Kashmir: Yesterday, Today
The action of Union Government in repealing Article 370 of Constitution of India brought forth in its wake a heated debate about the status of Jammu and Kashmir and the possible consequences of this move. While it is impossible to predict what would happen in future, one can plan for some possible consequences through an analysis of events that have taken place in this territory in the past. Hence it is imperative that one knows about the history of this land to understand the reasons behind this step as well to be better prepared for the turn of events during the years that follow.
History of modern Kashmir begins with the onset of Dogra rule on that land in 1846. Britain had won possession over the territory after their victory in the first Sikh war, but instead of ruling over it directly, they handed it over to Gulab Singh, a Dogra chieftain, presumably as gratitude for helping them in the war. However, while doing so, they specifically forbade Gulab Singh from indulging in expansion of territory. Britain wanted to negotiate a border settlement with China and set up two Boundary Commissions with this objective in mind, but nothing came out of the initiative as Beijing did not show any interest in this regard.(1)
During the period from 1864 to 1878, there was a rebellion in Kashgar, part of the present-day Xinjiang province of China, where a local chieftain named Yakub Beg set up a kingdom independent from Beijing and ruled for 14 years. During this period, when the control of Beijing did not extend to those areas, a civil assistant of British Trigonometrical Society, named Johnson trekked through these territories and drew a map that showed the entire area extending uptoShahidulla, including Aksai Chin, as part of kingdom of Kashmir. British authorities had never posed a claim over Aksai Chin as they felt the authority of Maharajah of Kashmir did not extend beyond the Karakorum ranges in Himalayas. (2) However, the map drawn by Johnson gained cartographic relevance as it was published in the atlas of the times and was subsequently relied upon by independent India when they published first maps with fully defined borders in 1954. (3)
Britain did not accept the boundaries shown in the maps of Johnson and tried to communicate many a time with Beijing for a settlement on the border issue. In 1899, a proposal was made by Claude McDonald, British Minister in Beijing, which allowed China possession of Shahidulla and most part of Aksai Chin. (4) But China did not react to this proposal as well and hence no negotiated settlement on the border issue could emerge till Britain left India in 1947.
Pact with Maharajah
Britain was worried about the moves being planned in central Asia by Tsarist Russia, another imperial power in the region. To keep a watch over Russian moves and to extend their own footprints into central Asia, they set up a military agency in the northern part of Kashmir at a place called Gilgit, in 1877. In 1935, Britain signed an agreement with Maharajah of Kashmir for extending the tenure of Gilgit agency for a further period of 60 years, while also giving them civil and military powers in the entire province that lay to the right side of the borders of Indus river. (5) However, in the days preceding transfer of power, when they announced abdication of paramount rights that they had hitherto enjoyed, Britain cancelled this lease and handed this territory back to Maharajah on August 1, 1947.
Kashmir was unique that it was a Muslim majority kingdom ruled by a Hindu Maharajah. Since partition of sub-continent was done based on religion, in the normal course, one would have expected Kashmir to go to Pakistan. However, this did not occur for two reasons- Hari Singh, the last Dogra ruler of theState, was not keen on acceding to Pakistan and there was a popular movement in the State led by Sheikh Abdulla which was secular in nature and preferred to be part of India. This turn of events annoyed Pakistan, and, in an attempt to annex the territory by force, they sent a militia composed of tribals (laskhars), who launched their attack on October 22. The lashkars indulged in loot, pillage and rape along the way and reached the outskirts of Srinagar on October 26, forcing a panicked Hari Singh to seek the assistance of Indian army by signing the Instrument of Accession with Delhi.
India airlifted troops to Kashmir and prevented the State from falling into the hands of the aggressors. This also started the first war between the newly independent nations, which ended with India referring the matter to United Nations (UN) in 1948. UN, vide resolution no:47 dated April 21, 1948 sought for conduct of a plebiscite in the State after withdrawal of troops by both countries. However, such removal of troops was not undertaken and the territory from which Indian forces could not expel the invading troops continue to be held by Pakistan, who call this area as Azad Kashmir, while India refers to this portion as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK).
