Essay

The roots of 2017

Print edition : June 09, 2017

New Delhi, June 7, 1947: The historic meeting at which Viceroy Lord Mountbatten disclosed Britain’s “partition” plan for India. With him are Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Ismay, Adviser to the Viceroy, and M.A. Jinnah. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

August 15, 1947: Jawaharlal Nehru being sworn in as Independent India’s first Prime Minister by Governor General Lord Mountbatten. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

August 15, 1947: Lord Mountbatten's first address to the Constituent Assembly after assuming office as Governor General. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

London, July 1956: Prime Minister Nehru with Lord Mountbatten. Photo: THE HINDUARCHIVES

Lord Mountbatten did his best to work out a realistic solution regarding Kashmir in the months preceding and following the 1947 Partition, but first M.A. Jinnah and then Jawaharlal Nehru scuttled all moves to find a sane course of action.

“I MUST tell you honestly. I wanted Kashmir to join Pakistan,” Lord Mountbatten, free India’s first Governor General, confided to Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, authors of the bestseller Freedom At Midnight, when they interviewed him for the book. A record of the interviews with Mountbatten and some minutes of conferences were later published in 1984 in their book Mountbatten and Independent India (August 16, 1947–June 18, 1948, Vikas). The remark appears on page 39.



I found it hard to believe that, but a recent book confirms it. A book published in 2011 ( Maharaja Hari Singh, by Harbans Singh, Brahaspati Publications) contains a letter by Kashmir’s ruler, Hari Singh, to President Rajendra Prasad from Pune in August 1952. He wrote: “Lord Mountbatten then urged me and my Prime Minister, Kak, not to make any declaration of Independence but to find out, in one way or another, the will of the people of Kashmir as soon as possible and to announce our intention by 14 August to send representatives accordingly to one Constituent Assembly or the other. Lord Mountbatten further told us that the newly created States Department was prepared to give an assurance that if Kashmir went to Pakistan, it would not be regarded as an unfriendly act by the Government of India. Lord Mountbatten stressed the dangerous situation in which Kashmir would find itself if it lacked the support of one of the two Dominions by the date of the transfer of power. The impression which I gathered from my talks with Lord Mountbatten who explained the situation with plans and maps was that, in his opinion, it was advisable for me to accede to Pakistan” (pages 297-298; emphasis added, throughout).



Hari Singh proceeded to quote Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s letter to him dated July 5, 1952 in, which he said that he “felt that the people would prefer accession to India but the matter was delicate and not beyond dispute and therefore, the Government of India did not press for the accession of Jammu and Kashmir State [in 1947] but suggested that the matter should be considered at a later stage when the people’s wishes could be ascertained in some form or the other and the suggestion was that some kind of a Constituent Assembly might be set up in the State to decide the question of accession as well as the questions” (page 316).



Alan Campbell-Johnson, Mountbatten’s Press Attache, recorded: “He [Mountbatten] said that while urging the Maharaja to make up his mind about accession before the transfer of power, he had all along, from his visit in June onwards, exerted his whole influence to prevent him from acceding to one Dominion or the other without first taking steps to ascertain the will of his people by referendum, plebiscite, election, or even, if these methods were impracticable, by representative public meetings. When during the past forty-eight hours it became clear that the government were determined, against the military advice both of their own Chiefs of Staff and of himself, to send in troops in response to a request from Kashmir for aid, he returned to the charge about accession” ( Mission with Mountbatten, page 224). It was Mountbatten who insisted on stipulating a reference to the people as a condition of Kashmir’s accession to India.



Mountbatten knew the mood in Kashmir from the reports of the British Resident in the State and from officers in the British High Commission who were in the know. They all reported that the people were for accession to Pakistan ( Partition Observed, Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Lionel Carter, Manohar, 2011).



