A memoir from the Grey Zone

Col Ajay K Raina
There are autobiographies, and then there are biographies. The former category is replete with self-adulating stories that sometimes tend to read more as works of fiction than anything else.
From Babarnama to Musharraf’s In the Line of Fire, there are numerous examples wherein the authors have tried to hide the ugly truths or justify what they did at certain points in time. The latter category, by and large, and especially if written by an unrelated, unbiased author, tends to be more authentic. In between these two categories lies a grey zone where a memoir or biographical account is published by someone who has a reason to glorify or demean someone who is no longer there to contest or, worse, whose contemporaries are long gone and no one can really contest or authenticate the story being told. The recently released book, Love, Exile, Redemption: The Saga of Kashmir’s Last Pandit Prime Minister and his English Wife, by the well-known TV personality Siddharth Kak and Leela Bhan Kak, falls into this grey zone.
By Siddharth’s own admission, a part of the story is based on what he was told by his grandfather, RC Kak, more than five decades ago. He, himself, was too young to comprehend the same in the right context. While the book has been written in a smooth, flowing language, the content raises certain questions. In fact, had this book been published a few decades ago, the existing Nehru-Sheikh equations and anti-Maharaja stance of the powers in Delhi would have possibly made it a part of the school curriculum. However, such a step would have also risked inviting many voices of protest. Today, while that risk may be non-existent, the research works undertaken by many military historians are already in the public domain to counter what is being claimed in the book. Just to cite an example, as per the authors, RC Kak mentions that the Maharaja just packed his stuff and left for Jammu in the face of the invasion in October 1947. He conveniently leaves aside the fact about that departure that was insisted upon by none other than VP Menon, then Secretary of the Ministry of States and Home (under Sardar Patel), who had underlined the need for the Maharaja to move to Jammu for two reasons-the first one was to foil the plan of Pakistanis to capture the Maharaja alive in Srinagar and make him sign the Instrument of Accession; the second being ease of landing at Jammu by air, as compared with Srinagar because of tall Pir Panjals. Menon contemplated flying to Delhi the next morning and returning to have the Instrument of Accession signed by the Maharaja. That is how it eventually panned out, too. But then how would Kak, who was behind bars at that time, know the facts? And yet, it is cited like a gospel in the book.
To be fair to the work, it may be read as a book that defies some well-known historical facts in an attempt to salvage the reputation of one of the ancestors, though many portions do make an interesting read. The fact that RC Kak wrote many a book and paper but chose not to write this book when he was alive also casts a shadow of doubt about what is being claimed. Since this review pertains to a particular book and it may not be proper to refer to other works in detail, there do exist informed opinions that connect RC Kak’s British wife with the British conspiracy that was played out in the form of Operation Gulmarg (annexation of areas west of Chenab River, i.e., between Akhnoor and Poonch in Jammu region and complete Kashmir and Kishan Ganga Valleys across the Pir Panjals) and Operation Datta Khel (annexation of Gilgit-Baltistan). Equally important is the well-documented history that mentions the insistence of MK Gandhi and Nehru to sack Kak as the Prime Minister of the princely state. Such facts are part of official documents kept in the custody of Lord Mountbatten. Obviously, they had their valid reasons to do so. There is no mention of the alleged involvement of RC Kak’s kin in certain projects awarded to them because of the former’s position in the state’s hierarchy. Whether true or false, if such claims exist in the environment, the same should have been duly tackled.
Twisting the narratives has been in fashion for a long. The Indian history, in general, and that of J&K in particular, is well understood to have been distorted deliberately. This book, with a clear intent to salvage the image of one person, has willingly or unintentionally joined the long list of narrative-based works. Despite its good literary quality, the book fails the stern test of the true history of the subcontinent.
(The author is a military historian and Founding Trustee of the Military History Research Foundation, India)