Roots of “Kashmir issue”

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Y.V. Sharma

Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru may be remembered for many good things done by him as the Prime Minister of India but he erred substantially on his policy and politics on Kashmir and China to such an extent that even after 75 years independence we are facing brunt of his bad decisions.
Kiren Rijiju, the Law Minister of the Union Government recently reiterated the well known facts about the miscalculations and mistakes committed by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947 in quite some detail and without mincing words.
This has unnerved the usual suspects; the National Conference and the Indian National Congress. National Conference because of its continued treacherous and dual games with the Indian nation and polity, INC because they can’t admit the mistakes of their icon, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Let it be said very clearly that it’s the follies of Nehru and result of the decisions that he took from “his heart rather than the head”, at a very crucial time in the history of the nation, that has kept J&K and consequently the Indian nation in turmoil all these years.
It was in 1937 that Sheikh Abdullah was introduced to Nehru essentially as a native fellow Kashmiri to another fellow Kashmiri. Jawaharlal Nehru’s family had migrated from the Kashmir valley in 1716 when Mughal Empire was already on the decline. Nehru always wore his Kashmiri lineage on his sleeve.
Looking at the events in retrospect the Kashmir bond, at very crucial times of Indian history, eclipsed the mind of Nehru especially when critical decisions had to be taken in the context of J&K. This blindness got accentuated after his friendship with Sheikh Abdullah.
In 1931 the Sheikh had attained prominence in the politics of the Valley because of his role in the agitation launched against Maharaja Hari Singh. The turmoil lead to death and mayhem in Kashmir. The turmoil was engineered by the British to put Maharaja Hari Singh “in his place” for articulating the nationalistic views of the Indian princes and masses openly in the first round table conference called by the British government in London during Nov 1930 and Jan 1931. The Sheikh shrewdly used his friendship with Jawaharlal Nehru to consolidate his position in Kashmir and rub the Maharaja the wrong way and show him as an oppressor of the Kashmiris. To achieve his end he left no stone unturned and his favourite method was to incite the religious passions of the Muslims in Kashmir and elsewhere.
On May 15, 1946 the Sheikh launched “quit Kashmir” movement. This movement, having support of Jawaharlal Nehru, was launched against the Dogra rulers of Jammu who were not Kashmiris. This caused unrest and fissures between Jammu and Kashmir provinces that was exacerbated by the Sheikh himself. The turmoil in the Valley forced the Maharaja to arrest the Sheikh. Jawaharlal Nehru could not come to terms with this, Sheikh being a very close friend and tried to enter the Kashmir Valley with a battery of lawyers to get the Sheikh out of jail. Nehru was arrested by the J&K state forces near Garhi on May 20, 1946.
And thus the animosity between Jawaharlal Nehru and Maharaja Hari Singh got etched in stone and became a cornerstone, consciously or otherwise, for all the decisions taken by Jawaharlal Nehru in respect of Kashmir. This animosity blinded him to reason, logic and primarily to the Indian national interest. His motive thereafter was to prop up Sheikh Abdullah at whatever the cost and make the Maharaja look villainous.
The raid by the Pakistan forces into Kashmir under the guise of tribals on 22nd Oct 1947 gave Nehru a handle to push the Maharaja to a corner and install Sheikh Abdullah as the emergency administrator of Jammu and Kashmir on 30.10.1947 after he was released from jail on 29.09.1947. Before the raid into Kashmir on 22.10.1947 the areas of Poonch, Mirpur etc were already in turmoil since the spring of 1947. The Muslim Conference that had influence in this area of J&K was aligned to Jinnah’s Muslim League. Additionally, the 60000 strong force of the area that had fought in the 2nd world war were allowed to retain their weapons and had started getting inclined towards Pakistan were another source of concern for the Maharaja. The state forces were bogged down in this area too and many Muslim elements had joined the Pakistanis like they had done in Uri. Thus the situation for the Maharaja was very difficult, to say the least.
Prem Shankar Jha mentions in his book, The Origins of a Dispute: Kashmir 1947, that the Maharaja had decided as early as April 1947 to accede to India if not allowed to stay independent but the situation in Poonch areas unnerved him.
For ensuring that there was unanimity in his government in the matters that effected the future of the state he dismissed Ram Chand Kak, his pro-Pak PM, on 11.08.1947 and invited Justice Mehar Chand Mahajan (a known sympathiser of the Congress party) to be the Prime Minister of the state. Jha also mentions that by early September 1947 the Maharaja was firmly of the opinion that he should accede to India
It is worth noting that the Indian Independence Act passed by the UK parliament that received Royal Accent on 18.07.1947, had only one option for the princely states and that was to join any of the two newly carved dominions; India or Pakistan. Independence was not an option. Thus when the Maharaja signed the instrument of accession with India the issue should have been closed but Jawaharlal Nehru continued to refer to Kashmir as a special case. He could neither shake off his friendship with the Sheikh nor his animosity towards Hari Singh.