In the case of Kashmir, the implication of “the people’s wishes was obvious”. On October 25, 1947, Mountbatten told the Defence Committee of the Cabinet: “The question was whether temporary accession would help the people in general to side with India or whether it would only act as an irritant. There was bound to be propaganda to the effect that the accession was not temporary and tempers might be inflamed.” N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar agreed with him—the people were not for accession to India.



Mountbatten elaborated to the two authors, Collins and Lapierre, on his fateful meeting with Hari Singh in 1947. This is what he told Hari Singh: “‘I’ve come to tell you that if you decide to accede to Pakistan, they’ll think it a natural thing to do, because the majority of your populations are Muslims. It’ll not only cause no ill-feeling, but they’ll give you all the support and help they can.’ ‘I don’t want to accede to Pakistan on any account’, he said. ‘Well’, I said, ‘it’s up to you. I think you might be wise to accede, because the majority of your people are Muslims.’ Yes, he said, ‘but don’t forget that with Sheikh Abdullah, who’s madly pro-Nehru, most of my people would really wish to join India.’



“‘All right, then, in that case—join India! If you do, I will personally see that one or two divisions of infantry are sent up which will absolutely preserve the integrity of your boundaries. ‘I don’t want to join India either, because, if so, I would feel that perhaps that’s not what the people wanted. I want to be independent.’”



They agreed on a formula. “Get Kak, your Prime Minister, and we’ll talk about it. I’ll get my Resident and I’ve got my Private Secretary with me here [it was George Abell, I think] and you’ll have Kak, and you and me. Quite a small party, and we’ll then just formalise the agreement we’ve come to, and keep some notes. Then you’ll know where you are, and you’ll at least have the benefit of my advice, which you want. Then, if you follow it, you’ve got the backing of that advice and I’ll do what I can to help. If you disregard my advice, it’ll also be recorded. It’ll be up to you.



“Thank you, he said, very good idea. And of course, on the last morning, when it was all set, we had everything decided, how to do it and it was quite simple. It was going to be: His Excellency and His Highness agree that Kashmir and Jammu would accede to one future Dominion or the other before the transfer of power on the 15th of August. It was noted that Kashmir acceding to Pakistan appeared the wisest course. If on the other hand, they decided to accede to India, the Indians would send up one or two infantry divisions to prevent interference. Pakistan might not like that decision, but they wouldn’t be able to interfere. In either case, there’d be no bloodshed. If H.H. didn’t wish to take the personal responsibility of making the decision, he could consult his people, either by a plebiscite or, if time did not permit, by a show of hands. … That was what I wanted to record, and then try and get him to express an opinion. But this last meeting never took place. An ADC [aide-de-camp] came and said H.H. was indisposed. It was, of course, absolute baloney.”



Incidentally, the map annexed to the book Alan Campbell-Johnson’s Mission With Mountbatten, published in the early 1950s, shows Kashmir’s eastern boundary as “undefined”. Mountbatten urged Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan to withdraw the invading tribesmen: “Can you imagine the Pakistanis being so stupid as not to withdraw the tribesmen? I told Liaquat, ‘All you’ve got to do is pull out. Have the plebiscite, and you’ll win. You’ll get in again. By refusing to pull out the tribesmen, you are playing into Nehru’s hands. He’s already got himself into trouble with his followers for risking a plebiscite on my account.’” (Recorded in the book by Collins and Lapierre.)



The fallout of Radcliffe’s Award



Mounbatten was asked by the two authors: “If the Radcliffe awards had not given Gurdaspur and two tahsils to India, would Kashmir have been justified in acceding to India?” He replied: “I think not, I always said in all the speeches I made about accession that there were certain geographical compulsions. I mean the idea that Junagadh could join with Pakistan, across all the other Kathiawar States, was just stupid. The idea that Hyderabad could join with Pakistan was equally stupid. Now there is just one question about Kashmir which didn’t arise and it’s a hypothetical one. In the case of Kashmir where the juxtaposition was so close that we could fly in very easily, this might have been an argument that was used. I might have been more hesitant about saying it but should probably not have mentioned it to this man at all. My own opinion is that if this had happened, we should have accepted, of course. It’s a terrible thing to say it, but it might have been a solution. I mean [Cyril John] Radcliffe let us in for an awful lot of trouble by making it possible for them to accede to India. If he hadn’t made that award, the Maharaja would really have had no option but to join Pakistan.”



