Suman K Sharma
To paraphrase a proverb, the event of Accession had cast a long shadow before it actually happened. On 15 August, 1947, the Indian Independence Act, 1947, caused the setting up of the independent Dominions of India and Pakistan. On 26 October of that year, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India. The intervening 70 days tell a sordid tale of how Pakistan, a country avowedly found for the Muslim cause, schemed to perpetrate unending bloodshed in this Muslim majority state of ours.
After the winding up of the British Raj, Maharaja Hari Singh had, like all other ruling princes of the larger states, options before him either to join the Indian Union or merge with Pakistan.He could have also perhaps thought of being a sovereign king of his domain. The 52-year old monarch, who had been ruling Jammu and Kashmir for the last 22 years, mulled over the problem for what seemed a long time during those turbulent days. Joining India would mean that the Muslim majority of his domain won’t be happy. If he acceded to Pakistan, Hindus and Sikh subjects would be insecure. Choosing to be independent did not seem a pleasant prospective either. The Damocles’ sword of his disgruntled neighbours’ ire would be constantly hanging over his head. The king’s prime ministers were of little help to counsel him. He changed three of them in quick succession – Ram Chandra Kak (28 Jun, 1945 – 10 August 1947), Major General Janak Singh Katoch (10 August 1947-15 October 1947) and Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan (15 October 1947 to 5 March, 1948). In the meanwhile, the powers in Pakistan were perfecting their own game of nihilism.
They began by hitting at the trade and commerce of J&K. In violation of the Standstill Agreement that the Maharaja had signed with the country, Pakistan unilaterally suspended train services, stopped the trade and cut off essential supplies to the State, such as salt, sugar and petrol. Around that period, Liaqat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, took another discreditable step, though it did not prove immediatly effective. He despatched Mian Iftikharuddin, a Punjabi partisan, to test the waters in the Valley for fomenting trouble. The Mian returned after spending a month in Kashmir, only to tell Liaquat Ali that Kashmiris won’t be swayed by such gimmicks. Sheikh Abdullah and his party, the National Conference (NC), saw the advantage of being a part of the India of diverse faiths and creeds, rather than joining a country that openly gave preference solely to Islam over all other religions.
But then another opportunity presented itself to Pakistan. It was the Poonch rebellion. The Muslims of this south-western jagir in the State had been agitating for quite some time to be part of the British province of Punjab. The heavy taxation imposed by theState government spiralled up their grouse. Hari Singh’s orders for disarming of some sixty thousand Poonchi soldiers who had fought for Britain during the World War II further heightened their anger. The agitating militia gathered in Nowshera and Islamabad area and attacked the State troops. On 20 August, 1947, the State army fired on them. Sardar Mohammed Ibrahim Khan, a 32-year old lawyer and Muslim Conference member of the Maharaja’s PrajaSabha, succeeded in blowing the matter out of proportions. Even so, the road blocks were cleared and order restored in the area in less than a month. HS Stephenson, Britain’s Assistant High Commissioner to Pakistan, an unbiased witness, observed that the ‘Poonch affair’ was ‘greatly exaggerated’. Sardar Ibrahim played a significant role in waging a war against the Maharaja. It was he who eventually founded ‘Azad’ Kashmir in 1948 and became a four-time ‘President’ of the Pak-occupied territory.
Be that as it may, Sardar Ibrahim could have achieved little in his ambition but for the active support of government of Pakistan and its army. To have an idea of how they could manage to wrest away a sizeable chunk of 13,297 sq. km (5134 sq. miles) from the State, a look at the system prevailing during those fateful days of the dawn of independence would be in order. At the apex was the British king’s representative, Governor General, Lord Mountbatten, who acted as the Head of the State of India. (Pakistan had turned down his offer of services and Mohammed Ali Jinnah had appropriatedthe position for himself. ‘When I am Governor General’, he told Mountbatten, ‘the Prime Minister will do what I tell him to’.)JawaharLal Nehru was the Head of the Indian Government, with Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel as his deputy and 14 other Ministers of the Cabinet. Nothing out of the ordinary, one would say, as the regimes of the newly formed countries go.
