Published : Jan 29, 2010 00:00 IST

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, with Kashmir Premier Sheikh Abdullah, taking the salute at a National Guard march past in Srinagar in 1948.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, with Kashmir Premier Sheikh Abdullah, taking the salute at a National Guard march past in Srinagar in 1948.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

THE two-decade old cry for azadi (independence) by the separatists in Kashmir has found a new companion in the refrain by the unionists, which questions the States accession to India in 1947. They are not secessionists, only leaders who are responding to the popular mood. The refrain has gone unnoticed just as the peoples mood has been neglected since 1947. Three questions must be answered honestly and courageously. First, what are the roots for the appeal of independence? Secondly, what were the occasions on which it was raised and why? Lastly, given the realities that rule out independence or any form of Kashmirs secession from India, are there any lessons from these two questions that can help in a solution to the problem today?

The unionists refrain is astonishing in its fervour, repetition and the chorus in which it has been sung by leaders of the National Conference (N.C.) as well as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It does not cast aspersions on their honesty to point out that since the days of the crudely rigged elections are over none can win a mandate without responding to the peoples mood. Have you noted any election candidate attacking the militants?

Now, for the refrain. Farooq Abdullah, the N.C.s president, said on April 9, 2006: India has deceived the people of Jammu and Kashmir every now and then during the past 58 years. First it was in 1953, then in 1983 [sic he probably meant 1984] and it is still pursuing the same agenda (Greater Kashmir, April 10, 2006). Only a few days earlier, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the PDPs patron, said: The people of Jammu & Kashmir have never seen their own government since 1947, and they should be given right of self-governance (Greater Kashmir, April 6, 2006).

On November 19, 2007, reacting to the killing allegedly by the Army of a baker in the Kulgam area, Farooq Abdullah said: Such incidents make us think again on the righteousness of the decision by our ancestors to accede to India. These incidents definitely give a setback to nationalist parties and recently the killings of two innocent people in Kupwara and Srinagar force us to think whether the signing of the Instrument of Accession by Maharaja Hari Singh and endorsed by my late father, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, was fair or not. He remarked: If court martial proceedings can be initiated against a Major General for passing comments at a lady Army officer, then why are you silent when it comes to rape and molestation of Kashmiri mothers and sisters? (Greater Kashmir, November 20, and Asian Age, November 24, 2007).

On December 5, 2007, Farooq Abdullah told the press in Srinagar: Time and again we have been reminding New Delhi about the Prime Ministers zero-tolerance pledge on human rights. If innocents continue to be killed, and women are raped, the sadhbhavana [goodwill] campaign [of the Army] will be of zero effect and people might be forced to rethink about the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India in 1947 (Asian Age, December 6, 2007).

On August 26, 2009, on the floor of the State Assembly, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti made an anguished plea: Sixty years of our suffering should be enough for us to raise the level of debate on Kashmir from petty partisan bickering to an informed joint effort for dignified life. Referring to the arrest of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, she remarked: Separatist sentiment in J&K cannot be addressed by filling jails or muzzling the voice of dissent. She accused Sheikh Abdullah of handing over Kashmir to India on a platter (Asian Age, August 27, 2009). In the same speech, she also said: We have to find a solution which does not undermine the sovereignty of our country.

On November 1, 2009, the PDP president elaborated on the theme in her address at a party convention. The accession of Jammu & Kashmir to India has proved counterproductive. She amplified: After 1947, we were forced to surrender everything to India, including our water resources. We even lost our own strategic geographical advantage. The State that should have been the hub of activities in Central Asia turned into a landlocked territory. We have been living under an economic and physical siege since the States accession to India. She added: I dont know what happened in 1947 and who did it. She, however, drew a clear distinction between the PDPs demand for self-rule and secession. These were two separate concepts (Greater Kashmir; November 2, 2009).

These remarks expose the intellectual bankruptcy of those who hold that history is irrelevant to Kashmirs present plight. One has only to walk into any bookshop in Srinagar to realise that the past continues to haunt a people who have produced some outstanding historians. Only if one respects their sentiments can one counsel them, in the same breath, not to allow the past to wreck their future.

