What follows is expanded from a comment I had left on a fellow blogger’s blog post. However, I was having this idea since around last two years.
What I am writing here is not based on historical facts or technicalities of what is written in the Indian Constitution, nor on what agreements were made by the India government with Pakistan, nor what the UN or other countries have said about the problem in the past. But what I write is based on one simple belief that institutions (like nation-states), laws (like the Indian Constitution) and system of ethics (like the social contract) are made for humans and not other way round. If any of these come in way of reaching the highest possible collective happiness quotient, then they need to to be altered to reach that goal of maximizing collective human happiness. No doubt, however much those living outside of Kashmir (with the exception of Kasmiri Hindus) claim otherwise, the fate of Kashmir affects the most those who actually live there.
Irrespective of what all is said by the media persons on TV and is written in the print media or is hinted by other such assorted ‘experts’, I have no idea what exactly do the majority of Kashmiris want. Perhaps, the only somewhat reliable indicator was the overwhelming participation of Kashmiris in free and fair elections conducted by the Indian state, which hints at a certain level of willingness to engage with the Indian democratic process. But however, if majority of Kashmiris as of now truly feel that complete autonomy from Indian democracy is what would maximize their happiness, that should be granted. If they feel, they would be happiest under the administration of Pakistan, let that be. And of course, if they feel they want to be with India, under the Indian Constitution, that should be settled once and for all. Because as I said above, I believe the ultimate goal of any kind of social organization is human happiness, state-subject contract included. If this goal is not being served, such forced contract makes no sense. Technicalities such as what is written in the constitution should not matter. Because the ultimate goal of Indian constitution was also maximizing human happiness of its subjects – is what I would like to believe.
But then the next important question that arises is: do the common people of Kashmir really want to be ‘freed’ from India? What if the majority do not want to be separate and are largely satisfied with the Indian governance? Is it that we, through the national media are only getting to voices that are the loudest, but not necessarily representative of the popular sentiment? I am becoming increasingly confident that with the kind of national media we have, it would not provide platform to such largely satisified people.
So, my ‘solution’ is as follows. A referendum must be conducted. Eligibility criterion should be same as that for voting – 18 years of age, domiciled in Kashmir, etc.
There should be 3 options:
1. Remaining with India, just like any other state without the shadow of article 370.
2. Joining Pakistan.
3. Becoming an autonomous state.
The outcome ought to be determined by simple majority.
In case, the majority chooses option 2 or 3, the percentage of land released by India would be same as the percentage of total voters in favor of the option that gets highest votes. E.g., if 37% vote for joining Pakistan, then 37% land closest to India’s international border with Pakistan would be released.
This arrangement could also be used with two possible outcomes. If 25% vote for joining Pakistan, 25% land would go to Pakistan and say, 30% vote for autonomy, then 30% land would be made autonomous as well, and the remaining 45% land would remain with India. Also, whatever land is retained with India, it would be made sure that the same proportion of the total area of original Kashmir land would be reserved for Kashmiri Hindus as their percentage-wise composition of Kashmiri population prior to 1991. E.g., if 5% of Kashmiris prior to 1991 were Hindus, then 5% of original area of land would be reserved for them. This land could be accorded the status of a new state. A disqualification threshold for options could be set. Say, if any of the options gets less than 20% of all votes polled, it would be eliminated.
Once these results are out, applications would be invited for those wanting to join Pakistan and those wanting to join ‘free’ Kashmir. If the number of applications in either of these choices do not approximate the referendum outcome, then the referendum would be considered annulled, and Kashmir will join India as full-fledged state minus the article 370.
But the most important caveat in this exercise would be this: After a reasonable period of 5 to 7 years, a similar referendum would be carried out again in ‘free’ Kashmir. (And preferably in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir also, but which I doubt would be practically possible). This would be to ensure that those who might have ended up in ‘free’ Kashmir out of undue enthusiasm would get to correct their mistake, if it turns out thus. Moreover, this is because they would have not known till then what it would be like to be ‘free’. Whereas, the people who would have chosen to stay back in India, had anyway known what it had been like to live in India, so they should not have anything to complain about.
All this, including the first election of ‘free’ Kashmir would have to be carried out under the direct watch of the UN and other nations. Provisionally, the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir (click) could be used, the provisions of which could be amended or an entirely new constitution could be framed. Of course, the Indian state would withdraw its existing say in items on the Union and the concurrent list. And once the referendum is over and it is time to effect the outcome, absolutely impervious boundaries should be erected between India’s borders with the other two entities. This might sound inhuman considering the fact that it would entail separation of the same people that used to live together. But we must remember that one of the strongest reasons for crises in Kashmir has been imported terror.
To the best of my knowledge, above one would be a unique exercise in the history of mankind, but which is of course not the reason it needs to be carried out. Having briefly visited Kashmir in 2006 for a week, and having seen things for myself, I did not get an impression that people wanted to be with Pakistan. But there had been complaints of ill-treatment by Indian armed forces as well as by the local police. Ill-treatment had included being talked to rudely, which was fairly uniform across all people and occasionally being slapped for no fault – however this had happened not to every man as I had got to hear on some TV program, but say, one or two men in a village. I do not know if situation has significantly deteriorated in these four years. Notwithstanding the allegations of above ill-treatment, I guess, for people of any small region, it is very tempting to be ‘free’ and to be living on ones ‘own’ terms – say, what should be done with their taxes, what kind of educational institutions to build, where to erect dams, so on and so forth.
It should however be borne in mind that this could be a very difficult process for all the people involved. Violence of the kind that had erupted during partition might again erupt. Pakistan sponsored terrorists might enter India under the shield of migration of people between the three new regions created. Of course, a ‘free’ Kashmir would also face many challenges, foremost being living under the shadow of three nuclear powers. Plus, there could be a lot of cause for envy and heart burn among those who would deem others’ choice to be retrospectively the more pragmatic one. How would those families reconcile their differences, where say, the father would want to stay in India, but the daughter in ‘free’ Kashmir?
I also propose that before referendum takes place representatives of all the three interests – retention of Kashmir with India, complete autonomy for Kashmir and accession to Pakistan – could canvass for their causes. The incentive for them would be, whatever the outcome, they would be most likely elected as administrators once a certain kind of regional stability would be reached.
I know, what I suggest above might not go down well with many people. It is also possible that upon execution of all the proposed ideas, there would still be strife. But given the impression that the Indian media seems to be giving with regard to dissatisfaction among Kashmiri people, I believe in the long run, it is in best interests of all the major parties concerned – those presently residing in Kashmir, those displaced (Kashmiri Hindus) and people of the rest of India – that something on these lines be thought.
1. ^ “The notion of the social contract implies that the people give up sovereignty to a government or other authority in order to receive or maintain social order through the rule of law. It can also be thought of as an agreement by the governed on a set of rules by which they are governed.” – From Wikipedia article on social contract (click).