The British quit India on August 15, 1947 after dividing British India into two Dominions – Indian Dominion and Pakistan Dominion – on religious basis. All this happened under the Indian Independence Act of 1947. 560-odd princely States in India were not part of the partition plan. Their fate was to be decided by the rulers/ princes of the respective states. They had to exercise a choice between India and Pakistan. There was no third or fourth option. They were required to exercise their choice taking into consideration the continuity factor. But more than that, there was no provision in the Independence Act which provided for limited or conditional accession.
…Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru barred Patel from handling the solitary State of Jammu & Kashmir.
In the newly-created Indian Dominion, the question of integrating the princely states was left to the care of the then Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Sardar Patel. However, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru barred Patel from handling the solitary State of Jammu & Kashmir. He himself handled it and how he handled or mishandled it is not a secret. Everything is in public domain and remains a subject of discussion even after 70 years of the accession of Jammu & Kashmir with India.
I will skip what happened in Jammu & Kashmir after it acceded to the Indian Dominion on October 26. I will also not catalogue here what Pakistani barbarous regulars and irregulars did after October 19 to annex Jammu & Kashmir as everything is on record. It is history. I will focus only on that aspect which, sadly, escaped the attention even of serious researchers and commentators.
The general belief in the country is that Maharaja Hari Singh offered accession of his State only on October 26, 1947. This is not true. The fact of the matter is that he proposed accession immediately after Pakistan broke the standstill agreement and invaded Jammu & Kashmir on October 20.
It would be only prudent to quote verbatim what the then Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Mehr Chand Mahajan, wrote in this context in his autobiography Looking Back.
He wrote: “Pakistan invasion was an unprovoked act of aggression. The Maharaja had not done anything to invite it. Its objective was to take possession of the state by force. What did India do on the other hand? When we got the news of the raid, we sent our Deputy Prime Minister with a letter from His Highness to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of India. I also sent personal letters, asking help on humanitarian grounds to save us from this unprovoked act of aggression. We also sent a letter proposing accession. The British Prime Minister was approached by cable but no response came from him. October 24 and 25, the two most anxious and most exciting days passed but no reply came from anywhere. The whole of Srinagar and the State were in danger and everyone was running for his life. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and his party (National Conference) had organised groups of their party men to stop people from leaving the state, not realising that they would all be killed if raiders reached Srinagar and everything would be destroyed. Sheikh Abdullah had quietly taken a plane to Delhi on the 25th evening” (p. 274).
…Pakistan had no locus standi before the Tribunal of Nations…
Mehr Chand Mahajan further wrote: “The Maharaja and the Cabinet discussed what military action they could take at the last moment to save the town (Srinagar). We had, at our disposal, a cavalry battalion, the personal guards of His Highness and a disbanded company of Muslim soldiers. Pakistan had invaded the State and overrun it while India was neither giving help nor sending even a reply to our request. We spent two more days in suspense and in organising whatever defensive action we could take with the help of the Dogra Brigadier, the guards and the police officers. Of course, we allowed the people to leave the town as best as they could…” (p. 275)
This following account of Mehr Chand Mahajan would clear all the cobwebs of confusion and establish that Maharaja Hari Singh tried his best to persuade Nehru to accept the accession proposal and help the State against the Pakistani aggression before October 26.
He wrote thus: “These coercive and aggressive acts on the part of Pakistan between the 20th of October and the 27th of October form conclusive evidence for branding it an aggressor. They afford sufficient and ample proof – if proof was needed – to hold that Pakistan had no locus standi before the Tribunal of Nations, if it has any sense of fairness and justice left in it. See in contrast India’s attitude – hesitating to sign standstill agreement, giving small help here and there by air on humanitarian grounds, indifferent to accession, no response and no reply on 24th and 25th even when armed attacks on innocent people were on and loot, arson and butchery were going on…”(p. 276)
It was under these circumstances that Mehr Chand Mahajan went to Delhi to meet Nehru and negotiate the accession issue. He met with Nehru and Patel and apprised them of the serious and dangerous situation in the state. He also solicited military support and urged them to send the Army at once, saying “the whole of town of Srinagar and all we held valuable would be completely destroyed” (P-277).
…I was assured that even if Srinagar fell in Pak hands, it would be retaken.
– Mehr Chand Mahajan, Prime Minister of Kashmir
And see the kind of response Mehr Chand Mahajan’s passionate plea evoked. Let me quote Mehr Chand Mahajan himself: “I was asked how an Army could be sent at a moment’s notice. I was assured that even if Srinagar fell in Pak hands, it would be retaken. I was not impressed and took up a firm attitude and said, ‘Give army, take accession… otherwise I will go and negotiate terms with Mr Jinnah as the city must be saved’. On this, the Prime Minister flew into a rage and gave an exhibition of his temper and told me to get out. Just as I rose to leave, an accident occurred that saved Kashmir from falling into Pak hands. Sheikh Abdullah who was staying in the Prime Minister’s house was overhearing the talks. Sensing a critical situation, he sent a slip of paper to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister read it and his attitude completely changed”.
Nehru accepted the accession offer and agreed to send the Army but with the condition that Maharaja Hari Singh would abdicate his authority in favour of Sheikh Abdullah, his friend. Mehr Chand Mahajan accepted the condition and the Army landed in Kashmir on October 27.
Had Nehru and his Cabinet accepted the Maharaja Hari Singh’s earlier accession proposal, Pakistan would not have been able to annex parts of Jammu province, Kashmir and Ladakh region and there would not have been what we today call Pakistan-occupied-Jammu & Kashmir (PoJK). However, to say this is not to suggest that India was not in a position to retrieve these occupied areas. It was but Nehru at the behest of Sheikh Abdullah ordered a strict ceasefire at a time when the advancing Indian Army had the Pakistani invaders on the run.
The point is that it was Delhi which committed three blunders between October 20 and 27. One was that it didn’t accept Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession proposal before October 26. The other was that it made Sheikh Abdullah a party to the accession despite the fact that he had no locus standi in the matter. In other words, Delhi negated the very process the Indian Independence Act had prescribed for the accession business. And the third was that Delhi barred the advancing Army from recapturing the Jammu & Kashmir territories from Pakistan.
For one man, Sheikh Abdullah, Nehru put at stake everything.
All this should set the record straight and help us understand what Nehru did or not did and what he actually stood for. For one man, Sheikh Abdullah, Nehru put at stake everything.
It would be only desirable to say that the Indian nation is paying through its nose since 1947 for these three follies and the follies which followed these follies post-October 1947.
One can only hope that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would undo all these past wrongs and start from a scratch to build up that Jammu & Kashmir that talks India and walks India. The Nehruvian approach has to go lock, stock and barrel if Jammu & Kashmir is to remain part of India. To be more precise, integrations have to be promoted and strengthened and separatists and communalists in Kashmir have to be reined in, isolated and brought to justice.