The unrest in Kashmir is directly connected to tensions unresolved since India’s
Independence, as a look at the events that led to the dismissal of the first Farooq Abdullah government clearly shows.
BY RAKESH ANKIT
There is a historical continuity in the separatist movement in Kashmir; just as there is one in the Indian state’s attitude towards it. Both remain unaddressed in a majority of the emerging literature on Kashmir—Navnita Chadha Behera’s State, Identity & Violence (2000) and Mridu Rai’s Hindu Rulers, Muslim Subjects (2004) being two exceptions—that reduce long and continuing processes to a paradigm rooted in the present. This makes it seem as if everything is new and recent, dating essentially from the outbreak of violence in 1989-91.
Given such a historical disconnect in mainstream understanding, its crisis, to Gramsci, consists in the fact that “the old is dying and the new cannot be born”, and, “in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear” in the literature on Kashmir. These are chiefly along the lines that the old was relatively harmonious before giving way to a new rupture around 1989-91. How can things be so neat and clean when the past is always there in the present?
Neither religion nor nationalism is an independent variable or an actor in itself and the questions of everyday, scattered forms of political resistance are integrally tied to a historical, political mobilisation engendered by separatist organisations in Kashmir and the consequent sedimentation of collective memory. This is evidenced by the role of such organisations dating back to the 1950s as the Plebiscite Front, Kashmir Political Conference, Awami Action Committee, Mahaz-e-Azadi, People’s League, and Islamic Students’ League, besides other smaller outfits like Al-Jihad, Al-Maqbool, Young Men’s League and Al-Fateh.
In contemporary times, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and Hizbul Mujahideen remain relevant, as evident from Praveen Swami’s India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad (2006) that, though ideologically coloured, shows this historic continuity. After all, the latest uprising happened because of the death of a Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, in July 2016.
Similarly, from the other side of the Indian state, repeated episodes of political skulduggery committed in and by the Centre in 1953, 1964, 1975 and 1984 provide a historical continuum to understand the road to 1989-91 and since. These acts of omission and commission rendered unbridgeable the gap between the illusion and reality of India’s relationship with Kashmir. A. G. Noorani has extensively documented this narrative in his two-volume work The Kashmir Dispute, 1947-2012 (2011, 2013) and Perry Anderson pierced the fog of The Indian Ideology (2013) in which this narrative was shrouded.
The waves of popular unrest against the establishment in 2008, 2010 and 2016 have to be situated in this larger matrix of post-1947 Indian nationalism. The recent assertions of Kashmiri separatism, as well as the rise of Hindu nationalism in India (and Jammu), have not happened in a historical vacuum and from Balraj Madhok in the 1940s and Syama Prasad Mookerjee in the 1950s to their present-day legatees, the regional Jammu and Kashmir axis and its respective relationship(s) with the Indian nation-state has remained identifiably similar.
This article is about one episode of political chicanery, the unconstitutional dismissal of Farooq Abdullah’s government in July 1984 by Jammu & Kashmir governor Jagmohan at the behest of prime minister Indira Gandhi. It convinced Kashmiris, in the words of Jagmohan’s predecessor B. K. Nehru, that “India would never permit them to rule themselves”. It was identical to his father’s removal in August 1953, with the dismissal order served in the middle of the night. Jagmohan engineered a split in Farooq’s National Conference (NC), whose legislators were bought by the money sent by the Congress (I) in Delhi, and declared the leader of the rump faction—Ghulam Mohammed Shah—the new chief minister.
Braj Kumar Nehru (1909-2001; ICS, 1934), who as Jagmohan’s predecessor refused to do the prime minister’s bidding, served as governor in seven states. But no other stint matched the discontent and departure, some would say dismissal, he experienced in Jammu and Kashmir (from 1981-1984). Nehru gave an abridged account of the events and emotions in his autobiography titled Nice Guys Finish Second. Katherine Frank, one of Indira Gandhi’s better biographers (Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi), echoed Nehru when she wrote about this “act of intrigue” . This article is based on hitherto unused B.K. Nehru papers at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, and spotlights his gubernatorial tenure and illuminates the path to an event many believe to be, alongside the farcical election of 1987, the straw that broke the camel’s back in the Kashmir Valley and led to the insurgency of the 1990s.
