For a long time, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has remained a favorite spot of scholarly exercise. Intellectuals, writers, adventurers, and many a time political figures of greatest repute have detailed Kashmir, its history and culture, politics and civilizational values, state ‘oppression’ and feudal despotism in their writings. It is true that discussing J&K in the current environment of diametrically-opposed narratives and counter-narratives is a most challenging task for scholars and writers. It’s here that Khalid Bashir Ahmad comes in and takes his chances. Khalid Bashir has done a marvelous engagement in writing the ‘fair’ story of the region. As socio-political history of Kashmir has by and large remained in temples of records—archives, which has resulted in less documentation of contested region. However, Khalid has in recent years progressed as a main architecture of documentation (still in progress) by writing number of books on Kashmir. It is in this milieu that Khalid has now motivated many young scholars to work with more zeal and set the old chronicles and historiography straight and honest.
Khalid’s works constitute local writings on the history of the region and are principally based on the primary data available in the archives. He is an author, poet, and a former KAS officer, who has served the State Administration as Director Information and Public Relations and Secretary, J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, besides heading the departments of Libraries and Research, and Archives, Archaeology and Museums. His book Kashmir: Exposing the Myth behind the Narrative challenges the existing narratives on the various aspects of the Kashmir history. It exposes many fallacies and dissects the works of ‘historians’ that have perpetuated ahistorical perceptions over a long period of time. By linking history to the present, the book facilitates an understanding of the situation today. His book Jhelum: The River Through My Backyard resorts to political symbolism by adding the Jhelum factor to the history of Kashmir. His two works in Urdu poetry and prose have won the highest State literary awards in 1984 and 2010.
In his latest book—that forms the focus of this piece—Kashmir, Looking Back in Time: Politics, Culture, History (published Atlantic, 2021), Khalid makes a comprehensive analysis of the evolution of many political developments that shaped the socio-political & cultural landscape of J&K in the past decades or so. The book focuses largely on the interplay of internal factors such as political, economic, cultural, religious, and historical forces which led to the growth of many narratives and discourses. In methodological terms, Khalid has adopted the internal perspective to narrate the story with serious vigor plus exploration and divided the book into three sections—Politics, Culture and History further subdivided into sixteen chapters. In all the chapters, the author takes us on an intellectual tour of socio-cultural & political history of the region and then narrates the story of the last century.
The first section is divided into four chapters where the author has recollected the ideas, connected the dots, and recast the past by travelling out to some lesser-known facts and things that have, nevertheless, considerably shaped the socio-political history of Kashmir during the times of the Dogras and, later, Sheikh Abdullah. The book follows a new but rare path of dwelling on the personality of Sheikh, nature of the Dogra state, Muslim Conference and its conversion into National Conference by Abdullah, and its ill effect on the political landscape of Kashmir very exquisitely. Later, this section also talks about the post ‘accession’ era of Sheikh, his journey to becoming the Prime Minister, his dethronement from the chair in 1953, and his political romance with Plebiscite Front for many years till he justified the accord in 1975. Thus, this section would bounce us detailed account of Abdullah’s ‘dubious’ role in the politics of the state till his death in 1982.
The second section would tell the reader about the cultural richness of Kashmir and its people. Divided into seven chapters, narrates the tragic loss of culture and the reasons for its forfeiture to what author calls “robbing the valley of its rich heritage”. Here Khalid recounts the advent of cinemas, everyday life experience of common Kashmiris with cinemas, changing of names of places in Kashmir with new forenames as new identities and few beautiful tales of some important people of city Srinagar, aspects that are often missing or inadequately discussed in the ‘mainstream’ histories. One can conceivably recognize the significance of this section further by reading two significant chapters. One, Of Prices and Fares and second, Romance with Rumours. The first one would tell us about the trade and prices of commodities in historical chronology while the second is a fascinating analysis of rumours that have been—and still continue to be—a source of political knowledge against political elite in J&K. All these fragments of our past had till now not received any scholarly attention. It is here that the author meticulously captures the dynamics of the mood of the people living in the valley through its tumultuous times in the last century.
The third section recounts the Kashmir history, divided into five essays, where Khalid writes about the ‘oppressive Dogra rule’ of more than a century, the birth of political awareness, and lastly launching of a struggle for justice and emancipation. The most substantial contribution of the sections is the concern of Sir Mohammad Iqbal vis-à-vis Kashmir. The author writes in detail about Iqbal’s role in the political awakening of Kashmiris, his anti-Dogra writings, speeches and love for Kashmir that made him adversary of the Dogra regime. Based on numerous primary & secondary sources, he debunks many ‘false narratives’ that have been apportioned with Iqbal on Kashmir. What is most thought-provoking is the lucid essay on Kashmiri Pandit community. The causes and prospect of Pandit agitation of 1939 and how the violent protests by the minority community in the Valley shaped the political climate of J&K has been revisited. Similarly, in the subsequent chapters, i.e., 14th and 15th, the author narrates the insightful persuasive themes, such as how the Dogra government ruled the princely state by dint of its bureaucracy, the formation of many important but contested laws and rules, modes of transport, and the different games that attracted many to Kashmir, ranging from polo to golf to cricket. The book ends with a crucial chapter on history, evolution, role, and governmental control of journalism, particularly the print media in the valley.
The superlative essence of the book can be perhaps best understood in an astute quote of Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defence, “As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know”. The author has been able to dissect the politics, culture, and history of Kashmir and the conflict in and over it by peering into the mists of socio-political history, weaving together a masterful chronicle and analysis. Like his earlier writings, this book is insightful assessment of an author about what he is talking and writing about. Perhaps what is most beautiful about the book is the way the author has engaged with the critical political developments that makes the reader more anxious to read and know more. As a student of Kashmir politics, I believe this account is the most incisive and insightful that has been written on Kashmir in the recent past. Since Joseph Korbel, Alastair Lamb, and Christopher Sneddon, who wrote masterful scholarships on Kashmir, Khalid through a critical and masterly dissection of the Kashmiri’s past, takes us into the future of Kashmir to melted nature of history and the historical development. And it is here that Donald Rumsfeld’s quote becomes much relevant.
Even though the author has succeeded in writing a comprehensive volume, there are issues that need further deliberation and serious engagements of scholars. The chapters on plebiscite front, Sir Mohammad Iqbal and his is contribution towards J&K’s socio-political development, and most notably the Pandit question needs a further probe. However, keeping all the limitations in mind, the book comes along with some unique and interesting information. The author certainly offers a unique perspective of looking at things. The book has to offer something more than a plethora of writings on Kashmir history. More importantly, it advances a local standpoint, thereby making a departure from the overwhelmingly foreign treatment of Kashmir’s history. The book, rich in content extracted from primary source material, is indispensable for scholars, researchers, and the political class for studying Kashmir with new viewpoint.
Author is a PhD in Political Science from AMU.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.