Plebiscite in Kashmir: Stillborn or Killed?

  • A G Noorani
  • Publish Date: Jan 20 2017 8:45PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Jan 20 2017 8:45PM
Plebiscite in Kashmir: Stillborn or Killed?

                                               Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi

A settlement necessarily involves concessions on all sides. There is no evidence of India’s willingness to make concessions 



In 1947 Pakistan overlooked three factors - India would have to be persuaded to hold a plebiscite. Its consent, therefore, had to be obtained by offering a quid pro quo - Hyderabad - which Pakistan withheld. Secondly, time runs in favour of the party in possession. India overlooked this truth in its boundary dispute with China. Thirdly, the UNCIP’s resolution are not self-executory and the United Nations cannot enforce them. Only the offer of a major bargain would have moved Nehru to accept a compromise which Pakistan could accept.

He ruled out a plebiscite as he would have lost Kashmir and with it, possibly, his power as well. The Hindu right wing forces would have wrecked his entire policy and programme. But he had himself whipped up public opinion, inter alia for domestic political gains. Pakistan’s confrontational abrasive diplomacy suited him eminently.

Its remnants lurk still in Islamabad and Srinagar. Alternatives to a plebiscite are dismissed out of hand - and Pakistan itself abandoned plebiscite nearly sixty years ago; in 1958 to be precise. Wronged woefully, the people of Kashmir still yearn for a plebiscite and there are politicians and their henchmen in the media in Srinagar who feast on the people’s distress.

The Constitution of the United All Parties Hurriyat Conference itself envisaged alternatives to plebiscite which clause 2(i) preferred. But sub-clause (ii) added: “to make endeavours for an alternative negotiated settlement of the Kashmir dispute amongst all the three parties to the dispute viz., (a) India (b) Pakistan (c) People of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, under the auspices of United Nations or any other friendly countries. Provided that such settlement reflects the will and aspirations of the people of the State. Explanation: for the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that in this Article, negotiated statement shall not be deemed to include any settlement within the framework of the Constitution of India.” An accord between India and Pakistan can take care of the Explanation in this document of 1993.

Plebiscite is a mechanism based on the democratic principle. The mechanism was abandoned. The principle brooks no such fate. The UNCIP’s resolutions of 13 August 1948 and 6 January 1949 on plebiscite are, doubtless, obsolete. The UN’s mediator, Gunnar V. Jarring, noted in his Report how agreements of an ad hoc character may become difficult to implement because the situation with which they were to cope has tended to change. More than half a century has elapsed since.

But no change of circumstances can dilute the UN’s Resolutions - or India’s pledges - of a fundamental rather than ad hoc character. On 30 March 1951, the Security Council affirmed (Resolution 91 of 1951) that any decision by the proposed Constituent Assembly of Kashmir on accession would not constitute a disposition of the State in accordance with the above principle, a disposition “made in accordance with the will of the people” and expressed through a plebiscite. The procedure and mechanism are obsolete. Not so, the fundamentals of the democratic principle. Nehru himself said in the Lok Sabha on 25 February 1955: “A question like this cannot be solved unilaterally.” A proviso to Article 253 of the Constitution of India itself envisages that a “decision affecting the disposition of the State” by the Government of India, would require “the consent of the State Government.”

The Shimla Agreement of 2 July 1972 centered on Kashmir though it sought to provide for the aftermath of the 1971 War. But that war was on Bangladesh not Kashmir. An Agreement based on the triumph of arms carries within itself the seeds of its own demise.

It froze the status quo in Kashmir but also provided in Punjab for a summit for “a final settlement of Jammu & Kashmir”. Sheikh Abdullah externed from Kashmir, protested. Para 6, however, recognizes that a “settlement is necessary”.

History has embittered feelings all round. Kashmiris feel betrayed. Pakistanis feel cheated. Indians feel insecure and afraid. Only a settlement fair to all will provide a cure. The Kashmir Dispute lies at the core of India-Pakistan relations as also the relationship between the Indian State and the people of Kashmir. Events since 8 July 2016 reveal once again that they reject Indian rule.

That India cannot accept. Nor can Pakistan accept conversion of the Line of Control into a permanent boundary. These three factors can be reckoned with but only in a compromise. Vested interests in Kashmir reject any compromise as if they have the power to eject India. Pakistan has been ready for a compromise as was India in 2006.

One thing is clear beyond doubt; there will be no peace on the subcontinent unless the Kashmir dispute is settled to the satisfaction of all, especially the oppressed people of Kashmir. A settlement necessarily involves concessions on all sides. There is no evidence of India’s willingness to make concessions. 

Excerpted from a long piece  A G Noorani wrote for Criterion