Nehru replaced his fellow ICS economist L. K. Jha (1913-1988) in Srinagar after eight long and humdrum years. Four days after Jha’s departure, Indira Gandhi received an anonymous letter, which she deemed important or curious enough to send to her cousin. The well-written, if short on specifics, letter indicted Jha for having “never projected a real picture of J & K to the Government of India”, for having “always carried Sheikh Abdullah’s behest even in matters against the interest of the Government of India” and, above all, for having “returned a far wealthier person from Kashmir than when he came simply due to the kindness of Sheikh Abdullah”. The prime minister was told she could satisfy herself of all of the above “only by either yourself paying a surprise visit or by deputing a trusted agency”. The letter concluded with the hope that “B. K. Nehru will not toe the same line”.
For the first 18 months of Nehru’s stint, the old and ailing Sheikh Abdullah was chief minister. He had come to an agreement with Mrs. Gandhi in 1975, which had paved the way for his resumption of office, supported by the state Congress Legislature Party. But when Morarji Desai’s Janata Government dissolved the state assembly in 1977, the Sheikh revived his National Conference and won a comfortable majority.
By the middle of 1981, with Indira Gandhi back in power, he increasingly felt that besides the differences with the state Congress and Union Government, he was being personally attacked and treated with discourtesy. When he shared this with the prime minister in a personal letter dated July 2, 1981, she turned to the governor for advice.
Nehru assessed Abdullah rather coldly: “The basic fact is that the Sheikh is, like the rest of humanity, seeking recognition which he feels, with the emergence of a new generation which does not remember his history, he is not getting. A little unbending on this score and touching on the family ties (about which he is very sentimental) will, I feel, yield rich dividends. If madhu (honey) will produce the result, why use vish.”
In the enclosed “short and reasonably sweet” draft-reply for Abdullah, Nehru proceeded to exemplify his advice. The draft was sugar-coated with references to “our long and intimate family relationship”, “so eminent a leader as yourself with his long history of service to the country” and “perhaps the best constructive approach would be for Rajiv and Farooq to get together”. In a key paragraph, Nehru drafted words that would enact themselves in a telling fashion, less than two years later:
“First, let me assure you at the outset that I have no intention whatsoever of upsetting your Government or of ousting you from office by unconstitutional means—an unfortunate suspicion which I feel has been the cause of much of the souring of our relationship. Secondly, I deplore as much as you do the tensions that have developed between the Central Government and the Government of J&K. Thirdly, I fully accept that in a federal system the Central and State Governments may well be governed by different parties; my Government does not, in its dealings with the states, discriminate on the basis of party. Finally, I agree with you most emphatically that political differences and the exigencies of party politics should never be allowed to degenerate into personal vilification or discourtesy.”
Around this time, Gandhi also asked P. N. Haksar, her former key aide and fellow Kashmiri, “to take some interest” in the matter. Haksar made some initial forays of a personal nature in the summer of 1981. On May 20, 1981, he wrote to Sheikh Abdullah, and this led to an exchange of ten letters over the next three months. Subsequently, Haksar, with his wife, travelled to Srinagar on September 8, 1981. After duly reporting his arrival to the governor—an old friend and colleague—he met the Sheikh twice in ten days for long, free-wheeling conversations.
In a letter to Mrs. Gandhi on October 16, Haksar set out some of his conclusions beginning with his feeling that the Sheikh’s summary, midnight removal in 1953 still haunted him. His restoration in 1975 had been a sort of political catharsis, but when the Congress withdrew support in 1977, Abdullah felt exempted from the constraints of noblesse oblige towards the Congress.
It still seemed to Haksar, as he made plain to the prime minister, that “there is no visible erosion of Sheikh’s position in the Valley. Consequently, the reasons for the Sheikh to continue to be where he is are as valid today as they were in 1975”. It was also clear that, at this stage of his life, the Sheikh was not contemplating a future outside India. Nor was Haksar worried that the people of the Valley and their leaders might find the Zia-ul-Haq-led Pakistan attractive, at least, until it resorted to democracy and federalism.
Voicing the critical question, “can we handle Sheikh Saheb”, Haksar cautioned his former boss that “it can only be done by someone who must, of necessity, be a person visibly of your choice and, equally visibly, carry your authority”. B. K. Nehru could be said to be an ideal choice. Secondly, “in any scheme of handling of Sheikh Abdullah, Begum Abdullah as well as Farooq one has to think of the stature, background and the experience of those who seek to lead the Congress in the valley”. Finally, someone had to help Sheikh Saheb away from his “completely cock-eyed view of the state of international relations” and that someone could not be anyone “who are romantic either about the US or the USSR”.
