When US President Barrack Obama during his visit to India kept studiously quiet about his host's military occupation of Kashmir, he was in fact critiquing Jawaharlal Nehru in front of those who claim legitimacy from India's first prime minister. Obama may have got his cue from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He was after all a senior member of the Indian cabinet in 1994 when the parliament passed a strange resolution claiming that the entire Jammu and Kashmir state, including the area “occupied” by Pakistan, was an integral part of India. The resolution became the antithesis of everything that India had stood for vis a vis Kashmir under Nehru. The fact that Delhi's most powerful politician Sonia Gandhi, and the ruling Congress party's heir apparent Rahul Gandhi have implicitly backed the existing hard line policy can be seen as the betrayal of an ideal both claim to inherit from Nehru.
Let's see what Nehru said over several years about Kashmir, and how many of his views are being echoed by political activists who are being shunned by the system today as seditionists and anti-national rabble-rousers.
In his telegram to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Oct 27, 1947, Nehru said “I should like to make it clear that the question of aiding Kashmir in this emergency is not designed in any way to influence the state to accede to India. Our view which we have repeatedly made public is that the question of accession in any disputed territory or state must be decided in accordance with wishes of people and we adhere to this view.”
In another similar telegram four days later, he said “Kashmir's accession to India was accepted by us at the request of the Maharaja's government and the most numerously representative popular organisation in the state which is predominantly Muslim. Even then it was accepted on condition that as soon as law and order had been restored, the people of Kashmir would decide the question of accession. It is open to them to accede to either Dominion then.”
In his broadcast over All India Radio on Nov 2, 1947, Nehru said “We are anxious not to finalise anything in a moment of crisis and without the fullest opportunity to be given to the people of Kashmir to have their say. It is for them ultimately to decide — And let me make it clear that it has been our policy that where there is a dispute about the accession of a state to either Dominion, the accession must be made by the people of that state. It is in accordance with this policy that we have added a proviso to the Instrument of Accession of Kashmir.”
In his statement in the Indian Constituent Assembly on Nov 25, 1947, Nehru said “In order to establish our bona fide, we have suggested that when the people are given the chance to decide their future, this should be done under the supervision of an impartial tribunal such as the United Nations Organisation. The issue in Kashmir is whether violence and naked force should decide the future or the will of the people.”
In his statement in the Indian Constituent Assembly on March 5, 1948, he said “Even at the moment of accession, we went out of our way to make a unilateral declaration that we would abide by the will of the people of Kashmir as declared in a plebiscite or referendum. We insisted further that the government of Kashmir must immediately become a popular government. We have adhered to that position throughout and we are prepared to have a Plebiscite with every protection of fair voting and to abide by the decision of the people of Kashmir”.
In his press conference in London on Jan 16, 1951, as reported by The Statesman on Jan 18, 1951, Nehru stated “India has repeatedly offered to work with the United Nations reasonable safeguards to enable the people of Kashmir to express their will and is always ready to do so. We have always right from the beginning accepted the idea of the Kashmir people deciding their fate by referendum or plebiscite. In fact, this was our proposal long before the United Nations came into the picture. Ultimately the final decision of the settlement, which must come, has first of all to be made basically by the people of Kashmir and secondly, as between Pakistan and India directly. Of course it must be remembered that we (India and Pakistan) have reached a great deal of agreement already. What I mean is that many basic features have been thrashed out. We all agreed that it is the people of Kashmir who must decide for themselves about their future externally or internally. It is an obvious fact that even without our agreement no country is going to hold on to Kashmir against the will of the Kashmiris.”
In his report to All Indian Congress Committee on July 16, 1951, as published in The Statesman, New Delhi, on July 9, 1951, Nehru said “Kashmir has been wrongly looked upon as a prize for India or Pakistan. People seem to forget that Kashmir is not a commodity for sale or to be bartered. It has an individual existence and its people must be the final arbiters of their future. It is here today that a struggle is bearing fruit, not in the battlefield but in the minds of men.”
In a letter dated Sept 11, 1951, to the UN representative, Pandit Nehru wrote “The Government of India not only reaffirms its acceptance of the principle that the question of the continuing accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to India shall be decided through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations but is anxious that the conditions necessary for such a plebiscite should be created as quickly as possible.” (This is where Pakistan needs to fulfil its part of the bargain.)
As reported by Amrita Bazar Patrika, Calcutta, on Jan 2, 1952, while replying to the Bharatiya Jan Sangh's Shyama Prasad Mookerji's question in the Indian Legislature as to what the Congress Government was going to do about one third of territory still held by Pakistan, Nehru said “It is not the property of either India or Pakistan. It belongs to the Kashmiri people. 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. If they tell us to walk out, I would have no hesitation in quitting. We have taken the issue to United Nations and given our word of honour for a peaceful solution. As a great nation we cannot go back on it. We have left the question for final solution to the people of Kashmir and we are determined to abide by their decision”.
In his statement in the Indian Parliament on Aug 7, 1952, Nehru said “Let me say clearly that we accept the basic proposition that the future of Kashmir is going to be decided finally by the goodwill and pleasure of her people. The goodwill and pleasure of this Parliament is of no importance in this matter, not because this Parliament does not have the strength to decide the question of Kashmir but because any kind of imposition would be against the principles that this Parliament holds. Kashmir is very close to our minds and hearts and if by some decree or adverse fortune, ceases to be a part of India, it will be a wrench and a pain and torment for us. 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 will, however painful it may be to us. I want to stress that it is only the people of Kashmir who can decide the future of Kashmir. It is not that we have merely said that to the United Nations and to the people of Kashmir, it is our conviction and one that is borne out by the policy that we have pursued, not only in Kashmir but everywhere. Though these five years have meant a lot of trouble and expense and in spite of all we have done, we would willingly leave if it was made clear to us that the people of Kashmir wanted us to go. However sad we may feel about leaving we are not going to stay against the wishes of the people. We are not going to impose ourselves on them on the point of the bayonet.”
Today, opposing the subjugation of Kashmiris at bayonet point is called sedition. We have indeed come a long way from India's early promise of democracy and justice to be shared equally by its people, including with those that might wish to leave the union for reasons of their own.