Nehru's Word: Lessons in communal unity from a besieged Kashmir

"It would be well if this lesson was understood by the whole of India that has been poisoned by communal strife"

Sheikh Abdullah with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (photo: National Herald archives)
Sheikh Abdullah with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (photo: National Herald archives)

Jawaharlal Nehru

The Supreme Court verdict on Article 370, announced on 11 December 2023, provided yet another occasion for the ruling party to indulge in their favourite sport of Nehru-bashing. We are repeatedly told that Nehru did everything wrong: going to the UN, including Article 370, agreeing to a ceasefire, agreeing to a plebiscite. The best rebuttal lies in this final extract from Nehru’s first radio address to the nation on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. Delivered on 2 November 1947, within a week of the erstwhile princely state’s accession to India, in his speech Nehru highlights how the people of Kashmir—Hindu, Muslim and Sikh—fought the invaders in a disciplined manner under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah, setting an example in secularism for the rest of India.


Let me make clear that it has been our policy all along that where there is a dispute about the accession of a state to either dominion, the decision must be made by the people of that state. It was in accordance with this policy that we added a proviso to the Instrument of Accession of Kashmir.

We decided to send troops in the afternoon of the 26th October [1947]. Srinagar was in peril and the situation was urgent and critical. Our staff worked hard day and night, and at daybreak on the 27th,our troops flew to Kashmir. They were small in numbers, but they immediately swung into action to stop the invaders. Their gallant commander, a brave officer of our army, was killed the next day.

Since then, troops and equipment have been flown over daily, and I should like to express my high appreciation, and that of my government, for the fine work done by our staff, as well as the pilots and the crew who have thrown themselves into this adventure heart and soul. The airlines have cooperated with us fully, and to them also I am grateful. Our young men have shown how they can rise to the occasion in a moment of crisis to serve their country.

Srinagar was in peril and the invaders were almost on its doorstep. There was no administration left there, no troops, no police. Light and power had failed and there were a vast number of refugees. And yet, Srinagar functioned without obvious panic. Shops were opened and people went about their day-to-day business in the streets.

To what was this miracle due? Sheikh Abdullah and his colleagues of the National Conference and their unarmed volunteers— Muslim, Hindu and Sikh—took charge of the situation, kept order and prevented panic. It was a wonderful piece of work that they did at a moment when the nerves of most people might have failed them.

They did so because of the strength of their organisation, but even more so, because they were determined to protect their country from the ruthless invader who was destroying their country and trying to compel them, through terrorism, to join Pakistan.

Whatever the future may hold, the people of the Kashmir valley have exhibited during these past few days remarkable courage, capacity for organisation and unity.

It would be well if this lesson was understood by the whole of India that has been poisoned by communal strife. Under the inspiration of a great leader, Sheikh Abdullah, the people of the Valley—Muslim and Hindu and Sikh—were brought together for the defence of their common country against the invader. Our troops could have done little without this popular support and cooperation.

The Maharaja of Kashmir deserves to be congratulated on his decision to make Sheikh Abdullah the head of the administration at this critical juncture. That was a wise step which other rulers might well follow, making their people trustees and defenders of freedom.

It must be remembered, therefore, that the struggle in Kashmir is a struggle of the people of Kashmir under popular leadership against the invader. Our troops are there to help in this struggle, and as soon as Kashmir is free from the invaders, our troops will have no further necessity to remain there, and the fate of Kashmir will be left in the hands of the people of Kashmir.

We have passed through days of peril not only for Kashmir, but for the whole of India. That peril is less now, but it is by no means over, and many other dangers confront us. We have to be very vigilant and well-prepared for whatever may happen.

The first step in this preparation is to put an end completely to every manner of communal strife in India and to stand up as a united nation to face every danger that might threaten our freedom. External danger can only be faced effectively when there is internal peace and order.

We talk about the invaders and raiders in Kashmir, and yet these men are fully armed and well-trained and have competent leadership. All of these have come across from Pakistani territory.

We have a right to ask the Pakistan government how and why these people were able to cross through the Frontier Province or West Punjab and how they have been armed so effectively. Is this not a violation of international law and an unfriendly act towards a neighbour country? Is the Pakistan government too weak to prevent armies marching across its territory to invade another country, or is it willing that this should happen? There is no other alternative.

We have asked the Pakistan government repeatedly to stop these raiders from coming, and to withdraw those who have come. It should be easy to stop them, for the roads into Kashmir are very few and have to pass over bridges. We, on our part, have no intention of using our troops in Kashmir when the danger of invasion is passed.

We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given, and the Maharaja has supported it, not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.

We are prepared, when peace and law-and-order have been established, to have a referendum held under international auspices like the United Nations. We want it to be a fair and just reference to the people and we shall accept their verdict. I can imagine no fairer and more just an offer.

Meanwhile, we have given our word to the people of Kashmir to protect them against the invader and we shall keep our pledge.

(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former professor of history at JNU and former director of Nehru Memorial Museum & Library)

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