Jinnah foiled Mountbatten’s efforts



Mountbatten had a clear vision—Junagadh and Hyderabad to India and Kashmir to Pakistan. He pursued it consistently: he sparred with Mohammed Ali Jinnah on Junagadh, exerted every nerve to secure Hyderabad’s accession to India, fought as India’s Governor General to beat back Pakistan’s raiders but never for a moment wavered on his realistic understanding of the views of the people of Kashmir. He pursued it even after the State’s accession to India and after the raiders were driven back. It was Jinnah, who was Pakistan’s Governor General, who foiled Mountbatten’s efforts.



Mountbatten presented to Jinnah written proposals for a settlement on November 1, 1947, at Government House, Lahore. Here is the full text of this neglected document. “Suggested proposals to Pakistan Government to form the basis of discussion:



1. It is of paramount importance, not only to the Government of India, Pakistan and Kashmir, but also to the cause of world peace, that the fighting in Kashmir should cease at the earliest possible moment.



2. The best, if not the only, hope of achieving this object is a very early meeting between accredited representatives of the two countries.



3. The Government of India, for their part, have no desire to maintain troops in Kashmir once the Valley is safe from attack and law and order have been restored. They are therefore prepared to give an undertaking to withdraw their troops immediately [after] the raiders have left the country and returned to their homes.



4. It is the sincere desire of the Government of India that a plebiscite should be held in Kashmir at the earliest possible date and in the fairest possible way. They suggest that UNO [United Nations Organisation] might be asked to provide supervisors for this plebiscite, and they are prepared to agree that a joint India-Pakistan force should hold the ring while the plebiscite is being held.



5. The Government of India suggests that both governments should agree on the form of the public announcement to be made in regard to the procedure for accession of those States in which this matter is in dispute. A draft is attached as a basis of discussion.



6. They suggest that the above proposals should be the subject of a round-table discussion at the earliest possible date.” ( Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, page 81).



Draft of suggested agreement



The draft referred to in paragraph 5 read thus: “The Governments of India and Pakistan agree that, where the ruler of a State does not belong to the community to which the majority of his subjects belong, and where the State has not acceded to that Dominion whose majority community is the same as the State’s, the question of whether the State should finally accede to one or the other of the Dominions should in all cases be decided by an impartial reference to the will of the people” ( Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, Vol.1, page 73). The proposal that “a joint India-Pakistan force should hold the ring while the plebiscite is being held” was never repeated.



Mountbatten and Jinnah talked for three and a half hours. Jinnah agreed that in view of the communal composition of Junagadh and Kashmir “the States should go according to their majority population”. A plebiscite was “redundant”. Mountbatten’s note on their talks recorded:



“Mr Jinnah then went on to say that he could not accept a formula if it was so drafted as to include Hyderabad, since he pointed out that Hyderabad did not wish to accede to either Dominion and he could not be a party to coercing them to accession….”



The Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan exchanged telegrams on November 7 and 8, recording the proposals which their respective Governors General had made in Lahore. Nehru repeated the basic formula which Mountbatten had proposed ( White Paper on Jammu & Kashmir 1948, page 62).



Missed opportunity



India’s proposal was fully supported by Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel, who asked Liaquat Ali Khan at a meeting in New Delhi: “Why do you compare Junagadh with Kashmir? Talk of Hyderabad and Kashmir, and we could reach an agreement” (Chaudhari Muhammad Ali, The Emergence of Pakistan, 1967, page 299; The author was Secretary General of the Pakistan Cabinet). Patel revealed the proposal publicly in a speech at Junagadh on November 13, 1947: “Pakistan attempted to set off Kashmir against Junagadh. When we raised the question of settlement of this problem in a democratic way, Pakistan at once told us they could consider this matter if we applied that policy to Kashmir State. Our reply was that we would agree to Kashmir if they agree to Hyderabad.”



