January 1950: The dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan had snowballed into a military conflict and the United Nations had only a year ago secured a ceasefire between the two warring nations. The two armies were still eyeball to eyeball within Jammu and Kashmir, each holding a part of the erstwhile Princely State while claiming the whole. The Security Council was discussing modalities of holding a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the people of a bifurcated State.
Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Prime Minister of the Indian side of Jammu & Kashmir, had just returned to Delhi after a 'comfortable' journey from New York where he had gone as a member of the Indian Delegation to present its case on Kashmir in the Security Council. En-route, he spent a night at the Claridges in London and met G. S. Bajpai, India's Secretary General, External Affairs, who had freshly called on the British Prime Minister, Clement Atlee in an effort to win him over to Indian side on Kashmir. Soon after his arrival in Delhi, Abdullah met the topmost Indian leadership including Home Minister Vallabbhai Patel, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and President Rajinder Prasad. He also discussed his visit with Minister for Railways and Transport, Gopalaswami Ayyangar, his former team-head in the Security Council and a former Prime Minister of Kashmir during Hari Singh's reign.
Earlier in 1948, Abdullah as Head of the Administration in Jammu & Kashmir, had been to New York as a member of the Indian delegation where during his speech in the Security Council at Lake Success on February 5, 1948, he put the whole blame of creating the Kashmir problem on Pakistan and, countering the Pakistani Delegation's accusation of his partiality in the Kashmir dispute for being Nehru's friend, shot back those now-famous lines: "Yes I admit that [I am a friend of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru]. I feel honoured that such a great man claims me as his friend. And, he happens to belong to my own country; he is also a Kashmiri. Blood is thicker than water."[Emphasis added].
Two years later, in January 1950, when Abdullah was again in New York, India was all but feeling comfortable in the Security Council where the Anglo-American bloc seemed more sympathetic towards Pakistan's point of view, or at least India felt so. Home Minister Patel observed that India should resist American pressure tactics even if it meant foregoing any loans from the US. The discomfiture of India was evident and Gopalaswami Ayyangar was "in a gloomy mood being very much concerned at the prevailing situation in India."
Abdullah returned from New York on January 30. Next day, he shot a letter to his Deputy Home Minister, Durga Prasad Dhar, who had been asked to stay put in New York to advise the Indian delegation on the ensuing voting on Kashmir in the Security Council. DP, as Dhar was known, was not yet "an evil in the heinous drama" [of 1953] and "an agent of the Indian intelligence creating misunderstanding" between Abdullah and New Delhi. The two enjoyed cordial relations. He was a close aid of Abdullah who in turn was to him "yours affectionately".
In the letter, Abdullah informs Dhar about his meeting with Indian leaders and how nobody in Srinagar or Delhi was "in a mood to yield to the persuasions of our friends [read Anglo-American bloc at the UN]. "It is the common opinion here that firmness on our part is the greatest need at the present moment and it is now for Sir R. N [Rau] and yourself to take advantage of this mood so as to press for the proposals envisaged by us", he asked Dhar. He was confident that "our case was safe in the hands of Sir R. N". In the meanwhile, when President of India wanted to recall Rau from New York and take over as the Election Commissioner of India, Abdullah urged the former to "let him continue as that would suit the interests of India best". Rau, like Ayyangar, it may be recalled, had in 1940s served as the Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir under Maharaja Hari Singh.
From his letter, Abdullah appears at pains to emphasize on how important it was for India to retain Rau at the Security Council which had "not yet taken a decision with regard to the Kashmir question." He asks from Dhar if he had met any member of the Security Council after his [Abdullah's] departure and advised him to call on the Norwegian member and "explain our position in detail", besides giving "my Salams to the Egyptians".
The letter also talks about belated heavy snowfall in Kashmir, continuous rains in Jammu for a couple of weeks, "satisfactory" supply position in the Valley and measures against black-marketing. It also informs about Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad with his family being in Jammu and conveys Dhar that "your people are all well and you need have no worry about them. I met your mother this morning and she gives you her blessings."