Haksar “never spared Abdullah from severest criticism for all the departures he had made from his self-image”. Abdullah, in turn, seemingly accepted Haksar’s credentials as his well-wisher and had included his name in the list of persons he thought appropriate as governor of J & K, when Jha was to be replaced. But Haksar had long been in retirement, Abdullah was in failing health, B. K. Nehru was the governor and Farooq Abdullah heir apparent.
By January 1982, Nehru was gleefully informing the prime minister that her “two-line handwritten letter has transported my Chief Minister to the seventh heaven of delight! He will behave now for six months!” He wrote that if she wanted “to deliver the coup de grace…while the iron is hot”, she should “invite [Sheikh Abdullah] to a family meal, then take him aside for ten minutes, confide in him the woes of the Prime Minister of one-seventh of the human race and ask his advice—which you do not have to follow! He will be your slave for life; what he is now hankering after is his recognition by you as an elder Indian Statesman and not a suspect Pakistani agent which he thinks you think he is”. Sheikh Abdullah, by now keeping very bad health, was going to be in Delhi shortly.
Sheikh Abdullah died on September 8, 1982. He had named his son Farooq, then 45, as successor the previous year. An unlikely politician, Farooq Abdullah, who had been Britain-based and trained as a doctor, called for elections in the summer of 1983 and “refused to form an alliance” with the Congress. This enraged Indira Gandhi, who harboured doubts about Farooq’s succession. As Katherine Frank put it, “Indira’s habit of running states from the Centre was by this time inveterate. There was no way she would allow Kashmir, a crucial borderline state, to be governed by a chief minister who was anything less than totally loyal to her”. In May 1983, a meeting of opposition parties was convened by Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. T. Rama Rao of Telugu Desam, in Vijayawada.
Farooq attended this meeting. An angry Gandhi campaigned vigorously in the June 1983 state elections, portraying Farooq as a “quasi-secessionist” and presented the divide between Jammu and the Kashmir Valley in communal colours. As Ramachandra Guha has noted, “it was a dangerous gambit, and it did not work—Farooq and his National Conference were comfortably re-elected”.
Meanwhile, the moderate wing of the National Conference, uneasy at some of Farooq’s words and actions, decided to commit the party publicly against confrontation with the Centre. On June 22, the NC general secretary issued a statement stressing the party’s commitment to cooperation as against confrontation with the Centre. Farooq met Nehru the next day. Giving the highlights of the hour and half meeting to the prime minister, Nehru reported:
“It is obvious that his bitterness continues; he regards himself as a party which has been unjustly wronged and, even more than most politicians, is incapable of seeing the other side of the medal”. Farooq had told Nehru that he felt the prime minister had been “very ungracious in not having congratulated him on his election victory when she had done this for other opposition governments” and that “while maintaining correct governmental relations with the Centre he would continue as an opposition party and join other opposition parties at their various meetings”. Nehru was left with “the uneasy feeling that my ideas of confrontation do not correspond with his and that we can look forward to his creating various kinds of difficulties”.
Within three months of the National Conference victory, the prime minister started pressing her reluctant cousin for the dismissal of Farooq’s government. On September 18, her principal secretary, P. C. Alexander prompted Nehru that “it is open to the Governor to dismiss his Ministry whenever he is satisfied that it cannot command the confidence in the House [and] the position [he was] taking [was] at variance with law and earlier practice”. Replying 20 days later, Nehru wrote that “the real question is, when is he justified in being so satisfied?”
Challenging Alexander to send him “a precedent in which a governor has dismissed a ministry because a majority of MLAs has come to him to say—on one occasion—that they have no confidence in the ministry”, Nehru reminded him that when governor Dharma Vira dismissed the Ajoy Mukherjee government in West Bengal in 1969, he asked “the CM thrice to advise him to summon the assembly and it was only when the CM refused that he dismissed the ministry”. For those who held that Charan Singh’s case in 1979 formed a precedent, Nehru replied that in that case, “the PM [Morarji Desai] had already resigned before the President asked Charan Singh to form a government. That was a question of choosing a new man to form a new government and not of dismissing an existing ministry”. Indira Gandhi was by now actuated by motives of “personal vindictiveness” as well as the political objective of “winning the next general election”, according to Guha. Efforts by her mandarins to advise otherwise “had such little impact” that, to them, there appeared “no chance of any rethinking”.
