Long before former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had invoked ‘Insaniyat, Jamhuriyat, Kashmiriyat’ as fundamentals of the land, Kashmiris like the mystic Lal Ded (also known as Laaleshwari) had sown a local culture of syncretism that besets the cardinal tenets of the 'Idea of India'.
For centuries, Lal Ded was venerated equally by the Hindus and Muslims and escaped petty appropriations and proprietary claims of religious monopolists who emerged suddenly post-1947. Kashmiriyat was always about seamless inclusivity and confluent identity that always overrode religious binaries – these exclusivist binaries were introduced when one part of the land had got attacked and usurped into the so-called, ‘Land of the Pure’, ie, Pakistan.
Marauding Lashkars (militia) of the Wazir, Mahsud, Turi, Afridi, Mohmand, and Yusufzais tribes from the distant Waziristan region, with a completely alien interpretation and agenda of Islam from that of native Kashmiriyat, ravaged and plundered. A template was born ie, 'Operation Gulmarg’, using territorial incursions to incite local revolt and rebellion against 'Delhi’ – it was a failed concept that came a cropper in the first Indo-Pak war of 1947-48, again with 'Operation Gibraltar’ in 1965, and even 'Kargil’ in 1999. The deeply ingrained and institutionalised sensibilities of Kashmiriyat may have been wounded with 'Delhi’, but they also outrightly rejected the 'Land of the Pure’, each time it tried to claim Kashmir.
Even the unfairly forgotten Maharaja Hari Singh of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir had upheld those secular and syncretic values of Kashmiriyat, much before the Constitution of India enshrined the same for posterity. The noble Maharaja was much ahead of his time with his unprecedented liberality, progressive policies, and truly secular moorings (during his reign from 1925 till he signed the Treaty to Accession on 26 Oct 1947), contrary to the rewritten and reimagined history as propagated and inspired by the alien Wahhabi spirit, that was introduced and engulfed the narrative.
Tracing the ‘Kashmiriyat’
As back as 1932, Maharaja Hari Singh introduced participative democracy with the Praja Sabha, composed of 75 members – 12 government officials, 16 state councilors, 14 nominated, and 33 elected (21 Muslims, 10 Hindus, and 2 Sikhs). The religio-cultural diversity of Jammu & Kashmir was revered and officialised, even in the pre-independence era, and not subjected to bigoted, supremacist, and extremist ideas of the 'Land of the Pure’. If anything, Jammu & Kashmir as the geographical crown of India was the finest exponent of the ‘Idea of India’, both pre-and-post independence. Befittingly, it took the likes of Brigadier Rajendra Singh Jamwal (Maha Vir Chakra) and Brigadier Mohammed Usman (Maha Vir Chakra) to go down fighting to ensure that Jammu & Kashmir was always a part of India.
Post-Independence, there have been some genuine concerns, serious fractures, and therefore, disaffection of the Kashmiris with ‘Delhi’ (as was the case with many other regions) – these were gleefully stoked by the neighbours across the Line of Control as also by their unhinged proxies, within.
From time to time, there were some missteps and political manipulations by ‘Delhi’ that boomeranged and resulted in such a deteriorated situation that it led to the tragic exodus of native Kashmiri Pandits. More recent actions like the Abrogation of Article 370 have unleashed its own set of dynamics. But the wily neighbour who has much blood to account for after nurturing and exporting the genie of terrorism to Kashmir soon started imploding with the mutation of its own creation, into a Frankensteinian monster – today, Pakistan is almost a failed state and its homegrown industry ie, terrorism, consuming its master.
Despite the longstanding unrest and tension with ‘Delhi’, the prevailing socio-economic infrastructural condition of Jammu & Kashmir (along with Ladakh) is way ahead of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), on all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Pakistan never had any historical claim or anything meaningful to offer to Kashmir, even after putting in so much effort to incite unrest, make false promises, and poison the storyline.
Kashmir and the Idea of India
Kashmir was, is, and will always be the pride of the decidedly loftier and restorative ‘Idea of India’. Whereas the 'Land of the Pure’ whose foundational 'two-nation’ theory was debunked with the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, is now struggling to keep itself together, despite its truncated status. Yet, it remains incorrigibly fixated on Kashmir as that perhaps, remains the only unifying rallying cry as virtually everything else within its own control has regressed beyond imagination.
In a constant attempt at optical one-upmanship, just last year, the Pakistani government organised a visit of the US Ambassador to Pakistan, to parts of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Naturally, India was miffed, and the desperate Pakistanis immediately hailed the visit as a vindication of their stand on Kashmir and therefore, a diplomatic coup.
As always, it was premature celebrations by the Pakistani mandarins as within weeks, they had to summon the same US Ambassador for an official demarche as the US President Joe Biden had termed Pakistan as amongst the most dangerous countries in the world! Biden’s comments that Islamabad was tantamount to, “Nuclear weapons without any cohesion” was like yet another nail in its well-nailed coffin, after Joe’s predecessor, Donald Trump, has excoriated and called out the patent Pakistani duplicitousness, even more brazenly.
As part of its G20 confabulations, India is showcasing the very best of itself and it is only logical that Srinagar (from the Sanskrit Shri-Nagra, interpreted as ‘City of the Surya’ ie, City of Sun, or, as the ‘City of Shri/Lakshmi’ ie, City of the Goddess of Wealth) is part of those visitation plans.
Why must the mystic Amir Khusrau (also called Tuti-e-Hind or ‘Voice of India’) hauntingly beautiful description of Kashmir, "Agar firdaus bar ru-ye zamin ast, Hamin ast o hamin ast o hamin ast.” (If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this) not be rightfully presented to the G20 participants (May 22-24, for the working group on Tourism) in all its splendor?
Both China and its almost vassalised state of Pakistan have expressed expected discomfort, but the show must go on. For India, it would be business as usual, albeit, with a suggested ‘normalcy'– that word irks Islamabad no end, given its devious infatuation with Kashmir. And if there were to be any security disruptions to the said event, then the buck stops at Islamabad (or more practically, Rawalpindi). The non-participation (if it were to happen) of China, Turkey, or even Indonesia will only reflect the age-old positions – even though Pakistan, and even Erdogan-led Turkey, with their purported religion-inspired revisionism, are sliding into the self-created pit of extremism and bigotry.
‘G20 Event in Kashmir Is Perfectly Normal’
For India, even its father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, paid for with his own life for keeping faith in the ‘Idea of India’, and especially and specifically towards Kashmir. Gandhi’s insistence that “Kashmir is the real test of secularism in India” must galvanise “Delhi” and all its citizenry to heal the lingering wounds. Sincere and dignified outreach and engagement with Kashmiris must continue, as it must wherever any part of the citizenry imagines diminishment, rightly or otherwise.
Pakistan which is struggling desperately to keep itself afloat is hardly in a position (moral, historical, or even financial) to ping, provoke and evangelise on Kashmir. Pakistan has been the primary cause of so much pain, bloodshed, and strife. It is with this backdrop that India must undertake the showcasing of Srinagar as just another normal destination for hosting G20 meetings, even if it were to be amongst the most special and symbolic places, for so many other reasons.
(The author is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)