Gandhi in Kashmir: A Leaf from History

Gandhiji visited Mujahid Manzil, NC headquarters, in the company of some NC leaders & held discussions with the party’s activists
File photo of M.K Gandhi
File photo of M.K Gandhi

Gandhi Jayanti was celebrated on 2nd October. Around such an occasion what could be better tribute to pay to Gandhiji than refreshing the memories of his only visit to Kashmir at a time when Indian subcontinent was engulfed in communal flare up & Gandhiji found “ray of hope” in the midst of chaos & confusion in Kashmir only. 

After his return from South Africa in 1915, Gandhiji joined Indian National Congress & immediately after his arrival on Indian political scene, he began touring through length & breadth of India.

Hardly any prominent city was there in British India which Gandhiji did not travel before Partition. But, after declaration of Partition Plan by Mountbatten on 3rd June, 47, visiting to any Princely State by any political leader of Congress or Muslim League was considered inapt as the same was then open to the questioning, as the Partition was only days distant.

Pandit Nehru’s biographer writes that “Gandhiji knew that a visit at that stage could be misinterpreted” [M J Akbar, Siege Within] but, one of the biographers of Gandhiji claims that Gandhiji had made a promise to “late Maharaja of Kashmir [Pratap Singh] at Kumbha Mela at Hardwar. The Maharaja [Pratap Singh]had invited him to visit Kashmir. But he had no time then”. [Dinanath Gopal  Tendulkar] So, Gandhiji had to “honour a personal commitment” to meet Maharaja Hari Singh at the critical period of  history when Partition was on the cards.

However, keeping in view the busiest schedule of Gandhiji, it did not happen suddenly. Gandhiji’s visit to Kashmir took place in the backdrop of a chain of letters viz,  dated 4 July, 47[ from Nehru to Maharaja], dated 27 June, [ from Gandhiji to Mountbatten] , dated 27 June [ from Mountbatten to Maharaja], dated 8 July[ from Maharaja to Mountbatten], dated 12 July, [from Mountbatten to Gandhiji], dated 16 July, [ from Nehru to Mountbatten], dated 17 July, [from Mountbatten to Gandhiji], 28 July, [Gandhiji to Mountbatten], 28 July, [from Mountbatten to Gandhiji] & 28 July[ Nehru to Gandhi Ji] , that transpire that Nehru & Gandhiji both were eager to visit Kashmir to discuss “matter of importance” with the Maharaja as the time was fast moving.  At the other end, Lord Mountbatten was worried about his own position. He wrote to Gandhiji on 12 July, that at the time of his last visit to Kashmir, he had seen “the Maharaja was strongly opposed to any Muslim League leader coming to Kashmir & he “had asked” them “not to go or send anyone”. Maharaja in fact wanted Gandhiji to postpone his visit “till end of autumn” or “until the conditions in India take a happier turn.” [Pyarelal Nayyar] So, finally, on 29th July 1947, a meeting was convened at Birla House, Delhi between Mountbatten, Nehru, Patel and Gandhiji wherein it was decided that Gandhiji being a “saintly personality” would be sent to Kashmir. 

Thus, Gandhiji set on Kashmir visit on 30th July, 1947 via Rawalpindi Punjab. Gandhiji’s personal secretary & biographer [Pyarelal Nayyar], whose sister Sushila Nayyar , who was personal physician of Gandhiji & who accompanied him, writes that Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan met Gandhiji at Delhi on 30th July & when asked by him what was he going to do in Kashmir, “Gandhiji told him” to Kashmir & Gaffar Khan then left for his Province. [Pyarelal Nayyar] Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad who was avoiding arrest with NC associates by the police & hiding in Rawalpindi since he had joined the Quit Kashmir Campaign of May, 1946 against the Maharaja, accompanied Gandhiji from Rawalpindi to Srinagar. At Kohala bridge number of NC leaders were present to welcome Gandhiji. [Munshi, Taseer]

Gandhiji entered Baramullah on 1st August, 47. The response to the Gandhiji’s entry into Kashmir was mixed. It was welcomed by National Conference supporters, while Muslim Conference supporters protested. At Baramullah & Sangrama, Gandhiji faced protests by MC activists. But, NC activists “drove Gandhiji’s car away from the protesting MC activists”. The two political parties of the time responded differently to the Gandhiji’s visit. At Baramullah, NC leaders received Gandhiji & at Pattan, a number of NC activists in the accompaniment of a car with a flying-NC-flag fitted on it, [which [flag] was gifted to the party’s Halqa Khanyar by Nehru during his last visit to Kashmir], received Gandhiji with jubilation & joy. [Taseer]

“He was not going to Kashmir to secure Sheikh Abdullah’s release” writes Gandhiji biographer but, “he was surely going to see Begum Abdullah”. [Dinanath Gopal Tendulkar] Why he was going to see Begum Abdullah? Was he invited by her to visit Kashmir? The biographer is silent about it. The biographer writes that “Begum Saheba, wife of Sheikh Abdullah, was with him throughout the three days he was in Srinagar.” [Dinanath Gopal Tendulkar] Well, at Shalateng Srinagar, Gandhiji was received by Begum Sahiba with garlands saying “Ahlan wa sahlan” [Arabic way of welcoming a guest]. At Safakadal, MC protested but at Ameera Kadal, “prominent” activists of National Conference welcomed Gandhiji to Srinagar. [Taseer] During his three days stay in Kashmir “every minute was booked up”. He went straight to the palace of Maharaja Hari Singh and Maharani Tara Devi at Gupkar Srinagar on 1st August 1947, itself. Maharani came barefooted with milk in a golden cup on a golden tray but Gandhiji refused and said: “beti jis raja ki praja dukhee ho, Gandhi uska doodh nahin peeta (Gandhi does not drink milk of a Raja whose subjects are unhappy”). [Munshi, Taseer]

