religious lines until you have no country to speak of.

Posted by Boman | Report as abusive

The Hindu Mindset:The core of hindu India is very narrow what we use as proverb in Pakistan the “hindu mindset”. India is Bharat and Bharat only. If there had been more wind getting into the heads of these narrow hindus, less caste fixated, less regimented society and also less lost in myths, they might have seen the benefits of diversity in India. Before the arrival of Muslims in India where was the concept of diversity? If someone may just throw light on the matter if there was really any multicultral society. The Britishers who were tilted towards the Hindus left festering wound of undecided status of princely states including Kashmir, implicitly leaving it on the mercy of Hindus majority knowing that India being the larger state will always be dominant in deciding the fate of people in Kashmir. Today even after 61 years the problem lingers on and again referring to my view of narrow grooves in the mind of hindus one sees the economic strangulation being perpetrated by the same hindus fanatics( now the progeny of the same narrow pundits of 1947) against small fruit traders and growers in Jammu. What is this, is it the character of the people who are claiming to be world power? And some here mentions the destiny of the country.Is pettiness is destiny? Again dont go by the extent of your size(area and population)as many medium sized powers same as Pakistan have equally done better than what India did in the last 61 years. And India has not done any better, frankly which it could have done had it maintained sane relations with Pakistan. By posing economic and security threats by the imprudent Hindu leaders since 1947 which they could have avoided by show of some civilty. Gandhi had to threat hunger strike to convince rabid hindu finance minister to release the share of Pakistan in the Indian treasury. And so many other such unkind incidents. I would advise Indian Hindus to just keep their feet on the ground, they may gaze in the sky yet always keep in your mind that in private conversationas in the west you are still the same “Indian Curry walas” despite fabricating some good software programs in the silicon vale. That nonesense you rabid hindus tout to finish Pakistan is streak of insanity.Do you have the sense what will happen if pakistan is finished? There will be civil war of the magnitude of world war III. So dont taunt Pakistanis unnecessarily otherwise since we know more truths about you than anyone else in the world, can start narrating your bogus mythologies, where you live with monkeys ets etc which until now we simply avoided to stay above the level of petty controversies on the net.So those of you who have to learn tolerance be reasonable, get some fresh air to your minds and learn to live under the principle of peaceful co-existence with Pakistan otherwise this Kashmiri and other wounds will perpetuate in histroy for your coming generations.

Posted by Yakub | Report as abusive

Iam absolutely certain that this geezer Yakub is a tiny minority of “rabid” muslim fanatic pakistani.
Perhaps Yakub would like to tell us about the great and good deed of Pakistan towards Balgladesh , the great sagacity shown by pakistan in ramming urdu as the official language, the plunder of all the forign exchange earned by bangladesh from jute. And what about Mohajeers , rather to0 dark to take their seat next to a punjabi.We allseen in TV how baluch insurgency is crushed.The only pakistani
nobel laureate Abdul Salam(incidentally taught in college by a hindu, salam came to calcutta to pay his respect)had said “as much I would like to be patriotic but it is ludicrous to suggest pakistani science is anywhere near India. Do I need to point out about Dr Salam’s brethren (Ahmedias), and the kind of religious freedom they have(their religion is outlawed).Allah Na karey, the taliban launches a Anthrax poisoning, then pakistan will have to come to thiese narrow hindus for the drug Ciprofloxacin, because only India makes the drug other than Bayer of germany, which pakistan which is a basket case will be unable to afford. The problem with pakistan is the collective schizophrenia , that the people suffer. They simply cannot get over the fact they were all converts from hindus. Benazir Bhutto in her book “Daughter of the East had written that six generation ago they were Kayasth. I do not know anything beyond my grandad. One can feel her sadness of losing her original religion.Sometime I fell Pakistan is not Islamic. The Hindu origin is so obvious. I once met a Pakistani doctor who said his first identity was that he was a Rajput, and would not marry outside his biradari(read Rajput). One just needs to look at the matrimonial column of Star Dust(UK), Jat muslim boy seeks Jat muslim girl.Yakub may be interested to know one of the richest IT company in the world Infosys, is owned by an Indian first muslim second, man called Mr Azimzi. Yakub would intersted to know kashmir gets 9564Rs per head whereas Bihar gets 825Rs. Perhaps another example of narrow hindu mind. Lastly I quote Feroze Khan (An Indian of iranian muslim origin)”I am proud to be a Indian where the president is a Muslim (Abdul Kalam) and the prime minister is A Sikh in a predominantly Hindu country, and look at Pakistan , MUSLIMS(SUNNI) KIILINGMUSLIMS(SHIA)

Posted by DR S.K.GHOSH | Report as abusive

ah!!!!!!read all the posts…especially of DR S.K.GHOSH(above)…im sorry to say…..the hatred of such people towards people of other country hampers decision making of a country……..its people like him that are the thorns…….
i being a kashmiri(24) know what the ground situation here is…….
it will be living in fools paradise if any one thinks that kashmir can be peacefull with india………
i doubt whether DR S.K.GHOSH and others like him have ever visited kashmir…..
do they think 90,000 people have given there lives without a reason…….no no never……
KASHMIR can never be a n indian entity…….the sooner india realises it the better it is for us for them….
hope GOD gives this taboo breaking indian journos more impetus and courage……

Posted by behroz amin | Report as abusive

Vir Sanghvi and Swaminathan Aiyar (and also so called “intellectuals” like Arundhati Roy) are all basically suffering from an advancement in their senility. So no fault of theirs for their ludicrous comments. Let a few suicide bombings happen in their neighborhood and/or let some of their family members get DISmembered by it, they will then fall in line too.
To Ms. Myra MacDonald, an analogy: Several years ago as a young teenager, Osama Bin Laden had visited USA including places like Disneyland with his very large family. No doubt he did it in “peace” and even must have enjoyed it, yet all the while harboring sullen hatred towards “America” and all things “American” he saw there. Now we all know what he and his “disciples” did several years later ON the very same soil.
Basically, just because someone (like Kashmiris) are sullen and “hate” India etc. does that mean they should be allowed to go scot free and India effectively GIVING IN to terrorism, pure and simple???
Tomorrow, if Utah wants to secede on the grounds that they are Mormons, will Washington D.C. allow that?
Wake up guys! And stop giving these rascals all this publicity.
Vijay.T, India.

Posted by Vijay Talwalkar | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see