In autumn 1983, Jha went on a four-day visit to Srinagar as chairman of the Economic Administration Reforms Commission. Despite his repeated assertions to people that he was no longer involved “either officially or personally in the developments in the state”, National Conference MPs and MLAs, senior officials, members of the Abdullah family and Farooq himself met him and spoke to him. Jha came back with an “uneasy” mind. NC legislators told him Farooq was committed to India. He had repudiated Pakistani claims over Kashmir far more unequivocally than his father and succeeded in suppressing pro-Pakistani elements effectively. However, if he were to be dislodged despite his massive mandate by his brother-in-law G.M. Shah, who was popularly believed to have Congress and the Centre’s support, instability would reappear.
While it was true that nationally he seemed to be getting closer every day to opposition parties, this was simply because he felt rebuffed in his attempts to build bridges with the Centre and the prime minister personally. Given the slightest encouragement, he would happily offer his cooperation and support to Mrs. Gandhi. Jha was also reminded of Farooq’s “immaturity which is responsible for his oscillating from one extreme to another [which] is due to his sense of insecurity”. Some members of the Abdullah family, not in any way active in politics, as well as friends of his father, while agreeing with the above, added that this insecurity was further fuelled by the urban intelligentsia, which laughed at many of his antics, while the students had nicknamed him “Disco CM”.
Nevertheless, there was not much support for Shah. A senior official, however, believed that, Shah had built up a good following among NC MLAs by promising ministries. Farooq was also thinking of cabinet expansion to strengthen his hand but the moment he did so, those left out would switch their allegiance to Shah, who with Congress support would muster a majority.
On his part, Farooq seemed to Jha “desperately anxious to mend fences” with Mrs. Gandhi. He told Jha he was “desperately trying to see her and explain to her”, that he “does not get an opportunity to see her” and “does not know which way to turn except to talk to people who would take an unbiased view and make report to PM”. Jha expressed his surprise that “while on the one hand he talked of rapprochement with PM; on the other, all his public utterances and deeds showed that he was trying to get closer to opposition leaders”. He was well-placed to remind Farooq that he must not ignore that “the extremely generous treatment to J&K in the matter of central financial assistance owed a great deal to PM’s personal understanding of and even attachment to the people of J&K and their problems”.
When Jha asked, “Did Farooq really feel the interests of J&K would be safe in the hands of leaders [with] parochial outlook [i.e. the opposition]?” Farooq remarked that while he had “no illusion on this point”, he “could not let go of them without assurance of PM’s support”. He was going to renew efforts to see her. Farooq claimed that his “brother-in-law had no popular support” and could succeed in his “conspiracy to oust him [Farooq] if only the PM would support him [Shah] as government without popular support have been in power but not without PM’s support”.
On December 20, 1983, Alexander told Nehru in Delhi that he had solid information that Shah had got his 14 men (MLAs) and that they would be presented to Nehru three days later. When Nehru asked why Shah could not wait for another six weeks when the Assembly would meet, Alexander said on December 24, Farooq was going to take all NC MLAs to the Sheikh’s grave and make them swear allegiance to him; once having taken this oath they would not then break it. Nehru responded that he had serious doubts either that Shah had the men or that Farooq was going to administer the oath at the Sheikh’s grave. If however they did come, he would ask Farooq to advise him to call the Assembly within a week. If he refused, Nehru would dismiss him but not on a mere statement made to him in private.
When Nehru returned to Srinagar on December 21, he found, as he had suspected, that the numbers reported as supporting Shah varied from three to 16. There seemed to be a consensus on five-six names, six-seven others were deemed “vulnerable”, but it was clear that the magic number of 14 was far from being reached. Shah had been active, but his wife Khalida’s involvement had not had as much support as he had hoped. There was a perceptible increase in the strength of his supporters but some of those approached had gone straight to the Begum, Farooq’s and Khalida’s mother, to report what was going on. As for an oath of allegiance, Maulana Masoodi at the party meeting on December 5 had suggested it. There had been objections among the MLAs and the idea was given up. Farooq announced this on December 24. In any case, it seemed there was never any question of the Sheikh’s grave being the venue for any oath.
