Mahatma Gandhi and Kashmir Politics
Could Gandhi have foreseen the ensuing tragedy and misery of Kashmiris
ABDUL MAJID ZARGAR
Gandhi Jyanti falls on 2nd of October. It is on this date that Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi- an apostle of peace and non-violence - was born. Rich and befitting tributes will be showered on him for what he contributed to free his nation from the colonial yoke.
While Gandhi was a messiah of poor and downtrodden, little is known about the role he played with regard to the Kashmir issue during the last few months of his life. He had seen a ray of light in Kashmiri Muslims demonstrating an unwavering commitment to Secularism and non-violence, when the whole sub-continent was burning with riots and humans had turned into beasts. But Gandhi played a shadowy role in the politics of Kashmir. He was successful in preventing the Maharaja of Kashmir from taking an independent decision and thus paved the way for a forceful accession of Kashmir resulting in creation of a perpetual conflict. This conflict has consumed around six lac Kashmiri Muslims since 1947 and has the potential of consuming many more if a nuclear spark ignites between the two countries.
The events of the summer of 1947 reveal some astonishing facts about his role in Kashmir politics. Hari Singh, loathed both the Indian National Congress and Muslim League wanted to stay independent. He asked for a standstill agreement from India and Pakistan so as to be able to pursue his goal of an independent Kashmir. Pakistan signed the standstill agreement but India did not, giving an indication of India’s intentions on Kashmir.
Nehru, aware of Maharaja’s inclination wanted to visit Kashmir to be able to pressurize him. The ostensible purpose of his visit was to obtain the release of his friend Sheikh Abdullah, who was earlier put under arrest by the Maharaja. Remember Nehru himself had been arrested at Domail a year ago precisely for same purpose. But this time it was not the sole purpose of his visit? As Joseph Korbel Writes in his book Danger in Kashmir, p. 60; “One wonders whether Nehru was interested in Abdullah’s personal welfare – devoid of political implications – at a time when the Subcontinent boiled with insurrection and thousands of people being killed.”
Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy of India, did not approve of Nehru’s visit and offered to visit himself. He visited Kashmir on 18th June 1947, and stayed there for four days. But he was unable to have a proper discussion with the Maharaja, as he cleverly avoided him either by sending him on a prolonged fishing trip to rural outskirts (In one such outing Mountbatten stunned everybody by sunbathing in the nude) or feigning a severe colic attack. Lord Mountbatten’s visit was followed by the visit of Lord Haslings Ismay, who was the Chief of Staff to Lord Mountbatten. Both of these visits proved an utter failure as far as obtaining a surety from the Maharaja that he would not declare independence. This upset Nehru and he insisted upon his personal visit. Mountbatten and Sardar Patel strongly disapproved of his visit and in alternative, they agreed to let Gandhi visit Kashmir. Patel even termed this visit as a lesser of the two evils.
Gandhi too was skeptical about Maharaja’s intentions. As Campbell Johnson notes in his treatise : Mission with Mountbatten, p. 117 “Both Nehru and Gandhi have been very anxious that the maharaja of Kashmir should make no declaration of independence. To clear this anxiety Gandhi visited Kashmir from 31st July to 2nd August 1947 to try his luck with Maharaja. On way, he faced a forceful demonstration in Baramulla against his visit but nevertheless, he was to go ahead with his “Mission Kashmir” and obtain a guarantee of Maharaja’s accession to India. On August 1st, he met Maharaja and had a separate long meeting with Maharani Tara Devi, a deeply religious minded lady highly influenced by Maharaj Sat Dev.
A chain of events that followed his visit is an indicator of how his meetings with Hari Singh and Tara Devi changed the equation in India’s favour. The Prime Minister of Kashmir, Ram Chandar Kak, an ardent supporter of Kashmir Independence, was dismissed on 11th of August and replaced by Janak Singh and then by the Indian loyalist, Mehr Chand Mahajan. The British officers in the Kashmir Army and Police including the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of the General Staff were dismissed. Orders for construction of a bridge over the Ravi River, near Pathankot, to allow connectivity between India and Jammu and Kashmir were issued. The road between Jammu and Kathua was improved and a telegraph line was constructed between Jammu and the valley. This was possible because of massive assistance from India, once it was assured of accession. Decks were also cleared for Abdullah’s release though it happened a little later. Much later on 25th October 1947 Times of London reported “… But the Union of India has been taking a lively interest in the subject and indications are that the Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir, Sir Hari Singh, has lately been much influenced by representations made by Gandhi who visited Kashmir three months ago and by other congress leaders.”
Gandhi obtained the jewel for his Country, but the people of Kashmir have been suffering ever since. A question which arises is: could Gandhi have foreseen the ensuing tragedy and misery of Kashmiris by forcing an accession on them without their participation and consent. The answer has to be yes. Much later talking to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur he said that the issue of Kashmir is like “a glowing match-stick in a rick of hay, ever exposed to the risk of going up in flame. At any rate, I won’t be there alive to witness it.” –How true and accurate that frail man was?
What Card did Gandhi play in influencing Hari Singh and Maharani Tara Devi. Your guess is as good (or bad) as mine.
(The author is a practicing chartered Accountant. Feed back at email@example.com)
Lastupdate on : Sat, 1 Oct 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 1 Oct 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 2 Oct 2011 00:00:00 IST
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