Part II: The Sheikh vs The Pandit

Part II: The Sheikh vs The Pandit

The roots of the Kashmir Dispute

Chitralekha Zutshi holds that the Muslim Conference “reigned supreme in Poonch and Jammu in 1946” while the Valley was split. Shops displayed photographs of Jinnah, Iqbal and Abdullah side by side (pp. 298 and 303). What is clear is that on the issue of accession the overwhelming view was for Pakistan. India’s leaders knew that very well. The deliberations of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, Nehru, in particular, knew that, hence, his advice to Kashmir’s PM Meher Chand Mahajan “I feel it will probably be undesirable to make any declaration of adhesion (to India) at this stage” (SWJN; Vol. 4; p. 274). Kashmir’s PM Janak Singh opined on 13 August 1947 that “the bulk of Muslims will not accept (a) decision to accede to India.” Nehru told the Committee on 25 October 1947 “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”; i.e. the people would resent Kashmir’s accession to India. The next day N. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar said that “immediate accession might create further opposition”. Nehru opined that he would “not mind Kashmir remaining an independent country (sic.) under India’s sphere of influence”. It was then decided to accept the accession “subject to the proviso that a plebiscite would be held in Kashmir”. The Ministry of States was directed to prepare a letter to the Maharaja on “the temporary acceptance of the Instrument” of accession (Prem Shankar Jha; Kashmir 1947; Oxford University Press; appendices IV and V).

This explains why Mountbatten told the visiting UK Minister Arthur Henderson, on 9 January 1948, that Kashmir’s accession was “on a temporary basis and subject to a plebiscite” (Carter; Part I; p. 154).

The Maharaja’s panic can be guaged from a quaint, forgotten episode which his PM Mahajan mentioned in 1963 “On 24 October the Deputy Prime Minister left Srinagar for Delhi carrying a letter of accession to India from the Maharaja” (Looking Back; p. 150). In 1997 Alastair Lamb remarked that India has “generally been careful to avoid specific reference to this document” (Incomplete Partition; p. 143). It was published for the first time by the relentless researcher Andrew Whitehead in his book A Mission in Kashmir (Viking, p. 1022). I am grateful to him for providing me with a copy of the letter dated 23 October. It reads: “I hereby authorise my Deputy Prime Minister, R.B. Ram Lal Batra to sign the document of accession of the State with the Indian Union on my behalf, subject to the condition that the terms of accession will be the same as would be settled with H.E.H. The Nizam of Hyderabad.”

Patel added his bit to get the ruler to accede to India; significantly even before the Radcliffe Report, which awarded to India the connecting link through Pathankot, was out. “You are aware that om 15 August, India, though divided, will be completely free, and you also know that by this time a vast majority of the States have joined the Constituent Assembly of India. I realise the peculiar difficulties of Kashmir, but looking to its History and its tradition, it has, in my opinion, no other choice.” (SPC; p. 32).

He played the communal card on 18 June. “The Kashmiri Pandits and the Hindus form a very small proportion of the population, and as they are comparatively better off, the poorer majority which is getting conscious, is trying to assert itself and the conflict of interest is creating a situation in which the minority finds itself in an unenviable position and lives in a state of perpetual insecurity and fear, resulting in demoralisation. The State being a Hindu State, situated in Muslim surroundings, finds itself in a very delicate and difficult position …” In a letter of 16 June he wrote of Nehru “After all, he is also a Hindu and that a Kashmiri Hindu” (ibid. p. 3). One wonders whether he would have called Hyderabad a Muslim State. Nehru would have been offended by Patel’s remark.

One man, the brilliant Secretary in Patel’s Ministry of States, V.P. Menon, kept his head. At a meeting on 11 May 1947 Mountbatten noted that there were some States “which were geographically and ethnically almost bound to throw in their lot with Pakistan”. Nehru said that “the people of almost every State had openly declared in favour of joining the Union of India.” He asked “what would happen if Hyderabad wanted to joint Pakistan”. That is when V.P. Menon fired this deadly salvo. “It would produce a very similar situation to Kashmir joining the present Constituent Assembly” (i.e. of India) (Transfer of Power; HMSO; Vol. X; p. 764).

