Reclaiming The Past
By Vernon Hewitt
The book is not officially banned. Yet it is not available to the Indian reader. Initial copies which came in to the Indian market were confiscated by the Customs. What is curious is when one enquires why the book has not been allowed in our bookstalls, both the External Affairs and Home ministries disclaim any knowledge of the ban and, what's more, of the book itself. Insistent enquiries reveal that some time around 1994 our Home Ministry issued a blanket order to Customs that any book written by a foreigner on Kashmir should automatically be held back. So here we have an interestingly written book by a British scholar which is not available to the public. This is regrettable because the book is objective, and has empathy for the Indian predicament on Kashmir. Vernon Hewitt teaches in the department of politics at the University of Bristol and has specialised in South Asian and subcontinental political developments. His credibility is based not only on his academic competence but also on the considerable time he has spent in our part of the world.
Unlike most contemporary writings on Kashmir, Hewitt has attempted an analysis integrating the past with the present. His aim is to put the current controversies about Kashmir in a socio-cultural and ethno-religious perspective and to see the political approaches that can resolve the dilemmas involved. The book has a 16-page introduction which is an executive summary of the entire book. It has six chapters covering the emergence of Jammu and Kashmir's identity from the second millennium BC to the origins of the modern disputes about the state as well as an analysis of the current phase of the crisis, 1989-90 onwards.
The first chapter covers the period from about 1500 BC to the emergence of the Muslim popular movement in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1930s. The second chapter begins with the Partition and the circumstances leading to the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India, and ends with the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965. The third chapter analyses how the issue is viewed from the other side of the Line of Control. It also covers what the author calls "the Pakistani dimension" of attitudes and policies affecting the state, as distinct from the views of the people and the leadership of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Chapters 4 and 5 discuss India's dealing with the state in all aspects of its existence as part of its evolving polity. Chapter 6 deals with the Kashmir dispute in the international and regional setting.
The author acknowledges his limitations about not knowing Kashmiri or Urdu. He also admits that his analysis has depended a lot on secondary material. The introduction and the first chapter provide the reader a precise, relevant and panoramic survey of the evolution of Kashmir's sociopolitical identity. Apart from being a ready source of reference to scholars, these chapters help to demolish the contrived arguments about Kashmir's elemental and inevitable Islamic affiliations to Pakistan, which have been bruited by that country for the last 49 years. Hewitt is successful in defining the complex and multi-faceted composition of civil society in Jammu and Kashmir. His chapter on Partition might be unpalatable to intensely nationalistic segments of our society, because he correctly points out that Hari Singh's decision to make Jammu and Kashmir part of India was not an exercise of free will but that he was forced to accede Jammu and Kashmir to India in the face of Pakistani violence. What's interesting is Hewitt's speculative assessment that Nehru need not have offered plebiscite as a political solution, given the political and constitutional developments which took place in Kashmir after India effectively resisted Pakistani moves to acquire Kashmir by force. Hewitt notes that the reaction of the great powers and of the UN to Nehru's commitment to internationalism, manifested in his going to the UN to resolve the Kashmir issue, was both inept and disappointing. He says the "handling of the Kashmir issue by the international community goes a long way in explaining India's antipathy to the role of external mediation in regional affairs. This aversion would over time become oriented not just against third power mediation, but also against multilateral negotiations generally".
The chapters dealing with Jammu and Kashmir and India are detailed and descriptive. Hewitt might offend the emotionally jingoistic when he points out that the violence and turmoil in Kashmir has been caused by our own politicking and mismanagement. His stressing that the alienation of the Kashmiris is a result of India's ineptitude, which has been taken advantage of by Pakistan, should be accepted by us in the spirit of objectivity. For he is equally forthright about Pakistani skulduggeries against India. He is perceptive about the ramification of issues related to Jammu and Kashmir being resolved on communal and religious grounds on the unity and stability of India.
His repeatedly reverting to the plural religious, linguistic and ethnic characteristics of the Kashmiris, implying that their social and political predicament is unique even in the subcontinental context, is tenacious and somewhat excessive. The general Indian predicament about structuring a national identity is permeated by the same complexities which he mentions regarding Kashmir. Though he has been factually critical about Pakistan's activities against India, he has due to some reason avoided detailed references to terrorist violence and the resulting negation of human rights. If he had added more details in these respects in the chapter on Pakistani Dimensions, one would have seen a more comprehensive picture.
Hewitt's book, however, is a refreshing change from what one has been reading since 1989 because other authors have aimed at proving an a priori hypothesis, rather than exploring the constituent elements of the complex dilemmas which countries in the subcontinent face. Alastair Lamb's Kashmir, A Disputed Legacy was an exercise in legal quibbling to prove that the Indian actions in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 were not based on valid juridical grounds. Robert G. Wirsing's India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute was an analysis in a vacuum in a purely international perspective. M.J. Akbar's Kashmir, Behind the Vale is full of angst, and the latest, Prem Shankar Jha's Kashmir 1947, the Rival Versions of History is a forthright exercise in proving the validity of the Indian political and legal argument on Kashmir.
Reclaiming the Past is different in its approach. In the concluding paragraph, it says: "What perhaps remains to be discussed bilaterally by India and Pakistan is a process for converting the Line of Control into an international border. In an ideal world Pakistan would honour pledges made in Shimla, failing that it is difficult to see a solution."
Hewitt has tempered his scholarly precision and capacity for critical evaluation with political realism and comprehension of the intangible and emotional factors which affect subcontinental politics. I wish our Customs authorities would at least read the last paragraph of the book and release it for sale. This will convince us at least once that the entire world is not against us and that there are people who comprehend our concerns and are responsive to our sensitivities.