Focus on the Exhibition-Jammu & Kashmir Saga

By Sajjad Shaukat

In the recent past, the Ministry of Culture of India started a month-long exhibition of some important documents on Kashmir; kept at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML) in New Delhi. The NMML aims to preserve and reconstruct the history of the Indian independence movement. It was founded in 1964 after the death of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It aims to foster academic research on modern and contemporary history.

When in the 2016, controversy arose regarding the NMML, under the title “Nehru Memorial Museum Saga: BJP IS Taking Congress’s Dubious Legacy One Step Further”, Huffington Post wrote on August 8, 2016, “Should Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML), India’s premier institution of research on modern Indian history, be presided over by Shakti Sinha, a retired bureaucrat, whose only credential for the job is that he has cultivated those in power in the saffron establishment?…As a secretary to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister, Shakti Sinha had obviously interacted closely with many of the BJP’s top leaders who have again become ministers after a decade. During the last decade, Sinha has kept his links alive, cementing them by joining the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), the best-known think tank of the Sangh Parivar…In his letter to the NMML Society chairman, Mehta wrote: NMML has a wide remit, much beyond its function as a memorial and library. It is central to the world of historical scholarship… it is important therefore that the head of the institution be someone who commands intellectual respect … Appointing an administrator who does not have the requisite track record in the field of scholarship, or the world of letters more generally, sends a bad signal about the stature of NMML as an institution…The ruling establishment is most likely to ignore Mehta’s dissenting note and soon notify Shakti Sinha’s appointment. Ultimately, the BJP government would simply be carrying forward the dubious legacy left by the Congress government.”

However, despite the controversy in relation to the NMML, the exhibition has surprised the people of India.

The exhibition was organized by the National Archives of India to tell India’s story about the accession of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) to people. The exhibition held to mark seventy years of “accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India” has been titled as “INDIA @ 70: THE JAMMU & KASHMIR SAGA”.

In this regard, under the caption, “Declassifying Kashmir”, Z.G. Muhammmad wrote on the website The Greater Kashmir on January 14, 2018 , “Thirty five years back, like Banquo’s ghost, a couple of questions haunted my mind at regular intervals. Why Sheikh Abdullah, the man Friday of Jawaharlal Nehru who had greeted Indian troops on their landing at Srinagar airport on October 27, 1947, and made the “accession” of the State possible was six years later unceremoniously dismissed as Prime Minister of the State and imprisoned. Moreover, if there was something outside the State narrative: ‘That the United States has encouraged Abdullah to plot for an independent Kashmir-and he had consented to the same. New Delhi had projected his meetings with Democratic leader Adlai Stevenson at Srinagar as glaring evidence about the conspiracy.’ My urge to find an answer to these questions and to know more facts or stories behind the scene about the dismissal of Abdullah took me to some friends of Jawaharlal Nehru, who in the fifties was in the thick of things about Kashmir including former Prime Minister, Morarji Desai. Nehru, after the deposing of Abdullah on 9 August 1953 had sent a couple of his friends like Khawaja Ahmed Abbas to see Sheikh Abdullah in the Kud Jail for mending his fences with him. Abbas had a soft corner for Abdullah. He did not subscribe to the conspiracy theory but saw Abdullah as a nationalist committed to India and secularism. Nonetheless, Morarji Desai believed that Abdullah was involved in the conspiracy and during his meeting with Stevenson had looked for American support for an independent Kashmir. In a recorded interview, he told me that ‘Jawaharlal had shown him some important papers about the conspiracy and these papers were in the Nehru Museum, New Delhi.”

Z.G. Muhammmad pointed out, “I wrote a couple of letters to Director of the museum. Nonetheless, the letters evoked no response. For seeking access to papers relating dismissal of Abdullah, in the early nineties, I visited the museum couple of times but returned disappointed. Some years back, a Kashmiri born American historian who has so far written two books on Kashmir and is working on third expressed her disappointment about close-mindedness of New Delhi about research on Kashmir told me that every document on Kashmir from 1819 to 1960, is classified and all scholars are denied access to them.

The writer opined, “There are indications that this ‘icy-closeminded’ attitude about Kashmir archives has started melting down.”

Surprisingly, it is for the first time that India has allowed people to garner through selected documents on Kashmir. In this regard, the official handout said, “Original letters, telegrams, archival rare documents that include important documents like The Treaty of Lahore, 11 March 1846, The Treaty of Amritsar, 16 March 1846, the Instrument of Accession, 27 October 1947, Standstill Agreement between the newly independent dominions of India and Pakistan and the Princely states of the British India prior to their integration in the new dominion have been put on the display.” Besides, these documents, which are an integral part of the contemporary Kashmir narrative the government has exhibited some ‘rare vintage photographs, documentaries maps, soldiers’ maps, newspapers reports about Kashmir.’

While, most of the ‘treaties’ and ‘agreements’ exhibited have been in the public domain since long and these have been written about, dissected and analyzed by historians, academics, and political commentators. Many historians from Alastair Lamb to Dr. Abdul Ahad have challenged the fact and date of some of the essential documents on which the story of accession hinges.

Nevertheless, the one-month exhibition apparently was politically motivated in telling to the people in India as to how Nehru had bungled up Kashmir problem and the right-wing politicians like Syama Prasad Mookerjee had clarity on it. There is a section titled “Syama Prasad Mookerjee on Jammu & Kashmir issue.” In this section some letters of Mookerjee to Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah have been put on display—these do tell a story about the developments in the state in the early 1950s that ultimately resulted in the deposing of Sheikh Abdullah.

In this context, one letter of Mookerjee which was partly reproduced by New Delhi newspaper delicately points out—how Jan Sangh in the fifties wanted to perpetuate the Maharaja’s rule in Kashmir and see it continues as a Hindu state. His letter to Abdullah also exposes the schism between Jan Sangh and National Conference over the rule of J&K shifting hands from the ‘Hindu Dogras’ to the ‘Kashmiri Muslims’. (TOI 12-1-18).

It is notable that the exhibition might have been nuanced to make a ‘political point’ that the Hindutva leaders played a proactive role in Jammu and Kashmir when the dispute first arose and use it against first Prime Minister of India and Congress, while, in the ultimate analysis, it will not only enrich but also strengthens the Kashmir narrative. Even a single letter like that of 27 September 1947 by Jawaharlal Nehru to Sardar Patel which was not included in the Nehru correspondence, but founds it way in the published correspondence of Sardar Patel had the potential deconstructing—the much-orchestrated narratives of the National Conference and New Delhi about the happenings in 1947 and the accession.

Undoubtedly, such exhibitions which give the excess to students and scholars regarding Kashmir documents in the National Archives of India would be a good beginning. The iron curtain policy about Jammu and Kashmir papers instead of solving any problem has befuddled the public mind in India—thus for fear of vote politics stopped even well-meaning leaders to address the issue in keeping with its history. New Delhi needs a declassification policy to allow the scholars to sift the grain from the chaff—the whole truth needs to be told to the people.

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