Probing, Painstaking, Perceptive

The book entitled Emergence of Political Awakening in Kashmir (A study in Political cum Socio-Economic Background to 1931 Upsurge) is an excellent addition to the already existing literature on the subject. The author examines the main aspects of how the Jammu and Kashmir state evolved, the nature and form that the British paramount power assumed in Kashmir, the plural character of Kashmiri society and the then socio economic structure and its changing trends under Dogra Raj. This study illustrates the British involvement in Dogra Raj from the very inception. According to Zutshi “The state was, right from its emergence, included within the pale of British paramountcy-a relationship whose limits were undefined and depended solely on configuration of relative forces at a given time.” The fact that Anglo-Russian commercial rivalry was more pressing factor for the British to have Kashmir strategically on their side has not received the attention it deserves in this work. Perhaps the best sections of the book are where Dr Zutshi enriches his dense descriptions of certain events with a broader comparative perspective in order to put the situation into wider context. In chapter second, for example the insightful analysis of the events leading to establishment of Paramountcy and the characteristics of the relationship between the British government and the Dogra Raja is complemented by notion  that the situation in Kashmir cannot simply be explained as yet another case of feudatories with British crown having suzerainty over them. The entire process of engagement between the British Paramountcy and Dogra rulers had international political overtones and undercurrents.

It is a very interesting account and contains an elaborate discussion on 1931 upsurge that was deeply rooted in the worst exploitation unleashed on Kashmiris by an oppressive and monarchical Dogra Raj as Zutshi explains. Dr Zutshi links various changes that led to development of ideological beliefs and organizational means for growth of political consciousness and the regional protest movement that sprouted into Muslim Conference and National conference respectively. Dr. Zutshi makes his analysis seem far more simplistic and multifaceted than in fact it is. This interesting book illustrates the role of Sheikh Abdullah and his approach that became a catalyst for moulding the political outlook of Kashmiris at popular level. Being a Kashmiri Dr. Zutshi is fully familiar with the dynamics of Kashmir politics and changing societal contours and this familiarity is palpable throughout the book. The general reader may at times be puzzled about the less attention paid to the evolutionary phase of the growth of political consciousness, the role played by some prominent Kashmiris in Lahore, role of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah – the main architect, and the then political complexities that overwhelmed 1931 movement. But generally speaking the author has succeeded in communicating his knowledge about the upsurge of 1931 in an engaging and readable way. Dr Zutshi has done extensive research and well utilized the sources for reconstructing the history of 1931, stressing the nature of varied factors that culminated in 1931. The book is a thorough and illuminating study of aspirations, achievements and political dynamics and the ways in which Kashmiris built upon their movement to advance their political agenda and influence on one hand and to gain legitimacy and social acceptance by ensuring public participation in protest that ultimately relieved them from Dogra Raj on the other.

Dr Zutshi’s exposition proceeds in two relatively linked parts, he characterizes Kashmir’s plural society and the changing nature of developments in socioeconomic structure. Although reader learns a lot about the developments leading to varied forces that were actively operating in Kashmiri society and polity from mid nineteenth century yet there is little information about the ideological and institutional underpinnings which suggest that perceptions of embryonic political life in Kashmir as elsewhere were entangled in a rich web of overlapping and sometimes contradictory layers of meaning.

Much of the work in a couple of chapters consists of providing information. I have only one complaint about this admirable study-it should have been or included a little more information on the nature and consequences of 1931 events and the results of this investigation should have been  formulated yet more broadly and analytically. The book is probably a bit too narrowly focused but does provide a valuable data for scholars working on modern Kashmir. Arguably its major strength lies in its comprehensiveness and its attention to detail that gives birth to many questions than it answers.

Dr. Zutshi has written a probing, painstaking, perceptive and in many ways pioneering book of considerable merit based on extensive sources. It is the kind of book that will influence thought of scholars, seasoned politicians, and bureaucrats and even of those who have not read it or may not be aware of its existence. He has earned the gratitude of reader for his meticulously researched study that is a remarkable in its command over historical literature and in its confident analysis of much of received information and wisdom.

Professor Rattan Lal Hangloo (originally from Hangalgund Kokernag, Kashmir) is Honorary Chancellor,  Nobel International University,Toronto, Canada. He is Former Professor at Hyderabad Central University and former Vice-Chancellor University of Kalyani & Allahabad University