Meanwhile, even as troops of both countries were fighting a war in the stretch from Srinagar to Muzzaferabad, a development took place in Gilgit, which has not been accorded the importance it deserved. On November 1, the troops of Gilgit Scouts, led by a British Commander, mutinied and arrested the Governor Ghansara Singh, who was appointed by Hari Singh. They announced the accession of Gilgit and the whole of northern areas covered by the erstwhile Gilgit agency to Pakistan and raised the national flag of that country. (6) Thus, at one stroke, an area of approximately 70,000 miles, which is three times the territory covered by POK went into the hands of Pakistan, with scarcely a shot being fired. Pakistan initially referred to this area as Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA), which was rechristened as Gilgit Baltistan.
Thus, the original state ruled by Maharajah prior to 1947 is now divided into three territories- State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) within India and POK and Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan. Further, China gained compete possession of Aksai Chin area following the Sino Indian war of 1962.
Indian leaders granted a special status to J&K while framing the Constitution keeping in mind the facts surrounding the accession of theState and obligation towards fulfilling UN resolution. Hence an entire article (Article 370) of Indian Constitution was devoted to special status of J&K which, amongst other things, allowed the State to have its own Constituent Assembly for drafting its Constitution and limited the power of Centre to legislate on matters pertaining to the State. Further, the approval of Constituent Assembly of the State was required for extending the provisions of various articles of Indian Constitution to the State and its recommendation was required for abrogation of Article 370. After the Constituent Assembly ceased functioning in 1958 following adoption of a Constitution by the State, the functions of this body, for the purposes of Article 370 were discharged by the State government. Presently, as the State is under President’s rule, the Governor of the State fulfilled this requirement and sought for repeal of Article 370, thus clearing the way for issue of Presidential promulgation in this regard.
India and Pakistan fought three wars- 1965, 1971 and 1998- over Kashmir but the Line of Control which was formed in 1947-48 largely remains unaltered. From 1990 onwards Pakistan started supporting militant groups within J&K, in the expectation that this would lead to weakening of India’s grip over the State. Though thousands of lives have been lost in the process and brought unmitigated misery to inhabitants of theState, Pakistan’s efforts in this regard have not borne fruit. The Simla Accord signed in 1972 by Indira Gandhi of India and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan had resolved to consider the Line of Control as de facto boundary and to settle outstanding issues bilaterally, thus effectively rendering the UN resolution regarding plebiscite null and void.
There were demands from various sections of the national polity for repealing of Article 370 from 1960’s onwards, as it was felt that the special conditions that existed warranting the insertion of this provision had ceased to exist. It is evident that the ground realities in J&K have undergone a sea change during the last seven decades since accession of the State and despite territorial claims made in this regard, the Line of Control maintained by the concerned nations have evolved into physical borders. The step taken by Union Government in abrogating this article from the Constitution reflects the reality on the ground and one hopes that this measure serves to bring the muchdesired peace and prosperity to the long suffering populace of this State, who have borne the ravages inflicted by terrorism stoically.
(1)K. N. Raghavan, Dividing Lines: Contours of India- China Discord, (Mumbai, Leadstart Publishing, 2012) pp 41-44
(2)Neville Maxwell, India’s K China war, (London, Jonathan Cape, 1970) p 27
(3)K.N. Raghavan, Dividing Lines, pp 83-84
(4)Dorothy Woodman, Himalayan Frontiers: A Political Review of British, Chinese, Indian and Russian Rivalries, (London, Barrie and Rockliff The Crescent Press, 1969), pp 366-367
(5)Jasjit Singh, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir: Under the Jackboot, (New Delhi, Cosmo Publications, 1995), p 32
(6)N. S. Sarila, The Shadow of the Great Game: Untold Story of India’s Partition, (New Delhi, Harper Collins India, 2005), p 333