A fine opportunity for a grand settlement was missed. Both Mountbatten and his Chief of Staff Lord Ismay pressed Jinnah to return their visit and come to Delhi as Mountbatten’s guest, at least for a day. The Quaid-e-Azam would have returned to the city of his achievements as a head of state. The morale of Muslims in the city and beyond would have lifted. An overall settlement would have spared the subcontinent the bitterness which the endless Kashmir dispute has spread for decades to this day. Hyderabad would have been spared the invasion and the massacre that followed. In the deal, safeguards for the Muslim minority and the composite culture of Hyderabad could have been stipulated. Kashmiris would have lived in peace and with dignity. A democratic solution, rather than one based on force and duress, would have been accomplished. In a plebiscite Jammu and Kashmir would have voted for accession to Pakistan. No one then talked of a regional plebiscite. Jinnah’s oft-stated ideal of the two states living as friends would have been realised. The minorities’ fate would have been different. History would have taken a far saner course in a land that has known nothing but strife and bloodshed. That was not to be. Jinnah willed it otherwise.



Role of V.P. Menon



In all this, Mountbatten had the support of Rao Bahadur V.P. Menon, Secretary in the Ministry of States and author of the definitive Transfer of Power in India and The Integration of Indian States. He was the right hand of Vallabhbhai Patel, the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the States, and also a confidant of Mountbatten. He was able to prevent India from attacking Pakistan in September 1947 by tipping off Mountbatten, which Pakistanis do not acknowledge to this day.



H.V. Hodson records in his book The Great Divide: Britain-India-Pakistan: “I [Mountbatten] was aware that, in the wider aspect, my own physical presence as Governor-General of India was the best insurance against an actual outbreak of war with Pakistan. To have compromised my position too far over the preliminary threat of war would have undermined my final position. I was therefore anxious to make it clear to my Government that I was not necessarily opposed to their taking all necessary precautions, military and otherwise, to safeguard their own legitimate interests.



“A Cabinet meeting to consider the Junagadh situation was summoned for 5 p.m. on 17 September. I was informed that the members of the Cabinet had, prior to this meeting, decided among themselves that military action was the only answer.” Mountbatten had it reversed.



A realistic dialogue



V.P. Menon shared Mountbatten’s vision—Junagadh and Hyderabad to India and Kashmir to Pakistan. At a meeting of the Joint Defence Council in New Delhi on November 8, 1947, the plebiscite question was discussed by V.P. Menon for India and Chaudhri Muhammad Ali for Pakistan, with Ismay holding a watching brief for Mountbatten. This was one of the most realistic India-Pakistan negotiations ever conducted on Kashmir.



During these talks, Chaudhri Muhammad Ali at one point asked whether a plebiscite was really called for at all as the entire State of Jammu & Kashmir (the plebiscite under consideration being for the whole State as a unit) must go to Pakistan in any case by virtue of its overwhelming Muslim majority. V.P. Menon replied that “he entirely agreed that Kashmir would go to Pakistan” but “emphasised that in view of what had passed, a formal plebiscite was essential”. The draft agreement contained a paragraph to the effect that neither government would accept the accession of a State whose ruler was of a different religion to the majority of his subjects without resorting to a plebiscite” (Alastair Lamb, Birth of a Tragedy, pages 149-150).



