Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s 65th death anniversary last weekend served a dual purpose. Since Mookerjee died in Srinagar, his idealistic, but factually flawed logic, could be invoked to lend post facto justification to what was in effect the Centre’s sacking of Jammu and Kashmir’s supposedly soft-line chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti. Narendra Modi’s rally in Madhya Pradesh and Amit Shah’s in Jammu also reminded people that the Bharatiya Janata Party invests Mookerjee’s “ek nishan, ek vidhan, ek pradhan” (one flag, one constitution, one leader) slogan with the far deeper purpose of stamping out the distinctiveness that is the soul of India and forging a single nationwide identity in preparation for the 2019 polls.
It isn’t difficult to understand at the simple level at which the BJP woos and charms the multitude Mookerjee’s haunting fear of “Balkanisation” if Kashmir continued to enjoy special rights under Article 370 of the Constitution. Seeing the provision as a threat to national unity, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh that he founded, and which boasted three members in the 1952 Lok Sabha, fought within and outside parliament for its abrogation. His memorable speech against Article 370 in the Lok Sabha on 26 June 1952 raised fears about what he saw as the inevitable outcome of Sheikh Abdullah’s three-nation theory.
As he thundered, “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur do Nishan nahi chalenge” (One country can’t have two constitutions, two prime ministers, and two flags), taking a somewhat uninformed view of history.
India did not generously grant Jammu and Kashmir its own flag, constitution, head of state (Sadr-i-Riyasat) or prime minister whose permission non-Kashmiris required to enter the state. These were already the state’s organic attributes when Maharaja Hari Singh executed the Instrument of Accession on 26 October 1947. It was signed under the Government of India Act of 1935 and could not transfer to New Delhi more powers than the parent Act envisaged. As Hari Singh’s son, Dr Karan Singh, the first and only Sadr-i-Riyasat, says, “My father acceded for three subjects — Defence, Communications and Foreign Affairs. He signed the same Instrument of Accession that all the other princely states signed. But all other states subsequently merged. And Jammu and Kashmir did not merge.” That means the Centre can legally handle only Defence, Communications and Foreign Affairs. The rest remains under the state’s juridical competence.
Jawaharlal Nehru, with his understanding of legal propriety and political decorum, understood this. He knew that if India found this limited accession unacceptable, the proper and lawful course would have been either not to accept it at all or to insist that Hari Singh agreed to full merger like the other princes. He didn’t because he clearly realised even then that the bulk of Kashmiris did not want to submerge their identity in India’s. Mookerjee, too, must have known this, since he tried to effect constitutional change through mob pressure. To quote him, the “Bharatiya Jana Sangh along with Hindu Mahasabha and Jammu Praja Parishad launched a massive satyagraha to get the provisions removed.” It’s the populist Indian way of forcing the law to bend.
Having written to Nehru on 3 February 1953 that the question of the full accession of Jammu and Kashmir should not be allowed to hang fire, Mookerjee tried to enter the state as a protest against the law that obliged Indian citizens to carry ID cards and prevented them from settling in the state. Refused permission to enter, he was arrested on 11 May at Lakhenpur while trying to cross the border illegally. Although, the ID card rule was revoked owing to his efforts, Mookerjee died in detention on 23 June 1953. Many Bengalis then and many saffron adherents now believe there was something suspicious about his sudden and mysterious death that was never properly explained.
Having trained as a barrister at London’s Lincoln’s Inn, Mookerjee must have been well aware that there are many democracies where one country does have two constitutions, two prime ministers, and two flags. Northern Ireland had its separate prime minister in his time. Now there is a first minister, as in Scotland. Even the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands have their own flags. A deadly uniformity is not the hallmark of democracy, except in the thinking of politicians who believe in single-party or majority-community authoritarianism. Nehru wasn’t one of them. He told Selig Harrison of the Washington Post that he wanted a confederation of India and Pakistan that would allow the two restive territories (Jammu and Kashmir, and what was then East Pakistan) space for peaceful manoeuvre. That was almost like Arthur Moore, a former editor of The Statesman, suggesting to Mahatma Gandhi that Kashmir should “be treated as an equal third party” in “a federated Commonwealth state, with common foreign affairs, common defence, and such finance as concerned these subjects, but all three to be separate self-governing states.” Before Mookerjee’s followers dismiss that as being too like Sheikh Abdullah’s three-nation theory, they should bear in mind Mufti’s warning that a “muscular policy” will not work in Kashmir.
Kashmiris are no strangers to what Mufti euphemistically calls muscular methods. New Delhi might accuse the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of violating India’s sovereignty and integrity, but the substance of the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir: Developments in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from June 2016 to April 2018 published on June 14 is less easily dismissed. The world will not easily forget portrayals of 28-year-old Farooq Ahmad Dar strapped to the bonnet of Major Leetul Gogoi’s army jeep as a human shield against heavy stone pelting in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. It was election day in the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency and Dar was reportedly on his way to his sister’s place on a condolence visit after casting his vote when the army picked him up and beat him mercilessly before tying him with ropes and parading him through nearly 28 villages. Police firing killed eight people that day.
Given its insistence on a single Indian identity, the BJP yearns for a Kashmir that boasts “ek nishan, ek vidhan, ek pradhan”. Of course, this was exactly what Pakistan also demanded from East Pakistan whose refusal to comply led to the bloody war of December 1971 with India militarily defending East Pakistan’s right to decide its destiny. The reimposition of Governor’s Rule on June 23 means that 71 years after independence, the Centre still has no idea about how to pacify Kashmiris. If a state cannot be forced into the straitjacket of a single cultural and political identity, doing so with a diverse multi-cultural nation of 132 crores will lead to infinitely greater rancour and resistance.
Sunanda K Datta-Ray is the author of several books and a regular media columnist.