When Mohammad Ali Jinnah visited the State in 1943, it had ended on a sour note. Not surprisingly, he bore a grudge against Kashmiris and, later, had been the reason for the forcible attempt of Pakistan to annex Kashmir. There was little doubt that during his visit he had first approached Abdullah in order to enlist him as his commander in the State, little knowing that just as he believed in his destiny of being the messianic leader of the Indian Muslims, similarly Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah believed that he alone was preordained to lead the Kashmiris towards a New Kashmir.
Therefore, Jinnah had failed in his primary mission and failed with Abdullah, and consequently, bared his communal fangs and cast his support for Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas as the leader of the Jammu Muslims and a rival of Sheikh Abdullah. On his way back to Rawalpindi he addressed a public meeting at Baramulla, exhorting the people of Kashmir to rally behind the Muslim Conference led by Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas. He was stunned when the Kashmiri Muslims hooted him and he had to make good his escape from the venue.
He had again sought permission to visit Kashmir during those tumultuous years when the State was visited not only by Mahatma Gandhi but also by the then President of the Congress, Acharya JB Kripalani. While Mahatma Gandhi had announced that he had not come to secure the release of Sheikh Abdullah, Kripalani had confined his visit to holding meetings with the Maharaja. Great as they both were in their own right, they had demonstrated exemplary restraint in respecting the Princely State’s policy of not permitting any outside interference in the internal affairs of the State.
Jinnah had clearly lost the confidence of the Government of His Highness and was therefore refused permission to enter the State. Now there was Jawaharlal Nehru who not only wanted to enter the State with the explicit purpose of securing the release of Abdullah but had also made unsubstantiated and wild allegations, which the State administration believed were designed to incite the people against the Maharaja. Thus, Jawaharlal Nehru too was refused permission to enter the State.
Contrary to what the partisan reporters accompanying him claimed, Nehru had tried to force his entry by pushing the guard, at which point the ADC of Maharaja Hari Singh, Colonel Bhagwan had tactfully allowed him to enter. Later Bhagwan Singh recalled that Nehru had been accompanied not only by some political activists but also by a large contingent of journalists. It was obvious that the purpose of his visit was not just to enquire what had happened in the State following the arrest of Sheikh Abdullah but to also create a spectacle. To diffuse the situation, Bhagwan Singh had escorted Nehru to the Domel Dak Bungalow where he was provided with all facilities, including a car of the State to return to India.
It was only after three days of his stay there, and after the Congress Working Committee passed a resolution, supported by the combined might of the Congress President Kripalani, Sardar Patel and Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, that he finally agreed to return without securing the release of Sheikh Abdullah. He was sullen all the while and returned to Delhi after promising that he would return soon. He, of course, did return as one of the defence team for Abdullah, which was headed by Asaf Ali, lived in a house boat and made discreet enquiries about the happenings following Abdullah’s arrest.
The court finally found Abdullah guilty and he was sentenced to three years of imprisonment. But in the process the Maharaja had antagonized a person who was becoming the sole voice and representative of the aspirations of the people of the subcontinent, and for whom Sheikh Abdullah was the key to exposing the fallacy of the two nation theory and then establishing the secular credentials of free India. British India’s press too was quick to pounce upon the developments to present the whole episode as another example of an Indian Prince acting arbitrarily and autocratically to satisfy his personal whims.
It claimed that Jawaharlal Nehru had made a friendly overture to His Highness’ Government that had been reciprocated with a display of grave discourtesy and arrogance. These reports completely ignored the fact that when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was arrested on May 20, 1946, in the wake of the ill-advised “Quit Kashmir” movement, his followers had instigated disturbances not only in Srinagar but also in other places. It was in these circumstances, when the State police and military had been patrolling the disturbed areas, that Nehru expressed his desire to visit Kashmir to study the situation. It was a sensitive time, and not the best time for such a visit, yet the Prime Minister Ram Chandra Kak had clearly answered to a query of the press that Nehru would be welcome to come for such a study on May 26, 1946.
But inexplicably, Jawaharlal Nehru, instead of coming to study the situation had chosen to make those wild allegations about dead Muslim bodies not being handed over to relatives for burial and being burnt and the mosque being damaged to make a passage for the military lorries, even before his visit. Mercifully, he later regretted that the issue of the Ruler continuing or not was raised, but in Kashmir serious damage had been done, even though correspondents of the Associated Press, The Statesman, and The Hindustan Times denied that what was alleged to have happened, really took place.
They had written this on the basis of the information gathered from their sources within the National Conference. Earlier, on May 30, 1946, the Maharaja’s Government had also denied all the charges in an official communiqué. Unfortunately, Nehru had been taken in by the communist propaganda launched by Lahore-based friends of Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference. It is also interesting to note that even though the English press portrayed Maharaja Hari Singh as another example of a typical Indian autocratic prince of wayward ways, during that crucial period, Freda Bedi remained in Srinagar without being forcibly deported, and actively rendered help to the underground workers of the Quit Kashmir movement.
While she was in Kashmir, with her newborn son Kabir Bedi, and when the movement started, “the Police wanted me to leave Kashmir as they knew Papa [BPL Bedi] and I were friends of the rebels. So they issued a notice to me to leave. I wrote on the back of the notice that I didn’t accept it, as I didn’t recognize the people who issued it.” She was also served a deportation order, which also was ignored by her. But no coercive methods were used by the State. Not once did she accuse the Maharaja’s government of any harsh treatment except that she was continuously followed by the Intelligence people. She had continued to do what she had wanted to do till, according to another letter written by her, she was sent a message by Sheikh Abdullah to leave the State.
By no stretch of imagination could such a kid-glove treatment be attributed to a “wayward autocrat” that the Maharaja was accused of being. Clearly, Nehru was visiting Kashmir on a mission to denigrate Maharaja Hari Singh and called upon the All States Peoples’ Conference, consisting of the Praja Mandals, the Lok Parishads, the State Congresses and other like-minded parties of the princely states to hold a meeting on June 2, 1946, to express solidarity with the “suffering” people of Kashmir. Not everyone agreed with him and there were many who believed that the movement against the Maharaja was a tactical blunder and were critical of the many inflammatory speeches of Sheikh Abdullah. It was then that Nehru was constrained to withdraw his irresponsible allegations and express regret.
Excerpted with permission from A Modern History of Jammu and Kashmir, Volume One: The Troubled Years of Maharaja Hari Singh (1925-1949), Harbans Singh, Speaking Tiger Books.