Almost twenty years ago, the democratically-elected and subsequently beatified Prime Minister of Pakistan instigated and covertly supported a process of ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits. So total was Pakistan’s victory that not only was the demographics of the Valley altered forever but the whole act happened silently as the ever-awake Indian intelligentsia looked the other way.
With democracy back in Pakistan and the concomitant pressure to keep the awaam placated, it is no co-incidence that Pakistan’s new political masters have once again decided to up the ante with respect to Kashmir through their minions embedded in Hindustan. With supposedly unprecedented number of Kashmiris having taken to the streets shouting for “azaadi” and more vocally for Pakistani rule, we are being told that the struggle for Kashmiri independence (or accession to Pakistan, which sounds less romantic) has reached a critical stage, one from which there is no return.
And as usually happens, a section of the Indian intelligentsia (and I exclude “God of Bogus Things” Ms. Dhooti from this august group because I have more respect for Rakhi Sawant’s intellectual dabblings than hers—at least Rakhi lacks Dhooti’s single-toned shrillness and can always be counted upon to provide a pleasantly outrageous quote or two whereas Ms. Dhooti’s shock value, like her literary career, has long faded) have started chest-beating (not surprisingly as nothing establishes one’s “intellect” as self-flagellation) in a monotonous chorus, repeating that old chest-nut —- India’s reasons for holding on to Kashmir are the same ones for which the British held onto India and that the Kashmiri struggle is an uprising against Indian imperialism.
The problem with this argument is this. When so-called imperialists hold a piece of land, the citizens of the held land have traditionally less privileges and rights than the so-called imperialists. In the case of Kashmir, their residents have more rights than citizens of the rest of India—-while Kashmiris have all the rights of an Indian citizen, an Indian citizen is severely restricted in his rights on Kashmir. Secondly, what drives imperialism is economics—-the “colonized” state providing financial revenue far in excess of what was invested in it. (This was the reason why the British held on to India). In the case of Kashmir, it is exactly the opposite. While getting almost nothing from Kashmir, the Indian state still has kept on doling out massive amounts of “free money” to Kashmir [Vir Sanghvi gives some stats here] in a misguided endeavor to buy their loyalty, neglecting other less-developed parts of the country wilting under the inequitable distribution of federal wealth.
And this brings us to the other argument, advanced by Vir Sanghvi and many others, that Kashmir needs to be allowed to secede as it is nothing but a source of continued misery for the rest of India, a black hole for tax money and for the lives of our soldiers. Ergo, the country would do better without them. While this is a strong and compelling argument for granting Kashmir independence, it still ignores the effect on the country’s future such a decision might have.
Allowing Kashmir to secede sets the most dangerous precedent possible, that being that any group of Indians, who can engage in sufficient amount of violence over a sustained period of time, can wear down the government and get what they want. If the country can be split on the basis of religion, why cannot it be split on the basis of language, caste and community? What should prevent Marathi chauvinists from throwing out all outsiders? What prevents Bengali from demanding a referendum on whether Marwari businessmen should be allowed to ply their trade in Calcutta? What prevents the Tamils from raising a demand for a Tamil homeland? Nothing really except of course the level of violence they are ready to go through with to show the seriousness of their demands.
The territorial integrity of India is one of the inviolable defining characteristics of our nation along with secularism, pluralism, free speech and democracy. Fooling around with it would lead to challenges on all the other foundations —-which is why right-thinking Indians have to fight to keep these foundations immutable.
Now some of you may say—“So what’s the harm if India degenerates into multiple nations, if that’s what the people want? ” The problem is that with the mixed population of India, this degeneration would lead to multiple genocides and population displacement on a massive scale. (Just the fact that the Kashmiri ethnic cleansing has happened “silently” does not make it any less real and terrifying) with religious, linguistic and caste minorities being at risk everywhere. Now if this violence be the “will of the people” where the “people” is defined by the majority in a geographical unit, does that make it acceptable?
In conclusion, the fight to keep Kashmir inside the Indian Union is not about imperialism simply because the rest of India gets none of the traditional colonization “benefits” from persisting with this battle. Quite the opposite. So what then is this fight for?
Simply so that each of us do not find our small corners of India turned into the theater of a violent generational struggle, a carbon copy of Kashmir.
[Keep discussion civil. No discussion on religion as it has been done many times before. Moderation will be enforced.]