Meanwhile, Shah had intended to call a convention of the “delegates” to the NC on December 22 to proclaim himself the true leader and to install Khalida as its president. However, the response was poor and the convention postponed to February 11, 1984. D.D. Thakur, who would become the deputy to chief minister Shah from 1984 to 1986 and governor of Assam (1990-1) and had been sent for from Delhi by Shah, came to see Nehru on December 22. He said he had been asked by Shah “to explore the Governor’s mind”.
When Nehru asked whether Shah had the numbers, “after some hemming and hawing and hedging”, Thakur confessed that he did not. There was a core of four-five supporters. Others had been contacted and they were hopeful of the requisite number of 14. Nehru told him that if they presented themselves he could call the Assembly within three days. When Thakur returned two days later, he still had not got his men but Shah continued to be hopeful. Thakur told Nehru “the plan was that they would come to Raj Bhavan next day after dark, stage a ‘dharna’ till Shah had been sworn in as CM and indeed that the whole lot of them should be sworn in as Minister by the time they went out of Raj Bhavan!” An indignant Nehru retorted that “this kind of thing was simply not on” and offered to guarantee the protection of Shah’s supporters in the interval between their coming and being sworn in, which could happen only after the Assembly had been called. Nehru assured Thakur that “if the State Government could not or would not control the feared attacks [he] would have no hesitation in dismissing it on the ground that it was incapable of maintaining law and order”.
Nobody came to Nehru the next day. He later learnt that Shah had asked the 14, on whose support he was counting, to report at 9 a.m. to be taken across the road from his motel to the governor. No more than six arrived. There had been some confusion in his message getting to his supporters but most of them were certainly informed. He then asked them to meet him at 7 p.m. Seven people turned up and were administered an oath on the Quran by Khalida to support Shah, an oath Nehru felt that “they will, in all probability, not break”. In addition to the six names, which the deputy director of Intelligence Bureau—who was not aware of the oath—had given to the governor, there was a seventh man, Ali Mohammad Naik.
This was where the situation rested as 1983 came to an end. The game was, of course, which of the two—Farooq or Shah—made ministers of MLAs. Of the seven who had taken the oath for Shah, three made no secret of their rebellion but the others had not yet come out into the open. In another development, two of Shah’s supporters were elected to the Srinagar Municipal Council in opposition to NC candidates. It seemed to Nehru that it was not impossible for Shah to get the support he needed by January 27, 1984, when the Assembly was due to meet. Farooq went to meet the governor on December 27 and claimed there was no possibility of Shah’s success. It was, however, clear that he was worried and working to counteract the growing rebellion. Nevertheless, it was apparent to Nehru that “there never were the 14 members about whom Delhi was so confident”.
And writing to the prime minister on December 29, 1983, he apologised for his inability to fall in line with Delhi’s suggestion “that I should dismiss my government the moment the 14 NC legislators came to me and stated that they had withdrawn their confidence in the CM and that I should forthwith swear in Mr. G. M. Shah as the new CM. The reasons[s] for my attitude are by now well known to you and I need not repeat them. Suffice it to say that my conscience would not permit me committing what I regard as a deliberate breach of the Constitution. I have always been and, am now, prepared to pay the penalty which conscientious objectors have been traditionally required to pay for their convictions.”
After summarising the aforementioned sequence of events, Nehru cautioned his cousin that there were “doubts (not openly expressed) within the Congress about the wisdom of the proposed action”. These doubts arose first from the fact Shah had made it plain that he would not have a coalition with the Congress and therefore, “as anxious as anybody else for office”, they would not get any ministries. The other fear was that once Shah became chief minister, the whole of NC might come over to him, in which he case he would not need Congress, and worse, could uproot the Congress in the Valley through a mixture of “guile, ruthlessness, old appeal to Muslim communalism and anti-Indian-ism of which Farooq is incapable”.
Nehru began 1984 as he had ended 1983, urging sense upon Delhi. He handed a note to Alexander on January 2 and to home minister P. C. Sethi the next day. The note was discussed with the prime minister two days later. The mutual dislike between the J & K Congress and the governor was now open. Nehru’s report charged the Congress with a deliberate programme to “create a law and order situation” so that the governor was forced to take over the administration. In the month of December 1983, it counted a total of 108 Congress meetings and demonstrations plus 74 “dharnas” and processions; of which 24 had resulted in acts of violence and police action.
