Politics

Kashmir: Integration Through Distortion of Ambedkar’s Stand on Article 370

To justify the dilution of Article 370, BJP leaders have repeatedly misread history and selectively presented Ambedkar’s statements on Kashmir.

In politics, one can either lie to mislead or one can lie to intimidate. After 72 years of successfully misleading Indians and attempting to intimidate Kashmiris, Indian leaders have perfected the art of prevarication when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

With the revocation of J&K’s autonomy, a torrent of systemic dishonesty has been unleashed with renewed zeal despite the statements being verifiably false. On April 15, 2020, in a continuing agenda of unfettered appropriation, an opinion piece titled ‘Ambedkar saw J&K’s special status as detrimental to national unity’ was published by Union minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, a two-time MP from Bikaner and Union minister of state for parliamentary affairs.

The article was a repetition of the arguments that the Bharatiya Janata Party MP had used in a previous article published on August 20, 2019, under the heading “BR Ambedkar opposed the special status for J&K.” These arguments made in the latter article have been debunked many times for a wilful misreading of history, selective presentation of Ambedkar’s statements on Kashmir and most of all an appropriation of Dr B.R. Ambedkar to suit a myopic agenda of majoritarian politics.

This unabashed repetition of half-truths must be read as a statement of power. Both articles by Meghwal, as well as others by the likes of vice president Venkaiah Naidu, have undertones of supremacy with a clear implication – the BJP does not care what Kashmiris deem important or sacred: the Centre will do what it wants. The accompanying distortion of established facts is infused with a peculiar kind of disrespect that we, as Kashmiris, recognise all too well. A complete disregard for the agency and rights of Kashmiris – a disrespect that lays the foundation for prejudice, hate, violence and complete marginalisation.

In order to support his opinion that Ambedkar was in opposition to Article 370, Meghwal relies on a purported conversation with Sheikh Abdullah where Ambedkar allegedly said, “you want India to defend Kashmir, feed its people, and give Kashmiris equal rights all over India. But you want to deny India all rights in Kashmir…”

Also read: Factcheck: Venkaiah Naidu Used Fake Quote to Claim Ambedkar Opposed Article 370

Unsurprisingly, the earliest use of this statement can be found in an editorial in Tarun Bharat, a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) mouthpiece, dated 1991 citing a speech of Balraj Madhok, a Jammu-based RSS veteran, who attributed these lines to Ambedkar, four decades after his death. Madhok spent his lifetime campaigning against Article 370. There is no archival evidence to establish that Ambedkar ever had this conversation. Further, an assessment of the recorded positions of Ambedkar indicate a position very different from one stated by Balraj Madhok.

Ambedkar supported plebiscite, partition of Kashmir

It is well recorded that in 1951, Ambedkar was concerned about Kashmir’s Hindu and Buddhist minority and had opined that the Muslim majority part of Kashmir should be left to decide their future on their own. Ambedkar resigned from the position of Union law minister and gave five reasons for doing so. The third reason clearly displays his dissatisfaction with India’s policy on Kashmir. In a statement in explanation of his resignation from Cabinet (October 10, 1951) available in Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches (BAWS), Vol. 14 (2), page 1317, he says:

“….We are really not concerned with the Muslim part of Kashmir. It is a matter between the Muslims of Kashmir and Pakistan. They may decide the issue as they like. Or if you like, divide it into three parts; the Cease-fire zone, the Valley and the Jammu-Ladakh Region and have a plebiscite only in the Valley.”

This position is reiterated in the Election Manifesto of the Scheduled Caste Federation (available inBAWS Vol 17(1) page 396):

“On the Kashmir issue, the policy adopted by the Congress Government is not acceptable to the Scheduled Castes Federation…. Kashmir to be partitioned– the Muslim area to go to Pakistan (subject to the wishes of the Kashmiris living in the Valley) and the non-Muslim area consisting of Jammu and Ladakh to come to India.”

The same position is observed in an interview, October 27, 1951, available in BAWS Vol 17(2): “I fear that a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir may go against India. In order to save Hindu and Buddhist population of Jammu and Ladakh, from going to Pakistan, in such an eventuality, there should be zonal plebiscite in Jammu, Ladakh, and Kashmir.”

B.R. Ambedkar being sworn in as independent India’s first law minister by President Rajendra Prasad, as Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru looks on, May 8, 1950. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ambedkar saw Kashmir as drain on India’s resources.

Today, the upkeep of India’s army in Kashmir costs six crore rupees per day. During the budget 1952-53 General Discussion, while criticising the expenditure on the Indian Army due to engagement in Kashmir, Ambedkar said it was a needless drain on India’s exchequer: “The question of plebiscite is in no way new in the history of the world… After the First World War, I certainly remember there were two questions to be settled by plebiscite… which we can usefully carry into the Kashmir dispute and have the matter settled quickly so that we can release Rs. 50 crores from the Defence Budget and utilise it for the benefit of our people”.

During the same discussion, Ambedkar said “Out of 350 crores of rupees of revenue we raise annually, we spend about Rs. 180 crores of rupees on the Army. It is a colossal expenditure which has hardly any parallel.” Ambedkar reiterated his support for a plebiscite in Kashmir, stressing that India could learn from “the line of action taken by the League of Nations with regard to the plebiscite in Upper Silesia and Alsace-Lorraine”.

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The peculiarity of Indian politics is that despite Ambedkar’s clear positions on Kashmir, it is surprising that even Dalit political leaders like Mayawati, former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and national president of the Bahujan Samaj Party, have supported the scrapping of Article 370 while relying on a position of Ambedkar that does not exist in recorded text and history. A concerted effort is being made to obfuscate the ulterior motives behind the de facto annexation of Kashmir. Statements are thrown around either with no contextual understanding or as outright falsehoods meant to validate their unconstitutional moves at the altar of the father of India’s constitution.

It is also interesting that BJP leaders are rarely seen writing in the same manner about their own icons – almost as if these icons are taboo for the BJP itself. It explains why leaders of the BJP repeatedly feel the need to talk about Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Ambedkar – hijacking the narratives of India’s freedom fighters – because they do not seem to have any heroes of their own.

It explains why the BJP needs to commemorate ‘Ekta Diwas’ for Patel, ‘Swachch Bharat’ in the name of Gandhi and justify unconstitutional acts in the name of Ambedkar. But while we are on the topic of India’s heroes and the unilateral imposition of India’s constitution on Kashmir, it is pertinent to appeal to India’s public conscience in Jawaharlal Nehru’s quote, “I say with all respect to our Constitution that it just does not matter what our Constitution says; if the people of Kashmir do not want it, it will not go there. Because what is the alternative? The alternative is compulsion and coercion…”

Philosopher Sissela Bok believed that political lying is a theft of democratic rights because listeners make long-lasting democratic judgments on the basis of fiction. Looking at the scale of deceit that plays out every day in India, the abject collapse of integrity, one can safely conclude that the only people who pay the price are the conscientious objectors who oppose this theft.

Mirza Saaib Bég is a Kashmiri lawyer, an alumnus of Nalsar University of Law and a candidate for Masters in Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford.