Gandhi Ji in Kashmir

From the file of Late BP Sharma

Mahatma Gandhi tried his best to prevent the state of Jammu and Kashmir from becoming a potential menace to peace between the two newly carved dominions of India and Pakistan.
He was not in favour of Nehru’s proposal to refer the Kashmir dispute to the UNO and advised settlement by direct negotiations.
Gandhi ji paid only one visit to Jammu & Kashmir and that too in 1947 when the dark clouds were looming large over the state on account of Maharaja Hari Singh’s indecision to accede to one of the newly created dominions.
As his secretary, Pyare Lal, records: “Gandhiji had always had uneasy forebidings about Kashmir and tried his best to prevent it from becoming a potential menace to peace between the two dominions”.
Even at such a crucial moment Maharaja Hari singh would not allow the Father of the Nation to visit his state. The Maharaja wrote to Lord Mountbatten that he considered Mahatamaji’s visit to his state as “inadvisable from all points of view”, and requested Lord Mountbatten that “He (mahatamaji) or any other political leader should not visit the state until the conditions in India take a happier turn”.
Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru was distressed to hear the views of the Maharaja and on July 28, 1947, wrote to Gandhiji “…….I shall go ahead with my plans. As between visiting Kashmir when my people need me there and being the Prime Minister, I prefer the former”.
Gandhi informed Lord Mountbatten about the firm stand taken by Nehru to defy the Maharaja’s orders. Mountbatten had hurried consultations with Hari Singh. Faced with the possibility of an imminent visit of Nehru, the Maharaja gave his reluctant acceptance to Gandhiji’s visit.
Lord Mountbatten wrote to Mahatamaji about his talks with the Maharaja and said: “….. May I, therefore, urge that you should suggest to Pandit Nehru that your visit at this moment would be better than a visit from him, for I really do not know how the future Prime Minister of India can be spared from Delhi when only 18 days are left for him to take over”.
In his prayer meeting at Delhi on 29th July 1947, Gandhiji said that he was going to Kashmir “to fulfill the promise made to Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru”.
Gandhi ji left Delhi on 31st July and reached Srinagar on 1st August 1947. His visit to Srinagar was regarded as an event of great political importance as just 14 days were left for the British to quit India and the popular leader-Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah-with whose help and cooperation alone Kashmir could accede to India, was still languishing in the jail.
Gandhi ji stayed at the residence of late Shri kishori Lal, a Congress worker, at Haft-Chinar. He did not address any public meeting but after intervals he gave “darshan” to the large crowds of people assembled in the spacious courtyard shouting “Gandhi ji ki Jai”.
By a strange coincidence, the 1st of August was being celebrated by the state government as “the day of restoration of Gilgit”. The British, it will be recalled, had assumed the civil and military administration of Gilgit from Maharaja Hari Singh on 26th March 1935 for a period of 60 years. With the impending lapse of British paramountcy Gilgit was restored to the Maharaja. Among the programme of jubilations ordered was illumination of the cities and forts. In the evening, Gandhi ji’s host Kishori Lal took him in his car for a round of the city. Gandhi ji saw the Shergarhi Palace and the streets profusely illuminated. “What are these illuminations for ?”, he asked. On being told the reason, he made a prophetic remark: “A great mistake. They should have taken this opportunity to proclaim Gilgit’s autonomy within Kashmir”.
On the 2nd and 3rd August 1947, Gandhi ji held prayer meetings in srinagar but made no reference to his meetings with the Maharaja or his Prime Minister Pandit Ram Chandra Kak. On the 3rd of August he called upon Begum Abdullah (wife of Sheikh Abdullah).
Gandhi ji left Srinagar for Jammu by car on the 4th August where he stayed at the residence of Shri JN Sharma, the then superintendent of the Ranbir Government Press. Incidentally, Sharma’s was the only private house in Jammu which had spacious lawn and a large verandah and was considered by the local Congress workers as most suitable for Gandhi ji’s stay.
Gandhi ji gave “darshan” to anxious crowds of people. To a deputation which met him to enquire about the future of the state, Gandhi ji said: “the future will depend on the people of Kashmir”.