Yet, there was something amiss about the dispensation. The two Dominions, which were showing acrimony, if not open hostility towards each other, had a Joint Defence Committee to oversee their defence and security. The icing on the cake was that the Armed Forces of India and Pakistan had the same Supreme Commander, Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck. The Services Chiefs, appointed by the Dominions (General Rob Lockhart by India and General Frank Messervy by Pakistan) had the overall control of the respective Forces;yet the operational control was retained by the Joint Defence Committee.
The shared management of Defence Forces, as it turned out, was a mixed blessing. On 20 August,the plan for Operation Gulmerg to overrun Srinagar was laid bare when the Brigade Major (BM) of the Bannu Brigade, Maj OS Kalkat, providentially opened a letter addressed by Pakistan’s Commander-in-Chief, General Messervy, to the officer’s boss, Brig CP Murray.Yet little seems to have been done to protect Kashmir. According to the plan, 20 lashkars (tribal militias), each consisting of 1000 Pashtun tribesmen from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, were to be recruited from among various Pashtun tribes; to be assisted and led by 40 commissioned officers of the rank of Major and Captain and 200 Junior Commissioner Officers (JCOs) of Pakistan army. These army personnel were to dress up and conduct themselves as Pashtuns to give an impression that the attack was being led and carried out by non-State personnel. The entire force of over 20,000 fighting men, armed and equipped by the army and provided logistic support by civilian authorities of Pakistan, was commanded by Major General Akbar Khan, codenamed ‘Tariq’, Tariq was to be assisted by Brig Sher Khan.
The Pashtun militia and Pakistan army regulars crossed the State borders on 22 October. They entered Poonch, Sialkot and then Ramkot, where they killed, maimed and looted indiscriminately. Countless women were raped and carried away. In places like Mirpur and Rajouri, over 4 thousand women preferred to jump into wells or commit suicide by any other means ready at hand rather than fall into the hands of the hounding marauders.
In the Valley, the Mahora power station was burnt down and the whole of Srinagar plunged into darkness. The State army could hardly match the invaders who were armed by the Pakistan army with latest weapons. By 25 October, the tribals had reached the outskirts of Srinagar. The Maharaja made a hasty retreat to Jammu the same night. In New Delhi, the Joint Defence Committee got into actioneventually. Lord Mountbatten ruled out despatching military assistance unless the State had acceded to India. Finally, it was decided to send V.P. Menon, the Governor General’s political adviser, to apprise Hari Singh of the pre-condition for the help that he needed so badly. Menon has graphcallyrecounted the historic event in his book: ‘The Maharajah was asleep; he had left Srinagar the previous evening and had been driving all the night. I woke him up and told him of what had taken place at the Defence Committee meeting. He was ready to accede at once. Just as I was leaving, he told me that before he went to sleep, he had left instructions with his ADC that, if I came back from Delhi, he was not to be disturbed as it would mean that Government of India had decided to come to his rescue and he should therefore be allowed to sleep in peace, but that if I failed to return, it meant that everything was lost and, in that case, his ADC was to shoot him in his sleep.’
Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession (IoA) on 26 October, 1947, which was accepted by the Governor General the following day. For all its historical significance, the IoA looks like any other paper from an old sarkari file – with cuttings and corrections to boot. It had to be. The 7-clause, 2-page pro-forma was drafted in the month of August that year for each one of the acceding princes of over 550 states to sign. There is nothing special in it for J&K, except the name of the State, the name and honorifics of Hari Singh and the dates it has been by the Maharaja and the Governor General. Hari Singh has signed in black and Mountbatten in green.
On 27 October itself, Indian troops and equipment were airlifted to Srinagar under the command of Lt Col DewanRanjit Ray. Srinagar was saved and the State was with India irrevocably. Albeit,one of the longest cycles of violence and retribution in the world,that does not seem to end even after the passage of seventy-two long years, was set in motion. All thanks to Pakistan.
Suman K Sharma