Instrument of Accession: Only Binding Document
The Instrument of Accession (IOA) signed by Maharaja Hari Singh was legally valid. If it wasn’t, then the legality of a lot of princely states (known as Part “B” states) that were amalgamated into India, is in question.
It was the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who promised the plebiscite. He was not required to and nor was it part of the IOA. It was Nehru who mandated the release of Sheikh Abdullah from Maharaja Hari Singh’s prison before accepting accession (that Nehru jailed Abdullah later is another story)
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is an article that grants special autonomous status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The article is drafted in Part XXI of the Constitution, which relates to Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions. It is a subsequent creation and not part of the IOA. The binding document is the IOA.
Is Article 370 cast in stone? Though there are differing views on this, I think it’s there to stay. Even so, it has nothing to do with plebiscite. It has more to do with Centre-State relations than anything else.
The Jammu and Kashmir arrangement may well serve as a model for the way India is governed in the future, with more autonomy for the states.
Plebiscite Can’t Be the Answer Anymore
Plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir is what India had assured the world, beyond the call of duty. However, Pakistan did not seem to welcome it. Understandably so.
The UNSC, under Resolution 47, passed on 21 April 1948, mandated Pakistan to withdraw their troops from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). Pakistanis did not do so. They knew and feared that Sheikh Abdullah was firmly with India and given his mass following in Kashmir, a plebiscite would have handed India a landslide victory.
Moreover, the territorial integrity of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir has been further compromised with Pakistan handing over a part of the Gilgit and Baltistan region to China in 1963. For a true plebiscite, this area too needs to be included. An unlikely possibility since it would need to be freed of Chinese garrisons in occupation there.
Admittedly, there has been a violation of human rights over the years by the Indian security forces in Kashmir. Not that I defend them, but policing an almost-war-zone isn’t easy. These transgressions have taken place in our Northeastern states too and sadly continue with our tribals to this day
Besides, not too many voices have been raised, particularly none from our liberals on the atrocities perpetrated by the Muslim Kashmiris on the Pandits and Sikhs, whose houses have been plundered, women raped and families slaughtered. Their crime? Being born Hindu or Sikh, and by default being supportive of the Indian state. Which is why I frankly find myself at a loss to sympathise for the cries of those who themselves practice genocide and ethnic cleansing!
If There Was a Plebiscite
Some, maybe many Kashmirism want Azadi i.e. freedom from Indian rule. Should a plebiscite be held today, in my view, five districts of Kashmir will vote substantially to leave India. But they won’t vote Pakistan either. They will vote independence, assuming options of Pakistan, India or independence in the referendum. Will that be acceptable to Pakistan? After all, what bothers Pakistan most about Kashmir is that it defeats the very concept of the two nation theory which led to partition.
BJP Well Placed yet Can’t Settle
Strange though it may sound, given the flak the BJP has been coming in for on Kashmir, the present BJP led government is best positioned to reach a settlement to this long festering problem.
Firstly, it is viewed as a strongly nationalist party and will not be accused of selling out. Next, it has the requisite numbers in the Lok Sabha and the Congress may well be supportive too, if their recent pronouncements are anything to go by.
But alas, a settlement won’t happen. There is just no one powerful enough on the Pakistan side to take a strong decision. Certainly not their lame duck Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. As for their all powerful army, it doesn’t wish a solution as this would be antithetical to its very existence.
In addition, there are vested interests such as the drug lords who are raking it in, thanks to the insurgency, and the separatists who get any amount of funding to foment trouble. Heaven/Jannat on earth, as Kashmir was described over centuries, has transformed into a living hell/Jahannum.
Cry, beloved country; cry, beloved Kashmir… the tears and deaths will sadly continue.