The concept of trifurcation - dividing into three constituent parts - relates to Indian-administered Kashmir. It would divide the state of Jammu and Kashmir into three separate Union Territories so ending the unified governance of the state. Since 1948, Indian-administered Kashmir has consisted of three regions: Jammu, Kashmir (that is, the Kashmir Valley) and Ladakh. All these regions have a distinct cultural, ethnic and religious identity and different historical backgrounds. It is not an easy task to administer these diverse regions in a unified system of governance and the increasingly evident sense of resentment at the form of administration can be traced back before partition.
The root cause of this resentment is straightforward: Jammu and Kashmir is an artificial construct. The erstwhile state was constructed from five very different regions through the Treaty of Amritsar. In 1846 the Dogra ruler, Gulab Singh, bought the Kashmir Valley from the British Empire for 7.5 million Rupees. He was already in possession of Jammu and Ladakh. The Dogra rulers later extended their regime to Gilgit Baltistan. It is debatable whether Dogra rule was legitimate and if so, what the basis was for any legitimate claim to the territory the Dogra rulers governed.
This is important - because the contemporary politics of Indian-administered Kashmir is the legacy of that rule. The present resentment is not because of differences between Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir but because of the creation of an illegitimate state by combining all these regions without public consent. Therefore, it is not appropriate to blame these regions for demanding the greater autonomy and division because as mentioned earlier, their demands have a historical context.
The reason for the illegality of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir is the absence of public consent. The governments of India and Pakistan - as well as previous rulers, especially the Dogra dynasty - lacked such consent. The buying of Kashmir and extending of their rule to the other regions through power politics is a convincing demonstration that Dogra rule lacked legitimacy and that the creation of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was not based on public consent. The same is true of India and Pakistan and their rule over parts of the former princely state - unless they acquire legitimacy by conducting a plebiscite.
The idea of trifurcation has, ever since 1948, being among options being discussed for the future of the state, because of the very different sentiments of the various constituent regions. A. G. Noorani has written about an intelligence report sent to the then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, about the growing agitation in Jammu province for a "zonal plebiscite". It is important to differentiate, however, between past events the contemporary political situation. Political dissent in the past was in the context of partition and the politics of the demand for a plebiscite, and later it was followed by the alleged discriminatory policies of the state government and the alienation of Jammu and Ladakh. The division of British India on communal lines has also shaped the politics of Jammu and Kashmir. And the discriminatory colonial policies of Dogra rule against Muslims in Kashmir and reflecting Jammu as homeland has been considered as the point when the regionalization of the state started.
The reason why trifurcation has come to the fore is evident in the term by which the dispute over the region is described. The conflict between India and Pakistan is popularly known as the Kashmir conflict - even though Kashmir is just one of the regions under dispute. It is as if Jammu and Ladakh disappear from the frame. The counter-argument for this descriptive term is that the Kashmir Valley has suffered the most because of the gross human rights violations and that other regions are comparatively peaceful. However, these other regions have suffered in other ways from the long-lasting conflict. The demands for trifurcation come from Jammu and Ladakh because of the impact the conflict has had on their development and constitutional rights. The sufferings of the Kashmir Valley should not be used to justify discriminatory policies against Jammu and Ladakh. The call for trifurcation of the state validates the argument that the various regions of the state interpret self-determination differently because of their particular historical and political experiences.
"The Indian Government will create three union territories of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh…... PM Modi is ‘very serious' about Kashmir. He wants to resolve the "Kashmir Issue" before the general elections 2019". This striking headline appeared in a Jammu-based newspaper Early Times in September 2018 and once again generated a debate around trifurcation. The RSS has in the past passed a resolution to divide the state into three along what are communal lines: the Sunni Muslim majority Kashmir Valley, Buddhist majority (with a significant Shia Muslim minority Ladakh) and Hindu majority Jammu. However, Jammu and Ladakh support trifurcation because they want more autonomy and a greater emphasis on development.
