Kashmir As I see It: From Within and Afar
By Ashok Dhar; Rupa Publications (May 2019)
New Delhi, Sep 29 (IANS) August 5, 2019 has become a landmark in Indian history when the Parliament revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) by emasculating Article 370 and revoking Article 35A. The decision received overwhelming support from the majority Indian masses, though apprehensions have been expressed by some on the process adopted and the issue is now before the Hon'ble Supreme Court.
Hundreds of books have been written on Kashmir covering its history, culture, scenic beauty and all aspects of dispute, post its accession to India in October 1947. However, a book that has in recent times generated a lot of interest amongst scholars, general readers and media is by Ashok Dhar.
Since its release in early May, it has been reviewed in Greater Kashmir and Daily Excelsior, the two leading english daily newspapers in Jammu and Kashmir and leading national newspapers like The Hindu, Deccan Chronicle, New Indian Express, Statesman, Telegraph, Tribune and many others, including independent book reviewers like Privy Trifles, Wrytin and others.
Ashok Dhar, born in Kashmir, spent growing up years in valley and is a well known oil industry veteran. In writing this book, he has drawn upon his personal memoirs, learnings from his foreign travels and used some strategic planning management tools for understanding the dispute in Kashmir and suggest pathways for its resolution.
The book of 230 pages is in three parts and each part has six chapters. Part I recounts his experience of growing up years in valley and nattily covers history and culture of Kashmir. It takes a deep dive into understanding Kashmiris and Kashmiriyat.
Part II deals with his learnings from travels abroad, especially Islamic countries, including Pakistan. It has a chapter each covering roles played by Maharaja Hari Singh, Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi (Simla accord).
Part III is indeed the real meat but it requires reading earlier parts. It is understanding the dispute in historical and contemporary context. The dispute is then discussed as a case study for "Re-imagining Vision" in last chapter a Management Discussion and Analysis format where the author applies scenario planning and game theory to understand the nature of the problem and suggest options for resolution.
The book is written in simple language and even most complex terminology is made easy to comprehend.
The author believes that Kashmir is seen only from the prism of legality and its accession in 1947. While he does not dispute the accession of J&K with India is irrevocable and final, he finds it to be a complex problem that involves multiple angles. He has coined an acronym to understand the same Le La MOKSHI where Le is (Legality), La (Land), M (Morality), K (Kashmiriyat), S (Shaivism & Sufism), H (Historicity) and I (Identity).
He attempts to understand each factor individually and in conjunction with each other. The Indo-Pakistan relations are also analysed in a Dove Hawk game theory construct, as is the exodus of 1990 and the back channel diplomacy between India and Pakistan.
An interesting aspect of the book is the synopsis of learnings from various global conflicts and analysis of five possible options with respect to Article 370 (page 191). "Status quo", "Middle ground", "One India", "Deemed nation" and "Cultural Integration" are names given to the five alternatives with respect to Status, Scope and Status of J&K for Article 370.
These are then rank ordered. While, the "Middle ground" and "One India" emerge with the highest scores of 3.42 and 3.17 out of 5, the ease of implementation of "One India" is ranked in the bottom two in its ease of implementation. No wonder, the government is faced with challenges in making people see the benefit of its abrogation in Kashmir.
The book is passionately honest and rigorously researched. It is part autobiographical, part history, part political and part prescriptive. The personal journey of author is laced with anecdotes and his vivid memories of life in Kashmir in the early 60s and 70s but it is the sheer research that has gone to write the book which gives any reader some goosebumps. For understanding Kashmir and its future, it is surely a must read.