Nehru and Sheikh- Reassessment of their relationships

Prof. Suresh Chander
Agatha Christie, known as the “Queen of Mystery”, once observed – Very few of us are what we seem. It may be true of most people, political animals are seldom an exception. They try to give themselves a veneer of ideology, values and what not. Hidden deep below are their personal ambitions.
Jawaharlal Nehru was a man of unexceptional intelligence and foresight. Though, his world view, as it seems now, was blurred that can be attributed to his China policy that led to India’s humiliation in 1962. His Kashmir policy has been under attack by the right wing politicians of India. However, careful forensic analysis of the available evidence shows that the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir would have been part of Pakistan but for Nehru . It was due to Nehru’s successful efforts to cultivate Sheikh’s friendship.
In the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.
Most of the narrations about Kashmir are similar with different flavours and unnecessarily emphasis on Nehru – Sheikh camaraderie, and later Nehru’s disillusionment with Sheikh, two nation theory and secularism.
A careful study of events before and after 1947 in Kashmir leads to the conclusion that Nehru and Sheikh were playing mental games. Nehru had a clear reading of the situation and acted when things went out of control and ordered the arrest of the Sheikh. Their friendship was all but an illusion and has been unnecessarily part of many conspiracy theories.
By the 1930s, Sheikh Abdullah had become an undisputed leader of Kashmiri Muslims. His vision of New Kashmir represented the feelings of every Kashmiri:
“In our New Kashmir, we shall build again the men and women of our State who have been dwarfed by centuries of servitude and create a people worthy of our glorious motherland”. Reference to past included the misrule of Muslim Rulers from outside as well.
On 27 April 1939. it was decided to rename Muslim Conference as All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference; every citizen of Jammu and Kashmir, who is a major, whether male or female, shall, irrespective of his religion or race, become entitled to become a member of the National Conference.
Kashmiris have been suspicious of outsiders. To address their concerns, National Conference leaders Abdullah, Abbas and Bazaz solemnly declared that it would be most harmful and dangerous to bring the Kashmir Freedom Movement under the influence of any outside organisation. It was decided that the organisation should keep aloof from the Indian National Congress as well as the Muslim League.
In 1939, Muslim Conference was converted into National Conference. Chaudhri Ghulam Abbas, later President of Azad Kashmir, acknowledged Nehru’s influence in the renaming of Muslim Comference, thus:
“Sheikh Abdullah was now out of our hands and had adopted Nehru as his Guru and probably also as his spiritual leader. In view of the political situation obtaining at the time and the policy pursued by the Maharaja and his Government with regard to Muslims, it was considered by us suicidal to cause disruption in Muslim ranks”.
Nehru, himself of Kashmiri ancestry, read the situation correctly. Sheikh an undisputed leader of Muslims who entertained only feelings of fear, distrust and repugnance towards M. A. Jinnah. Above all Sheikh knew that he could never be an equal in Muslim League and master of Kashmir in an Independent Pakistan. Whereas Nehru treated him as equal and a brother. In their speeches Pandit Nehru and Khan Abdul Ghaffar paid generous tribute to Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s qualities of leadership at the first anniversary of the National Conference at Baramulla.When Pandit Nehru entered the pendal, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah himself raised slogans of Pandit Nehru Ki Jai. Earlier these leaders were taken in a boat procession in Srinagar.
On 7 August 1940 at a meeting held at Shitalnath (Srinagar) Nehru told the gathering of Kashmiri Pandit youths:
“If non-Musllms want to live In Kashmir, they should join the National Conference or bid good-bye to the country. The National Conference is the real national organisation and even if a single Hlndu does not become its member, it will continue to be so. If Pandits do not join It, no safeguards and weightages will protect them.”
It is difficult to guess why Nehru gave this advice. Was it a gesture to Sheikh or his prophecy about the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley fifty years later in 1990?
Nehru played another master stroke to win the confidence of Sheikh when he decided to defend him during Quit Kashmir agitation in 1947 leaving the crucial negotiations he was conducting with the Cabinet Mission. He was accompanied by three eminent lawyers, Dewan Chaman Lal, Mr. Asaf Ali and Mr. Baldev Sahai, ex-Advocate-General, Bihar, followed by hundreds of Congress workers. However, Nehru was not allowed to enter Kashmir.