In recent years, politics in Jammu and Ladakh has become focused on the possible division of the state. Several political parties and groups have gained popularity at the expense of the Kashmir Valley-centered National Conference and Indian National Congress by successfully building the narrative of autonomy and regionalism. The Jammu Mukti Morcha was formed with the main purpose of advocating the division of the state. A similar-minded group, the Praja Parishad - which is alleged to have received support and money at one time from the Maharaja - initiated the regional agitation in Jammu in 1952. They have demanded the extension of the Indian constitution and the nullification of article 370 on which the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is based. Their agitation changed the political understanding of the Jammu region while also highlighting the importance of other regions of the state which were otherwise at a disadvantage because of the focus on the politics of the Kashmir Valley. The Parja Parishad later joined Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). While some support the continuing unity of the state, the prevailing sentiment in Jammu is that the region is culturally different from Kashmir and Ladakh. There is strong resentment of the Kashmir Valley because of a perception of the political dominance in the state of Kashmiris, and because of a belief that the Kashmiri demand to uphold article 370 is the cause of economic immiserating across the state.
The situation is not much different in Ladakh. Ladakhis also have this perception of Kashmiri dominance in state politics and of a disrespectful Kashmiri attitude towards them. Ladakh politics has long been about the achievement of self-rule or an autonomous structure of governance. The first such demand was presented in 1949 in the form of a memorandum to the prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, from the president of Ladakh Buddhist Association. This memorandum stated:
"We are a separate nation by all tests - race, religion, culture - determining nationality, the only link connecting us with other people of the state being the bond of common ruler……. Sheikh Abdullah and the people of Kashmir can manage the affairs of their whole country as they wish. However, they do not have the power to appropriate against their will, a people, a separate nation, whom a separate territory... In case the result of the plebiscite is favourable to India, we go a step further than other people of the state in seeking a closer union with that great country and in case it is otherwise, our verdict stands clear and unchallengeable….".
In 1967 an organized struggle was launched in Ladakh to challenge Kashmiri dominance. Campaigners alleged that Ladakh had been treated as a colony by the state government. Similar demands led to the creation of an Autonomous Hill Development Council in 1995. However, many Ladakhis are continuing to press for greater constitutional rights including Union Territory status.
It is concerning to see the grievances these regions express against each other. A significant number of people in the Kashmir Valley believe that Jammu and Ladakh have been collaborating with a colonial-style Indian state and that Kashmiris are the only one to have suffered while struggling for the right to self-determination.
Regionalism is the reality of Kashmir conflict, and it has also shaped the self-determination struggle. For Jammu, self-determination is seen as the achievement of fundamental constitutional, economic and development rights. Ladakh also interprets self-determination as gaining more internal autonomy (within the Indian federation) and greater development. For the Kashmir Valley, it is about getting justice in the face of human rights violations, and - in the eyes of many Kashmiris - setting up a separate, independent state as a remedy.
The question of the hour, however, is whether trifurcation is possible? Is it feasible to divide the disputed territory along communal lines without all the stakeholders being on board?
It is likely to be very challenging to split the state in three. The disputed nature of the state and involvement of the United Nations makes the conflict an international issue. A division into three will also produce more anomalies - for example, Muslim majority areas of Jammu may wish to join the Kashmir Valley. And there's a further complicating factor - the involvement of China makes it very hard for India to give Ladakh a Union Territory status (though China does not have any valid reason to oppose trifurcation because it supported Pakistan's move to change the status of Gilgit-Baltistan, which is also disputed territory, to facilitate the CPEC initiative).
Trifurcation seems a very attractive means of addressing the grievances of Ladakh and Jammu while dealing separately with the political problems of Kashmir. However, it is not as easy as it looks. Such a division will add another layer of political complexity to the already complex conflict. And it may not help the Indian government in dealing with Kashmir separately, because it could make it easier to pursue Kashmir's case for secession in the International Court of Justice and the United Nations. The timing of the renewed speculation about trifurcation - as India prepares for a general election - also could be seen as suspicious, and it will be interesting to see what happens next.
Amina Mahmood Mir is a doctoral researcher at the University of Westminster in London. She is currently analyzing how politics works at various levels among the self-determination groups across all the regions involved in the Kashmir conflict. She has been trying to understand the Kashmir conflict for the last ten years. Her ancestral roots lie in the Kashmir Valley but she has travelled, lived and engaged with young people and scholars in both Indian- and Pakistan-administered Jammu & Kashmir. She also advocates for awareness initiatives addressing gender equality and domestic violence in Kashmir.
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