Nehru also made it clear to anyone paying attention that Shah had not had any further success in causing defections. His standard offer seemed to be “Rs. 2 lakhs in cash plus a ministership” but according to Nehru, what held the NC MLAs from defecting was “the fear of popular reaction against their upsetting the government [and] the danger of this reaction has increased since the Congress (I) session in Calcutta, as the conflict is interpreted in the valley as being a straight one between their autonomy and the Hindu Imperialism of Delhi”.
To say that this report and the earlier letter were received with distaste would be putting it mildly. The breach between the cousins was so total that Nehru resigned precipitously. Sending a terse one-liner to Alexander on January 6, he referred to “our telephonic conversation a few moments ago” and, to president Zail Singh, he gave the reason for resignation as “purely personal”. While Nehru was to continue for a while, the point of no return was reached. Five days later, rather incredulously, he asked Alexander whether the latter had heard the latest Congress charge against the governor that he had started influencing judges to take a pro-NC line. Nehru continued to write to the prime minister as governor but without the old warmth and affection. He sent her a note on the “consequences of central intervention to upset the Farooq government” on January 20, 1984. Making it clear that there was no immediate possibility of an elected government in the event and every possibility of communal disorders, Nehru warned Mrs. Gandhi in the clearest and widest terms possible, as can be seen below:
“Farooq will not sit quiet and will probably have to be arrested. This will immediately make him into a martyr and a hero and he will eventually become as irremovable as his father. His position has already been strengthened by the attacks on him by the AICC. He may well change his attitude towards India. Opposition leaders will intervene in the valley and create more disorders. When elections are held the Congress party will be wiped out in the valley unless there is large scale rigging. This too will prove virtually impossible because the entire administrative personnel are pro-Farooq. The slow process of the integration of the Kashmir Muslims with India will be reversed; the secessionist forces will gain in strength; suppressing them by force is no answer. Unlike 1953, this action will find no support among the non-Congress parties nationally. The action will alienate the Muslims of the country. It will have a bad effect on the Islamic world outside India.”
The governor agreed that “the consequences of not removing Farooq will be a severe blow to the Congress Party in the state”, but tried to show his cousin the bigger picture in prescient terms: “The result of removing him will have immense short-term and long-term harmful consequences for the entire country”. Regardless, the Delhi mandarin machine continued to grind towards a dismissal of Farooq’s government.
On the night of January 23-24, Gandhi’s all-purpose trouble-shooter G. Parthasarathy (1912-1995) and former foreign secretary (1967-72) T. N. Kaul (1913-2000) woke Nehru up in Delhi and passed him a note outlining actions (the usual catalogue of arrests, detentions, transfers, firm handling, intelligence cooperation, etc.) to be taken in the immediate aftermath of Farooq’s dismissal. An enraged Nehru, told that he would have to report back on these to the prime minister “at the earliest possible but not later than January 26”, refused to accept it. Next day, Parthasarathy again passed on instructions to Nehru—this time the usual litany of “threatening situation in neighbourhood”, “urgent action in J & K against all infiltrators, anti-national and secessionist elements”, and “strict enforcement of internal law and order by the state authorities in fullest cooperation with the central agencies”—euphemisms to sanction the eviction of Farooq’s ministry.
Returning to Srinagar, the governor found himself in the middle of another brewing crisis. When the Assembly resumed, the chief minister introduced a motion expressing the confidence of the House in himself and his ministry, insisting on an immediate vote without debate (in breach of the normal rules requiring a seven-day notice) even as the Congress left the House in protest. With the principal opposition party absent, this motion was carried without dissent. This meant that now, under the rules, a motion of no-confidence could not be moved in the session. This was playing into the hands of the opposition as well as under-cutting the governor who had all along insisted on it.
