This book examines the topic of an independent ‘Kashmir’ and why this political aspiration to be self-governing and free from coerced subordination to another nation remains unsatisfied. It focuses on how Maharaja Hari Singh, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Muslim Kashmiris have envisioned or sought independence for Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), or for their particular region within this disputed entity. Hari Singh and Sheikh Abdullah were the two most significant figures in J&K in the twentieth century. They also were political rivals, united briefly in 1947 by not wanting J&K to join Pakistan and by an indecisive desire for an independent J&K. After acceding to India, Singh quickly became redundant. Through a tumultuous political career, Abdullah strove for independence or maximum autonomy for J&K. In 1988, disenchanted Muslim Kashmiris surprisingly began a violent anti-India uprising seeking azadi (independence, freedom) for their region or for it to join Pakistan. Kashmiris remain severely disgruntled and this insurgency continues to pose challenges for India. By concentrating on these two men and this insurgency, the book provides a focused, in-depth history of J&K from the mid-1920s, when Hari Singh became J&K’s ruler, to the present time, when many Kashmiris still crave azadi from India. While an ‘independent Kashmir’ is a long envisioned aspiration, the book concludes that it is likely to remain incomplete while India and Pakistan exist in their current structures, while India is strong and unified, and while Kashmiris are disunified and uncertain about what status they want for their homelands.
This provides a brief outline of the book’s structure, discusses some terminology, and provides three reasons for writing the book. It also mentions three disputes that concern Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and which reappear throughout other chapters in the book. The first is the intractable Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan over which nation should possess the former princely state of J&K – or, since the late 1950s, how and where they should divide this disputed entity. The second is the dispute between India and its state of Jammu and Kashmir about this state’s integration into India. The third concerns whether residents within the geo-political sub-region of the Kashmir Valley, the real Kashmir after which the princely state took its popular name of ‘Kashmir’, want their region to remain with India, unify with Pakistan, or become independent from both nations.
This chapter examines the British Indian Empire, relevant aspects of its administrative structure, and the positions of India’s politicians and princes in the hasty and purgative – for the British, at least – decolonisation processes of 1947. It explains that, during 1947, there were differing ideas about the Indian princes’ legal positions and post-British options, including in relation to independence or otherwise, considerable politicking by politicians – all of whom were Indians until 15 August 1947 – and much uncertainty and upheaval for many subcontinetals, including J&K-ites. One of the most significant of these J&K-ites was Maharaja Hari Singh, the person charged, and empowered, to decide J&K’s post-British future by making an accession. As this chapter explains, the British decolonisation of their substantial Indian Empire in 1947 enabled him to seriously contemplate and envisage independence for J&K.
This chapter examines Maharaja Hari Singh, his personality and influence, his regime and administration, and his options for J&K’s status in 1947. In particular, it looks at the option of independence for J&K and Hari Singh’s (non-)efforts to obtain this status, as well as the personalities and factors that ultimately ensured that he acceded to India in 1947.
This chapter provides important historical and social background about J&K and its administrative structure, as well as some geo-political observations about this princely state. It explains why the princely state was popularly, but confusingly, called ‘Kashmir’ not ‘Jammu’, why the Kashmir region was the most important region in J&K, and why, in 1947, subcontinental politicians desired Kashmir and wooed Kashmiris. The chapter’s other observations chiefly concern the Kashmir region and Kashmiri Muslims’ relationships, or not, with other J&K-ites. In particular, this chapter comprehensively explores the significant and ongoing issues of Kashmiri identity and Kashmiri nationalism and why these are important factors within J&K. The discussion includes examining why Kashmiris have long believed in, and supported, a Kashmir ‘nation’. This dynamic is important to understand as it helps to explain why Kashmir enjoyed greater status and was more significant politically in 1947 than either the Jammu region or the Frontier Districts region. In that tumultuous year, the major ramification of Kashmir’s importance was that people were focused almost exclusively on this region and its residents. The other areas of J&K appeared to be peripheral. Additionally, in 1947 and thereafter, Kashmir and Kashmiris quickly came to dominate politics in J&K and in relation to the Kashmir dispute.
This chapter examines the political rise of Kashmiri nationalism from around 1924 until 1947 and, in particular, the overwhelming rise of one of its major proponents and political leaders, the ethnic Muslim Kashmiri, Sheikh Abdullah. Essentially, Kashmiri nationalism ‘re-awoke’ in 1931, partly, but not only, because of his significant actions, which made him a leader of Kashmir Muslims. Sixteen years later, when it was certain the British would be leaving India, Abdullah had become recognised as the undisputed leader of Kashmiris. He was then the most significant and, arguably, the most popular politician in J&K. Abdullah remained significant until his death in September 1982. He enjoyed great prestige and popularity amongst Muslim Kashmiris, both urban and rural. However, he was not as popular with non-Kashmiris and/or with non-Muslims, especially Jammuites and Ladakhis, and particularly after J&K joined India in 1947. Partly, this was because, for them, Sheikh Abdullah represented the Muslim Kashmiri identity and the aspirations of the Kashmir region, rather than acting as a unifying leader for the whole state. Abdullah’s political assertiveness would cause him problems on a number of occasions after J&K joined India on 26 October 1947.