It is here that this 'all important letter on an all important issue at an all important juncture' of Kashmir's history turns mundane as the 'tallest leader of Kashmir', overtaken by parental love for his children, draws up a long list of gifts for Dhar to send for his sons and daughters, and, to be fair to him, for colleagues too. The list includes air-guns for the three sons, Farooq, Mustafa and Tariq and a watch in addition for the latter. For daughters Khalida, Suraiya and [Khalida's] baby the choice of gifts is left to Dhar. What is surprising is that the leader of Kashmir had only 'yesterday' arrived from New York when "everyone expected a present from me", and yet he chose to himself return empty handed. Within 24 hours of his arrival, he asked his junior colleague to arrange for the gifts. Intriguingly, Begum Abdullah is not mentioned in the gift list. In all probability, a caring husband had himself brought a gift for her. The concluding portion of the letter makes an interesting read. Here it goes:
"Khalida and Shah Sahib have come down to Jammu and the baby [Muzaffar Shah] is alright. Everyone expected a present from me and I postponed their disappointment with the assurance that all the presents had been stocked with you. I might warn you that in my next letter you will have a fairly long list of presents to be brought here with details. Meanwhile, here are some requisitions. Bakhshi Sahib wants a watch. Beg, Sadiq, Raina, Shamlal and R. C. need necklaces. Farooq, Tariq and Mustafa would be proud to have good air-guns and Tariq wants a watch besides. I leave the choice to you for presents to Khalida, Suraiya and baby. Khwaja Ahsan Ullah wants to have a Rolliflex camera… How about your accounts? I hope you will maintain them properly to avoid inconvenience on your return."
As a post script, there is an important I nstruction for Dhar: "Please send your letters direct to me and not through diplomatic bag." That perhaps because letters sent through the Diplomatic Bag would first land, and possibly be read, in the Foreign Office in New Delhi.
In the meanwhile, Dhar, through a cablegram received in Jammu on February 27, 1950, sought permission to "return immediately to explain the Security Council Resolution personally or", it added, "should I continue my fruitless stay for another ten days during which time the matter is expected to be over."
Tailpiece: In his memoirs, Aatash-i-Chinar (Flames of the Chinar) published in 1986, four years after his death, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah devotes a full chapter to his engagements in New York. From his narration, it appears that he had spent quite a busy time – meeting diplomats, making speeches, receiving accolades (for one, from the Russian representative) and taking on a hostile British representative, Philip Noel Baker, who after "my reply was lost for words and felt ashamed". However, an official communication originating from the Prime Minister's office in Jammu on January 19, 1952, belies this impression.
As the next meeting of the Security Council on Kashmir was scheduled at Paris to discuss the Report of Dr. Frank P. Graham, United Nations Representative for India and Pakistan, India was feeling the heat since Russia had "drastically" intervened in the Kashmir dispute amid speculation about posting of UN troops in the State. The Government of India was "making a frantic search for a man to go to Paris. Prime Minister Nehru 'asked' Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah to accompany the Indian Delegation. Abdullah was reluctant to go to avoid, what his Private secretary's letter to Dhar in Paris, suggests, "the utterly discomfortable experiences of his last two visits and he is anxious that similar moments of boredom should not await him in Paris too." On January 24, 1952, however, the Government of India announced the composition of its Delegation to Paris which, besides the Attorney General M. C. Setelvad and G. S. Bajpai, included Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah as a non-official member. A Ministry of Eternal Affairs' order mentioned 'hotel accommodation (sitting room and bed room with bath) in Paris and London and British Pound 150 (lump sum) for expenses', as entitlement of Abdullah for his visit to Paris.
Khalid Bashir Ahmad's two well researched books on Kashmir are scheduled for release in summer this year.