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KASHMIR AND DR KARAN SINGH

Once all the euphoria about the army saving the Kashmiris of the Valley evaporates, Kashmir will be back to square one and its youth will resume stoning the jawans. Indeed, There seems to be no solution to Kashmir. It also incarnates the irrevocable enmity between India and Pakistan: India will not surrender Kashmir, because she considers rightly that it has been part of her territory for 3000 years. Pakistan will not surrender its claim on the Valley, because it estimates that the Kashmir valley is a majority Muslim region and that under the (mad) logic of partition, it should have reverted to Islamabad. And both countries are trying by force, the one openly, the other covertly, to stake their claims on Kashmir. Thus, there is no issue, except war, a nuclear conflict maybe – and everyone will be the loser: who will have Kashmir then if there is nothing left of India and Pakistan?

All politicians have tried their hand at solving this problem and all have failed. Yet there is one politician in India, who not only understands all these intricacies, but who might be acceptable to both Hindus and Muslims of Kashmir: that is Dr Karan Singh. Dr Karan Singh is a much-misunderstood personality and it may be worthwhile to look at his life and achievements.

No doubt, he was born in a privileged family: son of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, Sir Hari Singh, and his lovely wife, Maharani Tara Devi, he saw the light in the prestigious Martinez hotel in Cannes, France. The birth of a Yuvaraj (heir apparent) was feted by the people of Jammu & Kashmir, whether Muslims or Hindus.

Yet, if you read carefully his biography, you will see that Dr Karan Singh, had a difficult life. Born a prince, yes, but with a strict and overbearing father, who allowed him to see his mother for only one hour every day, whereas the young Karan doted on her. In time, he also realized that all was not well between his mother and father and that they lived separate lives. He was then sent to public school where he got no privileged treatment. Finally, at the age of 18, the muscle on his right hip and leg began to decay and he had to undergo a major surgery, which was a traumatic experience for him. The operation involved permanent immobilisation of the hip joint through a bone graft and a six-inch metal pin, which kept him in bed for 18 months, in a lonely New York hospital. Dr Karan Singh would now limp for life, but he never complained about it and that did not stop him from playing tennis and campaigning tirelessly.

True, he became regent of Kashmir in 1949, but under difficult circumstances: his father, disagreeing with Nehru, left the State which had by then acceded to India, and Karan Singh was later appointed as Sadar-i-Riyasat and finally as Governor of Kashmir. His father’s shadow was not there anymore, but Nehru had replaced him and was sometimes an overbearing presence on the young man. In 1967, he finally came on his own, joined Mrs. Gandhi and later became the youngest union minister ever in her cabinet, being reelected 4 times as an MP from Udhampur. Today Dr Karan Singh, after having been a brilliant ambassador in the US, is chairman of the ICCR, while being involved in many trusts and charities.

It has been said sometimes that Dr Karan Singh is an indecisive man. This also far from true. He may belong to the Congress and not of the BJP, but he is one of the few politicians who has a deep understanding of Hinduism and who has remained faithful to his inclinations. Dr Karan Singh is the foremost expert in the world on Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and he is at present chairman of the Auroville Foundation, the international city near Pondichery founded by the Mother and based on Sri Aurobindo’s vision of a new humanity.

Now for Kashmir. Dr Karan Singh is very clear about its history and its future: “The real problem with Kashmir, he says, started with my ancestors, the Doghras, mostly in the 19th century: by treaty, conquest, or inter-marriages, they created a state comprised of five major units, which are fundamentally very different from each other in terms of geography and ethnicity: the territory around Gilgit, which belongs basically to Central Asia; Ladhak, which is an extension of Tibet; what is today under Pakistan control around Muzarrafad, which is Punjabi Muslim; Jammu, which in essence belongs to Himachal Pradesh; and finally the valley of Kashmir, of course, which is Indian Muslim at 95 % and also belongs to the Kashmir Pandits before they had to flee”.

Dr Singh also emphasizes that the KP community never tried to rule Kashmir: “they were only the babus, the secretaries, the teachers, there might have been some exploitation, but on the whole they lived peacefully with the Muslims”.
Is Kashmir essentially an artificially-constructed entity then? “Yes, he replies, it is the exact replica of what was Tito’s Yugoslavia before it was broken in parts, or the Austrian empire, which was an amalgam of different states. All empires are artificial: look at the one Alexander created, or Ashoka’s empire, or Charlemagne’s… Often, they are also governed by non-local rulers: even my family was non-Kashmiri”.

When ones asks Dr Karan Singh if he has accepted Partition, he replies: “No, but today, there is certain logic to the split of Kashmir: two of the “foreign” portions – Punjabi Muslim Muzarrafad and Central Asian Gilgit – are with Pakistan; and the three “Indian” parts are with India : Jammu, which is 2/3 Hindu; Ladhak which is 55% Buddhist (and 45% Muslim); and the valley which is now 99% Indian Muslim”.

What is the solution then? “Since 1947, he smiles, Pakistan has fought four wars to regain Indian Kashmir, five, if you include the proxy war they are waging on us today. In my opinion, I don’t think they will ever succeed. The only solution is a European type of Union in the subcontinent. Look at France and Germany: they fought three wars over two centuries; France even fought a hundred years war with England and they are still bickering at each other over the EU, or the Euro! We only have been at it for 60 years. A Europe style type of union is a logic thing today. We could have a single rupee in South Asia, no borders, free trade… And a united Kashmir”…

Is it true that Muslims and Hindu leaders respect him ? “Kashmir has always been inclusive of all religions, answers the son of Kashmir. Vashnaism was born there, Sufism flourished there, the hard-line Sunnis of Pakistan have tried to change all this, I don’t think they have succeed, as today the Kahmiri Muslim is still more tolerant than his Saudi or Pakistani brother. Yes, I still feel deeply for Kashmir, I am an elder statesman, and have been in politics for nearly 60 years! “

So could Dr Karan Singh be the man of the moment for Kashmir, and solve an imbroglio which has eluded all Indian politicians? Will Destiny at last beckon this man of depth, who was never really been entrusted with responsibilities corresponding to his qualities ? He started with Kashmir and maybe he will finish his career with Kashmir, if the new government of Shri Narendra Modi is visionary and bold enough to entrust him with this task.

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