By Ashq Hussian Bhat
1 February 2015
Of late the notion of ethno-nationalism has, God knows why, struck the imagination of some of our writers as revealed in their writings. The term ethno-nationalism appears to be attractive but the concept is not new to Kashmir. In fact it was propounded in Kashmir after July 1932.
Before that the idea of ethnicity-based nationalism was alien to Kashmir. Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz invented it and later propagated it with the help of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Moulvi Masoodi. They coined a special term for it—Kashmiriyat, which signified that “Kashmiris” were a separate Quaum (nation) by virtue of their common ethnicity, language, culture, habits and habitat, political interests, etc. The term “Kashmiri” is a vague and tricky one. It could be applied to mean the inhabitants of Kashmir Valley as also the inhabitants of the entire former Princely state of Kashmir.
It was a time when Muslims had their guns directed against Dogra (Hindus) despotism. Punjabi Muslims, Allama Iqbal including, extended them full support. They set up All-Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference on October 16, 1932. Those days political atmosphere in British India was heading toward a turning point. Hindus and Muslims had parted ways politically. AIML was gaining ground. Allama Iqbal (an ethnic Kashmiri by the way, and highly respected figure in Kashmir) had floated the idea of a separate Muslim homeland:
“I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state. Self government within the British Empire or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-Western Muslim state, appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India (Muslim League presidential address Dec 29, 1930 Allahabad)”.
Chances were that the idea might strike the imagination of Kashmiri Muslims (just as it struck the imagination of Bengali Muslims). They might clamour for inclusion of Kashmir in this imaginary Muslim homeland. It would have been a disaster for the privileged status that Hindu minority enjoyed in the State. In order to put a wedge between Muslims of Kashmir and that of British India, and at the same time make them subservient to Hindus and Congress, pro-Congress Bazaz propounded the concept of ethno-nationalism of Kashmir. Accordingly, Muslims of British India especially those of Punjab, were aliens to Kashmiri Muslims while as Pandits were their compatriots. Using secularism as the basis for this localized brand of nationalism, he, at the same time, highlighted its similarities with Congress party’s Indian nationalism, with whose leaders, MK Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, he was in constant touch through correspondence.
Bazaz needed to sell his idea of racial affinity to Muslims of Kashmir. So he met Sheikh Abdullah secretly in Chashmashahi, Mughal garden in July 1932 and extracted a promise from him to work for setting up a secular nationalist platform in the state (Aatashi-Chinar of SM Abdullah). Politically over-ambitious Sheikh Abdullah was ever willing to get co-opted if in return Bazaz synchronised Congress party’s support and funding. He had perceived that his continued affiliation with Quadian (the Ahmadi headquarters that funded the political struggle in Kashmir at that time; Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah had by now accused Sheikh of having converted to Ahmadi faith) might hurt his political career. Muslim League was no use to him because it was financially poor.
Eventually the duo started an Urdu weekly “Hamdard” in August 1935. Hamdard became the mouthpiece for secularism-based ethno-nationalism (‘Ahead of His Times,’ Nagin Bazaz p.56). Sheikh Abdullah was the front of the newspaper. Bazaz was its brain. Moulvi Masoodi (follower of pro-Congress Deobandhi scholar Hussain Ahmad Madni) joined them as assistant editor to propagate secularism and nationalism.
The net result of embracing nationalism was that Sheikh Abdullah and his protégés, GM Sadiq, GM Qarra, GM Bakshi, Afzal Beg, who were leftwingers, opened the doors of Muslim Conference for non-Muslims. In addition to Bazaz, people like Jiya Lal Kilam, Kashyap Bandoo (Tarachand Koul), an Arya Samajist, entered Muslim Conference in 1938. In 1939 Sheikh Abdullah liquidated Muslim Conference and set up the All-Jammu and Kashmir National Conference as an affiliate of All-India States Peoples Conference. AISPC had been set up in 1927 by Pandit Nehru as a subsidiary organization of Congress in Princely states of India. Therefore, NC was, along with its nationalism, a subaltern of Congress party.
Although Pandits had become members of NC in the name of secularism and ethno-nationalism, their motives were sectarian: i) to weaken political struggle of Muslims against a Dogra Hindu oligarchy (Aatashi-Chinar p.245); and, ii) to make them subservient to Hindu Congress.
