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Kashmir: Bridge, not a battle ground

Print edition : Jan 12, 2007 T+T-

Two great secularists created the Kashmir problem; others perpetuated it.

A PROPAGANDA barrage was let loose. B.N. Mullik spoke of a Pakistani emissary. Officialdom hinted at Adlai Stevenson in order to alienate the Left, which was pro-Sheikh Abdullah. This succeeded. The truth? "As for Adlai Stevenson, I do not think that he is to blame in any way," Nehru wrote to Vijayalakshmi Pandit on October 3, 1953 (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Volume 24, page 388). The Sheikh's successor, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, the main hatchet man, was scolded on March 18, 1955, when he falsely claimed that he had in his possession material implicating the Sheikh in a conspiracy but was dissuaded from acting on it by Nehru (SWJN; Vol. 28, page 347).

Karan Singh, the Sheikh's bitterest enemy, was told on January 11, 1956: "You say that it would be desirable to keep him in detention till it is found possible to declare that the Kashmir dispute is closed. That, I think, is not feasible. In fact so long as Sheikh Abdullah is in prison, the dispute will not be fully closed. It is only when he has been released and we have faced the consequences of this release and survive them that it will be possible for the situation to develop towards a final end" (SWJN; Vol. 31, page 293; emphasis added throughout). A demoralised Sheikh would acquiesce in the wrong, Nehru calculated.

Sheikh Saheb did not. When he was released in 1958, he was put behind bars once again and a trial launched on charges of complicity with Pakistan, which were known to all to be false. Now the corrupt Bakshi had become indispensable to keep Kashmiris under control, rather like Kairon vis--vis the Akalis in Punjab. "The only person who could shoulder the responsibility of running the Kashmir administration was Bakshi Saheb," Nehru told D.P. Dhar and repeated that to the Bakshi himself on August 15, 1956 (SWJN; Vol. 34, page 221). Bakshi lived up to the trust; he amassed money and rigged the 1957 and 1962 polls, winning Nehru's hearty applause for these achievements.


He was edged out eventually as his misdeeds stank to high heaven. When he was about to move a vote of no-confidence against the G.M. Sadiq Ministry in August 1964, he was arrested and the Assembly prorogued in "a weird replay of the 1953 events" (Autobiography; Karan Singh; Vol. 2, page 120). Taxed with corruption, he said that Sadiq, Mir Qasim and D.P. Dhar "were no less corrupt and he produced a statement detailing their transgressions" (page 121).

As B.K. Nehru noted, "from 1953 to 1975 Chief Ministers of that State had been nominees of Delhi. Their appointment to that post was legitimised by holding of farcical and totally rigged elections in which the Congress party led by Delhi's nominee was elected by huge majorities" (Nice Guys Finish Second; pages 614-15).

But 1953 witnessed another stratagem for which our neocons will applaud Nehru, his detractors will be non-plussed and admirers shocked - he fooled Pakistan's Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Bogra. Bogra rushed to Delhi after the Sheikh's arrest and secured from Nehru an accord on August 20, 1953, to hold a plebiscite. Legend, which this writer like most once accepted, had it that it was wrecked by Pakistan's acceptance of United States military aid.

Archival disclosures belie that. One who had admittedly ruled out plebiscite in 1948 was not going to hold one and commit political suicide. With the Sheikh behind bars, defeat was a certainty. Nehru explained to the panicked Karan Singh and Bakshi the very next day why he had concluded the accord. "Recent events in Kashmir have had a very powerful reaction in other countries. This is against us completely. I am not referring to Pakistan which has grown madly hysterical. If this hysteria continued, it would inevitably produce reactions in Kashmir among the pro-Pakistani elements and their sympathisers. The result would be no period of quiet at all and constant trouble.

"But for some kind of an agreement between us and Pakistan, the matter would inevitably have been raised in the U.N. [United Nations] immediately and they might well have sent down their representative to Kashmir. All this again would have kept the agitation alive and made it grow. In the circumstances, this is a good statement and helps us in trying to get a quieter atmosphere" (SWJN; Vol. 23, page 347). The "accord" averted U.N. intervention. Bogra was flatly told on August 17 that while opinion in the Valley on accession was divided "most people, of course, were hardly political and only cared for their economic betterment" (ibid; page 332).