Mehbooba Mufti renewed her plea on December 13, 2009. Accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India has proved counterproductive. Other States that acceded to India are developing, while Kashmir has been caged and is being exploited in this or that way. Self-rule (the PDPs formula) favours neutralising the negative fallout of the events of 1947 and re-establishing the position of the State as an international trading hub (Greater Kashmir, December 14, 2009).

These pronouncements reflect a certain mood. These are not seceders, but they have a feeling of having been cheated and wronged. They belong to a region that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru described in these words in Parliament on June 26, 1952: Do not think you are dealing with a part of U.P., Bihar or Gujarat. You are dealing with an area, historically and geographically, and in all manner of things with a certain background. If we bring our local ideas and local prejudices everywhere, we will never consolidate. We have to be men of vision and there has to be a broadminded acceptance of facts in order to integrate really. And real integration comes of the mind and the heart and not of some clause which you may impose on other people....

This peroration was preceded by these words: We have declared and even if we have not declared, the fact would remain that it is the people of Kashmir who must decide. And I say with all respect to our Constitution that it just does not matter what your Constitution says; if the people of Kashmir do not want it, it will not go there. Because what is the alternative? The alternative is compulsion and coercion, presuming, of course, that the people of Kashmir do not want it. Are we going to coerce and compel them and thereby justify the very charges that are brought by some misguided people outside this country against us? .... Let us suppose there was a proper plebiscite there and the people of Kashmir said, We do not want to be with India. Well, we are committed to it, we would accept it. It might pain us, but we would not send an army against them; we would accept that however much hurt we might feel about it and we would change our Constitution about it. We do not think that would happen that is a different matter (emphasis added throughout; Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru; Volume 18; pages 421 and 418).

Nehru imposes a strain on students of Nehrulogy. Did he mean these words? For, at this very time he was pressing the States premier, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, in the opposite direction. Nehrus note of August 28, 1952, from Sonamarg admitted that, contrary to repeated public pledges, he had changed his mind on plebiscite in 1948 and asked the Sheikh to finalise the accession, reminding him that both the United Nations and Pakistan were impotent to prevent that (SWJN; Volume 19; page 322). On August 9, 1953, a little over a year later, the Sheikh was unconstitutionally dismissed from office, arrested and put in prison for 11 years.

The legend grew that he was working for Kashmirs independence. The charge in his farcical trial in 1958 was that he was conspiring to accede to Pakistan. The truth is that he had attacked Mohammed Ali Jinnah publicly in 1939 and 1944, denounced the two-nation theory and, in 1947, was planning for the States accession to India. This brings us to a fact of crucial importance. Unlike the Nizam of Hyderabad, who dreamt of independence as the British were preparing to quit India, the Sheikh did not contemplate independence but democracy in the State and association with the India of Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi as he visualised it. He was vice-president of the Congress sister body, the All India State Peoples Conference.

If Maharaja Hari Singh had acceded to India without his support, people would have revolted, with the Sheikh as their leader. Unlike Vallabhbhai Patel, Nehru realised that his support was indispensable. But while Jinnah wanted the people minus Abdullah, Nehru won Abdullah and disdained popular support.

It pains people to acknowledge two harsh truths. The initial popular reaction to Pakistans tribal raid notwithstanding, the accession was unpopular. Hence, Indira Gandhis letter to Nehru from Srinagar on May 14, 1948: They say that only Sheikh Saheb is confident of winning the plebiscite....

The rest of the sentence has been expunged (Two Alone, Two Together edited by Sonia Gandhi; Penguin; page 417). The other truth is that Abdullah began sensing the growing popular alienation and resenting the hostility of Patel & Co.; he came to regret the accession and sought desperately a way out of the embrace. He could not accede to Pakistan. He and its leaders had denounced one another. Its policies repelled him. He sought a via media. Mir Osman Ali dreamt of independence at the outset; Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah contemplated it after his accession to India, a deserved censure of Indias behaviour, which is conveniently glossed over. Alternatively, he urged other formulae joint guarantee, confederation, and so on anything to escape the tightening vice and acquire some freedom. By 1953, his popularity had suffered. So had Nehrus. He could put Abdullah in prison. The Sheikh was powerless, scorned by Pakistan and India alike.