With the inception of NC, yesterday’s resisters became now collaborators of Dogra despotism. Soon the Maharaja ordered in 1940 that Urdu (official language since 1907 in place of Persian) be written in Devanagri script. Also he prohibited Muslims from keeping firearms and at the same time allowed Hindus to keep them. The support that Pandits of Kashmir Valley (and Dogras of Jammu Province) extended to these measures was prompted by sectarianism not by secularism and nationalism.
In April 1932, post-Glancy recommendations, Pandits led by Yuvak Sabha (and supported by Dogra Sabha of Jammu and Hindu Mahasabha of India), launched a sectarian movement called Roti agitation when the Maharaja accepted the recommendations put forth by Grievances Enquiry Commission headed by Indian political department’s deputy secretary, Betrand Glancy. At that time secularism and ethno-nationalism were non-existent. The reality was that Muslim grievances against the Dogra rule were accepted even by the Maharaja to be genuine. But Pandits would have none of it. One job given to Muslims was a job lost to them. They even went to the extreme when they attacked Muslim school children at Ganpatyar to invite retaliation from Muslim majority (Aatashi-Chinar pp.172-74). However, there was an exception: Bazaz was the only Hindu who fully cooperated with Glancy Commission at the risk of earning the hostility of Hindus of the state. But this earned him the goodwill and trust of Muslims. He exploited this trust and goodwill to the hilt in coming years to sell his invention of nationalism to Muslims.
Earlier, around 1900, Pandits (and Dogras) launched a movement called “state for state people” (also called “Kashmir for Kashmiris”). Pandits (and Dogras) protested against appointment by British resident-controlled administration, of Punjabis, whom they called ghairmulki (foreigners), and demanded that only mulki (natives) be appointed in state service. However, they did not include Muslims, who constituted over 80% of state’s population, among mulki. In response to this mulki-ghairmulki agitation the successor Maharaja Hari Singh passed in 1927 the anti-Punjabi state subjectship law that among other things laid down that no outsider would be appointed in state service without the express permission of Maharaja. Thus by 1930 the Pandits (and Dogras) had dominated the state subordinate services. The Dogras were already dominant in the state armed forces.
Post-1930 educated Muslims also demanded their share in subordinate services. They had to face Roti agitation of Pandits. When Muslims organised themselves under the banner of MC, Pandits preached secularism and nationalism to weaken their struggle. Thanks to Sheikh Abdullah and his leftwing followers, Pandits entered their ranks. Post-1940 Arms Act they left NC under one or the other excuse (Aatashi-Chinar pp.245, 247, 253, 254). Also they accused Sheikh of not being a true secularist because, they complained, he called July 13 martyrs as “Shaheed”; ran Muslim Auqaf (Endowments); collected funds for mosque building; celebrated Eid-Milad; recited verses of Quran; sang Allama Iqbal’s couplets; encouraged his followers to chant the slogan “Allah-o-Akbar”, etc. Sheikh knew his own compulsions. He needed to keep an iron grip on his Muslim support base which he felt slipping because of Arms Act and Devanagri.
In 1947, when Sheikh surrendered before Hindu Maharaja and Hindu India, Pandits hailed him as a reincarnation of god Vishnu (Aatashi-Chinar p.899). Only previous year, 1946, they had vehemently opposed his ‘Quit Kashmir movement’ because it was against Hindu Maharaja.
While as they hailed Sheikh as Vishnu, they manifested proactive hostility toward Prime Minister RC Kak for supporting independent Kashmir; and against Bazaz for supporting Kashmiris’ right of self-determination; because each course would mean parting ways with Hindu India. Here it may be added that the latter changed his stance more often than Sheikh did. He was an Arya Samajist in 1920s; pro-Congress secular nationalist in 1930s; ant-Congress Royist-radical-humanist in 1940s; pro-MC pro-ML, pro-Pakistan around 1947; pro-India, anti-nationalism, anti-religion, out and out atheist still later.
Post-1952 Pandits (and Dogras) withdrew their support to Sheikh when he talked of preservation of autonomy of Kashmir. Post-1955, they opposed plebiscite movement because it was anti-India. They supported India not because India was a secular but a Hindu State.
