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Interview

Victoria Schofield: ‘Criticising in hindsight distorts the truth’

Published : Dec 01, 2022 10:45 IST

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Victoria Schofield: ‘Criticising in hindsight distorts the truth’

Victoria Schofield

Victoria Schofield | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

In conversation with the British historian and author of Kashmir in Conflict.

Victoria Schofield, eminent British historian, is the author of the bestselling Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War and Afghan Frontier: At the Crossroads of Conflict. Excerpts from an interview she gave Frontline:

Indian Minister Kiren Rijiju has alleged that even though India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru knew that Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir wanted to accede to India, he delayed the accession. This allowed tribal raiders time to launch an attack. What is your response to this accusation?

All evidence shows that the Maharaja did not want to accede to India. He was hoping to be able to remain independent. Insofar as concerns Nehru’s position, the accusation against him is with the wisdom of hindsight. How did he know when the tribal raiders would attack, or how successful they would be?

The ruling BJP, and its Hindu-nationalist champions, berate Nehru for his decision to refer the situation in Jammu and Kashmir to the UN. This, according to them, made Pakistan a party to the dispute rather than an aggressor. What, in your opinion, was Nehru’s rationale for moving to the UN?

At the time, persuaded by Mountbatten, Nehru thought it would bring about the best result. The idea was to cease fighting and save lives (no one can be blamed for that) and bring about a settlement. Having agreed to hold a plebiscite, and with the support of Sheikh Abdullah and his following, Nehru obviously believed that India would gain a majority of votes. No one foresaw that the requirements prior to the holding of the plebiscite (withdrawal of troops and so on) would prove such an obstacle. Again, this is another case of criticising in hindsight which always distorts the truth.

Insofar as concerns Pakistan’s position, given that the Maharaja had signed a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan and that there were some inhabitants of the State who wanted to accede to Pakistan (notably the Rajahs and Mirs in Gilgit-Baltistan who had already signed instruments of accession), Pakistan was already a party to the “dispute”. As the government of India demonstrated in Hyderabad, where a plebiscite was held, in circumstances where the accession was contested, the aspirations of the people also had to be taken into consideration; accession could not be simply be decided by the ruler.

Some scholars, both in India and in Pakistan, claim that it was Nehru’s manoeuvres that saw Muslim-majority Gurdaspur’s inclusion in the Indian dominion, thus securing a link to Jammu and Kashmir.

The issue of Gurdaspur is greatly misunderstood by Pakistanis and Indians alike. In order to understand whose suggestion it was to include Gurdaspur within India you have to refer to Volume 6 of the Transfer of Power (page 912, Note 406, 7 February 1946) which is a telegram from the then Viceroy Earl Mountbatten to the Secretary of State in London, explaining that the “only Moslem majority district that would not go into Pakistan under this demarcation is Gurdaspur (51 per cent Moslem). Gurdaspur must go with Amritsar for geographical reasons and Amritsar being sacred city of Sikhs must stay out of Pakistan.” This decision in early 1946 had nothing to do with the debate about Jammu and Kashmir but was related to the position of the Sikhs in the Punjab.

In the final Partition plan, three of the four tehsils, including the Hindu-majority tehsil of Pathankot, were included within India. Batala and Gurdaspur districts had a very marginal Muslim majority but at the time it was thought best that these two tehsils also went with India. This was explained to me by Christopher Beaumont, secretary of the Partition Council, in the 1990s. Even if the two majority Muslim tehsils of Batala and Gurdaspur had gone to Pakistan, this would have left the Hindu-majority tehsil of Pathankot with India—and it was through Pathankot that road access to Jammu and Kashmir through Mukerian was feasible.

That said, he [Nehru] was extremely concerned that Jammu and Kashmir should join India and so both he and Sardar Patel and Gandhi were working extremely hard to convince the Maharaja to accede to India. The invasion of the tribesmen from Pakistan precipitated events.

In the Hindu right wing’s narrative, it was Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s initiatives that secured Kashmir for India.

He was very forceful in his determination to ensure that as many of the princely states as possible, including Jammu and Kashmir, acceded to India.

Why did Article 370 have to be conceptualised following the accession? The BJP and its supporters allege that this hindered Jammu and Kashmir’s total integration with the Indian union.

Given the circumstances of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India, it was agreed that it would retain its special status, which led to Article 370 of the Indian Constitution—this was partly to win over those who were ambivalent about acceding to India—so yes, it did prevent Jammu and Kashmir’s full integration within India, but again it is important not to look with the wisdom of hindsight. No one quite predicted what would happen, how long the “dispute” would remain unresolved, nor the separatist movement which would arise in the 1990s, for which the government of India’s mishandling of Jammu and Kashmir was partly to blame.

Is it true that Nehru’s tenure saw the beginning of the dilution of much of Article 370, thus expediting rather than hindering India’s monopolistic control of Kashmir?

Nehru was very committed to retaining Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union but he never pretended otherwise... and during his tenure as Prime Minister the “special status” granted to Jammu and Kashmir was eroded, with the cooperation of the Kashmiri leadership, especially during Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s tenure. However, Nehru also saw the value of retaining Kashmir’s loyalty, hence his endorsement of Article 35A (See his 1954 speech in the Lok Sabha).

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