This chapter discusses Sheikh Abdullah and his often contrary attitudes to independence for J&K between 1946 and 1953. It also discusses his challenging relationship with New Delhi, which sometimes caused him to waver in his support for India and to contemplate other options for J&K, particularly independence. For New Delhi, the relationship was equally as challenging. While this relationship started positively, by 1953, there were many – indeed, too many – negative aspects. The assertive Abdullah was trying to ensure that ‘his’ state had as much autonomy and administrative distance from New Delhi as he could secure. New Delhi wanted the total opposite: for J&K, including Kashmir, to be ‘just another Indian state’ and for its residents, including Kashmiris, to be ‘ordinary Indians’. The turning point for Abdullah occurred in mid-1953 when New Delhi and some colleagues in Srinagar feared that he was seriously contemplating independence for Kashmir. By then, Prime Minister Nehru, who also had become disenchanted with the J&K Prime Minister, allowed Abdullah to be dismissed from office.
This chapter discusses Sheikh Abdullah and his attitudes to independence, autonomy or self-determination for J&K between 1953 and 1982. After the Head of the State dismissed him from office in 1953, Abdullah was denied the opportunity to confirm his majority in the Constituent Assembly. Instead, he was detained. With him sidelined, other Kashmiris came to the fore, enabling New Delhi to slowly tie J&K into the Indian Union. In 1957, the new J&K Constitution reiterated that J&K was with India. In 1964, Abdullah was finally released, after which he reconciled with Nehru then visited Pakistan seeking agreement on the Kashmir dispute. Tragically, Nehru died while Abdullah was away. During brief periods of release, and certainly after his final release in 1968, Abdullah would talk of self-determination, or sometimes autonomy or independence, for J&K-ites via the Plebiscite Front, a political party. He also sought a solution to the Kashmir issue via two important People’s Conventions in 1968 and 1970. A major turning point occurred when India conclusively defeated Pakistan in their 1971 war and Bangladesh was created. This confirmed that Islam was not a monolith, that Pakistan could not liberate J&K, and that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was politically unassailable. These factors greatly moderated Abdullah’s aspirations for J&K’s international status. In 1975, he agreed the Kashmir Accord with Gandhi, which enabled him to return to power in J&K. However, he had to accept unequivocally that J&K was an integral part of India. Abdullah died in office in 1982.
This chapter focuses on azadi, particularly on aspects associated with its interpretation as ‘independence’. After a scene-setting overview of the Kashmiris’ anti-India uprising and its five phases, the chapter discusses some of the meanings, interpretations and usages of this vexed term. It then discusses the significant constitutional and administrative changes that New Delhi imposed on J&K in 2019 – and which comprise a sixth, and uncertain, phase to the Kashmiris’ anti-India uprising. For some members of the Indian Government, these changes seemingly have resolved both the issue of J&K’s special status and Kashmiris’ sense of being special. Supposedly, Kashmiris are now just like other Indians. Taking azadi specifically to mean independence, the chapter then discusses the feasibility of either an independent J&K or an independent Kashmir surviving as an independent state. The chapter concludes that there are now two ‘realities’ concerning J&K: the Indian reality that J&K is fully integrated into India and the Kashmiri reality that most Kashmiris want little to do with India: they want azadi.
To be independent, or not to be independent? That is the question1
The conclusion briefly summarises the roles of Maharaja Hari Singh and Sheikh Abdullah, and their respective impacts. It discusses some mistakes made by India in 1947, which instigated the Kashmir dispute – and some desires by people for an independent J&K or an independent Kashmir – and the possibility that either may occur, including as a result of a ‘black swan’ event or the inevitable border changes that have long occurred in South Asia. Ultimately, the book concludes that India is most likely to retain Kashmir, partly because of its strengths, and Pakistan’s inability to force India out, but also mainly because of some weaknesses that the disgruntled Kashmiris have, particularly their disunity and inability to decide what status they actually want for Kashmir. Meanwhile, India has suppressed the Kashmiri identity, but it will again re-emerge. Also, independence might be a good thing for Kashmir as it would end the India–Pakistan struggle over it, with the result that this region could then become a bridge between both nations, not an object of contestation.