Month: January 2011

Mirza Waheed

From The Caravan Magazine: “The Collaborator”
Kashmir in the 1990s: anonymous burials, real and fake encounters, ID card terror, the fatal exodus of young men to Pakistan. The war has reached the border village of Nowgam and its headman’s son is forced to become an unwilling collaborator when his father chooses to stay behind instead of escaping to relative safety. For it is this teenage boy’s lot to count the casualties of conflict, under the direction of a drunken Indian army captain—a job that forces him to confront the corpses of his friends both in his dreams and, potentially, in a terrible reality. Heart-wrenching and searingly honest, Mirza Waheed’s The Collaborator is the first novel to tell the tale of a brutalised Kashmir. The Caravan gives you an exclusive preview.

I SAW MY FIRST DEAD BODY, before the population of dead bodies I deal with now, in that breezeless dry summer of last year. The fact that it was someone I knew made it more momentous, more shocking somehow.

After the brief encounter with the curfew mothers, Baba suddenly seemed older. His beard appeared tired and elderly, rather than well trimmed and prosperous. He dressed more untidily, his large bearing somewhat unkempt, and his temper was turning jittery too. As usual, he took out most of his anger on his hookah; the pouches I brought from Noor Khan got heavier and heavier. For the first time ever, he seemed uncertain, not in control of things. He was used to order—things around him moved more or less according to his wishes, not just inside his own house but outside, in the village as well. People came to him for advice, loans, judgements, and he relished every bit of it. Ever since I could remember, I’d seen Baba like that—corner seat in the living room, two round cushions squashed behind him, small trunk by the window sill, and a pregnantlooking copper hookah in front of him, always, like another character in the room. But now, things seemed to be slipping from his hands, it was beyond his grasp.

He was losing his village, his people—even I could see that. Although I’m not too sure if even I could sense it fully then, that this was the beginning of the end. The incident with Gul Khan’s older brother, Farooq, was the first. What followed thereafter didn’t let up until it brought the end: the cessation of life as we knew it, as Baba knew it, as his elders had imagined and created in the small village in its tiny beginnings in 1947, a year of partitions and pogroms and general ruination. The discreet border hamlet nestled in the hills was about to end its brief life as a community.

The day the curfew women had come begging, Baba had emptied Noor Khan’s shop of all its milk-powder tins and handed them to each of the women and blessed them, saying, ‘Have faith in Allahtaala, He will make it easy soon, God bless you, it’s just a test, it will pass, all of us face a test at some point or other in life.’ And they had walked off in the same manner as they had appeared in the street, with the same young woman leading them out. Baba and I had looked at their receding forms and then gone home together. He kept nodding his head and sighing all the way home. It was a Saturday and I assume all of us spent the rest of the day, and the next, thinking about the women. Who were they, where had they come from, why, how? Only Noor and I discussed it at some length the next day. Noor said they must have been sent by their men, because it would have been far more dangerous for them to be searching for food, amidst the new Governor’s curfew. I wondered if perhaps they didn’t have husbands any more. Noor said that wasn’t possible.” …


Pragya Tiwari in Srinagar

From Tehelka: “Kashmir Media is being Throttled”

It was the first day of October 2010. The autumnal air was beginning to get nippy. Summer was officially over in Kashmir but its horrors were still trailing. At the crack of dawn copies of leading newspapers in Srinagar were seized before they could be distributed. The new Assembly session was about to start and several journalists were on their way to cover it. Among them were a father and son team from the Associated Press — Merajuddin and Umar Meraj. Meraj is one of Kashmir’s best-known photojournalists. This highly respected veteran has covered the ground for over 20 years but he was not prepared for what was to unfold that morning.

His car was allowed through the first checkpost, but stopped at the second. He showed the police his Assembly Pass, Press Card and Curfew Pass, but was asked to turn back and go home without any reason being provided. When he got off to talk to the sub-inspector on duty, a couple of policemen walked up to his car and slapped his son. Before he could react, the sub-inspector ordered that he be ‘removed’. He was beaten severely and a blow on his neck left him unconscious. All this while his son continued to wail and plead with the police. CNN IBN bureau chief Mufti Islah, who was passing by, tried to reason with the policemen. When his colleague took out his camera to shoot the incident, both of them were also beaten.

Ironically, while the journalists were being thrashed, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was apologising for the seizure of newspapers earlier in the day saying, “I seek an apology from the mediapersons if the action has led to any inconvenience to them.” However, what was more alarming was his statement that the government had not ordered this seizure. “I personally felt that such an action was not needed,” he said. “But I will get it ascertained why the copies were seized. I have asked Director General of Police to report to my office on the issue in next 24 hours.” This statement is hardly alarming to a Kashmiri journalist, but to the outsider it is at the heart of a perturbing question: Who is in charge in Kashmir?

