Srinath Raghavan busts ‘myths’ around Nehru’s Kashmir policies   

Syama Prasad Mookherjee admitted he was party to the decision to refer Kashmir issue to the UN. Sardar Patel worked on Article 370 for five months and persuaded other leaders to accept it

Srinath Raghavan busts ‘myths’ around Nehru’s Kashmir policies   

Srinath Raghavan

I want to touch upon this claim that Article 370 in some ways was instrumental in fostering separatism and indeed insurgency and terrorism in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. I think this is a very important point because the claim which is now being made — one very strong one is that doing away with Article 370 in some ways positions us better to deal with the problem of insurgency and violence in the state of Jammu & Kashmir.

Let’s start with the historical background to Article 370. Perhaps the best starting point is to recall that British India — or what used to be called the British Raj — really was comprised of two different kinds of governance setups. The first were the directly ruled provinces and the other was the indirectly ruled — or what were also known as the princely states.

The latter were more than 500 in number and actually throughout 1946 and right up to June 1947, when the Partition Plan was announced, the princely states never really got much attention because everyone was focused on the main provinces and what would happen to India — in what timetable we would get Independence — whether there was going to be Partition – and if so, under what terms.

So, once the Partition Plan was announced, the issue of the princely states came to the fore and there was huge time pressure because this issue had to be dealt with before 15th August 1947. (It was already June).

At this point of time, it became clear that some of the larger princely states like Bhopal, Travancore, Hyderabad and Kashmir were really looking for some kind of independent existence… and this is what the Government of India really had to deal with. The person who came up with a very simple and straightforward solution to this problem was the Secretary to the Ministry of States, a man called VP Menon, who worked for the Minister of States Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

Menon basically said that drawing on a provision in the Government of India Act of 1935, we could just ask all states to accede to the Union of India on just three subjects – foreign affairs, defence and communications — with the proviso that on all the other subjects the particular state would continue to exercise jurisdiction and they would have the power to decide what they wanted going forward. It was on this basis that the accession of most of the states happened before August 15, 1947.

On the day of Independence, there were three important states which were holding out to this pattern of accession. These were Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir.

The Kashmir issue is not an isolated sui generis problem, it is actually part of this particular constellation of issues. Junagarh and Hyderabad had Muslim rulers but Hindu majority population whereas Kashmir had the opposite composition — the ruler was Hindu, and the majority of its population was Muslim. All three states tried not to accede to India — in the case of Junagarh, in fact, the Nawab actually acceded to Pakistan.

On 15th August 1947, just as India was becoming independent, the Nawab of Junagarh announced that he had offered accession to Pakistan. And just to clarify, Junagarh is now part of Gujarat, and this is where Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel come from and so did Mahatma Gandhi. So, there was a lot of consternation around the question of Junagarh.

It is interesting to note that actually it was in the context of Junagarh that Pakistan was told that the Government of India was prepared to hold any kind of test to ascertain the wishes of the majority in those cases where there was a conflict between the ruler’s own religious identity and those of the majority of his population, in other words all these three states. The Indian Government was very confident that any plebiscite in Junagarh would go in its favour.

It is also worth remembering that the issue of referendum did not come out of thin air. In fact, referendum had already been conducted in India around the time of Partition of India in two different places.

There was the North-West Frontier Province which is now part of Pakistan and which was actually led by Khan Sahib, the brother of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, also known as Frontier Gandhi. There was a Congress government in NWFP in 1946. So, a referendum had to be held and the province went with Pakistan.

Similarly, there was a Muslim majority district in the province of Assam, which was Sylhet district, because of its anomalous population with respect to the rest of the province. Sylhet went to Pakistan — it became part of East Pakistan and now is part of Bangladesh. So, the idea of a referendum was already there. The question of a referendum for Kashmir came up when Pakistan forced the Maharaja’s hand by sending in tribal invaders into Kashmir in October 1947, which then forced the Maharaja to ask for help from India in return for which he offered accession.

At the time of accepting the accession, the Government of India reiterated its commitment to holding a plebiscite in order to ascertain the wishes of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. Now this was not in all the three cases.In fact, Mountbatten, who was Governor General of India, made a formal proposition to the Government of Pakistan that referenda should be held in all these three cases. And Mohd Ali Jinnah, who was then the Governor General of Pakistan, actually shot it down. He said there was no need for a referendum of any kind. “Let’s just exchange Junagarh for Kashmir. You take Junagarh, we’ll take Kashmir.”

What is also very interesting is that in the very same sets of meetings, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel told the Pakistanis — and I’m quoting from a historical document, which is available — ‘Why are we talking about trading Junagarh for Kashmir? Let’s trade Kashmir for Hyderabad’.

Contrary to claims that if only Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had been dealing with Kashmir, entire Kashmir would have been with India, he was at that point of time ready to trade off Kashmir for Hyderabad. And rightly so, for as you all know, Hyderabad is in the heart of India. And that for him was the most important issue to be dealt with, not Kashmir. In fact, this is not a secret.

