Blue Gate Pilgrimage
Does UN office in Srinagar hold the significance it once held?
PUNCHLINE BY Z.G. MUHAMMAD
There is a ‘very smart heritage building painted blue’ in front of the official residence of the Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court in Srinagar. Every morning almost everyone who matters in the state passes through it. It greets with a smile the state chief ministers, scores of ministers, bureaucrats, top cops, army generals and leaders of the opposition. I don’t know if this building reminds or not the ruling elite of the fragility of situation in the state, but it continues to be an important totem of the political uncertainty in the state and recurrent threat to security in the South Asia.
This beautiful well preserved piece of architecture is the headquarters of the United Nations long standing military observer’s mission. ‘The building’, as written by a British researcher, John R Shotton ‘is the only evidence of a UN presence in Kashmir, for the mission there is shackled by the term of the UN mandate which restricts even observation to minimum.’ Now when most of political organizations have been looking for a negotiated settlement of Kashmir problem this office is the only reminder of plebiscite as having been identified as modus operandi for the resolution of Kashmir problem.
Long before, I think in 1993, a Uruguayan head of the military observers expressing his feelings about the position of the mission and the limited mandate it had in Kashmir had lamented that the Kashmir dispute does not have a top place in the international disputes. He had contritely said: “What are the parameters for the international community? The number of dead? Here in Kashmir we have scores of dead?”
The role of UN military observers group in Kashmir may be limited to recording and reporting the violations across the LOC, nay the Ceasefire Line but for almost past five decades the blue building more practically its gate has assumed more than symbolic significance in the state politics. It has become a rallying point for political parties for articulating their demand of ‘right to self-determination’. At many important junctures of Kashmir history the blue building emerged as a place of political pilgrimage for thousands of people.
On Saturday morning I was once again reminded of the centrality of this building in Kashmir politics. Most of the newspapers published from Srinagar had carried screaming headlines: the “UN Chalo bid foiled”, “Geelani’s UN Chalo call aborted”, “Government defeats Geelani.” Most of the local television channels covered the incident in detail and in its bulletins highlighted the government success in preventing Syed Ali Geelani and his party to reach to the ‘blue gate’ for presenting a memorandum regarding ‘detention of leaders and human rights violations in the state to military observers. The official television channel carried a detailed report lambasting the Hurriyat Conference leaders for their politics and planned rally outside the blue gate. The government machinery patted itself for having succeeded in aborting rally to the historical gate. I am not here to comment on octogenarian leader’s off the cuff call and that it was certain to doom but to look at such calls in their historical perspective and understand their import, if it has been something beyond symbolism. To understand the dynamics of holding rallies outside the ‘UN blue painted’ building there is need to dwell upon the genesis of stationing of the military observers group in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
There is no state in the sub-continent even in the entire South Asia where UN militantly observers group has an office. The presence of the group in itself indicates political status of this state in the sub-continent. History testifies that ‘the plebiscite as a way out for resolving dispute had been established in the sub-continent long before Kashmir crisis erupted in October 1947. It was an inherent process by which the British Indian Empire was partitioned between India and Pakistan. On the eve of the transfer of power in August 1947 it had been held in two provinces, NWFP and Sylhet, a Muslim majority district of a non-Muslim majority province of Assam. In both the cases the vote went in favor of Pakistan. So when in October 1947, Lord Mountbatten in his communication mentioned to Maharaja Hari Singh the plebiscite as a way for resolving Kashmir and Pandit Nehru reiterated the same to Liquate Ali Khan it was something new but an inherent part of the process that had caused birth of the two nations. It was in this perspective that the Governor General of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah had also agreed that the “answer of Kashmir lay in plebiscite”. The plebiscite in the two provinces was not held under the aegis of the United Nations so when India and Pakistan leaders talked of Plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir the United Nations was not in their minds and UN had not also come into picture at all. Then there was no question of UN resolutions. The question then arises how the UN came into picture that led to stationing of a military group in Srinagar. “On January 1, 1948, the Security Council of the United Nations was called by the Government of India to intervene in the Kashmir conflict.” It had invoked Article 35 and 36 of the charter of the United Nations, according to these articles any member may bring an issue before the Security Council that can endanger international peace and security. Seen in this perspective the Government of India, right in 1948 had seen Kashmir as a threat to the international peace. It is not possible to detail out the ensuing debates and discussions in the United Nations in this column - the debates are fully document and there are scores of books that have deliberated upon these debates and discussions and their ramifications.
Kashmir problem resonated in the United Nations during 1948 and 1949. It dominated international relations. It in fact accentuated polarization in the world adding complexity to the cold war and prompted birth of organizations like NAM. “With the arrival in South Asia, UNCIP became the focus of international diplomatic efforts to resolve the Kashmir problem,” Writes Howard Schaffer. The two years witnessed great diplomatic wars between India and Pakistan- Josef Korbel’s book Danger in Kashmir provides a deeper insight into the whole saga of those critical years. And the military observers group arrived in Srinagar during those critical years and blue building in the lap on Gupkar Road assumed significance. The people in Kashmir more particularly in Srinagar were fully conscious of the presence of the group and their role but the office of the group became a rallying point for the first time in 1964, when Students of various colleges perhaps under the banner of Jammu and Kashmir Students and Youth League took a procession to this office in Sonawar and presented a memorandum to the head of the military group. I don’t see any evidence of people gathering outside the blue gate for pressing demand for implementation of UN resolution between 1948 to 1953. There is nothing to suggest people gathering outside UN office on the deposition of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953. The Plebiscite Front, the major political organization demanding holding of plebiscite under United Nation aegis ever articulating its demand in front of the office of the military group. After 1964, it was in 1990 when the blue gate remained constantly under focus. During 1990, hundreds of thousands of people gathered outside the UN office in Srinagar and presented thousands of memorandums to the Ricardo Galarz who headed the group. True, the mandate of the group was different than the teeming people outside its gate believed. But fact of the matter has been that it did pass on the memorandums to its headquarters in New York. The question that calls for an answer has been if the United Nation’s did share the information with the member states. In an article in 1993, a British writer Shotton provided some insight about it by saying that the international community had become conscious of Kashmir situation. To quote him, “The international community” might not be anticipating UN military action in Kashmir but increasingly the whole Kashmir question features in large on the agendas of most western government foreign offices.”
The blue gate again become major rallying point during the Amaranth Land Agitation in 2008, when many tried to reach out to men in uniform behind the blue for presenting a memorandum to them. One of the major rallies during the land agitation organized jointly by two factions of the Hurriyat Conference and other parties was also held outside the blue gates.
I do agree the ‘blue gate’ symbolically represents the international dimension of the Kashmir problem. But what looks ironical about it is that with most of the political parties having in reality dropped the slogan of plebiscite and taken recourse to the idea of negotiated settlement does the blue building hold any significance to them.
There is a scope for debate if ‘blue gate’ continues to be a place of political pilgrimage..
Lastupdate on : Sun, 2 May 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 2 May 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 3 May 2010 00:00:00 IST
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