When the Sheikh met President Ayub Khan in Rawalpindi on May 25, 1964, he criticised Bogra's visit. "The State was then in the grip of a popular agitation and a little pressure from Pakistan would have helped the resistance movement, but Pakistani Prime Minister, Bogra, decided to fly to New Delhi and embrace Nehru as his `Big Brother', little realising that the Indians were in a particularly vulnerable position at that time and needed to come to a show of understanding with Pakistan to demoralise the Kashmiris. Pakistan fell into that trap" (Ayub Khan by Altaf Gauhar; page 265).

Karan Singh became much bolder after the Sheikh's arrest. He wrote to Nehru on January 26, 1954: "A section of the Muslim officials continue to be hostile to Bakshi and his regime and indeed carry on propaganda against it. For example, an attempt was made by some of them to again influence the minds of some of the Constituent Assembly members on the wrong lines and to get them to press for a postponement of implementation of the Delhi Agreement. Happily Bakshi, as also Sadiq, took an iron stand against this mischievous move, which has been thwarted. The fact remains that a, by no means negligible, section of the official class is unreliable and thus a potential threat in the event of some crisis or emergency."

If 15 of 75 members of the Assembly did not attend its meeting on February 6, 1954 to ratify the Delhi accord of 1952, it was not because they were Muslims, as he alleges, but were Kashmiris who resented the accord and their leader's imprisonment. Bigotry leads to incompetence. In 1954, Karan Singh urged "the closing of the issue with the UNO", a foolhardy course.

The Sheikh's imprisonment was not only a crime but a blunder. It yielded no result save lasting harm. Even unionists recall it with bitterness today, half a century later. In January 1956, Karan Singh noted: "Despite all that has been done we cannot say that the political problem in the Valley has been solved. The reasons for this are primarily communal, but an important factor is that the Kashmir question still continues to be a live dispute with Pakistan and the subject of negotiations with that country." He saw communalism in Kashmiri self-assertion. His own Dogra and Jammu obsessions were not "communal", of course. In January 1956, he pleaded with Nehru not to release the Sheikh as he seemed inclined to. "There is little doubt that upon his emergence from detention, he will immediately become the rallying point for all the disruptionist forces and disgruntled factions. There emerges the distinct possibility of widespread lawlessness and violent clashes between the various parties, to cope with which it may well become necessary to use forcible means." India's Kashmir policy depended on the Sheikh's support initially and later on his imprisonment.

But there was another danger. A freed Sheikh would have won back followers who had defected to Bakshi - "might be able to browbeat enough MLAs to gain a majority in the Assembly, of which he continues to be a member. This body is still functioning both in a legislative as well as a constituent capacity, and the potentialities of such an eventuality are too obvious to require any elucidation. Though Bakshi Sahib denies the possibility of any considerable defection from his ranks, I find myself, in the event of the stress of those peculiar circumstances, unable to share his optimism. Secondly, there is a section among members of the administrative services whose political bias may, in an atmosphere of communal excitement, cause large-scale desertion or even sabotage which can render any administration virtually powerless. Thirdly, there is a real danger of serious differences emerging within the ruling party itself... ." The party, the National Conference, obviously, did not support the coupists; nor did the Kashmiri civil servants; least of all the people; even as late as in 1956. Mir Qasim pointed out in his memoirs My Life & Times that Sheikh Abdullah was sacked not because he had lost the confidence of the Constituent Assembly but, allegedly, of "the majority in the Cabinet". It was outrageously unconstitutional.

The aftermath was described in the Report on Kashmir by two observers of the Praja Socialist Party, Sadiq Ali and Madhu Limaye, after a fortnight's tour in September 1953: "The demonstrations that followed the dismissal and arrest of Sheikh Abdullah were serious and widespread... the police and the militia came out in full strength and did their job efficiently and fairly ruthlessly... the hartal was complete for the first seven or eight days... the police indulged in the violence... the Muslim population by and large has not reconciled itself to the new regime. It is not in a position to create trouble but if it has an opportunity for showing discontent, it would fain do so. There is no free expression of opinion so far as this section is concerned... their suppression and the constant vigilance of police is, however, not a safe foundation, to build on."

Srinagar was in total chaos, Mir Qasim recorded. Bakshi's own house was attacked though it was under a police guard. He even contemplated resignation. A man of stature comparable to Nehru's had greater foresight on Kashmir as, indeed, he had on the tragedy of India's partition even as it was being enacted. Mullik records that Rajaji completely disapproved of Sheikh Abdullah's dismissal and arrest. He "should have been given a third alternative of autonomy or even semi-independence". History has proved Rajaji right and Nehru disastrously wrong.