Gandhiji stayed at Kothi, “Khurshid Manzil” of Seth Kishori Lal at Barzalla, Srinagar & in the compound of “Abhinandan Home”, a convent school of a Hindu woman, in the same locality, Gandhiji held a prayer meeting next day, that is, 2nd August, 1947, where Gandhiji’s most loved Bajan “Raghupati Raghav Rajaram…..” was recited & sung by the devotee-Hindus & some Muslim NC workers including Begum Abdullah too joined the Bajan & prayer meeting of Gandhiji. [Taseer] Some biographers of Gandhiji write that he held two prayer meetings on two days in Srinagar. Gandhiji visited Mujahid Manzil, NC headquarters, in the company of some NC leaders & held discussions with the party’s activists. He avoided reply to the questions of NC activists which he thought were “political” as he had declared before leaving for Kashmir at Delhi that his visit was purely “non political”. A number of NC leaders & activists called at Gandhiji. They included Bakhshi GM, Gh Mohi ud Din Karra, GM Sadiq & others. The police did not arrest Gh Mohi ud Din Karra who during Quit Kashmir Campaign of 1946, among other NC leaders, went underground, dodged hunting police by changing his locations quickly within Srinagar, for which “heroism” he “bore affectionate nickname of “Bulbul-i Kashmir” or “the nightingale of Kashmir.” [White] Gandhiji had a series of interviews with NC leaders. Those who “came to see him were unanimous in asking for the release of Sheikh Abdullah and other leaders, and for the removal of the Prime Minister of Kashmir[RC Kak]. He told them that he had not come on a political mission.”[ Dinanath Gopal Tendulkar]

On 3rd August, 47, Gandhiji visited Soura residence of Sheikh Abdullah “where a domestic function had been arranged in his honour”. He presented some gifts to the wife of Sheikh Abdullah [Pyarelal, Munshi]. Begum Abdullah told Gandhi Ji if Sheikh Abdullah were not in jail, he would have arranged a much grand reception party for him. To mention, at this time, Sheikh Abdullah was serving a sentence of three years imprisonment in Jammu jail, with some of his close associates, since May, 1946 on the charges of “sedition”. “There was unnecessary fuss about photography and a highly expensive tea for which obviously great preparation was made. I had come close to the family and hence I administered a gentle rebuke for the lavish expenditure & so much unnecessary trouble. I don’t know whether the lesson went home; I fear (it did) not”, wrote Gandhiji in his report 6-8-47 on Kashmir visit to Nehru. There was a “gathering of nearly 5,000 Kashmiri women”, NC followers, “waiting since 11 o’clock in the morning for Gandhiji” outside the Soura residence of Sheikh Abdullah. The womenfolk “insisted upon his Darshan” which Gandhiji gave to bless the waiting women. This delayed the departure of Gandhiji from Soura residence till “8 o’clock in the evening” & next day morning he had to return from the valley. [Pyarelal Nayyar] In the morning of 4th August, he left for Jammu. He was asked by a deputation of people at Jammu questions about joining of Dominions since 15th August was fast approaching but he left the answer to the will of the people. [Pyarelal, Tendulkar] From Jammu, he went to Rawalpindi & talked to the refugees at Wah Camp.

Not much is known about what transpired between Maharaja & Gandhiji at the meeting at Gupkar Palace. However, he “was one of the world’s most ingenious politicians and it was hard to think what could have drawn him, as a saint, to Srinagar at that time”, wrote one of the most celebrated independent journalists of the British India, Ian Melville Stephens, editor of Indian Newspaper, The Statesman, Calcutta. According to Ramchandra Guha, Gandhiji wanted to seek release of Sheikh Abdullah from prison & to get a sense of the mood of people of the valley. The common masses of the landlocked valley seem to have been not affected by the political developments of the subcontinent & that is why Gandhiji saw “ray of hope” in Kashmir. In his Note & connected letter of 6-8-1947 to Nehru & Patel, reproduced in biographies & Selected Works of Gandhiji, he wrote that “RC Kak was unpopular” & National Conference leaders were “most sanguine that the result of the free vote of the people, would be in favour of Kashmir joining the [Indian] Union provided of course that Sheikh Abdullah & his co-prisoners were released”. It was how the situation could be “saved in Kashmir”, wrote Gandhiji.

Tailpiece:

Gandhiji was such a magnetic personality that attracted notably three eminent Muslim leaders of the time who had come in deep association with him which shaped their political characters & earned them specific sobriquets with word “Gandhi” attached to the name of each one of them. They were: Abdul Gaffar Khan of Frontier, Abdul Samad Khan Achakzai of Baluchistan & Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah of Kashmir. Hence, in history, they had become famous as Sarhadi Gandhi, Baluchi Gandhi & Kashur Gandhi, respectively. Kashur Gandhi is the Kashmiri meaning & translation of Kashmir Ka Gandhi. To note, “Kashmir Ka Gandhi” was the first book written by Prem Nath Bazaz in 1935 when he was closely associated with Sheikh Abdullah & fondly called him Kashmir Ka Gandhi. Kashmir Ka Gandhi was the title of the first book written by Bazaz in 1935 wherein he was all praise about Sheikh Abdullah following the ideology of Gandhiji in Kashmir by bringing about communal harmony which Bazaz thinks was ‘disturbed’ by the 1931-developments. Sheikh Abdullah himself writes that he was implementing “higher ideals” of Gandhiji in Kashmir.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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