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Kashmir Problem: An Ambedkarite Solution
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Ratnesh Katulkar

ratneshFollowing its election manifesto, Modi led NDA government finally revoked Article 370 which gave a special status to Kashmir. Most of the parties supported this move while Congress seems to be divided on this issue until party leadership gave a statement against this move. The Hindu-nationalists forces are celebrating this decision as the victory of India. The supporters of this move are even quoting Dr Ambedkar as an opponent of Article 370. It is strange that a party and ideology which once tooth and nail protested and demanded a ban on Ambedkar’s famous ‘Riddles in Hinduism’ are now referring to Ambedkar to prove their decision correct.

Interestingly, the reference of Ambedkar’s so-called opposition of Article 370 is quoted from RSS’s mouthpiece, Tarun Bharat (1992) which cited the verbal account of Balraj Madhok, an RSS veteran, who claimed to narrate the following opinion of Ambedkar at the request of Sheikh Abdullah for special provision to Kashmir.

‘You wish India should protect your border, she should build roads in your areas, she should supply you food, grains and Kashmir should get equal status as India. But the government of India should have only limited powers and Indian people should have no right in Kashmir. To give consent in your proposal, would be a treacherous thing against the interest of India and, I, as a Law Minister of India, will never do.’

There is no other source to confirm whether these are the original words of Ambedkar or was he misquoted as per the tradition of RSS, which is alternatively called as Rumour Spreading Society. However, on record, we have the exact views of Ambedkar who delivered them while tendering his resignation from the Nehru cabinet. Very few people are aware that apart from his agitation against Nehru’s leniency towards the opposition to passing of the Hindu Code Bill, his foreign policy and the issue of Kashmir were some of the other causes for Ambedkar’s resignation. He said:

Out of 350 crores of rupees of revenue we raise annually, we spend about Rs. 180 crores of rupees on the Army. It is a colossal expenditure which has hardly any parallel. This colossal expenditure is the direct result of our foreign policy. We have to foot the whole of our Bill for our defence ourselves because we have no friends on which we can depend for help in any emergency that may arise. I have been wondering whether this is the right sort of foreign policy. (Ambedkar 1995: 1322)

The above comment shows that India’s claim on Kashmir, instead of becoming a profitable or simple non-profitable deal, became a burden to the Indian economy. Unfortunately, this doesn’t end with the Nehru government: now the expenditure on the Indian army in Kashmir has crossed all limits. We do not have exact data as to how much of the union budget goes towards the Indian Army for Kashmir’s security. But it is certain that the largest allocation of army fund is swallowed in the name of security of Kashmir. This statement may hurt the sentiments of pseudo-nationalists but it is a fact that if the Kashmir was not a problem, this budget could be used for curbing poverty and illiteracy in India.

The Concept of a Nation

The common people consider a ‘nation’ and ‘country’ as same. However, political science explains that a country may mean a piece of land or geographical region but the nation is founded on the basis of citizens’ affiliation to it. In English, the term ‘country’, and in Hindi, ‘desh’, are used as synonyms of a village as well as of the country. However, when the citizens of a country, whether from diverse or similar backgrounds decide to live together under the same governance and rules, their land becomes a nation.

Barring a few historical periods, India, until independence from British rule, was not able to become a nation. It was, in fact, a serious question before Dr Ambedkar: whether India could ever become a nation? His concern was reasonable and justified, as our country was not only divided between religions but also on the basis of caste and creed. The issue of religious division could be solved by the two-nation theory but what about the numerous castes? One caste that treats another caste as lower to it can come together to form a nation? On November 25, 1949, in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar says:

I am of opinion that in believing that we are a nation, we are cherishing a great delusion. How can people divided into several thousands of castes be a nation? The sooner we realize that we are not as yet a nation in the social and psychological sense of the world, the better for us. For then only we shall realize the necessity of becoming a nation and seriously think of ways and means of realizing the goal. The realization of this goal is going to be very difficult..

The prerequisite of a nation according to him is the most vital need which cannot be attained until the dissolution of our unnecessary religious and regional identities. He said:

The prerequisite of a nation is that the most vital need of the day is to create among the mass of the people the sense of a common nationality the feeling not that they are Indians first and Hindus, Mohamedans or Sindhis and Kanarese afterwards but that they are Indians first and Indians last(Ambedkar 1982: 317).

On record India however, became a nation after the transfer of power in 1947 but thanks to our caste, class, regional, religious identities, Ambedkar’s vision of the nation remained a daydream. He was sure that after the making of Pakistan, there will be little threat to India from the Muslim fundamentalists but he had a fear of Hindu majoritarianism. He therefore said:

If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will no doubt be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy, Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost” (Ambedkar 2014: 358).

Interestingly, unlike progressives of the present day, Ambedkar did not use ‘Hindutva’ majoritarianism. For him, both the Hindu majoritarianism and Hindutva are two sides of the same coin.

