How Nehru Betrayed Kashmir and Kashmiris, Creating an Endless Tragedy

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India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with Kashmir’s Sheikh Abdullah

COMMENTARY

Jawaharlal Nehru’s ultimate failing in Kashmir was that he could not trust the Kashmiris, thinking that if he did not bring down the heavy hand of the Indian State to slam its fist on the Valley, the Kashmiri Muslims would rebel en masse and India would lose them and their land. Nehru’s action on Kashmir entirely mirrored that of the recently departed colonial British — brutal, dictatorial and unyielding. It is not a surprise that you will find no Kashmiri saying a good word about Nehru today

AJIT SAHI | Special to Caravan Daily

If you love Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and if you want justice for Kashmiri Muslims, then you must, with due humility, acknowledge that India’s first Prime Minister made not just a few fundamental mistakes in his policy towards Kashmir.

You could say the long freedom struggle had wearied him, as it had his entire generation, and that the new responsibility of governing a nation that had been under British rule in one form or the other for more than two centuries had turned out too onerous for him and his compradors in government to approach with fresh insight and behaviour. But regardless of its trigger, Nehru’s action on Kashmir entirely mirrored that of the recently departed colonial British — brutal, dictatorial and unyielding. It is not a surprise that you will find no Kashmiri saying a good word about Nehru today.

One wonders though if Kashmir would have suffered as much had Gandhi stayed alive another five years. For the Mahatma would have hardly acquiesced into the newly independent India’s thirst for Kashmiri blood.

The task of binding a deeply wounded newly born nation perhaps demanded the price of Kashmir’s freedom — for there was no freedom for Kashmir after the Kashmiri people’s favourite leader, the Lion of Kashmir, Shaikh Abdullah himself, was incarcerated at the behest of his old friend, Jawaharlal, barely seven years after India gained freedom and Kashmir agreed to join it.

Hindutva has never been dormant; it just did not have the critical mass earlier to swamp out every other virus. Hindutva has been in the body politic as much as in Hindu society, especially across the cow belt since when even Nehru was alive. Hindutva was in Congress, in the Congress rebels, in Lohia, in Morarji Desai, in Charan Singh — you name them and they had all been in bed with Hindutva at least half the season

Nehru’s ultimate failing in Kashmir was that he could not trust the Kashmiris, thinking that if he did not bring down the heavy hand of the Indian State to slam its fist on the Valley, the Kashmiri Muslims would rebel en masse and India would lose them and their land. What an irony that was, for Nehru of all should have remembered the lesson from his own experience of the previous forty years that no power on earth can hold a people back from breathing and smelling a freedom as they envision it if they seek it without fear and tiredness and are willing to expend generations for it.

After all, the Empire on which the sun did not famously set eventually did lose its place under the sun due to a determined subject nation led by a man who now sits beside Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad.

Seventy years since the British left, the Indian colonial project in Kashmir — for what else can it be called if it requires three-quarters of a million soldiers on the streets and tens of thousands of children in prison to fly the Indian flag on empty streets? — is tottering. There should be no doubt that India’s treatment of Kashmiris will go down in modern history as a most despicable and sordid tale of moral self-destruction.

Journalists in Jammu and Kashmir hold a demonstration against internet blockade in the region. Image: Anadolu Agency/Faisal Khan

In seeking to own Kashmir, India and Indians have become unrecognisable from the British rule that persecuted their forefathers, at least some of who just seven decades ago showed humanity a path to redemption for both the victim and the perpetrator.

Incidentally, the ideology that began India’s dehumanising brutality on Kashmir is the same today as it was under Nehru: Hindutva. There is no doubt that Nehru was pushed to the right on Kashmir by Hindutva folks in the Congress, who freely punched above their weight in the party, his government, and his party’s governments in the states.

The senseless genocidal violence at Partition, followed so quickly by Gandhi’s assassination, had perhaps led Nehru to imagine it would be impossible to challenge covert Hindutva. Perhaps that is why the Congress party under Nehru made a quiet decision to allow Hindutva to reside in-house as long as it could be kept dormant. From Sardar Patel to Govind Ballabh Pant, Nehru could not have found anyone as staunchly secular as he and Gandhi had been.

Of course, Hindutva has never been dormant; it just did not have the critical mass earlier to swamp out every other virus. Hindutva has been in the body politic as much as in Hindu society, especially across the cow belt since when even Nehru was alive. Hindutva was in Congress, in the Congress rebels, in Lohia, in Morarji Desai, in Charan Singh — you name them and they had all been in bed with Hindutva at least half the season. You can say Nehru could not have fought such pervasive Hindutva.

Members of Hindutva outfit ‘Hindu United Front’ flashing trishuls in Delhi in July 2018

We will never know that. What we do know is that Nehru did not lend his towering moral legitimacy to fight Hindutva after India became independent. Like I said, perhaps he had grown old and tired and weary from the decades of fighting the British rule, and therefore wanted to focus on developing a nation that had suffered wholesale economic exploitation for centuries.

I wish Nehru had refused to become prime minister and let someone else — anyone — have the job, and instead, like Vinobha Bhave, devoted himself to following in the footsteps of Gandhi, becoming a mirror, as Gandhi did, for those who cared to follow him and listen to him, and reminded them every day of the basic morality they needed to practise

What we do know today is that Indians, and especially its Hindus who subscribe to Hindutva, of whom there are hundreds of millions, including nearly everyone in my extended families, are hurtling India to its moral, social, economic and political doom with their 15th-century-style bloodlust for the Muslims.

Sometimes I wish Nehru had refused to become prime minister and let someone else — anyone — have the job, and instead, like Vinobha Bhave, devoted himself to following in the footsteps of Gandhi, becoming a mirror, as Gandhi did, for those who cared to follow him and listen to him, and reminded them every day of the basic morality they needed to practise to be a beacon for humanity.

That Nehru would never have imprisoned Shaikh Abdullah. That Nehru would have treated Kashmir more kindly and humanely. That Nehru would have stood up to Hindutva more explicitly. That Nehru would have at least played his part in saving India from itself.

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Ajit Sahi is an eminent journalist, speaker, author and human rights activist. He tweets @ajitsahi. Views expressed are personal and ‘Caravan Daily’ does not necessarily share them. For feedback, write to editor@caravandaily.com   

 

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