Writing on the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, in its post-1947 avatar(s), is a challenge that few of us have met without being called out for missing out on not one but many strings which weave together the chaotic mess that has come to be euphemistically called the Kashmir problem. That the book under review can identify most of them is an achievement in itself. That Shahla Hussain, the author, decides to examine each one of them makes it a work of uncommonly scholastic ambition. That she is able to do that, albeit with varying degrees of dexterity, exhibits her academic resourcefulness and access. And that she takes an analytical misstep or two elucidates the difficulty scholars face when they do research on the Roshomon-esque reality of J&K.
With this work, Hussain adds her name to the list of historians working on J&K, which includes the likes of Chitralekha Zutshi and Mridu Rai, who have trained under the peerless academic tutelage of Ayesha Jalal and/or Sugata Bose. For a long time, much of the scholarship on South Asia chose 1947 as the date when historians handed over the baton of research to political scientists. This is no longer the case as they increasingly bring their tools of research and analysis to postcolonial South Asia. In this book, Hussain follows suit by looking at the postcolonial experience of what she terms the ‘political imagery’ that is Kashmir—a site which the inhabitants of the former State have used to articulate and demand their rights. As is wont of scholars who work on J&K, Hussain while recognizing and acknowledging that it is a large territorial space which goes beyond the Kashmir Valley, comes back to using ‘Kashmir’ to understand what interests her: religiously informed political identities, demand for rights, resistance, and transnational activism. The focus is understandable given that the centre of gravity of political activity so defined, both territorially and ideationally, has been the Valley. Also, at a very practical level, extending the work runs the risk of making the study unwieldy.
To her credit, however, Hussain is able to throw light even on politics outside the Valley, in Jammu and Ladakh, in India as well as in Pakistan-administered J&K. Unlike other scholars who perfunctorily touch on these areas, she makes a studied effort to understand and present the socio-historical currents that demarcate their respective political experiences. Indeed, academic engagement with the internal politics of PAJK (which I will come back to later) is something only a few of us have done to understand the politics of the former Princely State.