“Suddenly the light went out- the invaders had captured and destroyed the only power house at that time which was at Mahura on the main road from Domel to Srinagar along which the invasion was proceeding….”. This is how Dr Karan Singh has described that fateful day of October 24, when the Dushhera Darbar was underway in Sher Garhi Palace in Srinagar. It was that time when the State was passing through a tumult due to Pakistan’s full-fledged attack launched on the State on 21/22nd October, 1947. Inklings of such a provocation were already in the air. Major Shah, a Jinnah’s emissary who was in Srinagar, told the newly appointed Dewan Mehr Chand Mahajan on October 15th that Kashmir’s failure to decide immediately to accede to Pakistan could have serious consequences. Even Mehr Chand Mahajan’s account throws light on such incidents while he toured the border districts with Maharaja between October 19 and 21, “we noticed burning of Muslim and Hindu houses on both sides of the road… a considerable number of Muslim residents were leaving their villages, bag and baggage, driving their cattle intending to go to Pakistan”.
Hordes of armed raiders entered in the State via Abbottabad near Muzaffarabad. After overpowering the numerically inferior state forces -stretched across the entire frontier from Jammu in the south to Gilgit in the north, and besieging the state forces, they started ransacking the towns that lay in their path. They indulged themselves in indiscriminate arson, loot, rape and every other felony that a human mind can think of. They destroyed the towns of Muzaffarabad and Baramulla.
Communal faultlines had developed deep even among the Jawans of J&K State forces. As per Maj Gen D.K. Palit “Although thousands upon thousands of Musim subjects of the state served the government loyally and steadfastly, the possibility of defections must have occurred to all the thinking people of the state”. He further waxed that the Muslim officers of J&K state forces were in contact with the enemy forces for weeks and exact position of garrisons at Domel and Muzaffarabad were provided to Pakistanis. These large-scale defections to the opposite camp deeply affected the morale of the State Forces. In this orgy of bloodshed, the Jawans ,who defected, didn’t even spare their commanding officers, under whom the former had served unflinchingly during the World War-II.
The Dogra forces, in the meantime, tried to recoup their scattered resources in order put up a defensive front against the marching irregulars of Pakistan,while they were busy in rioting and looting. On 22 October 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh gave his Chief of Army Staff, Brigadier Rajinder Singh, the order to defend the state until Indian troops arrived, that he should fight till death in doing so, “save the state till the last man and the last bullet”, which ultimately became an exemplary military feat in the annals of history. While 4-JAK was scripting some of the momentous fights at the frontier from Domel to Kotli, the political set up back in the valley too, was all braced up in dealing with the upcoming challenge.
Justice Mahajan in his autobiography ‘Looking Back’ has summarized as follows: “On 24th October, Mr R L Batra, the Dy Prime Minister left Srinagar for Delhi carrying the letter of accession from the Maharaja and a personal letter for Pt Nehru and another for Sardar Patel asking military help. It was not until Andrew Whitehead produced his compilations that we got to know the contents of that Accession letter that Maharaja had sent with his Deputy Prime Minister to New Delhi on October 24, which probably couldn’t materialise because its content didn’t satisfy Nehru. The Accession proposal read “I hereby authorise my Deputy Prime Minister, R.B. Ram Lal Batra to sign the document of Accession of the state with the Indian Union on my behalf, subject to the condition that the terms of accession will be same as would be settled with H.E.H. The Nizam of Hyderabad”. Though, it’s not very clear as to why this proposal wasn’t accepted by Delhi. The most probable explanation is that Nehru wanted Sheikh Abdullah to be placed as the Head of the Government first, as the former considered the latter to be real leader of the Kashmiri people, one who represented their aspirations against the monarchical rule of the Dogras. Due, to this Nehru threw his entire weight behind Abdullah for all the practical purposes in J&K.
On October 25th, a meeting of Defence Committee presided over by Lord Mountbatten was held which considered Maharaja’s request for arms and ammunitions. Mountbatten refrained from taking any action and directed V P Menon to visit Srinagar and apprise the Government regarding the situation on ground. VP Menon records that ” Mehr Chand Mahajan apprised us of the perilous situation and pleaded for the Government of India to come for the rescue of the state.. The Maharaja was completely unnerved by the turn of events and his sense of lone helplessness”. Later on, in an interview to P S Jha, FM Sam Manekshaw, who had accompanied Menon to Srinagar on October 25th revealed, that “The Maharaja was coming out of one room, and going into another saying, Alright, if India doesn’t help, I will go and join my troops and fight it out”.
Menon further says that it was essential to get Maharaja and his family out of Srinagar and therefore, advised the latter to leave immediately for Jammu along with his family. After the rumours ran thick that the tribals had entered Srinagar, even Menon and PM Mahajan had to leave Srinagar in the wee hours of October 26 to Delhi. Mahajan writes “I requested immediate military aid on any terms…. After lot of arguments, I said, give us the military force we need. Take the accession and give whatever powers you want to give to the popular party. The army must fly to save Srinagar this evening or else I will go to Lahore and negotiate terms with Jinnah. Pt Nehru said in an angry tone, ‘Mahajan go away’. I got up to leave when Sardar Patel held me by saying in my ear, of course you are not going to Pakistan. Just then a piece of paper was passed over to Nehru. He read it and said in a loud voice, ‘Sheikh Sahib also says the same thing’. (Sheikh had been listening to the entire heated conversation sitting in the adjacent bed room). Pt Nehru thus called a meeting of Defence Committee at 10 AM in which a decision was taken to send two Battalions to Srinagar”
After the meeting of Defence Committee, VP Menon flew back to Jammu along with Mahajan (incoherence appears in the accounts of Mahajan and Menon. Mahajan says that he didn’t leave Delhi till the planes reached the state I.e., on October 27th, then how can he accompany Menon on October 26) and woke the Maharaja up and told him about the happenings of the Defence Committee meeting. Maharaja composed a letter to the Governor General apprising him of the situation necessitating the need for an apt military help. He also informed that he was ready to incorporate Sheikh Abdullah in his administration along with Mehr Chand Mahajan. With this, the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession. With the Instrument of Accession and the Maharaja’s letter Menon flew back to Delhi and went straight to the meeting of Defence Committee in which the Committee decided that the accession of J&K should be accepted.
This is how J&K sealed its fate with India 74 years ago and became an inseparable part of it. The entire sequence of events, as narrated, have tried to shatter, some of the prevailing myths regarding accession. Firstly, the accession was not under duress. The raiders forced the timetable but not the choice. Maharaja was quite clear to accede to India in the month of September itself. Secondly, the Maharaja who was vacillating earlier, became firm in his commitment to accede to India post independence. . Thirdly, the people of Kashmir didn’t rise in revolt against the Maharaja. By all accounts, this accession was complete and unconditional. Today, that state, as acceded, has been dissolved but any further study of its polity and society post 1947 can’t be analysed properly if the period leading up to Accession is ignored.