Kavita Suri

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Kashmir: Behind the Vale by M.J. Akbar

A Crisp Capsule

KASHMIR, Behind the Vale, is a crisp capsule of the turbulent history of the enchanting valley in the footholds of gorgeous Himalayas and plains under the Shivaliks. It is not a new document encompassing the glory and gloom of the northern state of now India or earlier core of the undivided subcontinent. Many efforts have already been made on this subject that has remained Centre of attraction for political strategist and historians around the world. But what is new in the 232 page Roli Books publication is the lucid documentation of facts, woven in a fabulous style that compels the reader to finish it by burning the midnight oil.

The book dwells on the fall and rise of several empires, full stop on the lordships and dawn of the public rule. Rule by the people, who were savaged, exploited and treated, at times, less than humans. Ironically, the same savaged class chooses itself to be pushed into the slavery of fundamental diktat, voluntarily and happily, though this dark chapter finds no space on the off-white newsprint that has added to the collection of literature at a time when Kashmir was bleeding profusely.

M J Akbar has been at his professional best in scripting the bloody saga of 1947 tribal raid, by piecing together the facts and newspaper dispatches, presenting these in a manner that for a while the reader is compelled to think that he is going through a fiction rather than a historical document. 

The gruesome incidents of pre and post independence era spell of the intrigue and manipulation to change the course of history that should serve an eye opener to those who see Messiah in Pakistan. A pertinent point strikes about the Pak sponsored tribal raid, compelling to think what prompted the neighbour to go for such a misadventure. The answer seems that they had realized the deep-rooted secular bent of thinking among the people of the valley who would never have never even thought of theocratic alliance with Pakistan. The people’s yearning and deep faith in secularism had already been reflected in the speech of Sheikh Abdullah to the sixth session of the Muslim Conference on 26 March 1938 in which he said…we must open our to all such Hindus and Sikhs who like ourselves who believe in the freedom of their country from the shackles of an irresponsible rule. On 11 June 1939 the Muslim Conference was re-christened as National Conference.

Akbar has also dwelt on the Sheikh-Nehru friendship that turned sour with the unfortunate events that saw the towering Abdullah in jail for a pretty long time. Something seemed to have gone haywire somewhere many times. Take for instance, the issue of Kashmir being taken to UN by India itself which the Akbar terms as one of the biggest blunders of Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru in his seventeen years in power. This has left India lick its wounds till now. He also refers to the dismal performance of Gopalaswamy Aiyangar in UN on 15 January 1948 on the Kashmir issue, which dwarfed him before Pakistan’s Sir Zaffarullah, forcing India to be defensive.

The book deals in details the circumstances leading to Jammu and Kashmir’s accession with India, Nehru-Patel silent differences, end of Dogra rule, grant of special status to the state under Article 370 of the Constitution of India, subsequent agreements etc. It also dwells on the dissent in the shape of rising Praja Parshad in Jammu that coined the slogan ‘Ek desh mein do Vidhan, Ek desh mein do Nishan, Ek desh mein do Pradhan, Nahin Chalenge,Nahi Chalenge.

The state that saw unprecedented harmony and brotherhood also witnessed the ripples of communal divide. Sheikh Abdullah started hard posture in 1952 but realized that he was crossing limits to the dismay of his friend Nehru. He tried to start rapprochement by giving positive signals like his public speech on 21 January 1953 in Madras, saying independence was a foolish idea for a tiny Kashmir surrounded by big powers. Subsequent events are part of history. The Sheikh was arrested in Gulmarg on August 8, 1953 on the intelligence reports ‘true or false’ that he had gone to the meadows ‘to establish secret contacts with a representatives of Pakistan’.

Then came 1975 when Indira-Sheikh accord took place. Sheikh ruled the roost till Congress withdrew support. Mrs. Indira Gandhi was out of power in New Delhi when an idea was mooted before withdrawal of support to Sheikh government that Begum Abdullah would quit her Lok Sabha seat paving a way for Mrs. Gandhi to contest from Srinagar that according to Akbar ‘would have had extremely beneficial consequences for the future’. She fell to the bad advice of those ‘minions’ who till recently were her sycophants. He calls it a Phoenix Plan under which Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, then the Pradesh Congress chief, was to be sworn in as Chief Minister. But his dream was shattered when towering Abdullah over smarted them by recommending dissolution of assembly to Governor L K Jha. Akbar pays a very befitting tribute to Sheikh Abdullah saying that this man was much more important than his mistakes. He makes a passing reference on the turmoil in Kashmir by observing about the presence of guard on his grave on the banks of magnificent Dal. ‘So much of the Sheikh’s life was spent under the eyes of policemen: even in death they still surround him. How enemies change….But this much is certain, Kashmir will never be at peace with itself as long as the mazar of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah needs to be protected with guns. What a sordid commentary?  

The book encompasses till the events of great intrigue under which Farooq Abdullah was dethroned and G M Shah crowned the Chief Minister of the sensitive state.

Published in 2000 and priced at Rs 295, a question arises why the author has remained silent on post 1990 scenario of Kashmir. But the underlining message in the book is that Kashmir and the mother country are inextricably linked, India cannot afford to be defeated in her Kashmir. 

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