In the current election exchanges, Union cabinet minister Farooq Abdullah and his son and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) chief minister Omar are virtually threatening the country that they would take the state out of India in case the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi wins.
The senior Abdullah has warned that “Kashmir will not remain with India if the country becomes communal”, the innuendo was that if the BJP comes to power India would become a “communal state”. He has further said that “those who vote for Modi should drown in the sea”.
Farooq Abdullah, who as a central minister is under oath to uphold the “integrity” of India, is even threatening to secede. His continuance in the central government is seriously under question as no one who has taken the oath under our Constitution could challenge India’s “integrity”. Will the Abdullahs explain why “secularism”, which finds mention in the Preamble to our Constitution consequent to the 42nd Amendment (carried out in 1976 during Emergency) as a fundamental part of the Indian Union, is deliberately kept out of the J&K’s Constitution?
It isn’t that attempts were not made in the J&K Assembly to get the word “secularism” inserted into the Preamble of the state’s separate Constitution. J&K has maintained its separate Constitution which it alone can have under Article 370 of India’s Constitution. That itself is an anachronism giving free rein to all sorts of separatist influences.
The Abdullahs would be hard put to deny that both in their Constitution and the conduct of the state government, which for three generations has been headed by the family, secularism has never been a guiding principle. On the other hand, the Abdullahs have strained to ensure their constitution or government is never tainted by secular considerations. If anything, it is the other way round. During the eventful years of Emergency Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was chief minister of J&K under an agreement that Indira Gandhi negotiated with him. With 54 Congress MLAs out of 75 in the state Assembly, he was heading a government with two-thirds majority which meant he could have easily amended the state Constitution to insert the words “secular and socialist” if he wanted. But he did not. Neither did Congress press him to do so. Why? In fact, the Congress allowing the Sheikh’s family government over the state to keep secularism out of the J&K constitution enabled the subsequent dance of communalism in the state. Under the chief ministership of Farooq Abdullah, Kashmiri Pandits, torchbearers of the original pristine culture and traditions of the valley, were hounded out of the valley. During the period 31 temples were also destroyed.
There are examples galore of the injustice done to the minorities in Kashmir under the Abdullah family’s rule. Following the Partition several Hindu families from Pakistan had sought refuge in Jammu. Till now, they have not been given citizenship status under the state Constitution.
Over 1.5 lakh Hindus from West Pakistan thus face blatant discrimination as they are ineligible for any government benefits even after 65 years of residence in the state while Muslim migrants, even the recent ones like the Rohingyas from as far away as Burma, are full citizens! Uyghur Muslims from Xinjiang province of China who migrated to J&K fearing religious oppression under the Communist regime as far back as in the 1950s have been given full citizenship rights.
The Abdullahs, who claim to be great secularists, have been advancing the most communal argument in denying the West Pakistan refugee Hindus state citizenship, saying this would upset the demographic structure of the state!
In substance, they are declaring they would treat Muslims differently from Hindus in their state, the latter to remain forever as second-class people! That was even more explicit when J&K under Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad extended citizenship rights to Tibetan Muslim refugees in the 1950s. No less than the Supreme Court itself has commented on this discrimination. Though the central government extended Indian citizenship to these people, the anomaly continues. They can vote in Parliamentary elections being “Indian citizens” but not in state legislature elections as they are not “J&K citizens”!
A bit of history will put this sordid chain of events in context. For thousands of years, Kashmir was a renowned centre of Sanskrit learning. Magnificent temples dedicated to the sun god dotted the valley. Both Lord Shiva and Buddha were venerated by Kashmiris.
A fatal blow was struck to the Hindu Kingdom by the invasion of Dulacha, a Mongol warrior, in 1320. The reigning king Rama Chandra was slain and was succeeded by Rinchana, a Buddhist from Ladakh who later converted to Islam and got himself the title of Sultan Sadr-ud-Din. Thus, Kashmir got its first Islamic ruler. The Islamic zeal got fanatical proportions under the next ruler Sultan Sikandar (1389-1413 AD) who came to be known as “But-Shikan”—a destroyer of idols. The Hindus were subjected to “jizia” and forbidden to apply tilak on their foreheads.
The persecution of torchbearers of the original faith and culture continued unabated till Maharaja Ranjit Singh took control of the valley in 1823. After the British annexed Punjab, J&K came under the control of the Dogra dynasty founded by Maharaja Gulab Singh. Till 1931, Kashmir was like any other part of the subcontinent, largely peaceful, with minor instances of unrest. Then arrived a young Sheikh Abdullah honed by the communally charged atmosphere of Aligarh Muslim University where he’d done his master’s. The Sheikh was no lion. In September 1947, he was in jail and desperate to come out. In a letter to Maharaja Hari Singh he repeatedly swore his loyalty to the throne and said, “I assure Your Highness the fullest and loyal support of myself and my organisation…”
After the integration of the state into the Indian Union, the Sheikh, with the help of Pandit Nehru, banished Maharaja Hari Singh, to whom he’d pledged fidelity only months ago, from J&K to Mumbai where died a lonely death in 1961. Obviously the Sheikh’s words had no value.
Thanks to the Sheikh’s vicious propaganda, the communal atmosphere of the valley was greatly vitiated. As a result on October 22, 1947, when Pakistan invaded Kashmir, the bulk of the Maharaja’s army defected to the enemy side for religious reasons. Nothing has changed since then, the Sheikh’s son and grandson continue to follow his footsteps. The Abdullahs’ brand of “secularism” continues to rule the roost.
Balbir Punj is National Vice President, BJP.