As already mentioned by Prem Shankar Jha, Maharaja had already made up his mind to accede to India in face of adversities & adversaries but the Sheikh had something else on his mind.
The documents that are now in the open make very clear that the Sheikh was always tricking Nehru and in fact he wanted an independent Kashmir. He wanted to be the new Maharaja and the confused Nehru dithered in his affection for the Sheikh and inadvertently gave air to his imagination. Unbelievable as it is he was not able to link the dots that were already being put into a pattern by the Sheikh.
Following few points of AG Noorani in his essay dated 27.05.2016, the Roots of Kashmir dispute, makes for an interesting reading:
* On On April 19, 1946, the Sheikh demanded in a telegram to the British Cabinet Mission “a right to independence” because “the Kashmiri nation” resided in “a unique region in India”. This was asserted when the talk was of a federal union, not partition.
* After Partition, the Sheikh was released from prison on September 29, 1947. On October 3, he said: “We will choose the path which will lead to the independence of … the Kashmiris”.
* He also said: “If the 40 lakhs of people living in Jammu & Kashmir are by-passed and the State declares accession to India or Pakistan, I shall raise the banner of revolt and we face a struggle.” Since Maharaja Hari Singh was not going to accede to Pakistan, this was clearly a warning against accession to India. As late as on October 22, 1947, Abdullah’s line was: “Freedom before Accession”. It was reflected in Khidmat, the newspaper of his party, the National Conference, which said on the same day: “What the present moment demands and demands urgently is not accession to Pakistan or India but power to the people. Are we going to sell ourselves to the Indian capitalists or the Pakistan Nawabs?”
* Abdullah confided to Phillips Talbot, later United States Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, who was in India from 1939 to 1948. He told him that Kashmir would be ‘finished’ if it had to join one Dominion and thereby incur the enmity of the other. What he sought, he said, was an arrangement by which Kashmir could have normal relations with both countries.
To top it all prior to the accession, Abdullah sent Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed and G.M. Sadiq to meet Jinnah in Pakistan. Neither was allowed to meet Mohammed Ali Jinnah or Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. Pakistan launched “tribal attack” on Kashmir while GM Sadiq was still in Lahore. The question however remains as to what was the message of the Sheikh for Jinnah?!
The paragraphs above reveal a lot about the line being pursued by the Sheikh about the future of J&K. Yet Nehru had full trust in him. At the behest of the Sheikh, Nehru got article 370 incorporated in the Indian constitution. It was Sardar Patel’s intervention that gave it a “temporary” character.
Nehru signed Delhi agreement with the Kashmir leaders in 1952 defining constitutional arrangement between the state and the centre which became a breeding ground for the separatist tendencies in the Kashmir valley along with article 370. In short Nehru was giving concession after concession to the Sheikh and Nehru was ceding the ground while Maharaja Hari Singh continued to bemoan that the agreement with him was continuously being flouted and thrown out of the window.
Nehru was like a gambler who was losing bet after bet but every time was raising his stake and destroying his own case in Kashmir while the Sheikh was unflinching in his resolve to strengthen and maximise his advantage. He implemented only those portions of the Delhi agreement viz abolition of monarchy etc but started dragging his feet on the rest.
It was only in 1952 that Nehru understood his folly & told Dr Karan Singh “that he had no answer when asked in parliament or outside as to why Delhi Agreement had not been implemented”. The Sheikh stopped replying Nehru’s letters and going to Delhi when called for important meetings to review the situation in Kashmir. This culminated in the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in 1953 for which India had to pay a heavy price in the form of martyrdom of the tall nationalist leader, Dr Shayma Prasad Mukherjee.
Nehru was so much infatuated by the Sheikh that on his release from prison in 1964 he stayed as a guest of Nehru at the Teen Murti House. He was “assigned the task” of meeting President Ayub Khan of Pakistan for resolution of “Kashmir issue”. Sheikh was still in Pakistan when Nehru passed away.
It’s surprising that India always considered Kashmir to be an integral part of India but on a drop of a hat was ready to negotiate its status with Pakistan while the Congress governments ruled this country be it in Nehru era or otherwise. Nehru was so much blinded by his love for Sheikh that national interest got completely blurred. Congress tried to “settle Kashmir” issue by negotiating on the 4 point Musharraf plan of “joint control over J&K”.
It’s only in Modi era that things have started becoming very clear – crystal clear – after Aug 5th, 2019.