But he was not the progenitor of the idea of an independent Kashmir. A distinguished Kashmiri writer holds that the credit goes to Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin Bud Shah (1421-1472). In her excellent work Languages of Belonging (Permanent Black, 2003), the Kashmiri scholar Chitralekha Zutshi notes instances of assertion of a viewpoint offered to the Congress as well as the Muslim League. Pir Abdul Ahad Shah, for one, argued that Kashmirs right to self-determination could be ignored neither in the Leagues movement for Pakistan nor the Congress for independence (page 284, citing Hamdard November 27 and December 8, 1943).

Chitralekha Zutshi writes: At the congress of the Kashmir Kisan Conference held in Kabamarg in May 1946, the President of the organisation, Abad Ullah, declared that upper-class Hindus and Muslims were engaged in disputes over Akhand Hindustan (United India) with a view to preserve their vested interests. But we stand neither for one nor the other, he said. We believe that so long as it is not decided who the future rulers are to be we can neither support Akhand Hindustan nor side with the demand for Pakistan (page 296).

Pandit Prem Nath Bazaz, a colleague of the Sheikhs who broke with him, has received little recognition. Erudite and independent, he was unsparing in his analyses. He was a devout socialist, and a fierce secularist, who believed in the separation of politics from religion. He became a follower of M.N. Roy. Bazazs classic The History of Struggle for Freedom in Kashmir (Panposh Publications, E-38, Hauz Khas, New Delhi, 1954) traces the historical roots of the independence idea. Kashmirs independence under Zain-ul-Abidin was wrecked by his successors and destroyed when Akbars armies marched into Kashmir on June 28, 1586, after previous unsuccessful attempts. Kashmir passed from Moghul to Ahmad Shah Durranis Afghan hands in 1752; to Ranjit Singhs Sikh State in 1814; and to his treacherous Dogra protege Gulab Singh by the Treaty of Amritsar of March 15, 1896, thanks to British help. They received Rs.75 lakh from him under this sale deed as Gandhi called it.

Zain-ul-Abidin was greater than Akbar. Unlike the Moghul, he was erudite and a student of Sanskrit. Like Akbar, he was a patron of learning and the arts and was secular to the core. He was not satisfied with the negative policy of non-persecution. He actively repaired Hindu temples and promoted Hindu institutions. Nor did he sponsor a synthetic faith of his own. Zain-ul-Abidin was a devout Muslim who did his best to promote Islam and encouraged Hindu and Muslim scholars without any discrimination.

Kashmiris fondly recall his rule to this day. Bazaz explains at length how the idea of independence came to win the acceptance it did with the Sultan as their hero. There has never been a more glorious progressive and prosperous period in the otherwise dismal history of the beautiful Valley in the medieval times than the fifty-two years rule of that great and noble monarch.

A composite culture and the States geographical position reinforced its appeal. From August 15, 1947, until October 26, 1947, when it acceded to India, Jammu and Kashmir was in law an independent State. Sheikh Abdullah was released from prison on September 29, 1947.

If the Ruler of Kashmir had played his cards well and played the game fairly by his people, he might have won for his State a semi-independence recognised by both Dominions and a guarantee by both which might in fact have brought them together in the courtesy of a common defence, Ali Yavar Jung opined in a series of articles published in The Times of India under the pseudonym An Ex-official of Hyderabad (Hyderabad in Retrospect; Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd., 1949; page 16).

But that would have required a pact between Hari Singh and Sheikh Abdullah. Hari Singh did not dilly-dally on accession. He knew he had to accede to India, but he stalled on Nehrus realistic insistence on a responsible government under the Sheikh. Nor had the Sheikh any doubts about accession.

From Srinagar, Dwarkanath Kachru wrote to Nehru on October 4, 1947: 1. Sheikh Sahib and his close associates have decided for the Indian Union.

