By Lekshmi Parameswaran
“I am a chapter of Kashmiri history and I have lived through the miserable times,” were the opening remarks of senior Congress leader Saifuddin Soz while introducing his book, ‘Kashmir – Glimpses of History and Story of Struggle’ (Rupa) in New Delhi.
For a book that aims to give its readers a comprehensive view of history from an insider’s perspective, one wonders if the end-product is just a one-sided version of events. In a controversial observation Soz absolved Jawaharlal Nehru of any lapses in judgement with regard to Kashmir and said it was “Sardar Patel who in good faith offered Kashmir to Liaquat Ali Khan instead of Hyderabad”. He held Lord Mountbatten responsible for taking Kashmir to the United Nations while maintaining that it would be wrong to blame Nehru for it. “Small minds in agencies carried a wrong message to Nehru and created the situation,” he added at the event at the India International Centre.
He praised former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for signing of the Lahore Declaration and opined that the four-point formula to resolve Kashmir proposed by the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would have worked well for both the nations. He emphasized that only a vigorous dialogue process can give Kashmir that hope it needs.
Wajahat Habibullah, India’s first Information Commissioner and a former bureaucrat who has dealt extensively with Kashmir, disagreed with the theory that Kashmir was bartered by Patel. He was of the opinion that the book is extremely “Kashmir-centric”. He pointed out that some important facts like the mutiny of troops in Poonch being the real trigger for the violence that followed in 1947 do not find mention in the book.
Kuldip Nayar, veteran journalist and columnist, recounted how during a question and answer session in his college in Lahore, Mohammed Ali Jinnah said, “India and Pakistan will be the best of friends” and how he pointed out that the Radcliffe line will never be a line of peace.
“India is a secular country. In India, we should always remember that people living on the other side is just like us. If secularism has to be saved, we have to accept the pluralistic society,” Nayar, who is 94, said.
Arun Shourie, former BJP union minister in the Vajpayee government and a veteran editor, emerged as one of the sanest voices who succeeded in giving a perspective to the Kashmir problem. “In all conflict situations, history is a baggage. We need to list out solutions without referring to history,” he said.
In a direct reference to the politics of polarization in the country, he said, “There is no government and no policy regarding Kashmir or Pakistan or even the banks ... What we have is a one-trick horse that only knows how to divide the Hindus and Muslims of this country."
Talking about “greater autonomy” for Kashmir, Shourie said what is required is “more supervision” in view of funds from the Centre not reaching the people of Kashmir. He called for resumption of talks with the Hurriyat leaders for the precise reason that “Pakistan had set it up and controls them”.
Referring to the frequent incidents of lynching in India, he said, it is during instances like these that a Kashmiri is forced to see himself as a Muslim and who invariably drifts towards the strand of Wahhabism. He said the problem can be solved only if the Kashmiris are made part of any decision making process.
(Lekshmi Parameswaran can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)