Nehru was still not satisfied about various loose ends in the path of accession of Kashmir with India. Around 29 July 1947, Nehru and other Congress leaders persuaded Gandhi to go to Kashmir. In the first week of August 1947 Gandhi visited Kashmir for talks with Maharaja and Begum Abdullah (Sheikh was in jail at that time) for assessment of the situation and assuring every key player of their honourable place in free India. This was part of track II diplomacy as we know now.
Airlifting of troops within hours of accepting Instrument of Accession raised some eyebrows. In a letter to the King, Mountbatten wrote:
“The commanders pointed out the extreme hazards of flying in troops and I added my voice to theirs. But as soon as I saw that my Ministers had made up their minds that the military risks must be accepted and Indian troops sent, I was clear that it was essential to send sufficient aid in time.. . . . . . I therefore made it my business to override all the difficulties which the Commanders-in-Chief, in the course of their duty, raised to the proposal.”
One Ian Stephen says:
“And listening a few days later to the troop carrying Dakotas steadily dronning over Delhi to Srinagar, I wondered how so obviously a first-rate, little airborne operation could have been improvised. I know some of the difficulties, having as a War correspondent in Europe in 1944 been laid on for various airborne ‘ups’ which were planned but not put through.”
Lt. General Sir Francis Tuker says:
“. …. It looked to an observer as though Machiavelli was already in the Hindustan Cabinet.” The reference was obviously meant for Nehru. Nehru the Chanakya won Kashmir for India without using Vish Kanyas.
Nehru is accused of delaying the acceptance of Instrument of Accession till Sheikh gave his nod. Nehru gambled and told Mehar Chand Mahajan, then Prime Minister of Kashmir, to go to Jinnah if he so desired. Nehru wanted Sheikh’s approval as only Sheikh could mobilise Kashmiris against Pakistani raiders.
Nehru is also accused of not liberating in 1947 the part of Kashmir that is now with Pakistan, called Azad Kashmir by Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir by India. No reference is found about Nehru’s understanding about Poonch revolt by Sudans led by Sardar Muhammad Ibrahim Khan against Maharaja in 1947. It is difficult to believe that he was ignorant about the Sudhans of Poonch and their characteristics.
About 40,000 of them fought in WWII under Britishers. Many of them joined Indian National Army of Subhash Bose. Major General Mohammed Zaman Kiani, Chief of General Staff of Indian National Army, was put in charge by the Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan of Pakistan to overthrow the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir in September 1947. General Kiani established a General Headquarters, GHQ Azad, based in Gujrat City. From here, Kiani’s forces organised raiding operations on the Kashmir border and directed the Kashmiri rebels in Poonch, eventually leading to the formation of Azad Kashmir. Col. Habibur Rehman, from Bhimber in Azad Kashmir, served as his Chief of Staff. It was the same Colonel Habibur Rehman whom Nehru defended. After the war, Lt. Col. Shahnawaz Khan, Col. Habib ur Rahman Khan, Col. Prem Sehgal and Col. Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon were put to trial at the Red Fort in Delhi for “waging war against the King Emperor”, i.e., the British sovereign. The four defendants were defended by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai. However, Kaini and Habib ur Rehman were not Sudhans.
The National Conference defined Kashmir as “the cradle of the Kashmiri nation [characterised by] homogeneity of its language, culture and tradition and its common history of suffering…” in the memorandum presented to the British Cabinet Mission in 1946.
The popular politics of Kashmir and Kashmiri identity that was evolving to become inclusive of the entire state became fractured and started to be reduced back to the Valley. Leadership of Muslim Conference from Jammu, particularly Sudhans, thus saw no role for ithemselves in politics of the state in alliance with the National Conference.
Sudhans had their own ambitions. They wanted to have their own hegemony in that part of Kashmir a la tribal supremacy of Jirgas in Afghanistan and North-West Pakistan. They hoped to achieve their objective in Muslim Pakistan that wasn’t possible in a democratic secular India. it gave birth to a subplot within a complex problem: ambition of an individual Sheikh Abdullah vs. an ethnic tribe led by Chaudhary Ibrahim Khan. Both Abdullahs and Sudhans became irrelevant over a period of time.