Gandhi ji made his mission known and broke his silence on the most burning issue of the state’s future only when he had left the Maharaja’s territories. He left Jammu for Rawalpindi on the 5th August stepping at the Wah refugee camp on the way.
In a statement issued by him on the 6th August, Gandhi ji said: “The will of the Kashmiris is the supreme law in Kashmir. The Maharaja and the Maharani shared this view, the sooner the will of the Kashmiris decides the fate of Kashmir, the better”. He hoped the question would be decided between the dominions, the Maharaja of Kashmir and the Kashmiris. After they could come to a joint decision much trouble would be saved. Kashmir is a big state and has a great strategic value”, he concluded.
In his letter to Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru dated 6th August 1947, Mahatma Gandhi gave some details of his talks with Maharaja Hari Singh, Maharani Tara Devi and Pandit Ram Chandra Kak, Prime Minister. He said: “During my interviews with the Prime Minister, Ram Chandra Kak, I told him about his unpopularity among the people. He wrote to the Maharaja that a sign from him he would gladly resign. The Maharaja had sent me a message that he and the Maharani were anxious to see me. I met them. Both admitted that with the lapse of British Paramountcy, the true paramountcy of the people of Kashmir would commence. However much they might wish to join the Union, they would have to make the choice in accordance with the wishes of the people. How that could be determined was not discussed at the interview……”.
Events that followed Gandhi ji’s visit were very significant. On 11th August the Prime Minister, Ram Chandra Kak, resigned. This was followed by the release of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and other leaders.
Gandhi ji was much distressed to hear the reports of some killings in certain parts of Jammu. His Secretary, Pyre Lal, has recorded the following conversation between Gandhi ji and Sheikh Abdullah during the latter’s visit to Delhi in December, 1947. “Is it true what they say about conduct of Kashmir state troops during the post-partition troubles? Gandhi ji asked Sheikh Abdullah. The latter admitted that unfortunately it was true. Gandhi ji blazed forth: “How dare you weaken then on the issue of the curtailment of the Maharaja’s powers without betraying your trust?”.
Immediately on his return from Delhi, Sheikh Abdullah started a tirade against the Maharaja which culminated in the ending of the hereditary rulership in Jammu and Kashmir.
Gandhi ji had all praise for the spirit of communal harmony prevailing in Kashmir. In his prayer meeting at Delhi on 29th December 1947, he said: ” It is on the Kashmir soil that Islam and Hinduism are being weighed. If both pull their weight correctly in the same direction, the chief actors will cover themselves with glory and nothing can move them from their joint credit. My sole hope and prayer is that Kashmir should become a beacon of light to this benighted sub-continent”.
Gandhi ji, who stood for non-violence, blessed the action of the Union Government in sending their troops to defend Kashmir against tribal invasion. He said: “I would not shed a tear if the little Union force was wiped out bravely defending Kashmir like the Spartans at Thermopylae, nor would I mind Sheikh Abdullah and his Muslim, Hindu and Sikh comrades dying at their posts in defence of Kashmir. That would be a glorious example for the rest of India. It would make the people of India forget that the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were ever one another’s enemies”.
Paying a tribute to steadfastness and undaunted courage of Mir Maqbool Sherwani, who was nailed to death by Pakistani raiders at Baramulla, Gandhi ji said : “This is a martyrdom of which everyone-Hindu, Sikh, Muslim or any other-should be proud”.
Gandhi ji could foresee that the Kashmir dispute, if refered to the UNO, would get bogged down into the power politics of the big powers. He, therefore, did not approve of Pandit Nehru’s proposal to refer the dispute to UNO. He is on record having refused to bless Shri N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, who was designated as India’s representative to present the case to UNO. Gandhi ji said: “You must understand that your ways and mine are different. You should, therefore, either make up your mind to follow my path and settle the issue by direct negotiations, using the good offices of any one you like from among ourselves or, if necessary, with the help of any country in Asia, or frankly and openly take an independent line”.
(The writer Mr.BP Sharma closely watched the pre & post partition developments concerning Jammu and Kashmir as he was an active journalist at that time. Later, he headed the Information Department as Principal Information Officer of the State).