Once Meraj was back home from the hospital, the CM’s aides came calling. Later, the CM himself called to apologise. All of them assured Meraj that action would be taken against the errant cops. “You will not be able to do a thing,” retorted Meraj. Seventeen days later when he was allowed to leave his house, he had to cross the same checkpoint. None of the officers connected with his case had been removed — not even the sub-inspector who had watched over the heinous act. “I fear going past that point now. They could hit out at me again for talking about it,” says Meraj. He does not see any point in filing a case against them. However, he was not always this cynical. In 2000, when he had gone to cover a mine blast near Tanmarg, he was beaten along with over 15 other journalists by a renegade leader. He registered a case against the leader. No action was taken against him. In 2006, the leader’s son came to his house to threaten him to withdraw the case. The leader goes by the name of Muma Kana. Earlier this year, he was awarded the Padma Shri despite a number of criminal cases pending against him.

Meraj has been beaten several times while reporting. He says he remembers 11 incidents vividly but has stopped counting since. Yet he insists that things were not so bad before 2008. If you were beaten there was hope that the forces in charge would face action. Threats were issued indirectly not on the ground by the personnel themselves. This time around journalists were made to feel the wrath of the forces. They would often hear things like “It is because of your reportage that the situation flares up” or “Your curfew passes won’t work with us, we follow our own orders.”

Naseem, a 24-year-old journalist with Rising Kashmir, a prominent English daily, was apprehended outside his house on his way to the office and asked to produce the day’s copy of the paper. The lead picture was of a stone-pelter’s back. The cop started yelling at him saying that they did not get his face on purpose and if they had the cops could have caught the offender. He was let of with the threat of a thrashing.”


Interview with Ved Bhasin

From Kashmir Life: “Jammu Riots Changed J&K Politics”

In an exhaustive interview with Shahnawaz Khan, Ved Bhasin shares his views, and first hand information on many events and personalities in state politics.

Kashmir Life: You have completed more than five decades in journalism. Tell us something about the journalism of those days.

Ved Bhasin: In a way I have been in this profession for more than six decades. It started when I was a student of Prince of Wales College Jammu. In 1945, I was the editor of the college magazine, The Tawi and I was also the president of students’ union. Those days the student union and Jammu politics was divided on communal lines. We had mostly the Muslim Conference and Hindu Sabha, which were very strong in Jammu. It was total communal polarisation. It suited the rulers to divide the people on communal lines, and then the voting was also based on the separate seats for Hindus and Muslims. In the college also, which was the only one in Jammu province then, there was a Muslim students’ federations, there was a Hindu students’ federation and there was a Sikh students’ federation. We formed an organisation, which was secular – Jammu Students Federation. With me were people like Balraj Puri and Abdul Khaliq Ansari who later became the president of Plebiscite front in Azad Kashmir and struggled there for an independent Jammu and Kashmir for a number of years. Together we formed this organisation and I was the general secretary and then president for a number of years.

KL: So you were active in politics then?

VB: In fact, during my college days, I was more interested in politics than journalism. I came in touch with Journalism because of my association with the Tawi.  Then I used to write news items also concerning the academic and student activities in the newspaper Ranbir, which was founded by Lala Mulk Raj Sahaf, the first newspaper in Jammu and Kashmir state. With him I learned some kind of journalism there. That time as I said I was more interested in politics.  I was associated with the National Conference at the age of 14 because our organisation was almost associated with National Conference. At the national level, in Indian politics, we were associated with the Socialist Party of India, Jaiprakash Narayan and other leaders, and we worked for overall freedom of India and also for fight against autocracy in Jammu & Kashmir. So in a way my life was, a kind of intermingling between politics and journalism and some kind of literature also. I was not able to decide which way to go, though my first preference was politics. But somehow, subsequently after many years I got totally disillusioned with politics and devoted myself to journalism.

KL: When did your journalism career begin formally?

VB: Afterwards I went to New Delhi for post graduation. After I returned in 1949-50, there was a newspaper Naya Kashmir edited by one Nazir Samadani, who later became MP also. He joined the government service, so I was editing the Naya Kashmir. I started its Hindi edition also. Then I was also working for different newspapers. I worked as the Jammu correspondent of Khidmat. I worked as a Radio Kashmir Correspondent too, but my services were terminated in 1953 because I opposed the arrest and deposition of Sheikh Abdullah. In 1952, I started my first newspaper, an Urdu weekly entitled Naya Samaj. I believe this was the first political weekly in Jammu. Although that time National Conference was in power, and I was member of the National Conference, still we pursued an independent policy. We were critical of the establishment. But particularly that time the Praja Parishad movement had started, for Ek Pradahan, Ek Vidhan, and I was politically opposing it. Naya Samaj also very forthrightly exposed the real character of the movement, as to how it was sponsored by the RSS. Earlier also in 1947, at the time of communal riots, we had formed a students peace front and were working for communal harmony, thought we did not succeed because that time the riots were organised by the state itself with the support of RSS and some other organisations.  That time I was threatened by the then governor Chetan Chopra that I would be arrested if I continued working for the Hindu-Muslim unity.