Sardar Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, a Sudhan, was the first President of Azad Jammu Kashmir. He had a sort of love hate relationship with Pakistani authorities. Sardar Muhammad Ibrahim Khan (10 April 1915 – 31 July 2003) held the post of President four times (25 August 1996 – 25 August 2001, 5 June 1975 – 30 October 1978, 13 April 1957 – 30 April 1959, 24 October 1947 – 12 May 1950).
Ibrahim was dismissed during his first term and Colonel (Retired) Sher Ahmed Khan, a Sardar and scion of the Sudhan tribe and the senior most military officer from Poonch, was made a cabinet minister with responsibility for defence, education and health. Colonel Sher Ahmed Khan was forced to resign because his community, the Sudhans, were strongly opposed to his appointment in view of the dismissal of their Chief, Sardar Ibrahim Khan. This led to violent demonstrations particularly in the Rawalakot and Pallandri areas of Poonch and show down occurred between the Sudhans and the Pakistan Army contingents posted in the area. The Poonch situation became so bad that the Azad Kashmir Police could not control it. Members of the Punjab Constabulary of Pakistani Army were brought in. The Pakistan Army’s 12th Division, with headquarters in Murree and with forces already deployed in Azad Kashmir, joined in the suppression, declaring martial law in Poonch. The fighting was not one-sided. Some Sudhans captured 120 soldiers of Punjab Constabulary, and their arms. Sudhan’s anti government actions started in February 1955 with an assassination attempt in Poonch on the Azad Kashmir President, Sher Ahmed Khan, from which he had a ‘miraculous escape’.The Sudhans clashed with the Pakistan Army, possibly soldiers from X Corps, and the Punjab Constabulary. It took one year to suppress the uprising 1956
A resistance movement seeking a more democratic state of Azad Kashmir has been active since September 1950. In 1951 a parallel government was formed in Poonch in retaliation to Pakistan’s dismissal of Sardar Muhammad Ibrahim Khan as head of state. The situation calmed down for some time because of Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination.
When Sardar Ibrahim protested and took the matter up, his government was dismissed. A revolt erupted in Rawalakot and Palandri in the Poonch district as a reaction to this action by the Pakistani State. A military contingent of 120 personnel led by Major Osman (A Bengali officer who later led Mukti Bahani to establish Bangladesh in 1971 as Brigadier Osman) was sent in to crush the revolt and arrest its leaders. After an initial skirmish Ibrahim’s forces were defeated and disarmed his tribe and under the guidance of Pakistan’s then Minister of Kashmir Affairs, Mushtaq Ahmed Gurmani.
Over the years, Sudhans lost control of power. They have realised that it is not possible to achieve Azadi or independence through armed struggle. There are attempts to work out a strategy towards the goal of Azadi. Mirpuris also seem to have the same goal but they are not a fighting race. “Mirpuris, especially from the Mangla Dam area are well known in England and European Union. They started going to England from 1920 onwards. They were mostly illiterate and simpleton villagers but with great self respect. They were hated by people from West Pakistan. It led to some kind of self introspection. They slowly started asserting their identity so far back as Gandhar days. They refused to be known as Pakistani Muslims and have successfully got official status for their language Mirpuri or Pahari. It is surprising that a backward community by sheer will power got itself educated and wonder of wonders have five out of six Members of Parliament from POK in the UK house of Commons. A remarkable journey. The sixth MP is from Muzaffarabad”.
Nehru was perhaps aware of the ambitions of Sudhans and their fighting prowess that prevented him from liberating the present Azad Kashmir in 1948. The Sudhans revolted against Muslim Pakistan.Their fight against India would have been more intense and a constant headache for the Indian Union. Nehru needs qudos and not brick bats for his role in the 1940s vis-à-vis Kashmir policy. Nehru was indeed a master strategist in the mould of Chanakya. His role in the accession of Jammu and Kashmir with India needs reassessment. It was just not about signing the instrument of accession by the Maharaja as is commonly believed.
(The author is former Head of Computer Engineering Department in G B Pant University of Agriculture & Technology)