Secularism is ideal but who is secular here?
Even in recent times, Pandits (and Dogras) did not support JKLF’s idea of an independent Kashmir because that would mean secession from Hindu India. JKLF, in their turn, although professedly secular and nationalist, committed most of the 219 Pandit killings until the last week of February 1990 when they left the Valley en mass. Simultaneously Muslims raised the slogan: “Aye Zalimo Aye Kafiro Kashmir Hamara Chhod Do (You infidels, get out of our Kashmir)” against Indian armed forces especially CRPF. It frightened the Pandits thinking that the slogan was directed against them.
Soon Pandits started selling their Valley-based properties without giving a thought to their return. Muslims purchased these properties, in defiance of the ban imposed by militant outfits like Hizb ul-Mujahideen, because these were available on nominal prices.
Some Pandits now demand setting up of “Exclusive Township” for them in the Valley so that they could return. Muslims smell a “Zionist-type” conspiracy in this “Pandit enclave” demand. The reality is that most Pandits don’t want to return to a place, which is enveloped, in political uncertainty.
Furthermore, Muslims oppose Pandit yatras (pilgrimages) to various mountain lakes and shrines in Kashmir under the pretext of saving the fragile environment of Kashmir. Yet they did not (and do not) care a fig about fragile environment while purchasing timbers vandalized by smugglers from Kashmir forests at cheapest rates. Pandits (and other Hindus) are hell bent upon carrying out these Yatras in large numbers not to derive any spiritual solace but to pursue their political agenda of establishing their exclusive claim on Kashmir Valley.
In August 1967, when Parmeshwari Handoo, a Pandit girl, married Ghulam Rasool Kanth, her colleague in the cooperative department stores (Apna Bazar), the entire Pandit community came out on streets to launch an agitation against the government and Muslim community. They accused that Muslims had abducted their daughter; and demanded that the Sadiq Government should intervene to restore Parmeshwari to them (Ahead of His Times Nagin Bazaz; Jammu and Kashmir at Political Crossroads P.S. Verma). Newspapers owned by Pandits, such as “Jyoti” published from Chotabazar, and “Martand” published from Sheetalnath, also played a vigorous part in favour of the agitators. They gave full coverage to the statements and speeches of agitators. Police broke the bones of many agitators. Muslims on their part were happy that they had gained a convert.
My point is that talk of ethno-nationalism is irrelevant. Hindus and Muslims of Kashmir (no matter if “Kashmir” means the Valley or the former Princely state) are politically poles apart. Muslims of Kashmir love Pakistan and they make no secret about it. They could not eat for days when Pakistan broke in twain in 1971. Pandits made merry that their enemy had received a severe blow and that too at their own hands because Pakistan had been broken by five ethnic Kashmiris (Pandits) including Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; her principal private secretary Parmeshwar Narain Haksar; foreign secretary Triloki Nath Koul; chairman policy planning Durga Prasad Dhar; and founder director RAW Rameshwar Nath Kao. Pandits (and Dogras) call Pakistan “enemy state” and a “terrorist state” because it supports Kashmiris’ right of self-determination. They love India.
Pandits would not allow a Muslim entry into their kitchen called chok lest it might entail scrubbing with cow dung to purify it. In spite of such differences it was easy and advisable that they should live in the same place because Kashmir was homeland of both and both were human beings but for this bloody Kashmir dispute that has made them mutually hostile that Pandits (and Dogras) would like Indian army to be given free hand to deal with Muslim secessionism; Muslims clamour for revocation of PSA, DAA, and AFSPA.
Also my point is: Where do we place Paharis (highlanders) of Kashmir Valley; Dards of Gilgit; Tibetans of Baltistan and Ladakh; inhabitants of Chenab and Neelum valleys; people of Poonch-Bhimber belt; in this lately talked of ethno-nationalism. How do ethnic Kashmiris living in west Punjab and Karachi, who equal Kashmiris in number, fit in this ethno-nationalism?
Moreover, ethno-nationalism tends to take its votaries toward fascism. This happened post-1947 when a single party ruled Kashmir for decades. What they sowed then, we are harvesting now.
Ashq Hussian Bhat is a political historian.