Nehru wrote to Karan Singh on January 11, 1956: "I have a very uncomfortable feeling that our position is constantly undermined by Sheikh Abdullah's detention, both internally and abroad. I realise fully the risks involved. But one does not solve a problem or really avoid risks by running away from them. Therefore, after giving a great deal of thought to this matter, I have felt that Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed should take the action he has decided upon [release the Sheikh]. This is as favourable an opportunity as is likely to occur. Of course, we should be fully prepared. Having got over this difficulty, the future of the Kashmir problem will be very much simpler." As Nehru discovered in 1958, a freed Sheikh would not submit to the forced status quo. He did that, for the time being, in 1975. In 1989, the people took to arms to alter the status quo; with Pakistan's help.

By then, Karan Singh had become totally irrelevant. Even Jammu rejected him in the 1984 elections to the Lok Sabha. Nehru was tired of him much before that, as his obstreperous protg began pressing him to destroy the State's autonomy, betrayed his communal outlook, and kept harping on Jammu ceaselessly. He urged that the Governor must be a direct Central appointee; electing the head of State was risky. This came to pass in 1965. The State has since had Governors from the Army, the bureaucracy and the intelligence service, one after another, in keeping with its "special status". He lamented that Jammu and Kashmir had been kept out of the States Reorganisation Commission's remit; he hoped to split Jammu and Kashmir in 1955. Nehru had had enough. After his curt reply of January 20, 1956, his letters became infrequent and short.

The one dated July 5, 1952, to Karan Singh's father, Hari Singh, the former ruler, is a devastating masterpiece: "In the great majority of these States the wishes of the people were well known and obvious and, therefore no question arose of a separate consultation with them. In regard to the Jammu and Kashmir State, we felt that the people there would prefer accession to India, but the matter was delicate and not beyond dispute." Kashmir was different. Hence, the offer of plebiscite. "On the invasion of the State by tribal raiders and others late in October 1947, a crisis arose there. At the time of that crisis you left Srinagar at the dead of night for Jammu. Many of your officers followed your example and the State was left without leadership or means of defence."

If the people did not want Hari Singh, he had to go. India itself offered to leave if "we are no longer wanted by the people of the State". Hari Singh's own "place would ultimately be made secure only if you had the confidence and the affection of your people. Since you have lost this confidence and affection, the right also goes. You will have appreciated that the people of Kashmir have gone through fire and suffering during these past four and a half years. I have seen no evidence of any great sympathy on your part for these people, no desire to help them in their distress."

The same was true of the son, Karan Singh, as well. Hence, the people's decisive rejection of him. The parallel does not end here. Nehru's letter to Hari Singh concluded with these words: "You ask for a definite assurance and a clear statement as to how your rights are to be safeguarded. The only assurance I can give you is that the first place will be given always to the rights of the people and to the wishes of the people. If you fall in with those rights and wishes, then we shall endeavour to help you to the best of our ability. If you do not do so, then events will take their natural course." So they did apropos his son as well. Let alone the Valley, even Jammu rebuffed his claims to be its messiah and his ambition to be Chief Minister of a separated State of Jammu.

Karan Singh had no real mass base. His place in public life has depended on patrons and their patronage. He has always been a functionary, never a leader; an operator, never a player. He perforce began to cast his eyes at richer loaves and fishes of office outside the State. He wrote thus to the Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri, on March 1, 1965: "The next elections are exactly two years away, and it is with special regard to the intervening period that I am writing this letter. I understand that the present High Commissioner in the United Kingdom Dr. Jivraj Mehta is likely to be replaced soon. It is embarrassing for me to write this, but I do feel that perhaps I could fill that appointment successfully. At this crucial juncture in world affairs our diplomatic postures abroad is of the utmost importance, and England still has special significance from our point of view. I have been there several times, and such acquaintance as I have with English life, language and politics should be a valuable asset. It would also provide me with a new dimension of experience before I enter the mainstream of national politics" (Sadar-i-Riyasat, Autobiography; page 127).

Indira Gandhi made him a Union Minister. As Minister of Health and Family Planning, he merrily went along with her and Sanjay Gandhi during the Emergency. The excesses were particularly grave in the realm of "family planning"; compulsory sterilisation was one of them. But Karan Singh turned against her once the Emergency was over. He deposed before the Shah Commission and gave a lengthy statement on July 7, 1978. It is reproduced in full in the Third and Final Report of the Commission (pages 204-6). Two pleas are particularly revolting. One is ignorance of the excesses "mainly because of the self-defeating censorship of the press"; like the proverbial pianist in a bordello who did not know what was happening upstairs. The other was a snide reference to Sanjay Gandhi. "An extra-constitutional centre of power was operating in the country." Why, then, did he not resign from the office and preserve his self-respect? Why did he submit to that "centre of power"?

