Gandhi’s ‘Solution’ to Kashmir Dispute? India-Pakistan ‘Alliance’

Gandhi Jayanti: The only way to resolve the Kashmir crisis is to agree that it belongs to both India and Pakistan.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Image of Gandhi and Kashmir map used for representational purposes.
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(This is Part-II of a two-part series on Gandhi and Pakistan. Click here to read Part-I)

Gandhi endorsed the principle of sovereign states on the basis of self-determination, in areas predominantly inhabited by Muslims in the north-western and eastern parts of India. “You can call it Pakistan if you like,” he told Jinnah. To this extent, he accepted the kernel of the Lahore Resolution. “I have therefore suggested a way out,” he said. “Let there be a partition as between two brothers, if a division there must be.”

The talks broke down because Jinnah was unwilling to yield even an inch. Had he shown the kind of flexibility that he showed later (best seen in his speech at the first session of Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly on 11 August 1947), the history of our subcontinent would have been benignly different.

Had Gandhi & Jinnah Lived Longer, Some Blunders Could’ve Been Fixed

Similarly, history would have been different if the Congress leaders, especially Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, had not been utterly dismissive about the Muslim League, and offered to have serious talks with the League on the future constitutional arrangement for post-British India.

Thus, both sides were responsible for the grave trust deficit that developed between them. As a result, both failed to imagine, mutually agree on, and peacefully implement an indigenous concept of an inclusive India-Pakistan Family-State different from the Westphalian model of a Nation-State.

Such a concept, rooted in our common spiritual-civilizational wisdom, could have avoided the division of Punjab, Bengal and Kashmir, and could also have averted mass killings and panic cross-migration of populations.

Had both Gandhi and Jinnah lived longer, some of these mis-steps could still have been corrected. Alas!

The rest is history, full of tragedies – India-Pakistan wars; Pakistan’s own partition and the blood-soaked secession of Bangladesh; problems faced by the minorities in both countries; the rise of religious extremism and terrorism; ceaseless hostility between two nuclear-armed neighbours and their ever-rising military spending; total absence of socio-economic and cultural cooperation; poverty and deprivation afflicting large sections of the two populations; and, above all, the seemingly endless agony of Kashmir.

Why Godse called Gandhi the ‘Father of Pakistan’

Many Pakistanis are unaware that the Mahatma’s killer Nathuram Godse called him the “Father of Pakistan”. In a statement before the court (‘Why I Killed Gandhi’) Godse condemned “Gandhi’s persistent policy of appeasement towards the Muslims”. He said: “Gandhi is being referred to as the Father of the Nation. But if that is so, he had failed his paternal duty inasmuch as he has acted very treacherously to the nation by his consenting to the partitioning of it. I stoutly maintain that Gandhi has failed in his duty. He has proved to be. His inner-voice, his spiritual power and his doctrine of non-violence of which so much is made of, all crumbled before Jinnah’s iron will and proved to be powerless.”

In his insightful book Jinnah vs. Gandhi, Roderick Matthews writes: “Jinnah and Gandhi have each been acclaimed as the ‘father’ of a modern state, but parenthood has not been kind to neither of them.”

Indians & Pakistanis Must Rediscover Gandhi’s Vision

Today’s Pakistan is a far cry from what Jinnah had envisioned. Similarly, Gandhi would have been deeply concerned at the prevailing socio-political and economic realities of India. Modi’s party has even got a person who praised Godse as a “patriot” elected to Parliament.

Yet, any hope of ‘aman’ and amity between India and Pakistan can be realised only if the people and ruling establishments in our two countries rediscovered the core principles and visions of Gandhi — and (to a lesser extent) Jinnah.

They were both leaders of immense courage, and both were driven by lofty ideals of humanism. A few days before his assassination, Gandhi had the audacity to declare at his prayer meetings: “Both India and Pakistan are my country. I am not going to take out a passport to go to Pakistan… Though geographically and politically India is divided in two, at heart we shall be friends and brothers helping and respecting one another and be one for the outside world.”

What Gandhi Envisioned for Kashmir

Not many people know that Gandhi was in favour of an innovative solution to the Kashmir dispute by making it belong to both India and Pakistan in some kind of a confederal framework. (Read erudite author-journalist Sunanda K. Datta Ray’s article “Jammu & Kashmir — Amid fury, can ‘federal’ idea work?”)

A dispassionate look at why Kashmir became, and has remained, a dangerous flashpoint between India and Pakistan would clearly show that India’s partition on the basis of the spurious ‘Two-Nation’ theory is the original culprit. However, the wheel of history cannot be turned back. Partition cannot be undone and ‘Akhand Bharat’ cannot be today’s agenda.

At the same time, the negative effects of Partition, such as the unresolved Kashmir dispute, can and must be undone.

And the only way to resolve the Kashmir dispute is to agree that Kashmir belongs to both India and Pakistan, as a confederal bridge rather than a permanent conflict-inducing barrier.

As we respectfully remember the Mahatma on his 150th birth anniversary, it is also necessary to remember that this is what the 20th century’s greatest apostle of peace had envisioned — India and Pakistan (and now Bangladesh, too) as members of a common South Asian Family, living separately but in peace and cooperation.

As a first step, as Gandhi would have most insistently demanded, the nearly two-month-long curfew in Kashmir must be immediately lifted, and our Kashmiri sisters and brothers must get their fundamental human right back to live their lives in peace, with dignity and without violence of any kind.

(Kulkarni served as a close aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He is the author of Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi’s Manifesto for the Internet Age. He is the founder of ‘FORUM FOR A NEW SOUTH ASIA – Powered by India-Pakistan-China Cooperation’. He tweets @SudheenKulkarni and welcomes comments at sudheenkulkarni.gmail.com. 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.)

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