Jinnah shot down accord



Jinnah shot down the draft accord, as Hasan Zaheer records in his book The Times and Trial of The Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case: “The Quaid-i-Azam also seems to have taken strong exception to the proposal as is evident from a cryptic entry dated 30 November made by him in his Notebook which reads: ‘Kashmir—no commitment—should be made—without my approval of terms of settlement. Mr Liaquat has agreed and promised to abide by this understanding.’ The date of the entry is significant and can only be related to the 27 November Delhi negotiations. The Quaid’s annoyance might have been at the plan worked out in this session or the package deal of Hyderabad and Kashmir that was offered by Patel or both. The next entry on the same page of the Notebook, dated 16 December, lays down the absolute position of the Government of Pakistan; it reads ‘Nehru’s proposal fundamentally different. There is no common basis or ground. There can be no solution of satisfactory nature unless the India D. [Dominion] agrees to withdraw their troops and agree to replace the present administration by an Independent and impartial Regime and administration. With International Police and military forces to restore peace and maintain Law and Order. It is only then that the question of Plebiscite will have to be considered.’



“The Cabinet had decided on 30 December 1947 that no question of policy or principle would be decided except at a Cabinet meeting presided over by the Quaid-i-Azam and that in the event of any difference of opinion between him and the Cabinet, the decision of the Quaid would be final and binding. Nehru, however, backed out from the 27 November proposals.” He thought India could defeat Pakistan militarily.



V.P. Menon reaffirmed his vision during a discussion with a delegation from Hyderabad in New Delhi, on November 3, 1947. The following is taken from Records of Discussions on Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh State Archives: “Mr Menon opened the discussion by making a reference to the Kashmir problem. He stated that the settled policy of the Government of India was that there should not be any further disintegration of the country after the partition and the States falling within the Dominion of India should go with that Dominion. Mr Menon further stated that the Government of India scrupulously followed this policy, but the Pakistan Government accepted the accession of Junagadh and this started the situation. As a matter of fact he believed that Kashmir should have joined the Pakistan Union and the Government of India never desired the accession of Kashmir to the Union of India. But it was impossible for the Government of India to sit silently when Kashmir and Jammu were being raided and ruined by marauders and freebooters. In these circumstances, when the Maharaja applied for accession, Government of India readily agreed to the request, but as soon as peace was restored, they would leave Kashmir and ask the inhabitants to decide for themselves their future.”



The collapse of the V.P. Menon-Chaudhari MuhammAd Ali accord did not inhibit Mountbatten from exerting himself to avoid a military solution. Hodson recalls in The Great Divide: “On the eve of Christmas the military news from the Kashmiri front was grave. The Governor General therefore spent Christmas Day composing a long letter to his Prime Minister. It ran to some 2,000 words.”



Mountbatten’s letter to Nehru



Hodson quotes three paragraphs from that letter. Here are more, hitherto unpublished, thanks to the archives. Mountbatten was against a military solution, which the offensive aimed at. He wrote: “This is an extract from the minutes of a Defence Committee meeting held on 4th November. ‘The Governor General drew attention to the risk which was inherent in Indian troops entering a predominantly Muslim area for liberation purposes. Such an area was likely to include both hostile persons and friends, including members of the National Conference. It was impossible to distinguish between the two and unfortunate incidents were likely to occur. In his opinion the sooner a solution was found to stop the fighting the better it would be. He remained with the view that representatives of the Government of India and Pakistan should get together at the earliest possible moment to discuss ways and means of stopping the fighting.’ …



“During my absence in London this object changed. It then evidently became the purpose of the Government of India to attempt to impose their military will on the Poonch and Mirpur areas. No one can say for certain what proportion of the hostile element in the Poonch areas consists of persons who have come in from outside the State, and what proportion represents the local inhabitants. But I think that none will deny that the latter are in a large majority. I agree with you that it would be morally unjustifiable to try by force or arms to inflict our will on a predominantly Muslim population and I know that you feel that the plebiscite will ultimately settle the issue. But in the meanwhile how can we escape the charge of using military force against people who do not want to link their fortune with India. …



“When I came back from my visit to Jaipur and Bombay last week I was much concerned to hear mentioned for I think the first time the possibility of the Government of India deciding to send forces into Pakistan itself so as to take possession of the ‘bases’ or ‘nerve centres’ from which the raiders are operating. I have since heard this possibility mentioned on more than one occasion by yourself and other ministers. Each time I have heard you say it I have been more and more appalled. This reaction of mine is not of course inspired by military considerations but by the fact that it would mean war between India and Pakistan. Hence, his suggestion of reference to the U.N. in order to stop the fighting.”



