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A referendum for Kashmir

Posted by RB Kollannur on January 24, 2011


Lord Louis Mountbatten was faced with a difficult job. He had been tasked with giving up an Empire. His great grandmother, Queen Victoria, had proclaimed herself the Empress of India in 1876. Now faced with the pyrrhic victories of two world wars, the “no longer Great” Britain had to let go of its colonial empire to revitalize her society.

United Kingdom no longer had the ability to run a vast colonial empire. The Indian subcontinent, by far the largest colonial chunk before Africa, South East Asia and the Caribbean, had to be the first to be let go.

The subcontinent had a rather unique administrative structure. Ignoring the periphery (Burma and Ceylon), the main part of the subcontinent was divided into two – British India (Ruled by him as the Governor General) and the autonomous princely states (where he represented the Crown of England as the Viceroy). But it was still far lesser than the eighteenth century when the subcontinent was riddled with more kingdoms than Germany. The British had assimilated many of them, building the largest nation in the subcontinent since the time of Asoka, but still many remained. However, they had accepted the suzerainty of the English ruler resulting in a formal political unity across the region.

But with British India gaining independence, allowing the princely states to continue will complicate things, both administratively and politically. Being a princeling of the German House of Hesse, the failure of the German Confederation remained as a grim reminder. The princely states cannot be allowed to become independent, allowing for war and conquest in the future. An ultimatum will have to be given.

Join or else…

India and Pakistan became independent in August 1947. Nominally, still under the rule of the English King George VI (No longer an Emperor), India removed its final colonial shackles on January 26 1950 by becoming a Republic (Pakistan would do the same much later, in 1956, owing to lack of political unity after the death of Jinnah). The princely states faced with isolation from India and Pakistan (and United Kingdom) eventually chose to join either. However, disputes arose about few princely states; Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir. Junagadh opted for India after a contentious referendum, while Hyderabad was occupied by Indian forces. Kashmir went to war.

After the war, India and Pakistan controlled parts of Kashmir. Legally, India had a better right over Kashmir as the King of Kashmir had formally acceded to India. However, a similar accession by the ruler of Junagadh was ignored by India. UN, in the meantime, resolved to call for a referendum in Kashmir after Pakistan removes their forces. Neither happened. India, for its part, conducted elections for representatives from the people of Kashmir, who later confirmed the King’s accession to India. However, this was not accepted by the UN since it had called for a referendum on accession under the auspices of the UN.

Sixty years have gone since India became a Republic. The voice of the people of Kashmir on the choice of their country still goes unheard. India has been a stellar example for democracy in the world (despite the bloats of conquest of Portuguese India and the Indira Gandhi dictatorship). But the people of Kashmir are still to choose whether they want to be part of it. Many have died on both sides on the border for Kashmir. But no one knows whether the Kashmiris value those sacrifices or whether they died in vain.

Oddly enough, a political party in India seems adamant in asserting Indian authority over Kashmir without even bothering to ask that question to the people of Kashmir. Yes, they apparently do respect democracy and the rights of minorities.

Internationally, Kashmir still remains disputed.

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2 Responses to “A referendum for Kashmir”

  1. Akhil said

    Quite agree with your views in the opening paragraphs. Yes, there is no dispute on the fact that the sub-continent that we now know as India has been thoroughly exploited and looted by the repeated invasions from the West (Asia and Europe), however, not many in India would agree or want to agree that it was the British rule that resulted in the creation of a single nation (or 2 if you consider Pakistan) from the 100’s of warring kingdoms that existed here.
    Also, the fact that independance was more of a consequence of the British deciding to leave, than them being driven out. Sadly, in India, beliefs are based on emotions and sentiments rather than facts or reason.

    I do agree that the J&K scenario has been pretty badly managed. Sometimes, to get rid of a cancer spreading, you have to cut off the affected region. However, the cancer in this case is so deadly and complex, that one can’t really be sure if it will stop bothering once cut off. Surely, Pak and the terrorists will have more new reasons to cause havoc, and looking back, when did the latter really have genuine reasons to destablise peace ? Also, what about the justice to the Kashmiri Pandits who were ethnically cleansed from the state 20 years ago and whom the govt has conveniently tried to ignore ?

    I wonder why we in India still show the map of J&K as the whole region being part of India, when it almost never was and almost certainly, never will. Nowhere else is the Indian map shown as how we have been taught !

  2. Arby K said

    I am sure the issue of Kashmiri Pandits will rake up a storm, but at least it is important to get the ball rolling. With regards to the representation in the map and all, it was important for India in its early years to appear strong and united, so that people stay united (And the practice got continued on). That is where Pakistan failed. Even before they became a republic the East and West were fighting against each other and led to the eventual split.

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