During talks with the Secretary-General of Pakistan’s cabinet Mohammad Ali in November 1947, the latter asked whether a plebiscite was really called for as Kashmir had a Muslim majority. Menon replied that “he entirely agreed that Kashmir would go to Pakistan”, but emphasised in view of what has passed, a formal (sic.) plebiscite was essential. On 3 November 1947, Menonmet a delegation from Hyderabad. The minutes read: “MR. MENON opened the discussions by making reference to the Kashmir problem … the States falling within the Dominion of India should join the Indian Union and those adjoining Pakistan should go with that dominion … 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. (Constitutional Discussions, Government of Hyderabad; Vol. 2: 193).

Nehru had other ideas. Less than a month after Kashmir’s accession and its accompanying pledge to its people of reference to them and of plebiscite, he had decided to back out. He wrote to Abdullah on 21 November 1947: “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. … If we said to the U.N.O. 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….” (SWJN; Vol.4; pp.336-7). This makes one doubt whether he ever intended to hold plebiscite.

The interests of all coincided. Nehru the Indian nationalist, and Patel the Hindu nationalist decided to renege on the nation’s solemn pledges on plebiscite to the people of Kashmir, to Pakistan, and as Nehru himself said, to the world. Sheikh Abdullah the Kashmiri nationalist fervently went along because a plebiscite, as all three knew, would have gone in favour of Pakistan. The Sheikh therefore, sought desperately a settlement with Pakistan other than by a plebiscite and retention of Kashmiris autonomy, meanwhile. The record shows that he was snubbed in both ventures.

On 25 August 1952 Nehru sent him a Note which he had written in Sonamarg – finalise the accession through Kashmir’s Constituent Assembly. Both the UN and Pakistan were impotent. Kashmiris will submit. “It must be remembered that the people of the Kashmir Valley and round about, though highly gifted in many ways – in intelligence, in artisanship, etc. – are not what are called a virile people. They are soft and addicted easy living. … The common people are primarily interested in a few things – an honest administration and cheap and honest food.” (SWJN, Vol. 19: 328-29). No Kashmiri would utter those words for his own people. Nehru’s outlook was moulded in the political climate of Uttar Pradesh to which he really belonged. It was exposed also to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Bogra, when they met in new Delhi on 17 August 1953: “Most people, of course, were hardly political and only cared for their economic betterment” (SWJN, Vol. 23: 332).

This is the Development Thesis of today: Kashmiris have no soul. Fee them; they will submit.  Abdullah derived his power from the people. If their views on accession to India continued to diverge, without any hope of reconciliation, he refused to act as India’s stooge and lose everything. Nehru, in contrast, was happy with the façade of a popular regime headed by the Sheikh, regardless of the depth or quality of its popular support – a policy being pursued to this day.

Abdullah set up an 8-member Committee of his party in May 1953 to evolve a solution which Pakistan could accept. Unbeknown to him, a couple of them had secretly gone over to Nehru. He had the Sheikh arrested on 9 August 1953 to replace the Kashmiri nationalist by a succession of stooges bar an interval (1977-84).

Nehru’s record is seriously blemished by two facts; he knew that the people rejected India’s rule but, nonetheless, kept on promising to abide by their wishes from 1947-1954. Indira Gandhi had informed her father in a letter from Srinagar on 14 May 1948 “They say that only Sheikh Saheb is confident of winning the people…” (Sonia Gandhi (Ed.) Two Alone Two Together; Penguin, 2005. The suspension marks, which suppress the rest, are made by the distinguished editor herself for reasons not hard to guess).

