Among the minor figures of modern Indian history, one who has long intrigued me is the civil servant and journalist A. D. Gorwala. Born in 1900, Gorwala studied in Bombay and England before joining the Indian Civil Service in 1924. He served in rural Sindh and in the Secretariat, acquiring a high reputation for efficiency and a higher one for integrity. In 1945 Gorwala and his fellow Cambridge man, the economist D. R. Gadgil, were asked to advise the Bombay Government on their food policy in a time of scarcity. That sceptic as regards state intervention, Mahatma Gandhi, was opposed to rationing, but Gadgil and Gorwala successfully overruled him, arguing that the poor lacked the capacity to buy grain in the market and, especially, the black market. To save them from starvation it was thus necessary for the government to take over the distribution of food.
Soon after Independence, Gorwala resigned from the Indian Civil Service. He wrote for various newspapers and journals before, in 1960, starting his own little magazine, with the simple title of Opinion. Most of this was written by Gorwala himself, and most of it dealt with the corruptions of the State, whether petty or portentous.
Opinion had a small but devoted readership. It ran more-or-less smoothly for fifteen years, until Mrs Indira Gandhi imposed her Emergency, and came down hard on the freedom of the press. A year into the Emergency, Opinion was ordered to shut down, but Gorwala was able to print one last issue where he observed that ‘the current Indira regime, founded on June 26, 1975, was born through lies, nurtured by lies, and flourishes by lies. The essential ingredient of its being is the lie. Consequently, to have a truth-loving, straight-thinking journal examine it week after week and point out its falsehoods becomes intolerable to it.’
I knew of A. D. Gorwala’s battles with Gandhis great and Gandhis small. In other words, I knew already of his courage, but recently I came across a striking illustration of his other notable attribute, wisdom. In a piece he wrote for the Bombay weekly Current in September 1951, Gorwala wryly anatomized the Kashmir dispute in terms and phrases that remain strikingly relevant today. This, then, is how this impartial Indian summarized the positions and prejudices of the disputants:
‘Says the Pakistan Government: The bulk of the inhabitants of Kashmir are Muslims. It is a Muslim province. Pakistan is a Muslim state. Kashmir is contiguous to Pakistan. Its people wish to belong to Pakistan. It must belong to Pakistan.
Says the Indian Government: The fact that the majority of Kashmiris are Muslims has nothing to do with the country which Kashmir joins. The ruler of Kashmir acceded to India and the real leaders of the people of Kashmir, Muslims themselves, have clearly stated their desire to remain with India. Kashmir, therefore, must come to India. It is, in fact, a part of India. The part held by Pakistan is wrongly seized by aggression and must be vacated in favour of the real government. Then, we shall have a plebiscite to let the people of Kashmir decide their future.
Says the Pakistan Government: What is the use of such a plebiscite? The result will be a foregone conclusion. For a proper plebiscite, take away your soldiers, remove the government, have a neutral authority in power.
Says the Indian Government: Don’t be silly. Who are you to talk anyway? You let raiders into the land to loot and rape and helped them with your own troops. You are the worst type of aggressor. Get out of Kashmir and stay out. We are not going to let you interfere.
Says the Pakistan Government: But this is absurd. You plotted with the Maharaja. The people you call leaders are really your stooges. There must be a proper plebiscite. Our people are getting very impatient. We clench our fists at you. If you don’t listen and the United Nations don’t make you, we shall seek the arbitrament of war.
Says the Indian Government: Your allegations are false. If you restart fighting in Kashmir, prepare for an attack on Pakistan. In order to show that we are in earnest, we are moving troops very near your borders.
Says the Pakistan Government: This is fantastic. You are preparing for aggression. This is really terrible. Withdraw your troops.
Says the Indian Government: We won’t. It is time you learnt to behave.’
Reading this summary of contending positions, one is reminded of the saying: The more things change, the more they stay the same. For, with a word or phrase amended here and there, this is how the parties still see their ‘core dispute’, fully fifty-five years later. But one is also reminded of what Sheikh Abdullah once said of the Valley of Kashmir, that it was a beautiful damsel being fought over by two violent and equally unpleasant suitors.
Published in The Hindu, 12/11/2006