KL: There were many newspapers that time. Were they enjoying some kind of freedom of speech? If so, why we have very little material available on the communal riots of J&K?

VB: Actually nobody wrote about it to that effect. I presented a paper in Jammu University some years back, My experiences of 1947, and it was verbatim quoted by some Pakistan newspapers. It is about how the killing took place, how it was organised by the state. I have done some work, and I am going to do some more work on it, on how it happened and also how the state did not deal with it properly, particularly the government at that time. Subsequently, when Sheikh Abdullah came to power, and we presented him with documentary evidences of the involvement of the state administration and RSS in the killings, instead of taking action they tried to appease the Hindu communalists. The tragedy of Kashmiri leadership has been that in Jammu they have always tried to appease Hindu fundamentalism. That has suited them. They never allowed a secular political voice of dissent to be raised, either in Jammu or in Kashmir.

KL: When did you start the Kashmir Times?

VB: In 1954, my newspaper Naya Samaj was banned, under the Defence of India rules 1950, because we supported Sheikh Abdullah at that time – not supported, but we opposed his undemocratic deposition and arrest. I was member of the National Conference general council, I was expelled. Then I started a weekly Kashmir Times from Delhi. A friend of mine was there, I asked him to file a declaration from there.  After some issues arrived here, the state banned its entry under the then Customs Act and seized copies in Lakhanpur. Then I came to Srinagar and filed a declaration here for Kashmir Times.  That time the state press act was there as the Indian press act was not applicable then.  I was asked by the district magistrate to deposit Rs 2000 as security. That was a huge amount in 1954. Then I motivated a friend of mine in Jammu, who was a contractor, to file a declaration in his name. I did that and somehow influenced the deputy commissioner who attested it. So I started the Kashmir Times as a weekly. It continued as a weekly, then as a tabloid for some time. Then it was for some time shifted to Srinagar and then back to Jammu. In 1971, I converted it into a full fledged daily and it is going on since then. There have been lot of problems, lot of difficulties, lot of struggle, and the basic reason has been that the rulers in Jammu and Kashmir have always been insensitive to any kind of criticism. They are not prepared to accommodate any voice of dissent. It is true of the present regime and earlier regimes also. Take Sheikh Abdullah’s regime, right from 1947 when he came in power, elections were rigged, opponents of National Conference were pushed across (the line of control), most of the leaders whom Sheikh Abdullah thought as potential rivals. Within the state, freedom was curbed, civil liberties were denied, there was no freedom for public meetings, demonstrations, and this happened in different regimes whether it was Bakshi Ghulam Muhamamd, G M Sadiq or Mir Qasim. It is going on.

KL: You have witnessed 1947. Was there any chance of Kashmir remaining independent? And were the main players, Shiekh Abdullah and Maharaja, keen to retain J&K as independent state?

VB:  As far as Maharaja was concerned, he was in favour of independence for various reasons. Number one, he wanted to be an absolute ruler, number two, there were no friendly relations between him and the Indian National Congress. So he was in favour of independence. Otherwise, he could have easily joined the Indian union before August 15, 1947 as many other princely states did. In fact, on August 15, 1947, pro-Maharaja organisation like Hindu Rajya Sabha and RSS hoisted Maharaja flags (state flags) in Jammu everywhere. They did not hoist Indian National Congress flags. And the banners said, Sovereign Independent Jammu and Kashmir Ladakh Baltistan under Maharaja Hari Singh. That means the parties supporting Maharaja, particularly the Hindu Rajya Sabha headed by Pandit Prem Nath Dogra were favouring independent Jammu and Kashmir. Obviously they were guided by the Maharaja and by the then prime minister Ram Chandra Kak. Kak was certainly opposed to Kashmir’s accession to India. Plus Maharaja’s Swami had told him that he will become a great emperor of entire region. And at that time, even RSS was in favour of independent J&K state along with Nepal. As far as National Conference is concerned, it was certainly close to Congress. And they were part of the All India State People’s Conference, which was an organisation of the princely states sponsored by the Congress. Sheikh Abdullah became a president in 1945, when he was behind bars during quit Kashmir movement. That way he was close to them but still, by and large National Conference was in favour of independent Jammu and Kashmir, though they had not made up their mind, as Sheikh Abdullah was in jail just before the accession. I personally believe that if the raiders from Pakistan had not come, the situation would have been entirely different. When they came, they were also hostile to the National Conference, and its many workers were killed in Baramulla and other places. Aziz was killed, Maqbool Sherwani was killed. It brought about a transformation in the views of National Conference. You can see that when Shiekh Abdullah after his release was asked what he wanted, he said first power should be transferred to people, then they would decide. That way he was vacillating. But subsequently when accession took place, the National Conference not only endorsed it but openly campaigned for it. Sheikh Abdullah campaigned for accession, obviously on the conditions that ultimately people would ratify it, and it would be confined to three subjects, foreign affairs, communications, and defence. Until his arrest, Sheikh was in favour of accession to Indian union but with greater power to state. His struggle was for greater autonomy, maximum powers which he tried to concentrate in his own hands.

