Kashmir, the valley with unparalleled beauty in the entire subcontinent, was often referred to as the Switzerland of the East by its last ruler Hari Singh. As the name suggests, Hari Singh was the Hindu ruler of Kashmir, ruling over a vastly predominant Muslim populace. Like many other princely states existing at the time of partition, Kashmir too refused to sign the Instrument of Accession to India and instead chose to remain independent. Pakistan nevertheless, was keen on securing this key state after losses of Hyderabad and Junagadh to India. Even after several persuasive attempts by the last Viceroy Mountbatten, Kashmir’s accession was never a done deal.
Hari Singh’s wish was to project Kashmir as a politically neutral and independent state. Kashmir’s beauty and the King’s ideology were both in sync with Switzerland. However, that was not to be. Pakistan believed that the Kashmiri Muslim would be in favour of acceding to Pakistan instead of India. Unlike Pakistan, India was established on secular lines and the fact that Kashmir composed mainly of Muslims was irrelevant to India. Under such circumstances, post-independence, Pakistan-backed tribals launched a guerilla attack on Kashmir which could not be countered by the erstwhile King. A dejected Hari Singh decided to ask for Indian military intervention on the condition that he would sign the Instrument of Accession. India grabbed the opportunity with both hands and soon an onslaught by the Indian army and local Kashmiri fighters pushed back the guerillas. Kashmir was on course to become a whole and sole part of the Indian Union but Nehru decided to seek UN intervention. As expected, the UN called for a ceasefire and a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the Kashmiri populace. Its conditions were that Pakistan must back off from the region while India should REDUCE military presence in the region. Pakistan categorically denied to roll back its army and decided to hold on to the territory for India hadn’t pulled back its troops. It then blamed India for not being able to conduct a plebiscite.
The extent to which India pushed back these rebels is today known as the Line of Control (LOC). Today, Kashmir is divided into 3 parts, most of which is administered by India, a part falls under Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and a minute area called Aksai Chin belonging to China. So who can claim Kashmir today? Legally, India has the right to the whole of Kashmir, administered by the erstwhile ruler Hari Singh as India holds Kashmir’s Instrument of Accession. Pakistan can perpetrate all kinds of violence it wishes to but the fact is India actually has the right to POK as well.
However, that said, are we morally or ethically justified in bringing Kashmir under our control? Even after the rulers of Junagadh and Hyderabad were ousted, a plebiscite was conducted. In Junagadh, the plebiscite was one-sided, in favour of India while in Hyderabad, it was not required seeing the massive support the Indian army received after ousting the Nizam. Why not apply the same rationale in Kashmir as well? We can argue all we want that the King decided to accede to the India Union however, a referendum is important to judge where the people stand. While we have constant military deployment in the region under AFSPA, we never seemed to care about the wishes of the Kashmiri. But the time for such a referendum is long gone. The Kashmir issue is here to stay and India must accept the fact that it has erred on several grounds. Like the BJP, many Indians are against conducting such a plebiscite and prominent lawyer Prashant Bhushan, in favour of a referendum, is often criticized for such views.
India’s basic argument for not conducting a plebiscite was that Pakistan never vacated the territory it occupied. Though technically true, it doesn’t matter much as even our army stayed back in huge numbers. Nehru erred while taking the dispute to the UN which took a highly humanitarian view. In light of Indian (and even Kashmiri interests) the issue would have been best settled once the rebels were completely driven out and then a referendum was conducted. The argument that the Security Council tried to overcompensate against its Muslim biases is baseless. Fact of the matter is that even though we can legally lay claim on Kashmir, it isn’t ours in humanitarian terms. Overtime, anti-Indian sentiments have built up in parts of Kashmir. ISI backed terrorists have reduced but insurgency still remains as a major issue and it is finally the Kashmiri that suffers. The onus now lies on India to maintain peace and thwart all Pakistani attempts aimed at disruption and insurgency. Maintaining status quo is important and working towards abrogation of Article 370 is imperative.