Mehr Chand Mahajan was born in a small village called Tika Nagrota in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh and rose to the Chief Justice of India,the highest honour the country could offer. Rejected at birth on astrological grounds, he was brought up in a Rajput peasant family up to the age of seven.Though brought home by his parents when he was seven years old,his father saw his face for the first time when he was twelve;under the guidance of astrologers and learned pandits after due process of propitiating the Gods.
After completing middle school in 1905, Mehr Chand moved to Lahore for further studies and graduated from Government College, Lohore, in 1910. He opted for an M.Sc.in Chemistry and was taken in a student demonstrator but, midway during the session, he was prevailed upon to switch to law.His father,Lala Brij Lal,a prominent advocate had established an impressive legal pratice at Dharamshalla with a well stocked library and Mehr Chand was his only son; he was keen that Mehr follow his profession where he could help and steer him to a good start in his career.
Thus,in 1912,this young man,armed with his LL.B degree, started practice at Dharamsala under his father’s guidance. He has worked on various important assignments during his life, but his position as Prime Minister of J&K was a formidable challenge for him.
Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir
The biggest challenge and achievement of Mr Mahajan’s career was during the few months that he was the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir from October 15,
1947 to March 1948.Though brief,this was a momentous period in the history of the country. Pakistan had, with the help of the Prime Minister of Kashmir Ram Chandra Kak, already established its operational bases at strategic points like Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg.Tribal raids were being organised by the Pakistan Government with the acquiescence of the British Governor of the Frontier province. lgnoring the standstill Agreement, Pakistan had stopped the import into Kashmir of essential commodities such as petrol, oils, salt, sugar, food and cloth. Infiltration into Kashmir along the areas touching Pakistan were being organised,and Poonch had been converted into a storm centre.
The Maharaja of Kashmir was undecided on the question of Accession. Mr Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Prime Minister of Pakistan was extremely keen that the Maharaja should accede to Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten advised the Maharaja not to accede to either of the dominions without ascertaining the wishes of his subjects by referendum, plebiscite, election or by representative public meeting. The Maharaja and some of his advisers, going by the British declarations on the status of the states after independence, hoped for an independent Kashmir .In the state itself the leaders of the Muslim conference were keen that the Maharaja should accede to Pakistan while the leaders of the National Conference desired accession to India, till then, had not shown any keen inclination either way ; it would have welcomed the Maharaja’s accession to India but it did not adopt any pressure tactics to influence him. Sheikh Abdullah was keen to acquire power but the Maharaja did not trust him. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India had,on the other hand,enormous trust and faith in him and with his support, Sheikh Abdullah was aspiring to become Prime Minister of the state sidelining the Maharaja as a mere constitutional ruler.
Such were the tumultuous conditions in Kashmir when Mr.Mahajan took over the reins of administration as Prime Minister. He had earlier met Lord Mountbatten, Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel to seek their advice.On 15th October 1947 he assumed the office of Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and in less than two weeks, on 27th October 1947 The Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir had formally acceded to India, thanks to the sincere, mature and pragmatic advice by Mr.Mahajan. At the same time he ensured that, before the formal agreement was signed, the Government of India’s troops landed at Srinagar by the morning of the 27 th and started their military operations forthwith to counter the Pakistani attack.
To get the troops from India to move to Srinagar within 24 hours was an unprecedented achievement. on 26th October Mr Mahajan flew to Delhi and went straight to Pandit Nehru’s residence where Sardar Patel was also present. Mr Nehru observed that troops could not be moved on the spur of the moment; necessary preparation and arrangements would take time. Mr Mahajan however, was adamant and ultimately stated, “Give us the military force we need. Take the accession and give whatever power you desire to the popular party. The army must fly to save Srinagar this evening or else I will go to Lahore and negotiate terms with Mr Jinnah. “Such was the sence of duty and moral courage of this great man. As a result of the decision taken that morning two companies of Indian troops were flown to Srinagar immediately and all available planes in the country were requisitioned for the purpose. This thwarted Mr Jinnah’s plans for a massive two pronged attack on Jammu and Srinagar.
Though a pre-eminent judge and jurist, Mr Mahajan was an administrator of exceptional merit. During the communal frenzy that engulfed the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir he maintained law and order with an extremely inadequate police force; he tried to restore some degree of confidence among the Hindu population of the state when their relatives and friends were being butchered and massacred by Pakistani soldiers masquerading as border tribesmen and by local Muslims armed by Pakistan, and he tried to help in the evacuation of Muslims wishing to go to Pakistan. His problem was that he did not have enough men in the state police force nor troops in the state’s Dogra contingent to effectively handle the law and order situation. With the promised support from India not forthcoming, he did the best that could be done within his very limited and meager resources.
A constant irritant faced by Mr Mahajan was the rather unethical modus operandi adopted by Sheikh Abdullah in acquiring totalitarian powers for himself in the state. He was keen that Mr Mahajan should quit and he be appointed instead as Prime Minister of the state with full administrative powers. To this end, he did every thing he could. His pleadings with the Maharaja, however, were unsuccessful since the later did not trust him and was more than a little concerned about the communal slant in his thought and actions. On the other hand, the Maharaja had full faith and confidence in Mr Mahajan’s judgment and sincerity. Sheikh Abdullah, then tried to capitalize on Pandit Nehru’s keenness that the internal administration of the state be democratized and that he play an important role in it. His suggestion was accordingly placed before Panditji. However, the decision reached in consultation with Sardar Patel was that Sheikh Abdullah be designated as Head of Emergency Administration and Mr Mahajan should continue to be the Prime Minister.
Now that Sheikh Abdullah had his foot in the state’s administration, he started methodically to grab as much power as he could and his campaign for the ouster of Mahajan gathered further momentum. To discredit Mr. Mahajan, he started making false and malicious complaints to Pandit Nehru and even attempted to poison Mahatma Gandhi,s mind against him. Mr Mahajan refused to submit to such unethical and unjustified critism. He explained the factual position to Pandit Nehru who regretted that he had been misinformed. To Mahatma Gandhi,he wrote of the circumstances in Jammu and Kashmir that led to communal violence. He also explained that the evacuation of Muslims from Jammu to Pakistan was being carried out under the protection of the Indian army. The state police force was absolutely inadequate to enforce law and order when mass scale communal violence erupted. He questioned Mahatma Gandhi: “May I ask you in the interests of justice and fair play and on principles of ahimsa whether in these circumstances you were right in what you said in the prayer speech…” (as reported in the Hindustan Times of 27th December 1947). He added ” It has hurt us (the Maharaja and himself) more because the speech was made without investigation and without giving us an opportunity to state correct facts and on a hearsay version which was wholly one-sided and incorrect Mahatma Gandhi desired to meet Mr. Mahajan. The two had an hour long discussion and Mahatma Gandhi agreed with his analysis and conclusions. Sheikh Abdullah continued with his scheming manoeuvers but Mr. Mahajan was not willing to be discredited on the basis of false complaints.
Meanwhile, at the suggestion of Lord Mountbatten, India had lodged a complaint against Pakistan in the United Nation Security Council on its open and blatant aggression, much against the advice of Mr Mahajan and the Maharaja.The Maharaja finally agreed to it since External Affairs was a subject on which the State had acceded to India. Pandit Nehru was now impatient to install Sheikh Abdullah as the Prime Minister of the State as he was the head of the National Conference. Though, the Maharaja was not willing to relieve Mr Maharaja he was finally persuaded by Sardar Patel to let him go and Mr Mahajan therefore left Kashmir at the beginning of March 1948.