A host of impartial observers agreed. Two days before independence the British Resident at Kashmir reported to the Viceroy’s Principal Secretary, Sir George Abell. “I saw new Prime minister (General Janak Singh) yesterday, and he is aware of the situation and although inclining towards India as a Hindu, realises bulk of Muslims will not accept decision. He therefore wishes for agreement for both.” (Transfer of Power; Vol. XII; p. 696).

Major W.P. Cranston, of the British High Commission, stayed in Srinagar from 10 to 14 October 1947 and wrote a report on ‘The political situation in Kashmir’ on 18 October, giving his assessment. He wrote: “The future, however, is very uncertain and depends entirely on when the Maharaja makes his announcement as to whether Kashmir should remain independent or accede to either of the two Dominions … it was thought probable that he would then declare the accession of Kashmir State to the Dominion of India. This would cause an immediate reaction throughout the State by the Muslim population which numbers about 80 to 90 per cent and which is strongly opposed to any union with the Indian Government. (Lionel Carter (Ed); Manohar; 2011; p. 523). 

Carter has also edited Completing the First Year of Independence: British Official Reports from South Asia; 1 May – 17 September 1948; Manohar, 2016). The documents he reproduces tell the same tale.

4. An official of the UK High Commission reported from Srinagar on 30 April 1948: “While everyone considered that a plebiscite would lead to an overwhelming vote in favour of Pakistan, they could not believe that India would voluntarily quit Kashmir. … There was no doubt in the minds of any of the Indians I spoke to that the plebiscite would go in favour of Pakistan. .. I conclude, therefore, that the Indian Army, like most armies of occupation, is strongly resented by the great majority of Kashmiris.” (Part 1, p. 178).

5. Sir Terence Shone, the High Commissioner,  reported to London on 24 May 1948: “Two members of this High Commission, who recently paid separate visits to Srinagar, came away with the impression that if a fair plebiscite were held in the Vale of Kashmir it would go in favour of Pakistan. Impartial sources also say that the recent Independence Celebrations aroused far less popular enthusiasm than the Indian press suggested.”

6. John Shattock, ICS, who had served in Kashmir reported to London on 4 June: “British missionaries who live in outlying areas in the Vale of Kashmir all think that a fair plebiscite would go in favour of Pakistan. As these missionaries are very close to the ground and have no axe to grind one way or the other, they must be considered as pretty reliable exponents of public opinion.”

7. A High Commission official who visited Kashmir (14-19 May 1948) reported in detail. “It seems that Sheikh Abdullah’s position has been somewhat weakened as a result of: (a) The presence of the army of occupation; the people are said to be terrified of the Sikhs. On the other hand Major General Thimmaya said that relations between the troops and the civil population were excellent and that people were coming in from the surrounding districts giving intelligence of the approaching raiders. Their cooperation with the Army was good. (b) The lack of food supplies during the last severe winter owing to the closing of the road to Rawalpindi. (c) Stories of atrocities by the Indian Army brought up by refugees from Jammu. (d) Dislocation of trade by reason of the closing of the road to Rawalpindi. (e) High Government officials are going about in cars and generally living at a high standard, whereas the common people are suffering from shortages. The fact that the Indian Army saved Srinagar seemed to be forgotten in view of the winter and present discomforts. …

Kashmir’s trade outlet is to Pakistan rather than to India and by the road to Rawalpindi. Its export(s) of timber are by river and Arts and Crafts by road. Imports were also via this road. The road over the Banihal Pass cannot take this traffic and as a result trade is at a standstill.”

8. Alexander Symon, the Deputy H. C. in New Delhi had easy access to all. He reported on 12 September 1948 on what the UN Commission had learnt. “Almost all the members of the (Kashmir) Government both individually and in groups had told the members of the U.N. party that they were in favour of an independent Kashmir. They were very apprehensive, however, lest their views might become known to the Indian Government. On their return from Karachi the main Commission had been considering this possible solution, but almost all of them were very scared about it. The members of the Kashmir Government had also told U.N. party that Sheikh Abdullah on behalf of the National Conference would be prepared to meet and talk with Ghulam Abbas on behalf of the Muslim Conference. Sheikh Abdullah himself and Afzal Beg (the Revenue Minister and a comparative moderate) were the prime movers in favour of this.” A report by Symon directly to PM Attlee mentioned Sardar Ibrahim, in Pakistan-Administered Kashmir’s disclosure that “Abdullah had in fact been making advances to him.”