KL: Was it technically possible for J&K to remain independent in 1947, as the Maharaja or Sheikh Abdullah wanted?

VB: Technically, yes, what was the hurdle.

KL: Were they supposed to accede to one or the other?

VB: If India and Pakistan had agreed to it, there would have been no problem. The major threat could have been only from Pakistan. With India there were no links, for Instance this Pathankot route was not there. There was no road. The Radcliff award was meant only to facilitate Kashmir’s accession to India. The general impression was that Gurdaspur district, (Pathankot and other areas) were Muslim majority area and these would go to Pakistan. If that had happened, Kashmir would have had no road links with India.

KL: Would it have become automatically part of Pakistan?

VB: No, that time also Maharaja was not interested. The Maharaja asked India and Pakistan to sign a standstill agreement, that the present arrangement would continue till Maharaja is able to decide which state he would like to join. Pakistan accepted. But India refused and asked him to decide.  Obviously they wanted him to announce his accession to India, as they thought he was a Hindu ruler. The GOI had also double standards. In the case of Nizam of Hyderabad, they said people would decide. In the case of J&K, they said ruler will decide. In the case of Nawab of Junagadh, who had announced his accession to Pakistan, India did not agree. They said, because the majority is Hindus, people would decide.

KL:  If Maharaja favoured independent state then why do some historians write that he permitted movement of Patiala security men from principality of Patiala to Jammu and Kashmir state?

VB: No that came just before the accession. For instance, November. Even after accession. The communal riots took place in Jammu after instrument of accession was signed, after Sheikh Abdullah took over as head of administration – that is November. Some riots were taking place earlier also, but mass killings, when the convoys went to Pakistan and were butchered, happened when Sheikh Abdullah was head of the administration. He didn’t intervene or could not. I don’t know the reasons but perhaps his feeling was that the Muslims in Jammu were not his supporters.

KL: So that was the reason he did not intervene?

VB:  I don’t know, but actually he did not intervene. He could have. Although it was a kind of diarchy then, the Diwan was there, even when Sheikh Abdullah became the prime minister, Mir Chand Mahajan was there, Janak Singh was there. In fact, we had gone to Delhi, some of us, Om Saraf, me, Balraj Puri, to discuss with Nehru and others that this diarchy should end. That power should be fully transferred to people and that Maharaja was an obstacle in the transfer of power, so he should be removed.

KL: Were the 1947 riots spontaneous?

VB: Those were organised and planned by the rulers with the support of the RSS and other organisations.

KL:  Rulers, you mean the Maharaja?

VB: Maharaja obviously was there. Maharaja’s Diwan was there.  Once Mir Chand Mahajan (PM) came to Jammu, when communal riots were taking place. He invited some minority leaders, including from communal parties and National Conference. Trilok Chand Dutt was there, Girdhari Lal Dogra was there, Om Saraf was there. I was also there as a students representative. At the Maharaja’s Palace, he said the power is being transferred to people of J&K state so why don’t you Hindus and Sikhs demand parity. Parity means, equal representation to Hindus and Muslims as the Muslim League at some time in India had said. No one replied except Om Saraf. Om Saraf said that how can we demand parity. There is so much difference in the population of Hindus and Muslims. Muslims are a vast majority, Hindus are a small minority. How is it practical and possible? At this Mir Chand Mahajan pointed to a forest area down the Maharaja Palace, where there were some Gujjar bodies, who had been recently killed. He said that the population can also change. So what did he mean by that? I am an eye witness to what happened in Jammu. When Jammu city was placed under curfew, Muslims were not allowed to come out of their houses, Hindus were moving freely. And convoys of RSS men would start from Prem Nath Dogra’s House, the Praja Parishad chief, in Kacchi Chawni. They were armed, some Sikh refugees who had come also joined them. They were moving freely from lane to lane massacring people. Opposite the Tourist Reception Centre, they entered a lane.  I was there with a Sikh friend of mine. He said let us oppose, but a Sikh ran after him with a sword, and confronted him, that why he was opposing. So they entered that lane and massacred people, mostly washermen and other people. Even in rural areas, which were Muslim majority, people were killed. Even in Doda district, Sheikh Abdul Manoob’s family was killed. The survivor Sheikh Abdul Rehman later joined Jan Sangh and now is in BSP.I was called for by the governor of Jammu, Chet Ram Chopra, who was also a relative. He told me if I were not his relative, he would have got me arrested. He asked why I was talking of communal amity. He said it is not time to talk of peace while it is time for Hindus and Sikhs to defend themselves. He told me instead of working for communal amity, we should send our workers to their training camps. They were giving training to Hindu youth in Jammu. I told my colleagues about it. Balraj Puri said, ok let’s us send one boy. We send one, who saw that RSS men and many other young men were trained to use .303 rifles. Muslims were not able to move out. In Ustad Mohalla particularly, they were starving. In Talab Khatika, Muslim population was concentrated. Pir Mitha and Lakhdatta Bazar became the borderline. Subsequently, they were told to surrender, and were told they would be sent to Pakistan if they wanted. Afterwards Muslims put up white flags and they were evacuated and taken to police lines. We used to go there, take fruit etc for our Muslim friends there. Then they were told that they would be sent to Pakistan.  So buses and trucks were arranged. Some 10 to 15 thousand people were taken in those buses, and then that route was changed after Miran Sahib area, and they went from Digiana area. There, RSS people, some Sikhs, some soldiers were already waiting. The people were then dragged out of these buses and massacred. Very few of them escaped. The killing was kept totally secret from other people in police lines. They were told their kin have reached Pakistan. Then after three days another convoy was sent and similarly massacred. Obviously this can’t be done without official patronage.