Mountbatten concluded sternly: “If you do not agree—and it is you not I who must decide the policy of the Government of India—with what I have written and the steps which I have suggested, I must put it to you that you owe it to me as your Governor General to tell me and to inform me what your long-term policy in regard to the future of this country and Kashmir is. You will forgive me I know for writing you so long a letter over Christmas. You may take it as an indication of my unhappiness at the way events are going.”



How Nehru foiled agreement



The Kashmir dispute was referred to the U.N.’s Security Council on December 30, 1947. Its U.N. Commission for India and Pakistan came over only in mid 1948 and proved inept. Its successor was the brilliant Judge of the High Court of Australia, Sir Owen Dixon. He came within inches of success in 1950 but his efforts were foiled by Nehru. Patel was also opposed to a plebiscite. Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai, Secretary General of the Ministry of External Affairs, shared the general feeling that “if a State-wide plebiscite were held India would not obtain a majority”. Dixon suggested alternatives—from a regional plebiscite to one confined to the Valley after partitioning the rest.



By 1950, Vallabhbhai Patel was exasperated at the impasse. What is little known is that he was now ready for a compromise in order to get over the Kashmir dispute. He told Dixon on July 30, 1950: “Many of us think that it is rather disgraceful and does no credit to India that this matter should have dragged on … so long.”



William Alan Reid, who has ably documented the Dixon mission, noted that “the Cabinet wanted a genuine settlement”—Patel was among those who did. Nehru opposed them all. Dixon was bitter. He felt that Nehru was “downright lying”. Dixon was scathing in his letters to his wife, Lady Dixon. He met Patel as well as C.R. Rajagopalachari.



What U.S. Ambassador Lay Henderson reported to Secretary of State Dean Acheson on July 29, 1950, reveals a lot: “I learned yesterday through high and reliable Indian governmental sources following. … My informant who had been sent to me by one of most powerful political figures in India added that:



“(a) Indian Cabinet was extremely anxious for settlement of Kashmir in near future on basis which will leave as little bitterness as possible.



“(b) It was absolutely out of question, however, for India to permit Jammu with its heavy Hindu population and its geographical position to go to Pakistan.



“(c) Cabinet believed only solution was that of partition-plebiscite as advanced by Dixon and believed that if Pakistan accepts this solution, GOI should be extremely liberal in making concessions—re-demilitarisation and U.N. control in Vale during plebiscite even though it was confident that plebiscite under such conditions would yield Vale to Pakistan. In other words, Cabinet prepared now to abandon idea of Vale going to India provided Jammu and Ladakh would be retained and decision re Vale would be based on plebiscite” ( Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Volume V, page 1417).



Nehru won, Patel lost



That “powerful” figure was Vallabhbhai Patel. His confidant and messenger was V.P. Menon. Patel was prepared to forego the Valley if India could get Jammu and Ladakh. Patel “Lost”. Nehru “won”. But at a terrible price which the country is paying today. A settlement in 1947 or in 1950 would have spared India and Pakistan a lot, especially the people of Kashmir. Events since have rendered plebiscite irrelevant but not the fact that the people have always rejected Indian rule from 1947 to 2017. They can and must be adjusted now, creatively, realistically; through an accord with Pakistan that covers West Kashmir also, including Gilgit.



In retirement V.P. Menon bitterly admitted to H.V. Hodson, his predecessor as Reforms Commissioner, in 1964: “As for plebiscite we were absolutely, absolutely dishonest.” It is a terrible price which South Asia has paid for that dishonesty in the last nearly 70 years. Even if the revolt is crushed militarily, Kashmiris will continue to reject Indian rule. Only an India-Pakistan accord which reckons with their views as also the realities of 2017 can help.

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