In his book Integration of the Indian States, (page 438), V.P. Menon, the then Secretary in the Ministry of States, writes, “Shortly before the transfer of power, Pandit Ramchandra Kak was replaced as Prime Minister by Maj. Gen Janak Singh. The Government of J&K then announced their intention of negotiating Standstill Agreements with both India and Pakistan. Pakistan signed the agreement but we wanted time to examine its implications. We left the State alone. We did not ask the Maharaja to accede, though at that time, as a result of the Radcliff Award, the State had become connected by road with India. Owing to the composition of the population, the State had its own peculiar problems, Moreover, our hands were full and, if truth be told, I for one had simply no time to think of Kashmir”
Menon’s above statement cannot be taken for granted. Firstly, Muslim League leaders and Jinnah both had protested against the Radcliff Award alleging that it was biased. Secondly, Gandhi and Nehru both wanted Premier Kak to be removed because he supported the Maharaja for his independence plan. Despite that Maharaja Hari Singh removed premier Kak because the latter rejected Hari Singh’s plan of creating a Confederation of J&K and three small principalities of Himachal Pradesh whose rulers had come to Srinagar and were in consultation with the Maharaja. Thirdly, Gandhi visited Srinagar in August as the guest of Begum Abdullah. He refused a glass of milk at the hands of Maharani saying he would not drink from the kitchen of a Maharaja who was oppressive to his subjects. How can V.P. Menon say that Congress had left the State alone and did not ask the Maharaja to accede when we find Nehru and Gandhi both furtively visiting Srinagar shortly before the announcement of the partition?
A close study of V.P. Menon’s two important books will show that he has glossed over some very crucial events related to the accession of J&K to India. In a gloss (page 27) to Radha Rajan’s analysis of Pandit Ramachandra Kak’s First-hand Account of the Tumultuous Events in 1946-47. We find the entry as this: “The story of how these books, Integration of the Indian States (1955) and The Transfer of Power in India (1957) came to be written is in itself interesting and revealing. Mr. Gilpatrick of the Rockefeller Foundation had met Raja ji to get an account of the “bloodless coup” that was affected in India during the transfer of power and the merger of the Princely States with the rest of the country. Rajaji said that V.P. Menon could give an authentic account of what had happened. Gilpatrick had a wide ranging conversation with V.P. Menon in Bangalore for two full days and was deeply impressed with his narration of events. Gilpatrick’s reaction was to offer to sponsor publication of the books in the US. And on the spot he sanctioned a Rockefeller grant of $60,000 for the completion of the work. Eventually Princeton University in the US and Orient Longman in India were to publish these monumental works simultaneously.”
Lord Mountbatten often found that he and V.P. Menon had an understanding of each other’s mind. Talking on India joining the Commonwealth, Mountbatten told his interviewer that on this issue, he grasped every straw in the right direction adding “whenever I could see any opportunity ….Krishna Menon on the one hand for Nehru and V.P. Menon, on the other hand, for Patel who were the two people that mattered, I suddenly found falling more and more with my own feelings about things.” He considered both Krishna Menon and V.P. Menon as his “spies” but then corrected himself saying “Spies is the wrong word. They were my contacts, my links.” Interestingly, Mountbatten always took V.P everywhere including the Buckingham Palace where he nearly passed out with royal pleasure. Mountbatten records, “I remember when he came in to meet with the King, he simply trembled and was white with emotion, at meeting the King-Emperor himself. The King said very nice things to him “I hear you have been the greatest possible help to His Excellency and I am grateful to you. ” (Integration of the Indian States, pp.xlviii-xlix).
V.P. Menon summarises Lord Mountbatten’s four-day long discussion with Maharaja Hari Singh in June 1947 in Srinagar as this (a) Independent J&K will not be recognized as a Dominion by the British Government. (b) The State would be protected if the Maharaja took a decision before 15 August, and (c) If the Maharaja decided to accede to Pakistan India would not take it amiss. Point (b) above was the most significant one because Mountbatten’s assurance stemmed from the fact that the commanders of all the three wings of defence forces then were the Britons. The question is that on 22 October 1947, the day when tribesmen launched an attack, the position of British commanders was the same as on 15th August. Why then did the incursion happen? Why Mountbatten was not held responsible for not providing protection to the State? And more importantly, when the Maharaja appealed for military help to repulse the invaders why did Mountbatten and the Congress top leadership impose the condition of accession?