KL: Was there any Muslim officer in Maharaja army then, who was part of the process?

VB: I don’t think so.

KL: Was the change in demography the only motive?

VB: It was foolish to think of changing demography. I don’t know the actual reason, but I think they didn’t trust them and thought they were a perpetual nuisance.

KL: How did that massacre change the politics of Jammu?

VB: It did change the politics of Jammu. It did communalise the politics of Jammu. If Muslims had been there, perhaps the situation would have been different. Like the land row agitation, the blockade, perhaps this would not have happened. Now the Muslims have either to be silent, or be part of the process.

KL: So can we say that these riots were responsible for alienation of Jammu from Kashmir?

VB: Not only these riots, there were other things too. For example let us take Azad Kashmir. Except some parts of Muzaffarabad all areas of Azad Kashmir were part of Jammu province. So when Indian army was advancing even Sheikh  Abdullah supported ceasefire. When somebody asked him later, he said those people have never accepted him as the leader.

KL: So non-Kashmir Muslims did not accept Abdullah as the leader?

VB:  They were with Muslim Conference. They were led by Chaudary Ghulam Abbas. He was in prison. Then Abdullah pushed him across the LoC.

KL: There was some communal violence across the Line of Control in Mirpur too.

VB: Yes, in Mirpur there was some reaction to Jammu riots. What happened that there was a Muslim police officer from Mirpur posted in Udhampur. He and his family were killed by RSS people, and that created a reaction in Mirpur. The other thing is that, surprisingly in Mirpur town the RSS people started riots, but subsequently the Muslim from rural areas joined in.

KL: How do you see Sheikh Abdullah’s years of governance between 1947 and 1952?

VB:  That government, as I said, was not a democratic government. They did not behave in a democratic manner. They did not tolerate or encourage any opposition. Corruption had started. Sheikh Abdullah may have been honest at that time, but some of his ministers were corrupt, some bureaucrats close to him were resorting to corruption. He did not do anything to that, and the worst was that he denied democratic rights to people. He did not tolerate any opposition. He crushed the freedom of press. He and other NC leaders did not tolerate any voice of dissent. He acted as an authoritarian ruler. The constituent assembly elections of 1951 were totally rigged. Personally I believe that if the elections were held in a fair manner NC would have still secured a two third majority. There was no threat to NC. May be 15 seats had gone to opposition – five to Praja Parishad  in Jammu, another 10 or 15 to pro Pakistan elements in Kashmir. If that had happened, then the situation in J&K would have been different.  That constituent assembly, in that case, would have been representative of the people, and it could have ratified or changed the accession. That was the first big mistake committed in J&K. Praja Parishad agitation was the other (mistake), which was financed by the Home Ministry of India. It was patronised by them. There is evidence that they were financed by home ministry. The purpose was to cut Sheikh Abdullah to size and to pressurise him to concede more powers to New Delhi.  That is how the Delhi agreement came up. Shama Prashad Mukherjee came, he died here because of his ill health, and that was exploited all over the country. It was used against Sheikh Abdullah, and then Delhi agreement was forced upon him. One of the best task that Sheikh Abdullah government did after 1947 was the abolition of big landed estates. Another was debt reconciliation act. A lot of people were under debt by private money lenders who were cheating and exploiting people. It was decided whoever would pay back one and half of principal amount, the rest would be written off. That way a lot of people got relief. Similarly, under big landed estates abolition act, land was transferred to the tiller. It is not true that it was aimed against Kashmiri Pandits. It is not that more Kashmir Pandit families were landlords. There were many Rajput landlords in Jammu, there were many Muslim landlords in Kashmir. And not just Muslims were benefited. In Kashmir obviously they were, but in Jammu there were more than four lakh Hindus, schedules caste Hindus, Dalits, who were benefited by the act. It is a false propaganda that it was a communal move. It was not. It was the commitment of NC under Naya Kashmir program.

