14-Jun-2024  Srinagar booked.net

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The Decree In The Dustbin Of History

Expectations foresaw UN-backed plebiscite, yet India later incorporated it via Article 370, altering the anticipated trajectory.

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Noon Chai, the traditional Kashmiri tea, was boiling on a black gas stove, its aroma weaving through the wooden kitchen where Dilshada Begum, a weathered 62-year-old, stood by the simmering brew. Her 24-year-old grandson, Ayid, was by her side, scrolling through a news site on a smartphone, keenly expecting the verdict soon to be announced by India's highest court regarding the abrogation of Article 370.
 
In the biting cold of that moment, the Supreme Court's decision reverberated through the room, favouring the BJP Government's stance, upholding the constitutional validity of the abrogation of Article 370, declaring that the state had no internal sovereignty, and deeming autonomy as a 'temporary provision.'
 
As the news unfolded, Dilshada and Ayid were ensnared in a emotional crossroads between the present and a tumultuous past, where the complicated history of Kashmir's accession to India played out before them. Historian Victoria Schofield's words echoed in the backdrop, unveiling the commitments forged during the instrument of accession and the enshrinement of autonomy in Article 370.
 
"When Maharaja Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession with India, India’s jurisdiction legally extended only to defense, communication, and external affairs. The anticipation was that the accession would be confirmed by the will of the people through a plebiscite under the auspices of the UN. However, in the years to come, the Government of India sought to integrate it within the framework of India, a transformation later embodied in Article 370, writes Victoria Schofield in 'Kashmir in Conflict.'
 
Two months post the India-Pakistan partition and the formal signing of the accession, Hari Singh sought assurance that he would maintain authority within the state. However, Nehru wanted him to quit and hand over power to Sheikh Abdullah. 
 
“It was difficult for Hari Singh to work with Abdullah, who had fought against him for over 20 years, as there was already a political uprising in Kashmir against the Dogra rule.”
 
Nehru believed that during the war with Pakistan over Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah’s full involvement was mandatory. However, Sheikh Abdullah and Hari Singh contested over the distribution of government departments and the appointment of Muslims to more senior positions. 
 
Relations were strained further when Prime Minister Mahajan threatened to resign on January 31, 1948.
 
On March 2, 1948, Mahajan resigned as the Prime Minister, and Sheikh Abdullah was installed in his place. 
 
Historians document that the restrictive nature of Hari Singh’s accession to India meant that total integration with India could not take place without a new agreement and until such time, Kashmir would retain special status. 
 
Sheikh Abdullah and Hari Singh shared a steadfast belief that New Delhi had no right to extend its jurisdiction in Kashmir beyond the three agreed-upon areas outlined in the instrument of accession—foreign affairs, communication, and defense. In line with this commitment, the proposal for special status was set forth in an article of the Indian constitution.
 
The article was moved by Gopalaswamy Ayyangar in the Indian Constituent Assembly in October 1949, proposing 'a special status for Kashmir because of its special circumstances.' 
 
After the United Nations' failure to implement resolutions due to India and Pakistan's reluctance to demilitarize Kashmir, the plebiscite became an unattainable goal.” It became difficult for either the state to integrate with India or for India to integrate the state unilaterally into its union.”
 
Sheikh Abdullah initially believed in India’s secularism and democracy, and in July 1952, he signed the Delhi agreement with Nehru, and Article 370 was accepted. 
 
As part of the Autonomy, India allowed Kashmir to retain its own constitution, separate flag, and criminal code, and deny property rights to outsiders. Kashmir had its own prime minister and president. 
 
By 1953, Nehru and Abdullah had grown apart, and later New Delhi jailed its prime minister, Sheikh Abdullah. 
 
The United Nations persisted in visiting Kashmir until 1962 with the aim of conducting the long-anticipated plebiscite. However, the reluctance of both nations to demilitarize the regions of Kashmir thwarted these efforts. 
 
Eventually, Article 370 emerged as a document begrudgingly accepted till an envisaged plebiscite.
 
Having returned the smartphone to her grandson, Dilshada stepped out into the cold. She strolled through the spacious garden, tenderly tracing her fingers over the leaves of the Umbrella tree planted in the centre. 
 

A profound sigh escaped her as she gazed up at the sky, and a smile graced her face, bearing the weight of a history that had complicatedly shaped the destiny of a divided region.