Hindu Pandit Kashmiris seek a separate state in 2012: ‘Panun Kashmir’
Divisions in ‘India’ 19 August 2013
It is interesting to contemplate the borders of the nation that we call ‘India’. This modern entity owes its creation to the British who, in 1947, divided their imperial political possession that they also called ‘India’ into two dominions: the (secular) Union of India and Pakistan, a home ostensibly for Muslims. Interestingly, although Mauryans and Mughals had gone close to politically unifying the entire subcontinent, only the British actually did so. Equally, these interlopers divided it. However, it is worth remembering that, before the British left the subcontinent on 15 August 1947, all of what they controlled had been called ‘India’ and its residents ‘Indians’. Now, these people and their descendants comprise Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, who were East Pakistanis until they obtained their freedom from (West) Pakistan in 1971.
In 1947, the subcontinent’s division was not a fully determined matter. The ‘new’ India that came into being on 17 August when the India-Pakistan borders were finally announced—people were notified beforehand in case this upset their independence celebrations—quickly changed. India successfully digested the princely states whose rulers had acceded to it, including two contentious ones in 1948: Junagadh (although Pakistan still nominally claims Junagadh as its nawab (ruler) acceded to it in 1947) and Hyderabad. The only exception was the highly contentious—and contested—princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). India still claims three regions of J&K: Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, which, according to India, Pakistan has been ‘occupying’ since 1947, and the Aksai Chin region, which China also has been ‘occupying’. Supposedly, these regions are ‘integral parts of India’, even though Indians have never set foot in them. Any settlement of India’s claims almost certainly would see India’s borders change again, with India’s preferred option being to convert the Line of Control (LOC) that currently divides J&K into Indian J&K (comprising Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh) and Pakistan-administered J&K (Azad Kashmir; Gilgit-Baltistan) into the international boundary. New Delhi, it seems, is not too perturbed about ‘losing’ these two areas. The China-India border question is more complex. Again, India may be prepared to ‘lose’ some territory should China offer the right deal. So too might Bhutan, which also has an unresolved border with China.
Post-partition, India’s borders changed in other ways. India incorporated four former French territories, including Pondicherry, in 1956; some former Portuguese territories, including Goa, by 1961; and, the former protectorate of Sikkim as its twenty-second state, in 1975. In 1968, India’s borders contracted slightly when a deeply disappointed New Delhi ceded ten per cent of the Rann of Kutch to Pakistan following United Nations’ arbitration. The resolution of other international issues means that India could win, or lose, further territory: with Pakistan (J&K; Sir Creek, in the Rann of Kutch); with China (Aksai Chin; Arunachal Pradesh/South Tibet (for China); India-China border); with Bangladesh, which issue is a real doozy. I quote from a recent informative article by Rukmini Das and Deepak Raju (www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/a-settlement-long-overdue/article5017339.ece): “…there are 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India. These include a few counter-enclaves, which are enclaves within enclaves, as well as a counter-counter enclave—a parcel of Bangladeshi territory surrounded by Indian territory, itself surrounded by Bangladeshi territory! In India, these slivers of Bangladesh are in the States of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.” This is a confounding situation, particularly for people living in these enclaves.
Since 1972, when India and a defeated Pakistan made some minor adjustments to the LOC, India’s borders have not changed. What has changed has been India’s internal structure. A major reorganisation was made in 1956, with various districts and former princely states amalgamated, often along linguistic lines, into fourteen states. This number has now doubled to 28 (plus seven territories), with some former territories upgraded to state status to appease disgruntled citizens. In 2000, a further three states were created: Jharkhand, from southern Bihar; Chhattisgarh, from south-eastern Madhya Pradesh; and, Uttarakhand, from north-western Uttar Pradesh. Most recently, New Delhi has announced that a new state called Telengana will be carved out of north-western Andhra Pradesh, much to the chagrin of some Andhrans.
Nor will India’s state-creation stop there. Some Indians consider that, because the United States has 50 states for its population of 300 million, India needs more states for its population of 1.2 billion. (On this ratio, India should have a staggering, probably unmanageable, 200 states.) There are many demands, with these often reflecting a linguistic or ethnic group’s desire for statehood: Bodoland (from Assam); Bundelkhand (between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh); Gorkhaland (from West Bengal); Harit (or Braj) Pradesh (western Uttar Pradesh); Purvanchal (eastern Uttar Pradesh, and possibly parts of western Bihar); Saurashtra (from Gujarat); and, Vidarbha (eastern Maharashtra). Other possibilities include Jammu, Ladakh or Panun Kashmir (for Hindu Pandits in the Kashmir Valley), all of which are in Indian J&K, being given state or territory status. Some indigenous ‘tribals’ in Tripura want a separate state. A former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, once proposed that this heavily-populated state of 200 million people be divided into four states: Avadh Pradesh; Bundelkhand; Pashchimanchal; Purvanchal.
Boundary changes have also afflicted other South Asian nations. In 2009, Sri Lanka defeated Tamil separatists seeking Tamil Eelam in northern and eastern areas. Apart from ‘obtaining’ Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan in 1947, Pakistan expanded in 1948 after finally incorporating its princely states, including a reluctant Kalat. But this nation was severely dismembered when East Pakistan successfully broke away from West Pakistan in 1971. Some Baluchis and Pukhtoons also want to create separate states, while Saraiki speakers want a new province to be created in southern (Pakistani) Punjab. Confoundingly for Islamabad, Kabul does not accept the British-imposed Durand Line of 1893 that currently serves as the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. I say ‘currently’ as, if history shows us anything about ‘India’, it is this: nothing stays the same forever. Inevitably, there will be more changes to national and international borders in South Asia.
19 August 2013