KL: There were three hallmarks of Sheikh Abdullah’s rule. His authoritarianism, the praja parishad movement, during which Mukherjee died, and third his alleged dabbling with US. Which one of these factors actually led to his arrest as prime minister?

VB: I think the last one. Sheikh Abdullah meeting with Adlai Stevenson, was used for that purpose (arrest), that he had met him and is thinking of independent Jammu and Kashmir. Obviously, Abdullah was more concerned in absolute power. It is not that for people he was interested. He was interested in absolute power, and if India gave him absolute power, he was willing for it.  Initially he supported accession with India because Jinnah did not trust him. That time he said that ‘ours is an association of ideology. We believe in democracy, secularism and federalism. And Indian leadership also believes in secularism democracy and federalism. Pakistan is a theocratic state, and there is no federalism, Punjabis are dominating, and they are all feudal elements, India is more progressive and in Pakistan and they would support feudal elements.’

KL: So American hobnobbing was the main factor that motivated Nehru to arrest Sheikh Abdullah?

VB: Nehru was under pressure from his colleagues, and they thought he is conspiring with America to declare J&K as independent. Which was not a fact.

Abdullah did say that he was thinking of those lines if India did not allow him to function properly. Initially he was committed to accession to India, with J&K enjoying maximum autonomy, with accession confined to three subjects. If India had honoured this commitment perhaps Abdullah would never have changed. You know what provoked Abdullah. First of all the IB (Intelligence Bureau) started functioning here. They had no business. Col Hassan Walia, and  B N Mullick the IB chief. Col Walia was here living on Gupkar road. One Jain was in Jammu, manipulating everything. He was the person through which RSS and New Delhi were operating. That provoked Abdullah as he said IB had no business here, and law and order was a state subject. Then they pressurised him to also have some offices from New Delhi to which he did not agree. There were pressures for integration of services, curtailing the rights of state high court and other things.

KL: In the recently released book, Limits of influence – America’s role in Kashmir, by US diplomat Howard B. Schaffer, it says that Abdullah first said he wanted an independent Kashmir and when Americans showed interest he backtracked and said he was more interested in autonomy.

VB: Sheikh Abdullah was always wavering on this thing. In his speech to the inaugural session of the constituent assembly also he mentioned three options accession to India, accession to Pakistan and independence. Then by and large he argued against independence. My own feeling is that he was content to be with India, on one condition that New Delhi would not interfere in his affairs. That he should function as an autocratic ruler here.

KL:  What was the behaviour of the Indian press then?

VB:  The press (Indian press) was totally supportive of the government of India. Actually the Indian press started creating problems for Abdullah when the Praja Parishad agitation started. A section of the press was sympathetic to them. When Mukherjee died they were hostile to Abdullah. Otherwise also the press was critical of Abdullah. Even a section of press was critical of land reforms also, as to why they are doing it without giving any compensation.  Indian press represented the big business that time. And it was under the influence of Indian home ministry. So in a way they created problems for him. Abdullah was not prepared to hear any criticism, so he did not deal with them properly. So after 1953 when Abdullah was arrested the Indian media supported government of India. And initially they fully supported Bakshi.

KL: The role of D P Dhar appears very messy in 1953?

VB: Not only D P Dhar, the role of the communists in J&K has been like that. Even before 47 when even Sheikh Abdullah was also under the influence of communists. B P L Bedi was here, he was in favour of independent Kashmir. Communists were not opposed to creation of Pakistan. Communists were opposed to quit India movement in 1942. They were working for the British then. In 1947 they were not hostile to idea of Pakistan. Most of the communists in Pakistan were with Pakistan establishment. Then communists were critical of UN as they said it was controlled by Anglo-American lobby. As long as Soviet Union mattered in J&K affairs, they supported it. Like plebiscite under five powers, they supported it. That way the Communists were always wavering on this issue. In 1952 their paper Crossroads, edited by Romesh Thapar, encouraged separatists tendencies in J&K. Their plea was Indian government was in the clutches of Anglo American block, so they were for balkanisation of India. The Telengana movement had started. Their policy changed when Nehru and India came closer to Soviet Union. Then Soviet Union supported Indian in the UN. Then ultimately communists changed attitude and supported Kashmir’s accession. After that communists were the main people who attacked Abdullah. On May 1, 1953, Prof Hiren Mukherjee, the leader of communist party in parliament, came to Jammu and addressed a public meeting where he openly attacked Abdullah. Till then they were patronising him, but then he said, Government of India is sleeping, GOI is not aware of the Anglo-American conspiracy, and that Abdullah is playing in the hands of Anglo-American block, so GOI should take action. And the communists were in the forefront to oppose Abdullah and the situation that erupted in 1953.

