The Irrelevancy of the Plebiscite in Kashmir

March 22, 2007

The History

UN had once recommended a plebiscite to be held in Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir to solve the dispute of accession. It was in response to the dispute between India and Pakistan over the state. The UN Security Council adopted resolution 47 and still sticks to it. The solution had a few prerequisites and a few methodologies to implement the plebiscite. Pakistan was asked (Refer to 1a) to withdraw the Army and the tribals who entered within the state in course of fighting (Indo-Pak Kashmir war 1947-48). India was asked to establish a Plebiscite commission and conduct the Plebiscite. Neither of the prerequisites did take place, nor the plebiscite. UN still recognises the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed area and shows it accordingly in its' map. Many of the states (including US) has changed their position since then to support 1972 Simla Agreement as a base of dispute resolution in Kashmir.

What is a Plebiscite?

A referendum (plurals: 'referendums' or 'referenda') or plebiscite (from plebiscita, originally a decree of the Concilium Plebis) is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. In the topic, choice (or preferendum) was to be given to People residing in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, to join India or Pakistan. There were no option for a free Kashmir in the referendum proposal. An example of plebiscite could be the Quebec referendum in 1980, where the choice was between a free Quebec, against remaining as a state of Canada.

The Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir

The Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir was primarily constituted of five different areas. The areas are - 1) Kashmir Valley, 2) Jammu, 3) Northern Areas, 4) Ladakh and 5) Aksai Chin. Among these, the valley is administered by both India and Pakistan. Jammu and Ladakh are almost entirely administered by India, Northern Areas are administered by Pakistan and the Aksai Chin was administered by Pakistan.

The Diversity

The State of J&K is a diverse geographical region, having people from different ethnicity and religious background. There is a little in similarity between and person living in Northern Area, a Valley resident, a Ladakhi and a resident in Jammu. It might worth noting that the dissatisfaction is mainly centered in Valley, because it is divided between India and Pakistan. Also, the valley dominates over all four regions, because of the higher population it has. The Northern Areas is governed directly by Pakistan yet they don't have any representation in Pakistani Parliament and understandably they are moving towards freedom struggle. The role of religion in the diversity can not be undermined. The Jammu region is predominantly Hindu and hence they would be happy to get annexed to India as a state. The Ladakh is mainly inhabited by the Buddhists and Shia Muslims (there are some settlers from valley as well) and so far did not wanted freedom from India. Similarly, the people of Northern Areas are mainly Shia and might not be comfortable within Pakistan.

The Solutions to Kashmir Problem

There are many proposals to solve the Kashmir dispute. Some of them contains region give-away, where some other are only some confidence building measures. A very good guide to these possible solutions is presented in this BBC document. It showed that all possible combination of solutions are in fact difficult to achieve and would make grounds for further damage in the region.

Plebiscite as a solution

The traditional proposal of plebiscite raises a lot of questions. The main question would be against linking the fate and aspiration of a Buddhist Ladakhi tied to a Sunni Muslim living in Sialkot. They live complete different lives. Moreover, after 60 years of independence, a lot of Kashmiris, who are legitimate stakeholders of the plebiscite, are living outside the region. A lot of people has also entered these regions (for example - people from Tibet entered Ladakh and people from NWFP entered Northern areas). It is difficult to conduct a plebiscite without bias - whoever conducts it. A role might be played by the vote with force. And at the end, whoever gets defeated, will perceive a loss and threaten to withdraw complaining a foul played by the other party. If, by any chance a lands do change ownership, it might result in a huge list of murdered and displaced people as the victor would in turn engage in routing out the anti-sentiments of the newly gained land.

A Modified Plebiscite

The plebiscite proposal can be modified to be used. The granularity of the decision-making process could be down to district or sub-division level, to minimize the displacements. This would in effect result in a partition of the state among Indian and Pakistani regions. For the continuity purpose, if the minority-pockets are exchanged, minorities could get slaughtered or displaced on either side, something that happened after 1947 Indian partition.

The recent view of India and Pakistan towards Plebiscite

Indians generally refer to Hari Singh treaty of accession and J&K State assembly decision in 1951 to annex the state with India. The claim for plebiscite is mainly raised by Kashmiri (valley) groups and Pakistanis. However, Pakistan is shifting their stance recently. Kofi Annan also said that the plebiscite proposal is irrelevant now. Pakistan President Musharraf even said that they would give up the claim for Kashmir if Indians implement a few peace-proposals.


I would suggest that any further change in boundary should be avoided at any cost. A change in boundary has done a lot of damage in 1947 and in 1971. We should not repeat it. While the advanced countries in Europe are looking ahead to reduce the burden of the boundaries, we should put our best efforts to minimize the impediments of the Indo-Pak boundary, rather than installing a new one.

References :

1) Kashmiris Reject War In Favour Of Democratic Means - A survey by MORI. The five point solution voted for by the people of Indian part of Kashmir are -

* Economic development of the region to provide more job opportunities and reduction of poverty - 93%* The holding of free and fair elections to elect the people's representatives - 86%* Direct consultation between the Indian government and the people of Kashmir - 87%* An end to militant violence in the region - 86%* Stopping the infiltration of militants across the Line of Control - 88%

2) Kashmir's forgotten plebiscite - BBC.

3) Documents related to J&K. It includes Article 370 of Indian Constitution and the speech of Sheikh Abdulla in J&K Assembly in 1951.

Diganta Sarkar is a Software Professional. He is curious about the world of science and culture. His aim of writing is to present his logical view to the world. He presents his views in his own blog (horizonspeaks) as well as in desicritics.
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March 22, 2007
06:23 PM

A good old biased article.

Kashmiris in India want to join Pak, there is no question about it. I dont see why you have to play the Shia card here, since it has never raised any problems in Pakistani politics.

