VEIL OF HISTORY HAS DONE HARM TO KASHMIR
India cannot afford to nurture holy cows. It should lay bare the role played by the British, especially Mountbatten with his mesmeric hold on Gandhi, Nehru and even Sardar Patel
With the National Conference repeatedly questioning Jammu & Kashmir’s accession to India, and Pakistan continuing to claim Maharaja Hari Singh’s erstwhile kingdom in entirety, it is imperative that New Delhi lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the events that resulted in the ruler opting for India. The time has come to transcend the pious orthodoxies around Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other actors in this episode which has hurt India’s security, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and national self-esteem.
Great nations must have the gumption to face unpalatable truths, introspect, and not hide behind obfuscation. Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, one of our foremost strategic thinkers, studied Pakistan’s persistent claim that Jammu & Kashmir was the “unfinished agenda of partition”. After his death in August 2013, his colleagues Manpreet Sethi and Shalini Chawla collected the best of his thoughts on Pakistan and India’s nuclear ethos in an excellent memorial volume (India’s Sentinel. Select writings of Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, AVSM, VrC, VM (Retd), Knowledge World, 2014).
Pakistan’s main argument is that since partition was along communal lines and Pakistan was created from Muslim majority areas of India, it should have received Jammu & Kashmir on account of its Muslim majority. This is also the crux of Pakistan’s defence for its aggression in 1947 and refusal to honour UN resolutions calling it to vacate the seized territory.
The reality was more complex. Despite the communal basis of partition, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s first Governor General, made strenuous efforts to coax some Hindu rulers to remain independent and join Pakistan later. The Maharaja of Jodhpur met Jinnah several times and nearly agreed to join Pakistan in return for the use of Karachi as a free port, free import of arms, control over the Jodhpur-Hyderabad (Sindh) railway, and grains for famine relief. Jinnah also approached the rulers of Jaisalmer and Bikaner; this negates his claim to Jammu & Kashmir on grounds of its Muslim majority.
Paradoxically, a referendum was held in the Muslim majority North West Frontier Province. But more pertinently, the partition process applied only to areas ruled directly by the British, and not the Princely States, where the decision vested in the ruler. Interestingly, decades later, former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto wrote that East Pakistan’s wish to separate in 1971 was illegitimate because the right to self-determination had been exercised in 1947 and could not be re-exercised (Daughter of Destiny, 1989).
Air Cmde Jasjit Singh accepts without scrutiny Sheikh Abdullah’s claim (Flames of the Chinar: An Autobiography) that the then Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Meher Chand Mahajan, threatened Nehru when he brought the Maharaja’s letter of accession to Delhi on October 26, 1947. At a meeting where Abdullah claims to be present, Mahajan insisted: “The Army must leave for Srinagar today otherwise I shall proceed straight to Mr Jinnah and sign an agreement with him”. Nehru reputedly walked out in anger saying, “If you favour an agreement with Pakistan (you can) leave at once”. In Abdullah’s account, it was he who persuaded Nehru to accept the accession and pleaded with Mahatma Gandhi to send the Indian Army to defend the State.
This assertion needs to be interrogated on at least two counts. First, in his exhaustive work on Kashmir, AG Noorani observes that neither Maharaja Hari Singh, his Prime Minister at independence, Ramchandra Kak, nor Sheikh Abdullah favoured accession to Pakistan. When Louis Mountbatten visited Kashmir in June 1947 to get a decision from the Maharaja, Kak urged the Viceroy to state his preference. Evading a direct reply, Mountbatten said, “You must consider your geographical position, your political situation and composition of your population and then decide”. Kak retorted: “That means that you advise us to accede to Pakistan. It is not possible for us to do that; and since that is so, we cannot accede to India.”
Second, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre interviewed Mountbatten for their book, Mountbatten and Independent India: 16 August 1947-18 June 1948, where he admitted telling Hari Singh to join Pakistan. “I must tell you honestly, I wanted Kashmir to join Pakistan … (Sir Cyril) Radcliffe (Chairman of the India Pakistan Boundary Commission) let us in for an awful lot of trouble by making it possible for them to accede to India” (by awarding India a portion of Gurdaspur, which facilitated the land link to Jammu & Kashmir). In this, MC Mahajan, as member of the Radcliffe Commission, played a role by turning down the offer of district Lahore and getting district Gurdaspur for India.
Thus, the Mahajan-Nehru face-off hints at more fundamental issues that await revelation. After Pakistan violated its Standstill Agreement with Hari Singh and launched an economic blockade on the strategic State, why did New Delhi fail to read the warning signals? The critical northern frontier posts were left unmanned, making them easy to annex, as painfully exposed by Brig Ghansara Singh in his deliberately ignored account, Gilgit before 1947. In Gilgit Agency, the British Army officer led the revolt and declared accession to Pakistan!
When the full-scale invasion began on October 22, 1947, the entire Indian nationalist leadership failed to rise to the occasion. Four critical days were lost before Mahajan arrived with the letter of accession; was he wrong to insist on the urgency of airlifting troops? As it happened, Srinagar was saved very narrowly, as Jinnah on October 27 gave orders to seize the airfield, Baramulla, and the Bannihal Pass.
Today, despite the Jammu & Kashmir Constituent Assembly having endorsed the accession to India and the citizens repeatedly exercising their democratic rights in free elections, the State is gripped by a grim and rabid fundamentalism, of which the ban on Kausar Nag Yatra is just one expression. Hence, India cannot afford to nurture holy cows; we must unveil the devious role played by the British, particularly Mountbatten with his mesmeric hold on Gandhi, Nehru and even Sardar Patel.
The fact that Maharaja Hari Singh and his close aides felt unable to confide in the Congress leaders about Mountbatten’s advice to join Pakistan, an event that would make Indian borders even more difficult to defend than at present, needs explanation. Even the retention of Mountbatten as first Governor General of India, a position he relinquished only after India was stuck in the UN quagmire and Pakistan had annexed the strategic northern frontier, calls for deeper analysis. Most dubious was his act of turning Hari Singh’s unconditional accession into a conditional acceptance requiring endorsement by the people. As pressures rise for dialogue with Pakistan, it is only fitting that citizens learn the truth regarding this vexed chapter in our history and politics.
(The accompanying visual is of the crowd which cheered Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as he arrived in Srinagar to participate in the participate in the All Jammu & Kashmir National Conference, on September 24, 1949. Courtesy: Photo Division, Government of India)