KL: But some historians have portrayed D P Dhar more as a mole?

VB:  D P Dhar was playing New Delhi’s game, and Communists game also and so on.  A sharp man, intelligent man, but not with much commitment.

KL: Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad era has been much maligned in Kashmir but is that image because of the media reports?

VB: Bakshi was not a democrat, even Abdullah was not. But Baskhi was ruthless in the manner that he did not tolerate any opposition. He did not allow any opposition to function. In 1955 I was expelled from the National Conference. Then I became the founder secretary of the Praja Socialist party of JK. I went to Delhi, talked to some political leaders, Ashok Mehta and other socialist leaders, J P Narayan, R M Lohia, –  we said that a pro-India secular democratic opposition should be formed in J&K. So far the opposition was either from pro-Pakistan elements in Kashmir or from RSS and Jan Sang in Jammu. We said that this opposition will serve as a bridge between J&K and New Delhi and also oppose the government. So we formed the Praja Socialist party. We took out a procession in Lal Chowk and suddenly peace brigade people, Gulam Qadir Ganderbali was the SP, came and attacked Ashok Mehta. A case was registered under pressure from New Delhi, but ultimately the judiciary was under pressure too.  So Bakshi was not a democrat, he was a kind of benevolent ruler. He considered himself Like Nawabs and Maharajas of yesteryears, a benevolent one. Somebody would come, he would help, give permit to poor.  Give jobs, that way he encouraged corruption also, as anyone who did not believe in democratic methods would develop corruption. But it was to his credit that he started an era of development of J&K.  He declared education free from primary to post graduation.

KL: Was it, as is the impression, that he did these development works at the behest of New Delhi?

VB: No, but obviously Delhi might have been interested, but Bakshi did it on his own. Even in Sheikh Abdullah government he was the only effective minister.

He had some qualities. He was not much educated but had a lot of common sense. He had a very sharp memory and largest personal contacts. If he had met you once and then see you after six months, he would say you are so and so. He was accessible. He started daily Durbar and met people every morning for two hours, issue orders. He would violate rules, but he did help a large number of people.

KL: A benevolent ruler?

VB: Yes he was kind of benevolent dictator.

KL: A lot has been said of Maharajs’ equation with people of Kashmir. What was the Maharaja’s equation with the people in Jammu?

VB: Jammu were co-religous to him but that does not mean he benefited Jammu.

Our own point of view is that Maharja Hari Singh or his father have done more development in Kashmir than in Jammu. Jammu was more backward than Kashmir in 1947. There was more poverty in Jammu, including his own Rajputs in Ramban and Gool Gulabgarh. They were very backward. They had no land. One of the Dogra poets wrote, “People say this is Dogra rule, but what Dogra rule is this where Dogras don’t get even saag.” Now Jammu people complain that Jammu has not been developed for tourism, but what happened during the Dogra rule. They did not develop tourism. Baderwah was the personal Jagir of Maharaja Hari Singh’s father, but they did not develop that. And then Maharaja Pratap Singh started this process of bringing people from Punjab. He thought they (Khatri caste people) are good administrators, (like our family). So the families came here, settled here, they were provided all kinds of facilities, they were in services, they were holding high positions, they were in business. My own grandfathers’ brothers were in good positions, one was a judge, another a top class contractor and so on. So this is what they did. They did not trust even the Hindus of Jammu, particularly the lower caste Hindus.  They did not have land, they did not get services, they were poor. And then Maharaja would spend six months in Kashmir, then he come to Jammu for a few weeks in winter, and then go to France, go to Germany, go to London and spend time there.

KL: So how popular was the movement against monarchy in Jammu?

VB:  It was not a popular movement. In Kashmir it was popular. In Jammu there were just few of us.

KL: So Jammu was impoverished but there was not animosity?

VB: Well there was no political awakening. There still is very less.

KL: Coming back to the Bakshi era, had there been some other person than Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, would GOI have been able to dilute the autonomy to this extent?

VB: No, it did not happen in Bakshi’s time. They did pressurise Bakshi. He did yield to some extent. Like some things like integration of services happened. But what after that.   It was during Sadiq’s time that most integration took place. And Sadiq’s article in Hindustan Times that time that article 370 is an window for extending relations tells a lot. Sadiq agreed to merge NC with Congress. Bakshi was never supportive of integration. Not because of any love for people. It was also that he wanted more power for himself. A number of times Bakshi resisted. Most of the Indian laws were made applicable to J&K during Sadiq’s times and even during Farooq Abdullah’s time.

KL: How should we remember Bakshi – inept, corrupt, or benevolent ruler as you said?

VB: Corrupt, I would say who was not corrupt. Sadiq may be exception personally, but Sadiq government had a lot of corruption too, his colleagues were corrupt too.  It is not only Bakshi, other rulers were corrupt too.

