Political or Military
Col J P Singh
Right from the very beginning of an idea of two nation theory, Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir became an object of international conspiracy. British plan was to make it part of Pakistan for which ample evidence is on record. But the destiny had it differently. Synthesis of this conspiracy goes back to 1931 London Round Table Conference in which Maharaja Hari Singh, while speaking for Indian independence, stated that he was an Indian first and Maharaja later. Thereafter he was seen as an irritant in their rule over India. This statement made him pay heavily. Sheikh Abdullah, a firebrand Kashmiri in Aligarh Muslim University was encouraged to challenge Maharaja’s authority in J&K. He raised ‘All India Muslim Conference’ later ‘National Conference’ and started ‘Quit Kashmir’ a violent agitation against Dogra Ruler which was fully supported by British and Congress. Despite indignities, Maharajas acceded J&K to India on 26 October 1947. He staked everything to prevent British conspiracy to succeed. What is important to note is that the accession of J&K took place during an epoch making periods of sub-continental history. After WW II, Britain simply no longer had the will and the resources to enable them to hold on to its greatest imperial asset. It was the time when they granted independence to India and left. Their exit was hasty, messy and a clumsy affair. Most ugly in their doing so was dividing India and not supervising the division taking place. This led to mass migration of Hindus from West to East and Muslims from East to West and vice-versa. Migration wasn’t orderly. Age old communal harmony and humanity disappeared. British just drew the boundary lines on the map which became such a defining moment for India that it neither saw the beginning of monumental moment of history and nor seeing an end yet. 20th century as a whole was the bloodiest century recorded in which both the world wars were fought followed by painful partition of India, mass migrations accompanied by genocides, other territorial divisions, cold war and ethnic cleansing etc to mention a few. Legacy of division continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.
J&K was the largest and one of the three 21 gun salute state in British India. The pronounced Silk Route passed through it. Strategically it bordered China, Tibet, Afghanistan and NWFPs and nearly touched USSR. Its location was of great interest to Western powers. Today it is to China. British were apprehensive of expansionist Russia entering into Indian Subcontinent through Kashmir. Therefore it was of a greater political and strategic interest to them. But as per the Treaty of Amritsar, British couldn’t enter J&K. So they persuaded Maharaja Hari Singh to lease them Gilgit Agency for 60 years in 1935. Though they revoked the lease just before leaving India but that didn’t minimize British strategic quest to have J&K under their control.
As per Indian Independence Act, British Paramountacy ended on 15 August 1947 which granted the rulers of princely states full freedom to choose which nation to join. That created problems for smooth integration of Indian Republic. Initially, the ruler of J&K chose to remain independent. As a benevolent ruler, who swore by justice, this was perhaps the best choice in his mind under the circumstances in the best interest of his diverse subjects. This aspect seems to have been missed out by historians.
At the time of independence all routes and other communication channels from Delhi to J&K were through newly formed Pakistan. External factors therefore played a major part in states accession. Major factor was state’s dependence on Pakistan for all the supplies. Hence it was difficult for Maharaja to acceded to India before or on 15 August without land access to Delhi. Hence he offered a ‘Stand Still Agreement’ to both. Pakistan readily accepted it but India didn’t. While the routes to J&K through Punjab were being developed to link Jammu, Pakistan attacked J&K. A force of 10,000 Razakar, divided into two; one comprising of 6,000 attacked Kashmir on 22 October 1947. Irony of accession started on that fateful day. Another thing to note is that it was a war in which both the opposing armies were led by nationals of a third country. British Generals commanded both armies. In India Defence Committee was headed by Mountbatten. The complex course and outcome of accession can’t be explained by a layman like me in simple terms of political nuances. To me its military nuances look clearer. Hence I refer to Justice Mehar Chand Mahajan ahead, who had been member of Radcliffe Commission which divided India and was the Prime Minister of J&K during accession. Whether a military or political accession, I leave it to the readers.
To defend his State from Pak invasion, Maharaja wrote to Lord Mountain for military help which was declined for want of accession. A crucial determinant in accession was the role of Mountbatten. The reasons for it were obvious. In the early years of twentieth century India was fighting for freedom against the British rule. What was happening in J&K is unique. The fight for freedom was different. It wasn’t against the British. It was against the Dogra Rule. While whole India was fighting against British, Congress leaders and Kashmiris were fighting together against the Dogra Maharaja. On the one side Sheikh Abdullah had launched a violent agitation against the Dogra rule and on the other end Mountbatten & Pt. Nehru were angrily arrayed towards him. Duel between two opposing power centers marred the prospects of political accession of J&K.
Process of accession as narrated by Justice Mahajan in his autobiography ‘Looking Back’ is 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. I also sent official letters to Pt Nehru and Sardar through Dy PM requesting them to save the state from Pakistan’s unprovoked aggression. Sheikh Abdullah also left Srinagar for Delhi by plane. Maharaja told me to fly to Delhi to negotiate accession and secure military help. As the administration was grappling with the situation and before I could leave for Delhi, Mr. V P Menon, Home Secretary, arrived in Srinagar by plane and told me that I must fly to Delhi with him to decide upon military help. On 26th early morning I and Menon flew to Delhi and drove to Pt Nehru’s residence straight away. Sardar Patel was also present there. I requested immediate military aid on any terms. Pt Nehru told me that troops could not be sent just on his request and observed that it was not easy on the spur of the moment to send troops as such an operation required considerable preparation. 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. Cabinet meeting in the evening affirmed the decision. Next morning army flew to Srinagar”. This is the long story told shortly. State Forces had held on till then and defended Srinagar for Indian Army to land. Srinagar was saved from falling to Pakistan by a military action. But that didn’t solve J&K’s problem. The war continued. Indian Army and the State Forces kept fighting and pushing back the invaders when abruptly stopped at mid-night of 1st January 1949 by UN sponsored ceasefire. That left more then 1/3rd of J&K under Pak control. Pakistan attacked again and again to grab Kashmir militarily. Her mischief continues. After abrogation of Article 370, If POJK is to come back, it won’t be without a military action. The accession and final integration of J&K looks to be a military affair through and through. Still historians overlook the secrets. This should put at rest the other perceptions about accession cum merger and should spare Maharaja Hari Singh of any vilification with regards to his quest for prolonging his rule by outsiders such as Nishchaya.