In regard to accession, Maharaja Hari Singh was on the horns of dilemma. He had reasons such as (a) blatant interference by Gandhi and Nehru, both of whom made no secret of their hatred and animus for the Hindu ruler of Kashmir. (b) Intricate demography and geography of J&K (c) Maharaja’s intransigence and ambition for independent kingdom, and (d) evil influence of Swami Sat Dev, a mendicant at the court of Hari Singh, who even Nehru is also reported to have visited once.
The tribal invasion put an end to Maharaja’s gnawing dilemma, thanks to Pakistan’s intransigence. Menon writes,” On the evening of 24 October, the Government of India received a desperate appeal for help from the Maharaja. They also received from the Supreme Commander information regarding the raiders’ advance and possible intention. A meeting of the Defence Committee presided over by Lord Mountbatten was held on the morning of 25 October. It was agreed that I fly to Srinagar to study the situation on the spot and report to the Government. We left Srinagar in the first light of the morning of 26 October. After assessing the situation, I, immediately on my arrival in Delhi, went straight to a meeting of the Defence Committee to which I reported my impressions emphasising the supreme necessity of saving Kashmir from the raiders. Lord Mountbatten said it would not be proper to send Indian troops to J&K which had not up till then joined either India or Pakistan and was at that moment an independent country.”
The point is that the transfer of power on 15 August stated that the princely states could join one of the two dominions or remain independent as their rulers desired. In the light of this provision, J&K was de facto an independent state asking for military help to save it against the attack of an enemy. Imposing a condition that the State Government conduct plebiscite when normalcy was restored was not in line with either the fundamentals of transfer of power or within the ambit of international code of relationship. Mountbatten was taking undue advantage of Maharaja Hari Singh’s distress and Nehru meekly accepted it just because he found it conducive to his obsession of gifting away the land and people of Jammu and Kashmir to his cherished friend the Sheikh. Menon goes on to say, ” He (Mountbatten) further expressed the strong opinion that in view of the composition of the population, accession should be conditional on the will of the people being ascertained by a plebiscite after the raiders had been driven out of the State and law and order had been restored. This was readily accepted by Nehru.” (Integration of the Indian States pp. 463 et seq)
On the night of 25 October, Maharaja Hari Singh left Srinagar at night and came to Jammu.
Menon, accompanied by Prime Minister Mehr Chand Mahajan flew to Jammu in the wee hours on 26 October. The Maharaja was sleeping. Menon woke him up and briefed him about the decision of the Defence Committee. He was ready to accede at once and composed a letter to Governor General saying he would set up an interim Government at once and ask Sheikh Abdullah to carry the responsibilities in this emergency with Maharaja, the Prime Minster. (Integration of the Indian States, pp455-58).
Later, on 26 October the Defence Committee met to consider what had to be done after the Maharaja had signed the Instrument of Accession. Mountbatten and the three Services Chiefs all of them of British descent put up strong opposition to sending troops to effectively repulse the raiders who had by that time reached the outskirts of Srinagar city. The commanders objected the troops owing to logistic problems. The discussion continued for a long time during which Sardar Patel only listened to arguments and counter arguments. He found that Nehru was vacillating and indecisive. Opening his mouth at last, Patel bluntly addressed Nehru. “Do you want Kashmir or not”? “Yes” said Nehru. Turning to General Bucher, the then British C-in-C, Patel said,” General, road or no road, snow or no snow, I want Indian troops to be in Srinagar tomorrow morning” Feeling snubbed, General Bucher tendered his resignation that afternoon and General Cariappa became free India’s first Commander – in – Chief.
Before closing this write-up, I would like the following clause in the original and true Instrument of Accession to be noted. “Nothing in this Instrument affects the continuity of my sovereignty in and over the State, or, save as provided by or under this Instrument, the exercise of any powers, authority and rights now enjoyed by me as Ruler of this State or the validity of any law at present in force in this State”.
The treatment meted out to Maharaja Hari Singh by Nehru is reminiscent of the classical treachery happening in the courts of the Sultans of medieval times.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir, India. firstname.lastname@example.org)