An unsigned draft in the Nehru papers reveals a rather pained Nehru reminding Farooq that he had “consistently told the possible defectors from among the NC MLAs that [he] would not dismiss Farooq’s government and install a new CM (in whom the majority combination of the Congress party and the defectors have confidence) if and when 13 of them came to me in a body expressing their lack of confidence in you and your ministry together with an assurance of support from the 26 members of the Congress legislative party because the proper place to display their want of confidence was on the floor of the Legislative Assembly.” (B. K. Nehru to Farooq Abdullah, 27 January 1984, Subject File Serial No 80, B. K. Nehru papers)
Even while recognising the fears of possible defectors that they could be subject to intimidation and that Farooq would not let a fair and free debate and vote take place, the governor “felt that the maintenance of constitutional propriety was paramount” and it demanded that he should ask the chief minister to advise him “to summon the Assembly at short notice so that the motion of no-confidence in you could be properly moved, properly debated and properly voted upon”. But in the changed circumstances Nehru felt he had no option but to dismiss Farooq “if and when such a delegation were to come to me and I were convinced through the counting of hands—a procedure which I have hitherto stubbornly refused to follow—that you have lost your majority as all proper constitutional process has now been unfairly pre-empted”.
The rest of Nehru’s tenure was a story of mishap and mistrust. Early February, fresh correspondence between the state government and the Union home ministry containing “Centre’s fresh warning to J & K government” got leaked. A disturbed Farooq was “positive that leakage has not taken place from our side”, and Nehru sided with his chief minister. He learnt from his own inquiries that a copy of the home minister’s letter to Farooq was in possession of one P. N. Jalali of the Press Trust of India, when he returned from Delhi to Jammu on January 31 while the message was dated February 1.Thereafter, Nehru received a copy of a message from the district Congress Committee in Leh addressed to the prime minister, sent to him under her orders.
The contents repeated the view that the state Congress had taken against Farooq’s government and submitted to Mrs. Gandhi for action. Nehru replied to the prime minister on February 4 that “as I have indicated to you I respectfully disagree with their assessment of the situation” and added that he knew the Leh Congress was trying to organise support for agitations in the Valley and in Jammu, “as the people of Leh keeping completely quiet in regard to these affairs was not desirable”. He was tired of telling his cousin about the right thing to do. In his papers, there is an earlier draft of this letter in which there is an extra portion, deleted and not sent, that reads:
“You will recall that I mentioned to you that the statements made by the Congress Party in the State against the present Government were so highly exaggerated and some things at such variance with the facts that it was difficult to give them much credibility… [They have] brought the politicised controversy in the State to a new nadir.”
Two days later, on February 6, 1984, news came from London that the Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre, kidnapped by the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) to seek the release of Maqbool Butt, iconic Kashmiri separatist on death row in Tihar jail since the 1970s, had been killed. Within a week, on February 11, 1984, Butt was hanged and buried on the jail premises. From then on, New Delhi started to bypass Nehru. The governor, now a forgotten figure, was forced to write to the Union Cabinet Secretary that “sometimes, I do not get copies of the most important letters, the most recent case being three letters from the Home Minister to the Chief Minister of which I have, from the State Government, copies of the replies but in spite of requests, no copies of the letters to which these are replies”.
Given his principled refusal to act, the Centre decided he would be cut out of administration and governance. If this could happen to the much feted Braj Kumar Nehru, with his family ties to Indira Gandhi and a stellar administrative, diplomatic and gubernatorial career, what chance did Farooq Abdullah have of survival?
From here it was a short step to the events of July 1984. The political clock in Kashmir was set back 30 years. This time, though, the disenchanted Kashmiris’ response was not long in coming. And, it was more direct and especially apt, given the farce of the 1987 election. Still, no election, by itself, or no electoral process in itself is a totalising phenomenon in the evolution of any identity—regional, religious or national. Identities are social constructions and subject to change. Ninety-seven separate incidents of violence were recorded in the first six months of 1989 killing at least 52 people and injuring 250. The tone for the 1990s was set, when that much-used word, Kashmiriyat would be rendered as an empty signifier and Kashmir, as an ethnic conflict, would re-emerge as an international dispute.
The 2008 and subsequent agitations have been illustrations of the political and not the pristine, in the Kashmiri Hindu and Indian nationalist support in Jammu and India against Kashmiri Muslims. Language, Religion and Identity in Kashmir have been vehicles of belonging for a longer time than acknowledged, even if fetishised anew recently. Similarly, the Indian state’s response to it since 1947 has been nothing but an obsessive assertion of its sense of nationalism, territoriality and security.
Rakesh Ankit teaches history at the Law School in Jindal University. He studied at Delhi, Oxford, and Southampton.
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