The Longest October

Ansh Chowdhari
A great amount of tragedy and destruction befall on the state of J&K in the month of October 1947. The agonized masses were seeking refuge as their ruler was facing an excruciating political ordeal. The state was being tormented by a planned and motivated invasion by the tribals of NWFP led by the Pakistani Army. These events ultimately concluded with the Maharaja signing the Instrument of Accession and hitching J&K to India and sealing its fate for once and for all. However, my main concern today is not about the events per se but of their relevance and their expression in the popular literature. My aim here is to talk about certain books that make us understand those events in a better format.
So, the first book I’d like to discuss is Prem Shankar Jha’s ‘Kashmir 1947: Rival Versions of History’, which remains one of the most detailed accounts of the events leading up to the tribal invasion. The book is extremely important in terms of putting some contentious issues to rest. The most fundamental of these is that the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession on October 27th, which essentially gets its roots from Alastair Lamb’s numerous books which the Pakistani side have picked up and have repeatedly used to present its case at the international fora. This book also piqued my interest because it doesn’t remain fixated with the internal politics of the state of J&K and the individuals involved therewith. The book has created a grand canvas for itself, which the reader can easily decrypt and comprehend. Jha’s meticulous research has led me to read some hitherto unknown facts, particularly his interview with Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, which have helped me corroborate those events in a proper chronological order.
Then there are the works of Kashmiri nationalists like Prem Nath Bazaz and PNK Bamezai, who have spent reams of paper in their lengthy and tortuous volumes on Kashmir’s history. Coming from a similar ideological and political background, these two contemporaries were largely anti-feudalism in their stance. They, unlike Prof Somanath Wakhlu, have painted a bleak picture of the Dogra state, owing to their ties to Sheikh Abdullah. Regardless of these reservations, their work is as fundamental and important in understanding modern Kashmir as Rajtarangini is for the ancient and medieval. Their extensive commentary on state internal politics and anecdotes makes them an interesting read. In his ‘Inside Kashmir’, Bazaz comes across as a fierce critic of Dogra Raj.
Books that deserve a worthy mention are the two biographies titled ‘Karan Singh: Autobiography’ and ‘Looking Back’ by Dr Karan Singh and Justice Mehr Chand Mahaja respectively. While the former deals with J&K as a passing reference within the large stream of the book, it nevertheless provides a glimpse into the personal attributes of the Maharaja. The latter tome too has J&K covered as a small segment, but it is a critical piece of information that helps us to understand the prevailing political and military crisis in the state. However, I must mention that this book has some errors with regards to the dates mentioned.
Coupled with these books, one can read ‘The Integration of Indian states’ by Mr VP Menon. Menon’s book, as a primary text, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of policymaking in Delhi and how a vexatious situation was largely salvaged by the collective consciousness of the people on the decision table in Delhi and Srinagar. The book also clears some air regarding the controversial issues surrounding the ‘Maharaja’s flight’ post tribal invasion which the Kashmiri leadership exaggerated and misused. Menon makes it clear that it was his advice that made Maharaja to leave the capital. When the above two books are read in conjunction with Menon, then one can clearly notice the mismatching dates that I have alluded to in the preceding paragraph.
Another work that should be mentioned is that of Col Ajay Raina. Even though his books on J&K are primarily military histories describing the multiple war theatres in lucid format, the extensive research that the author has undertaken (including the footnotes) allows one to clearly go through numerous chapters devoted to the state’s political situation. His 5-part book series on JK remains one of the most detailed accounts I’ve ever read. I must mention his two books namely ‘In the Nick of Time: Saving Kashmir Valley’ and ‘Hold at all costs: The Siege and Relief of Poonch’ which have clearly destabilised some of the entrenched narratives that have solidified over the years in J&K. For e.g., the book states that the actual invasion of the state began in Poonch on 9th October and not on 22nd as is generally understood.
As a supplementary addition to the aforementioned works, I would be failing in my task if I don’t talk about Maj Gen Goverdhan Singh Jamwal’s book, ‘Valour and Betrayal,’ which he has co-authored with Col Raina. This book is a niche product in the sense that, aside from being written by a veteran who was on the ground in 1947, it is distinct in that it attempts to present us with a day-to-day happenings of October’47, which no other book has even attempted hitherto. He has emphatically stated the critical role that JAK forces played under the capable leadership of Brigadier Rajinder Singh in thwarting the belligerent moves of the invading tribals with the fewest possible means at their disposal. This phenomenal work brings to life the otherwise occluded valiant and gallant attempt of Dogra forces in saving the valley of Kashmir.
Prof Harbans Singh Sambyal’s ‘Maharaja Hari Singh: The Troubled years’ is another one that has been extensively researched. It happens to add new dimensions to the conflict that non-Dogra writers frequently overlook. The fiasco of J&K that began with the Indian independence has been explained through a series of nuanced and methodically organised chronological events.
Some other works that I’d like to mention in brief are:
* Christopher Snedden’s books (Covers areas like Poonch and the Muslims of Jammu)
* Kashmiris fight for freedom by Justice MY Saraf (revelatory and extremely comprehensive but has a clear tone of anti-Dogra sentiment)
* Danger in Kashmir by Josef Korbel
* Forgotten atrocities by Bal K Gupta (explains the travesty that happened in Mirpur post accession)
Despite all this scholarship, there are still many gaps in our understanding of the J&K conflict. There’s absolutely no work on the raids that happened on the Jammu border. Only a few anecdotes tell us of the aggravated situation of that time. There’s no research on the travails of Jammu city which was grappling with hordes of refugees and a grave famine like situation.
Except for Zafar Choudhary’s Kashmir Conflict and Musims of Jammu, there is no mainstream literature that can enlighten us on the Muslim situation in Jammu after accession.
Apart from that, what saddens me the most is the silence of Dogra scholars on the J&K crisis. Only a few of them appear to have written some sort of literature related to the J&K conflict. When a community is cut off from its history and forced to swallow polarised versions of narratives, they expressly become myopic in their understanding. This could perhaps be the ailment afflicting our people. Chinua Achebe said that “If you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.”. In this respect, Jammu’s academia must take the words of Achebe seriously and for that to happen, it’s essential that they must be fairly acquainted with the circumstances that made J&K join India on October 26th.
The month of October 1947 was a watershed in the history of J&K that turned the tables forever for everyone in this state. On many counts, the death, destruction and exodus of lakhs of people that followed was unprecedented. But what is required right now is a careful appraisal of the past, as well as a clear roadmap for an identity-laden and development-oriented future which regards the people of J&K as central stakeholders in that pardigm.