On 11th November 1947 when the Indian Army moved into Junagarh, Vallabhbhai Patel makes a speech — and this is available in his Collected Speeches, so you can all read that speech — he makes the same point. He says, “We told the Pakistanis, if you can give us Hyderabad, we are willing to give you Kashmir”.

So that should put to rest some of the notions currently prevailing that the problem of Kashmir basically never would have happened if Vallabhbhai Patel had been in charge of Kashmir. Actually, that was not at all the case. The context was very different, the considerations were very different.

Now Jawaharlal Nehru is held singularly responsible, in the narratives that are now current, for the decision to refer the Kashmir issue to the United Nations in December, 1947.

We know from historical records that actually Nehru himself was very averse to taking this issue to the United Nations. The greatest proponent of this idea was Lord Mountbatten. The context to that was strategic rather than political.

The Indian Army had flown into Kashmir in October 1947. But the Indian Army had very little by way of land and/or communications in Kashmir. So, the Army was not able to build up in quick order. They were not able to push back the tribals, let alone recover the area which we now call Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or the Northern Areas—Gilgit-Baltistan. The Indian Army was not able to push the tribals much further.

The Indian Army came up with a proposal. The Generals said that the best way militarily to deal with the problem would be to strike at the bases from where these invaders were operating. And that meant we had to attack the Pakistani part of Punjab. That also effectively meant a declaration of war against Pakistan.

More importantly, it meant carrying out military operations in Punjab, which was still reeling from the extraordinary violence of Partition. Close to a million people had been killed; at least a couple of million people more were forced out of their homes because of ethnic cleansing in both directions. Punjab was a communal cauldron.

It was in this context that the Government of India rightly felt that if we attacked Pakistan, it would lead to another round of huge violence between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs and that was something we did not want to do.

It was in this context that the Government of India actually decided that it was a lesser evil to take the issue to the United Nations and ask them to get Pakistan to back off. Of course, things did not play out this way but there is no reason to believe that these decisions would have somehow been different had Jawaharlal Nehru not been there as PM.

One of the persons who was in the Indian cabinet at that time was Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee later became the founder of the Jana Sangh, which is the precursor to the Bharatiya Janata Party. And one of the Jana Sangh’s first founding charter of demands was revocation of the special status of the state of Kashmir.

So in 1952 when these issues were being discussed, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was asked during a Parliamentary debate — and you can check the debates online — listen, you are saying all these things today about Kashmir but weren’t you a party to the decision to take this issue to the United Nations? He said, “The cabinet took a decision. It was a collective decision; we took it, which I have no reason to back out from”.

It shows that Shyama Prasad Mukherjee had a certain fidelity to historical facts which our current WhatsApp universities don’t have.

Let’s look at Article 370 itself and see what happened. The sequence of events is as follows. In October 1947, the Maharaja of J&K acceded to the Union of India. The Instrument of Accession specified only three things: foreign affairs, defence, and communications. Since they had acceded in three subjects, so they had every right to make their own Constitution.

In March 1948 the Maharaja appointed an interim government, which was tasked with forming the Constituent Assembly led by Sheikh Abdullah, who was a stalwart and a tall leader at that point of time. They had all the right to convene a Constituent Assembly.

Concurrently, Sheikh Abdullah and three of his colleagues joined the Constituent Assembly of India in order to negotiate with the Constituent Assembly of India, which was drawing up the Constitution of India in order to negotiate what the Constitutional relationship between their Constitution and that of India would be.

It is worth pointing out that contrary to what is being claimed today, Sardar Patel was actually the architect of Article 370.

The very first meeting between Sheikh Abdullah and his Kashmiri colleagues and leaders of the Indian National Congress, who were in the Constituent Assembly, took place in Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s house on 15th and 16th May 1949 and Jawaharlal Nehru was present in those meetings.

The entire negotiation was led by a person called N Gopalaswamy Iyengar, who was a Dewan of the state of Kashmir and knew the state really well. He was at that point a minister without portfolio in the Union cabinet.

At the end of five months of negotiations, when the outline of what would come out to be Article 370 had been decided, NG Iyengar wrote a letter to Sardar Patel, which is again in the public domain for people to verify. “Will you please let Jawaharlal Ji know directly that all these provisions are agreeable to you... only after you agree will Nehru issue a letter to Sheikh Abdullah that you (he) can go ahead.” So, you can see how Sardar Patel was central to the process of coming up with Article 370.

In fact, at the time Jawaharlal Nehru was in the United States on his first state visit and Patel wrote to him a very interesting letter.

‘There was a lot of discussion within the Congress Parliamentary Party on whether we should create this special status and I was able to prevail upon them to agree to this,’ the Sardar wrote to Nehru.

So, you can see how Patel was central to this imagination of Article 370.

(Transcribed from a talk the author delivered at Hyderabad in October, 2019 by Manjula Lal.)

Srinath Raghavan is the author of three major books and is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy research, New Delhi. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the India Institute in King’s College, London. He also served the Indian Army as an Infantry Officer in Rajputana Rifles for six years.