9. We have an impeccable source in Jayaprakash Narayan’s letter to Nehru on 1 May 1956. He warned: “From all the information I have, 95 per cent of Kashmir Muslims do not wish to be or remain Indian citizens. I doubt therefore the wisdom of trying to keep people by force where they do not wish to stay. This cannot but have serious long-term political consequences, though immediately it may suit policy and please public opinion. From the point of view of the desirability of establishing a peaceful social order, it cannot but prove disastrous. I do earnestly wish that this question be considered more from a human; rather than a nationalist point of view. (Bimal Prasad, ed. 1964, Vol. 7: 115).

We learn every day from reports from Kashmir that its people’s opinions have remained the same even fifty years later in 2016. They have not acquiesced in, still less submitted to, India’s rule. They still fling in its face the pledges made by Jawaharlal Nehru form 1947 to 1954 when he publicly reneged. On a rough tabulation there are nearly 30 of them. Here are a few.

To Liaquat Ali Khan, on 26 October 1947: I should like to make it clear that the question of aiding Kashmir in this emergency is not designed in any way to influence the State to accede to India. Our views which we have repeatedly made public is that the question  of accession in any disputed territory or State must be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people and we adhere to this view. (White Paper on Jammu and Kashmir 1948: p 46). It was also sent to Attlee. 

Further “our assurance that we will shall withdraw our troops from Kashmir as soon as peace and order are restored and leave the decision about the future of then State to the people of the State is not merely a pledge to your Government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world. (ibid,: 51, paragraphs 5 and 7).

Vallabhai Patel’s speech at a public meeting in Bombay on 30 October 1948: “Some people consider that Muslim majority area must necessarily belong to Pakistan. They wonder why we are in Kashmir. The answer is plain and simple. We are in Kashmir because the people of Kashmir want us to be there. The moment we realise that the people of Kashmir do not want us to be here, we shall not be there even for a minute.” (The Hindustan Times, 31 October, 1948).

Nehru’s speech at Calcutta on 1 January 1952: “If then, the people of Kashmir tell us to get out, we will do so. We will not stay there by force. We did not conquer the territory. There is no doubt about it that he is the leader of the people of Kashmir, a very great leader. If tomorrow Sheikh Abdullah wanted Kashmir to join Pakistan, neither I nor all  the forces of India would be able to stop it because if the leader decides, it will happen. … Since the matter has been referred to the UN, we have given our word of honour that we shall abide by their decision. India’s pledge is no small matter and we shall stick by it in the eyes of the world.” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol. 17: 76-78).

In Parliament on 26 June 1952: “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. … It might pain us but we would not send an Army against them, we might accept that, however much hurt we might feel … and we would change our Constitution about it.” (ibid., Vol. 18:418).

In Parliament on 7 August 1952: “So while the accession was complete in law and in fact, the other fact, which has nothing to do with law, also remains, namely our pledge to the people of Kashmir. If you like, to the people of the world, that this matter can be reaffirmed or cancelled or cut out by the people of Kashmir, if they so wish.

“We do not want to win people against their will and with the help of armed forces, and if the people of Jammu and Kashmir state so wish it, to part company from us, they can go their way and we shall go our way. We want no forced marriages, no forced unions like this. I hope this great Republic of India is a free, voluntary, friendly and affectionate union of the States of India. … ultimately – I say with all deference to this Parliament – the decision will be made in the hearts and minds of the men and women of Kashmir, neither in this Parliament, nor in the United Nations, nor by anybody else.” (ibid., Vol. 18: 293-96). This puts paid to the resolutions by Parliament.