2. But this decision has not been announced yet and the impression is being given that so far the National Conference have taken no decision.

3. The stand taken by Sheikh Sahib is that the political prisoners must be released and the Working Committee and the General Council must be allowed to meet to consider the problem and to place their decision before the people.

4. Meanwhile Sheikh Sahib is delivering speeches to educate public opinion and to prepare the people for what seems to be the inevitable decision of the National Conference. Sheikh Sahib feels that unless there is a transfer of power to a substantial degree the National Conference may find itself in a difficult position. To fight the League, to maintain law and order inside the State and to carry the matters with them it is highly essential that a settlement with the National Conference should be brought about simultaneously with the accession to the Union (Sardar Patels Correspondence edited by Durga Das; pages 54-55).

In a handwritten letter to Nehru on October 1, Abdullah wrote: On the whole the situation is quite hopeful and we are sure to carry a vast majority of the people with us. But you will agree with me that in the context of the situation at present a substantial transfer of power and responsibility to popular hands can alone satisfy the requirements of the occasion. A popularly governed Kashmir would constitute a great support to the Indian Union and the objectives as also furnish a powerful basis for the safety and continuity of the ruler and his family.

It reflects poorly on Kashmir studies that to this day the Sheikhs parallel overture to Pakistan has escaped analysis. Before going to Delhi around October 21, he sent G.M. Sadiq to Lahore to meet the leaders of Pakistan. Why? Justice Mohammad Yusuf Sarafs comprehensive work Kashmiris Fight for Freedom (Volumes 1 and 2; Ferozsons, Lahore, 1978) spans the period from 1846 to 1978. He records that three important Pakistanis from Lahore, each one of whom had personal relations with the Sheikh Mian Iftikhar-u-Din, Dr Muhammad Din Taseer and Malik Taj-ud-Din, then manager of the Associated Press of Pakistan went to Srinagar with the blessings of the then Punjab government. They remained in Srinagar for two to three days and had extensive discussions with the Sheikh. They did their best to persuade him to support the States accession to Pakistan. It seems to have been agreed that on their return they should place these matters before the Pakistan government for its consideration and that the Sheikh would send Sadiq to Lahore to continue the talks so that the ground was prepared for his visit to Karachi to discuss the matter with the Quaid-e-Azam. He told them that he had been invited by Pandit Nehru to visit him at Delhi and that after his visit to the Indian capital was completed, he would directly fly to Karachi. A week or so later, the Sheikh went to Delhi and began talks with Nehru and other Indian leaders. While Sadiq was still holding negotiations with the Pakistan government on the Pakistan soil and the idea was to pave the way for his leaders visit to Karachi, tribesmen entered the State (Volume 2; pages 800-1).

Pakistan had sinned against the light, and Jinnah was complicit in this. Pakistans States Minister Agha Saiyid Bud Shah had been to Kashmir and met its Prime Minister, M.C. Mahajan. On October 18, he warned the Chief Minister of North Western Frontier Province, Abdul Qayum, that aggression on Kashmir would provoke Hari Singhs accession to India, which might lead to war (R.J. Moore; Making the New Commonwealth; Oxford University Press, 1987; page 50). Jinnah had heard of this a fortnight earlier and said meaningfully, Dont tell me anything about it. My conscience must be clear (ibid; page 51).

In a brief prepared for Mountbattens use in mid-July, V.P. Menon had opined: It is possible that a predominantly Muslim State like Kashmir cannot be kept away from Pakistan for long and we may leave this matter to find its natural solution (ibid; page 31). On November 1, 1947, well after Indian troops had landed in Jammu and Kashmir, Mountbatten offered Jinnah plebiscite in all three States Hyderabad, Junagadh and Jammu and Kashmir. Jinnah refused.

We owe to Prem Shankar Jhas well-documented book a detailed account of the deliberations in New Delhi thereafter (The Origins of a Dispute: Kashmir 1947; Oxford University Press, New Edition, 2003).