Ambedkar’s Views on Kashmir

During the process of nation-building, the two major regional issues were of Hyderabad and Kashmir. In the first, the common people were Hindus, but the ruler was a Muslim while it is just opposite in the case of Kashmir, where the ruler was Hindu-Brahmin but most of the population was Muslim. The solution to Hyderabad was not difficult owing to its geographic location, therefore, India was successful in merging it with the rest of the country. However, the Kashmir being close to the Islamic State of Pakistan was really a big challenge. We do not know the authenticity of RSS’s claim on Ambedkar’s opposition to Article 370. But it is certain that being a firm believer in democracy, Ambedkar advocated liberty for the people of Kashmir to choose their nationality.

Dr Ambedkar never followed double standards in his life; therefore, on the question of Kashmir we can accept that he might not be in favour of Article 370. He is of the opinion that if the people of Kashmir wanted to join India, they are welcome; but if they do not want to join India, their feelings and opinion should be respected. Ambedkar wanted that India should not make an unnecessary claim over it. Instead, let the people of Kashmir decide which way they wanted to go.

He was aware that majoritarian politics of the region would favour Pakistan but this would affect the sentiments and rights of minorities of the region. Therefore he wanted to ensure that the minority voice should not be buried under majoritarian uproar. It is to be noted that in Hindu-Muslim claims on the nation, the State was not sensitive enough to listen to the voices on the margins.

His concern was serious and it emerged from the pain of India’s disregard in listening to the voice from the margins in East Bengal. Here it is to be noted that in the process of the communal division between Hindus and Muslims, the voice of the Buddhists and Dalits of East Bengal remain unheard. The Chakma Buddhists of East Bengal were subjugated to East Pakistan (present Bangladesh) much against their wishes. So it happened with the Namasudras, a community that voted en masse for Dr Ambedkar.

It was really shocking that the constituency of Ambedkar, Jessore-Khulna, where SCs and Hindus are more in number than the Muslims, was not claimed by India. As a result, Ambedkar’s own constituency was lost to East Pakistan (present Bangladesh). He saw a similar probability in Kashmir. The valley region is dominated by Muslims but Ladakh has a sizeable population of Buddhists and Jammu has a Hindu population. Therefore, he suggested a democratic solution to this region. He said that the Buddhists and Hindus have close cultural links with India, therefore, the regions of these communities should be merged with India. However, the Muslim dominated region of Kashmir which is unwilling to be a part of India, should be given liberty to choose her nationality. He said:

My view has always been that the right solution is to partition Kashmir. Give the Hindu and Buddhist part to India and the Muslim part to Pakistan as we did in the case of India. We are really not concerned with the Muslim part of Kashmir. It is a matter between the Muslims of Kashmir and Pakistan. They may decide the issue as they like. Or if you like, divide it into three parts; the Cease-fire zone, the Valley and the Jammu-Ladhak Region and have a plebiscite only in the Valley. What I am afraid of is that in the proposed plebiscite, which is to be an overall plebiscite, the Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir are likely to be dragged into Pakistan against their wishes and we may have to face the same problems as we are facing today in East Bengal (Ambedkar 2013: 1322)

The above comment shows that Ambedkar does not want imposition of power by India but instead he wants plebiscite for the valley of Kashmir. Ambedkar may have reservations against Article 370 as it is against the philosophy of democracy and against his own definition of the nation wherein regional and religious identities have no place.

The BJP’s claim of Ambedkar’s opposition is just a half-truth because it totally ignores the advocacy of plebiscite by Ambedkar in the Kashmir valley.

The Ambedkarite Solution to Kashmir

If Ambedkar’s suggestion was accepted then there is no doubt that India would have been able to reduce her extra military expenditure, and this money could have been used for welfare activities in India.

In such a situation, if plebiscite of Kashmir was in favour of an independent nation, then this situation could be utilized diplomatically by India. Kashmir could then act as a buffer state for India, and the border of India would be saved from Pakistan. In such an arrangement, India could play a bigger role in making diplomatic arrangements with Kashmir by providing support to safeguard her border. India could also ask for other claims from Kashmir such as passport and visa-free entry for Indians etc. This arrangement would have tremendously reduced the financial burden of India. And the border of India would remain safe.

The second benefit of such division would be that India could support Kashmir to make an entitlement to international agencies to claim the latter’s territories occupied by Pakistan (Pok) and by China.

Such an arrangement would thus be beneficial to both India and Kashmir. However, under the intoxication of pseudo-nationalism, the State has ignored the ideas of Ambedkar. As a result, Kashmir is still a problem for India. The present government’s attempt of forcibly stripping Kashmir of Article 370 would create more problems in the region because it is done without consultation of the local people or their representatives. This is totally against Ambedkar’s idea of democracy.

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 Ratnesh Katulkar works at Indian Social Institute, New Delhi. He can be contacted at: ratnesh.katulkar@gmail.com

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