Please dont try to confuse people with terms.

India has never had any right over Kashmir, its ironic the "worlds biggest democracy" refuses to let Kashmiris vote on where they want to go.

Nice article- Not.

March 22, 2007
06:46 PM

a. Given a choice, we should withdraw from the UN. A talking shop with zero benefits for India. At the end of the day the US decides everything anyway

b. Plebiscite as a solution is not valid as the country called Pakistan that was a dispute to the solution does not exist.

c. I dont see Pakistant having a locus standi on this issue as they have had a dictatorship themselves for what- 50 years?

The best solution will be let all the sunni kashmiris to migrate to azad kashmir. That way, they will be azad and we will have a kashmir azad of them. :-)


March 22, 2007
08:05 PM

All hail Chandra! :-)
Totally agree! I was always amazed that all the oppressed "Kashmiris" at JNU, IIT and DU etc who talked of "freedom" from India while benefitting from the social, political and economic freedoms being Indian gave them.

If they want "freedom" from India, lets start with removing a few special privileges the Kashmiris have (above and beyond other Indians): and that includes the Kashmiri domicile that prevents integration and pan-Indianism through marriage, living outside of Kashmir etc. Lets start with removing the privileges of Article 370 which prevent the rest of India from investing in Kashmir. And cut back on the budget - Kashmir received more central govt funds than most states!

As for the plebiscite - its ridiculous holding a plebiscite when the choices are between a democracy and a dictatorship. But if we do agree to hold a plebiscite, lets do so under the original UN conditions which require four basic conditions:

1. the withdrawal of Pakistani forces from ALL parts of Kashmir
2. moving in of Indian troops to restore and maintain law and order
3. no changes in demographics from that of 1948 (kind of difficult given the number of Punjabi army-wallahs who have been gifted land in PoK by Pakistani dictators in the last 60 years
4. once those conditions have been established (guaranteed by the Indian army) the plebiscite is conducted under the auspices of the INDIAN army

Those are the ORIGINAL UN conditions. I - as an Indian - would be HAPPY to follow them. Somehow doubt that Pakistan would be any happier than it has been for the past 60 years.

March 23, 2007
01:31 AM

"Kashmiris in India want to join Pak, there is no question about it." - where's the proof? Why don't Pakistan organize a plebiscite in their part of Kashmir to establish it? Why there were NOT A SINGLE ELECTION HELD IN NORTHERN AREAS IN LAST 60 YERAS? I am not playing any Shia-card. It's known to everyone.

March 23, 2007
02:43 AM

Its about the water people. We would have given away Kashmir long ago, had it not been for the water flowing through it. And Pakistan would have told us to keep Kashmir had it not been for the water and and and... the Srinagar highway

March 23, 2007
07:09 AM

While you stated most of your facts and observations right, I was not able to follow how you came to conclusion that boundaries should not be redrawn. None of your arguments make a case against redrawing the boundaries. Why shouldn't boundaries be redrawn? Is there is a reason for that (other than the fact that they are 'sacred')?

WHAT IF redrawing the boundaries turns out to be the best way to solve this problem, would you not want to redraw the boundaries? (some problems of the world have been solved by redrawing the boundaries)

March 23, 2007
07:40 AM

The best solution will be to let sunnis migrate peacefully to "azad kashmir" and pandits and people from densely populated locations to transfer to kashmir (Example: UP/ Bihar/WB).

March 23, 2007
10:54 AM

"WHAT IF redrawing the boundaries turns out to be the best way to solve this problem, would you not want to redraw the boundaries? (some problems of the world have been solved by redrawing the boundaries)"

Please name one case where redrawing boundaries has been a solution?

National boundaries aren't "sacred" because they shift over time but redrawing them is hardly a solution.

March 24, 2007
10:22 AM

None of your arguments make a case against redrawing the boundaries. Why shouldn't boundaries be redrawn? -
Very simple. To avoid murder of minorities at both sides of the changed border.

March 24, 2007
10:52 AM

Let me try to project what could happen in either cases of 'redrawing' the boundary. I would use the experiences the subcontinent had over last 100 years as a base.
As soon as a portion of land changes hand, the population moves from one legal framework to another. So, a legal criminal becomes a hero and vice versa.
Let me take up a few cases -
1) India gets the 'Azad Kashmir' and 'Northern Areas' - All the people engaged in so called 'freedom fight' will either get executed or flee to Pakistan.
2) Pakistan gets Kashmir Valley. All the people who are loyal to India for last 60 years (for example followers of Sheikh Abdullah and NC, the participants in J&K Light Infantry and J&K Police), will get executed. There might be Armed forces operating and killing people at gun-point.

This is exactly what happened in 1947 and 1971, when boundaries were redrawn in the subcontinent. As a migrant, I feel the pain of boundary redrawing till date. I still think a united Indian subcontinent would have been a better place to live. The boundaries created more problem than to solve.

March 24, 2007
11:57 AM

You can refer to the survey report of J&K for what Kashmiris want. I am cpoy-pasting them again to reinforce my soliderity with them -
* Economic development of the region to provide more job opportunities and reduction of poverty - 93%
* The holding of free and fair elections to elect the people's representatives - 86%
* Direct consultation between the Indian government and the people of Kashmir - 87%
* An end to militant violence in the region - 86%
* Stopping the infiltration of militants across the Line of Control - 88%

March 24, 2007
12:55 PM

I think we should let people who want to be with Pakistan to move to Pakistan. May be a relocation department in J & K?


March 26, 2007
08:23 AM

Another addition to the references :

This is the report prepared by Emma Nicholson on behalf of EU. The report clearly nullifies the necessity of Plebiscite and stresses on improving basic rights available to Kashmiris in both sides of the border.

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