Appendix IV, the text of the minutes of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet on October 25, 1947, presided over by Mountbatten, shows that India did not rush to accept the accession. Appendix V has the minutes of its meeting the next day. These extracts are important: Mr. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar gave his view that immediate accession might create further opposition. It was agreed that it was desirable that an interim government under Sheikh Abdullah should be set up simultaneously with the accession of Kashmir. It was agreed that when the accession was accepted this should be subject to the proviso that a plebiscite would be held in Kashmir when the law and order situation allowed this. The Governor-General suggested that this plebiscite should be on three questions to join India to join Pakistan or to remain independent. He also suggested that before a plebiscite was held, the future defence of Kashmir might be discussed in the Joint Defence Council [of India and Pakistan]. The Prime Minister said that the Government of India would not mind Kashmir remaining an independent country under Indias sphere of influence.

The Committee directed the Ministry of States to prepare (a) an Instrument of Accession to India by the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir; (b) a letter from the Government of India to the Maharaja, stating the temporary acceptance of this Instrument (with a view to assistance being rendered towards the restoration of law and order) but with the proviso that the will of the people of Kashmir on the question of final accession would be ascertained when conditions allowed this (pages 212-13). Two days later, in a letter to his sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit, leader of the Indian delegation to the U.N., Nehru wrote: For my part, I do not mind if Kashmir becomes more or less independent, but it would have been a cruel blow if it had become just an exploited part of Pakistan (Nehru Memorial Museum & Library; Vijayalakshmi Pandit Papers).

Even the hard-headed V.P. Menon confided in the British Deputy High Commissioner Alexander Symon on October 29 that one possible solution was for the establishment of Kashmir as an independent State subject to (a) joint Dominion control over her external affairs and defence and (b) a standstill agreement with each Dominion on communication (Alastair Lamb; Incomplete Partition: The Genesis of the Kashmir Dispute 1947 1948; Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1997; page 212).

Mountbatten held a meeting of Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan in New Delhi on November 26, 1947. I summarised these proposals at the end of the meeting as follows: 1. The Government of India and Pakistan were in complete agreement: (a) that a plebiscite should be held to decide whether Kashmir should accede permanently to India, should change the accession in favour of Pakistan, or possibly retain some independent status in treaty relations with both Dominions (this latter point was not formally agreed to but was mentioned). (b) that a plebiscite should be held under the auspices of an independent body like UNO (Mountbatten and Independent India edited by Larry Collins & Dominique Lapiere; Vikas, 1984; page 142).

Mountbatten renewed the suggestion on February 26, 1948, at a meeting with Nehru, Patel, N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar and Patrick Gordon-Walker, the visiting British Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs.

The Governor-General then suggested that the possibility of including a vote for independence in the plebiscite might be put at UNO. If this was to be done, the Government of India would have to arrange diplomatically for one of the smaller members of the Security Council to do it. Mr Gopalaswamy Ayyangar said that he would have no objection to this; it might indeed give India a tactical advantage. But he would be unable to commit India to acceptance of the suggestion until he had heard the Pakistan comments. The same thing really applied to any scheme of partition being put up.

Mr Gopalaswamy Ayyangar pointed out that it was difficult to put three issues before the voters in the plebiscite. If there were to be three choices the plebiscite would have to be held in two parts. The first part might be whether or not the accession to India was to be ratified, and if the answer to this was in the negative the second part would then be a choice between independence and Pakistan. Alternatively, the first part might be the choice between accession and independence, and in the event of accession being chosen, the second question would be whether this would be to India or to Pakistan.

Far from advocating independence, the Sheikh strongly and consistently opposed a plebiscite. Nehru had to reassure him on this point in a letter of November 21, 1947:

Dwarkanath writes to me that there is strong feeling in the leadership of the National Conference against referendum. I know this and quite understand it. In fact I share the feeling myself. But you will appreciate that it is not easy for us to back out of the stand we have taken before the world. That would create a very bad impression abroad and more specially in U.N. circles. I feel, however, that this question of referendum is rather an academic one at present.

