The Vale of tears

TO view history, one needs to use bifocals — to see distance in perspective, and in close-up to observe the minutiae that provide it substance and colour.

Take the Indo-Pak summit at Shimla in July 1972. Everyone is over-familiar with what transpired in that misty eyrie. And yet, how many know the true opinion P.N. Haksar (then principal secretary to prime minister Indira Gandhi) held about Pakistan? Only a year earlier, he spoke dismissively of it to Dr Henry Kissinger as “that part of India which bears an Islamic label”.

And who knew that during those tense negotiations at Shimla, Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir “preferred to have their meals together, just by themselves. This enabled them to discuss the day’s events and exchange notes”.

This nicety was revealed by Benazir’s minder, an Indian Foreign Service officer, in a report she sent to her superiors. The Indian government probably knew what had transpired between the Bhuttos during their table talk. Mr Bhutto was too canny not to anticipate eavesdropping, and too wily not to use the hidden microphones to convey his own thinking to the Indians.

Revelations such as these abound in S. Avtar Singh Bhasin’s gargantuan 10-volume compilation India-Pakistan Relations 1947-2007 — A Documentary Study, published in 2012 in cooperation with the public diplomacy division of India’s external affairs ministry. The work bears a stamp of authenticity provided by two Indian high commissioners to Pakistan — Mr Shivshankar Menon (2003-2006) and his then deputy and now successor T.C.A. Raghavan.

Sardar Bhasin’s archival trove is the counterpart of Foreign Relations of the United States, a published record of its major foreign policy decisions and diplomacy. Both publications demonstrate the truism that responsible nations protect their history by archiving documents. They reveal their self-confidence by declassifying them.

Inevitably, there is an unquantifiable selectivity to them. Historians of Indo-Pak relations over the past 60 years could do worse, though, than plough through Bhasin’s 10,000 pages, particularly Volume III that covers the war over Bangladesh and the Shimla negotiations; Volume IV, the Ziaul Haq years; Volume V, the Lahore Declaration of 1999, the Kargil misadventure, and the inconclusive no war shadow-boxing bouts; and Volume VI, on defence issues, nuclear parity, Junagadh which India digested, and Jammu & Kashmir which has caused it indigestion since September 1947.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has neither the time nor the need to study such parchments. His policy on Jammu & Kashmir was made clear in the BJP election manifesto. It pledged to scrap Article 370 of the Indian constitution, a palliative applied by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to the aggrieved Kashmiris, granting them a ‘special status’.

Despite reservations expressed by his Kashmiri BJP candidates, Mr Modi remains obdurate. He intends to disentangle the 67-year-old knot of Jammu & Kashmir in the same manner with which he became prime minister — through the ballot box. It will be his unarguable answer to a UN plebiscite.

The J&K elections are scheduled to be held from Nov 25 until Dec 20. At stake are 87 seats, of which Mr Modi plans to control 44, either absolutely (unlikely, considering that the BJP has never won a seat before in the Valley) or through a strong showing that will attract the iron filings of smaller parties.

This BJP strategy is not a post-general election phenomenon. Infiltration began over two years ago when BJP representatives initiated negotiations with like-minded Kashmiris. That might explain why over 20 BJP candidates are in fact Muslims. Another constituency that the BJP has assiduously courted is of Kashmiri pandits who had fled to Jammu and are waiting to return to their valley. They may no longer be resident in Kashmir but their votes still count, as will those of their adult children who are being encouraged by the BJP to register and vote.

Politics in such valley-bound communities fosters inbreeding, and is therefore less about policies than dynasties. Omar Abdullah (chief minister since 2009) is the son of Farooq Abdullah (chief minister for three terms) and grandson of Sheikh Abdullah (prime minister and then chief minister). Dr Karan Singh is a descendant of Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu who bought Kashmir from the British in 1846. He reveals a hereditary propensity as an astute political weather-vane, pointing where the winds of success are blowing. This may explain why while he remains in Congress, his son Ajatshatru Singh has joined BJP.

Will National Conference and Congress receive a drubbing in the forthcoming polls? We will know on Dec 23. Meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi, having already conceded the prime ministership to Modi, has relinquished Nehru’s official papers to the prime minister’s office. Nehru’s legacy, however, she refuses to surrender. On this 125th anniversary of his birth, Nehru like his beloved vale stands partitioned by politics.

The writer is an author and art historian.

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