The Report reproduces in Chapter XXI a revealing order signed by Karan Singh himself. On October 10, 1975, he said "there seems no alternative but to think in terms of introduction of some element of compulsion" though he did not advocate it "at this stage". On January 20, 1976, he said it was necessary to "introduce some sort of compulsion". In public speeches he sang the same tune. He asked "workers steeped in strains and stresses to take some time off to holiday homes in hills and sea sides"; eat cakes there, presumably (The Hindu; January 11, 1976). He attacked the foreign press for vilifying the programme. It had a positive aspect, he said - "helping the infertile beget children" (The Indian Express; April 17, 1976).

Once Indira Gandhi lost power in 1977, Karan Singh turned against her to a point that on January 20, 1979, in a seminar at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi, he reproached the Janata Party government for pursuing policies that would help his erstwhile benefactor return to power. "It has a one-point programme - to enable her to return to power." A year later, return she did. Karan Singh changed course, once again, with characteristic suppleness.

Now, in the evening of his life, Karan Singh should not regret failures. The wonder is that he went as far as he did. He sought to carve out a separate State of Jammu to rule over it. He failed. Other failures are recent and famous.

The Karan Singhs, the B.M. Kauls, the B.N. Mulliks and others performed their roles in a tragedy created by two great secularists, by autocrats whose commitment to democracy was weak. Nehru reneged on his pledges on plebiscite to Pakistan and Kashmir as well as his pledges to the Sheikh on autonomy.

A Note of October 26, 1947 to Hari Singh's Prime Minister, Mehar Chand Mahajan, was explicit. "The Government of India will accept this accession provisionally subject to their declared policy that such matters should be finalized in accordance with the will of the people. Any reference to the people can only take place when law and order have been fully established." The word "provisional" occurs in most official documents of the time including the Government of India's White Paper of 1948; at some places the word "conditional" was used. Few know that on January 31, 1948, even while the war was on, Hari Singh threatened to "withdraw the accession that I have made to the Indian Union" (Sardar Patel's Correspondence; page 162). Vallabhbhai Patel overlooked that. He was less generous to Abdullah.

In 1953, Nehru concluded an accord with Bogra on a regional plebiscite that he did not intend to carry out. It was a tactic to keep the U.N. out and get time for Bakshi. The Sheikh realised too late in the day the wisdom of the advice his colleague Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz gave him in 1947 - decide the issue of accession according to the people's wishes. On the accession, the people were not with him. Both Nehru and Abdullah were opposed to Kashmir's accession to Pakistan. But Nehru was opposed also to its autonomy, except in name. He fought on both fronts and created a mess. Had he fought on one, he might have pulled it off. Sheikh Saheb could not ignore Nehru's moves, nor the growing popular alienation and his own isolation from the people. He decided to follow the people's mood, not Nehru's, and was jailed.

But the biggest culprit was Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He cynically espoused the ruler's, rather than the people's, right to decide on accession. He rejected the offer which Mountbatten made to him in writing at Lahore on November 1, 1947 - hold plebiscites in all the three States, Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir. Nehru fully supported that. Jinnah turned it down. He was obsessed with Hyderabad and with rendering India disunited and weak. Jinnah succeeded only in inflicting grave harm on Pakistan and on peace in South Asia.

There has just appeared an informative book on the events of those times (Bonfire of Kashmiriyat: Deconstructing the Accession by Sandeep Bamzai; Rupa & Co.; pages 290, Rs.595). Pandit Kashi Nath Bamzai was a top government official who was associated with India's Prime Ministers and Kashmir's leaders. He named his son Jawaharlal. The grandson, Sandeep, a business journalist, has written this book drawing on the papers he inherited from his father as well as on his own research. The papers throw light on some dark episodes. But the reader faces a problem, since no references are cited either for the published or the unpublished material. Only those familiar with the literature will know what is new. The style is high pitched, the tone almost feverish. But no serious student should ignore this book. It has useful material on 1947 and its aftermath.

Sixty years later, in 2007, we cannot go back to 1947. Plebiscite is dead. Independence is a mirage. The two realists, Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf, can craft a solution which reunites the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir by reducing the Line of Control to " a line on the map", gives them self-rule, and addresses the security and territorial concerns of both states. They are far closer to an accord than is realised.

It will be an accord fairly close to Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah's vision - an autonomous Kashmir as a bridge, and not a battle ground, between India and Pakistan.