KL: But Bakshi was the only ruler against whom a commission was set up?

VB: The commission was not set up to root out corruption. It was a matter of political vendetta. Because G M Sadiq and others wanted to malign Bakshi. So what happened after that. There was no follow up action. And when in 1967 elections Bakshi was heading the NC, the elections were rigged. If elections were fair Bakshi could win 20-25 seats in Valley. Ballot papers were rigged. Some of us even went with those evidence to Delhi. I was talking to then director information & broadcasting then before elections. He asked me what I think how many seats Bakshi will win. I said he may get 20 to 30 seats, and I said that it would be good we will have as two parties, two non-communal parties. But he replied, Ved Ji, we cannot afford 20-25 seats. So we later had large scale rigging. D P Dhar and Mir Qasim were mainly responsible. Afterwards Bakshi won a parliamentary seat too.

KL: Wasn’t Bakshi rule the climax of Goonda Raj in Kashmir.

VB: It started right after 47. The Halqa President of National Conference would browbeat people, resort to exploitation also, I won’t name anyone, a lot of these people, their children have now retired from senior positions in government service. Abdullah was at the helm till 1953. What was happening. They were intimating people, beating people, browbeating people. In 1951 elections even candidates were abducted and kept in illegal confinement.

KO News Service from Srinagar

From Kashmir Observer: “Republic of Suspects faces Jan 26 Heat

“The long shadow of January 26 security has already settled over Kashmir like the cold and clammy blanket of winter, turning an entire people into a massive camp of suspects that needs to be checked, frisked and questioned for days to avert an affront to ceremonial pageants.

The day India celebrates its republic, Kashmir remains a sullen valley, shuttered and deserted, after having been put through an intrusive process of verifying the antecedents of its denizens virtually at gun point.

There is no saying whether the general calm usually witnessed on the big day for 20 long years or more – except for some rare and stray incident – owes itself to the disinclination of quarters usually attributed with designs to make a symbolic statement, or to the exertions of the tens of thousands of police and paramilitary men who undertake an enormous sanitizing exercise for weeks in advance.

These are times when Kashmiris are asked to be extremely careful about who they are – commuters were better not found without identity cards, motorists not without driving licences, and the common pedestrian not without good reason for where he was coming from and wither going.

It is not clear whether the forces mean to look upon Kashmiris as potential suspects or want them to reaffirm their identity by the constant nitpicking about their antecedents

Due to an induced sense of siege in the run-up to the day, the security apparatus has a comparatively easy time in monitoring life on January 26, partly because apprehensions caused by the sight of streets teeming with uniformed armed personnel keeps people at home, and partly because leaders of a particular ilk have ordained a voluntary incarceration to highlight the unresolved status of Kashmiris.

But this year, a qualitative change has been introduced by the azadi camp whose reigning patriarch has exempted public transport from the customary strike, queering the pitch for the security agencies, who, otherwise, had a markedly simple task of securing the parade venues and keeping an eye on the rare individual or vehicle that ventured out.

The transport ploy could well be a political masterstroke to give the jitters to the BJP which must have been banking on a deserted, shutdown Lal  Chowk to facilitate its flag hoisting on the clock tower”…

Nita Bhalla in New Delhi

From AlterNet: ICRC defends disclosure of India torture findings to US

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has defended passing sensitive information about India torturing prisoners to U.S. officials, saying it was “frustrated due to the lack of dialogue” with New Delhi.

The Geneva-based humanitarian organisation helps people affected by insecurity, violence and armed conflict and — due to its promise of confidentiality and impartiality — has access to some of the world’s most volatile hot spots.

But according to a 2005 cable, released by WikiLeaks and published by the Guardian newspaper, the ICRC told American diplomats in New Delhi that it had found systematic prisoner abuse by Indian security forces during detention centre visits in Kashmir from 2002 and 2004.

The cable said the ICRC had told U.S. diplomats that Indian police and paramilitary, who are fighting a 20-year insurgency in Kashmir, beat suspects, subjected them to electric currents and tortured them with water in widespread human rights abuses.

“We confirm that a meeting took place between the ICRC and the U.S. embassy in 2005 at a time in which the ICRC was very frustrated due to the lack of dialogue with the Indian authorities,” Alexis Heeb, the ICRC’s spokesman in New Delhi, told AlertNet.

“The ICRC works always in a confidential way with the authorities. However, in specific instances, when the dialogue is blocked for different reasons, we may change our strategy.”

Among 1,500 detainees that the ICRC staff met, more than half reported “ill-treatment”, the cable reported. Of the 852 cases recorded, 171 detainees said they had been beaten, while the rest said they had been subjected to one or more of six forms of torture.

The cable revealed the ICRC had raised the issue of prisoner abuse with the Indian government for more than a decade, but because the practice continued, “it is forced to conclude that the government of India condones torture”.