India’s pledges

July 28, 2019

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IT is impossible not to go back into history when US President Donald Trump offers mediation on Kashmir on the request of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian denial notwithstanding.

In 1943, on Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop’s 50th birthday, his staff presented him with a diamond-studded casket full of copies of the treaties he had signed. When one of his aides remarked that there were only “a few treaties we had not broken […] Hitler’s eyes filled with tears of laughter” (Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich). One wonders whether Narendra Modi’s eyes will betray the same satanic glee and shed tears of joy if the scene were re-enacted in New Delhi and the hero of the Gujarat pogrom were presented with the photocopies of all the treaties that Indian leaders had signed and the pledges they made about a plebiscite in Kashmir.

Couched mostly in trite diplomatese, but sometimes in the beautiful language India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was capable of, those commitments now grace United Nations archives, making scholars the world over wonder how Indian leaders have been able to develop and live with a guilt-free conscience all these decades. Those promises were made not by minor state functionaries but by the crème de la crème of India’s political and diplomatic leadership.

The first to commit India categorically to a referendum was Lord Louis Mountbatten, undivided India’s last viceroy and independent India’s first governor general and the most incompetent individual to have ever ruled South Asia. (See American scholar Stanley Wolpert’s Shameful Flight. The first two pages will do.) In a statement made on Oct 27, 1947, Mountbatten said: “In consistence with their policy that, in the case of any state where the issue of accession has been the subject of dispute, the question should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people.”

Scholars wonder how Indian leaders have lived with a guilt-free conscience.

Four days later, in a telegram to Pakistan prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, Nehru declared: “Our assurance that we shall withdraw our troops from Kashmir as soon as peace and order are restored and leave the future of the this State to the people of the State is not merely a pledge to your government but also [to] the people of Kashmir and the world”. Again, in a radio broadcast on Nov 2, 1947 Nehru declared: “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people.”

As India took the issue to the UN, the Security Council president declared on Jan 28, 1948, that Pakistan and India had both agreed that “the question as to whether the State of Jammu and Kashmir will accede to India or to Pakistan shall be decided by plebiscite”. The same year on April 21, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for a plebiscite. It then appointed a UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) after “noting with satisfaction that both India and Pakistan desire that the question of accession … should be decided through the democratic way of a free and fair plebiscite”.

Even more categorical was India’s representative Gopalaswami Ayyangar, who told the Security Council: “The government of India have bound themselves that the people (of the state) would be given an opportunity to decide whether they wished to continue to live with India or secede from it” — a point reaffirmed by Mrs Vijay Lakshmi Pandit to the Security Council’s 608th meeting.

Four years later, in a speech at a rally in Kashmir, Nehru said: “Kashmir is not the property of India or Pakistan. When Kashmir acceded to India, we made it clear to the leaders of the Kashmiri people that we would ultimately abide by the verdict of their plebiscite”.

On June 26, 1952, Nehru told the Indian parliament: “If, after a proper plebiscite, the people of Kashmir say ‘No we do not wish to be with India’ we are committed to accept it though it might pain us.” Again, in one of his most categorical statements, made in 1952, which spoke of the “minds and hearts of the men and women of Kashmir”, Nehru said: “With all deference to this parliament, I would like to say that the ultimate decision will be made in the minds and hearts of the men and women of Kashmir and not in this parliament or in the United Nations.”

On Aug 7, 1956, Nehru told the Indian legislature: “If however, the people of Kashmir do not wish to remain with us, let them go by all means. We will not keep them against their wishes, however painful it may [be] for us.”

How strange that today, instead of Indian politicians, a retired general, former spy chief A.S. Daulat should talk about winning the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people. (Quotations have been taken from a booklet by Rasheed Ahmad Kidwai and from the book Pakistan: From Religion to Fascism.)

The writer is Dawn’s Readers’ Editor and author

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2019