If we said to the UNO that we no longer stand by a referendum in Kashmir, Pakistan would score a strong point and that would be harmful to our cause. On the other hand, if circumstances continue as they are and the referendum is out of the question during these next few months, then why worry about it now?.... There is no difference between you and us on this issue. It is all a question of the best tactical approach. I would personally suggest to you not to say anything rejecting the idea of a referendum but to lay stress on the fact that the people of Kashmir, by their heroic resistance, are deciding the issue themselves, also that it is a little absurd for people to carry on a little war in Kashmir and, when defeated, to want a referendum. (SWJN; Volume 4; pages 336-7). So much for the idealist romanticist Nehru. He had decided calculatedly to stall on a plebiscite, proposing partition along the ceasefire line in private, until circumstances changed and plebiscite could be called academic. The people did not matter, a mistake that has cost us dear.

Nehru knew that this spelt a lasting feud with Pakistan and told the Indian High Commissioner Sri Prakasa just four days later: The fact is that Kashmir is of the most vital significance to India as well as to Pakistan (ibid; page 346). More, the contest had split Kashmiris and their opposition to India, which Indira Gandhi noted in 1948, grew over time. Abdullah could not resist public opinion in Kashmir; nor Nehru in India.

Indias appeal to the U.N. Security Council was shown to Gandhi, S. Gopal avers in his biography of Nehru. He saw the draft and revised it to remove the suggestion of an independent Kashmir as a possible alternative to accession to either State. The assertion is not sourced (S. Gopal, Nehru Volume 2; Oxford University Press; page 22).

However, the leader of Indias delegation to the Security Council, Gopalaswamy Ayyangar, twice mentioned independence in his very first statement on January 15, 1948. He was present at the meetings in Delhi. He said that Jammu and Kashmir like other States become free to decide whether it would accede to one or the other of two Dominions or remain independent.

He emphasised more explicitly about the future. The question of the future status of Kashmir vis-a-vis her neighbours and the world at large, and a further question, namely, whether she should withdraw from her accession to India, and either accede to Pakistan or remain independent, with a right to claim admission as a member of the United Nations all this we have recognised to [sic.] a matter for unfettered decision by the people of Kashmir, after normal life is restored to them (Security Council; Official Records; Third year; pages 16 and 32, respectively).

It was not Sheikh Abdullah but Maharaja Hari Singh who first threatened secession in a letter to Patel as early as on January 31, 1948. Sometimes I feel that I should withdraw the accession that I have made to the Indian Union. The Union only provisionally accepted the accession and if the Union cannot recover back our territory and is going eventually to agree to the decision of the Security Council which may result in handing us over to Pakistan then there is no point in sticking to the accession of the State to the Indian Union. For the time being it may be possible to have better terms from Pakistan, but that is immaterial because eventually it would mean an end of the dynasty and end of the Hindus and Sikhs in the State. There is an alternative possible for me and that is to withdraw the accession and that may kill the reference to the UNO because the Indian Union will have no right to continue the proceedings before the Council if the accession is withdrawn. The result may be a return to the position the State held before the accession. The difficulty in that situation, however, will be that the Indian troops cannot be maintained in the State except as volunteers to help the State (Durga Das; page 162). Patel did not reprimand him as he did the Sheikh when he spoke of independence.

But, then independence had not a chance. Pakistan opposed it. The President of the Security Council, Canadas General A.G.L. McNaughton, tabled proposals on December 22, 1949. Their main object was to determine the future of Jammu & Kashmir by the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite, to take place as early as possible.

Pakistans Zafrullah Khan realised he could not openly oppose independence. His reply of December 28, 1949, proposed substitution of the implied inclusion of independence with this phrase The question of the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan. His explanation was that this was the phraseology adopted by the U.N. Commission for India and Pakistan in 1949.

Not once during these deliberations did Sheikh Abdullah speak of independence. Others did; he did not. But the thought could not have been absent from his mind. He spoke after others had abandoned the idea and earned their lasting ire. No one ever cared to ask why he raised the cry for independence. That might explain, perhaps, why given his pro-India stand, he had sent Sadiq to Pakistan in October 1947. Also a question none has asked: What terms had he to offer to Pakistan?

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