Once a semblance of administration got organised in Srinagar, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah decided to invite Nehru to Kashmir to repeat his pledge to the people of Kashmir on the question of holding a plebiscite in the state to decide the question of accession of the state finally.
Nehru responded positively. Accompanied by Rafi Ahmad Kidwai and Indira Gandhi, he paid a visit to Kashmir on November 13, 1947. He first went straight to Baramulla and on return addressed a huge meeting of historic importance at the square around Amira Kadal, which came to be known as Lal Chowk after that crucial meeting. Nehru assured the people that the accession of the state would be subjected to a plebiscite and even if the verdict would be against India, it will be accepted.
But, as the days passed, the Sheikh got disturbed by the agitation of the Praja Parishad. Hindu organisations such as the Hindu Mahasabha, the Jana Sangh, the RSS and other similar groups vociferously declared opposition to Article 370 under which autonomy to the state was guaranteed.
The Sheikh was particularly perturbed by the agitation of the Praja Parishad in Jammu which, according to him, was supported and financed by the maharaja. He wrote to Nehru about this and the latter took up the matter with Patel. Patel was never happy with the Sheikh and his politics and he supported the Praja Parishad. This atmosphere meant a great discouragement to the Sheikh, who had lent his moral support to the accession only because he thought the only Muslim majority state in India would remain secure with secular India. As events later unfolded, the so-called nationalists and patriots, represented by the communal organisations, continued to oppose the Sheikh and his policies. It was a situation that he never expected.
By 1952, he became alienated with the Union of India and thought Nehru had become weak on his commitment to the people of Kashmir, who had rejected the two-nation theory and opted for secular India. The Sheikh lamented that Nehru showed signs of succumbing to the pressure of communal forces, who pretended to be nationalists and patriots.
He had expected Nehru would continue to treat Kashmir as Gandhi’s beacon of light for a secular India. I feel that while Nehru retained his interest in Kashmir, his commitment for safeguarding its special status got somewhat impaired because die-hard Hindu organisations created quite a lot of difficulty for him, and his vision of building a strong, modern, democratic and truly secular country was not shared by communal outfits.
There was another factor responsible for Nehru showing signs of fatigue on his commitment to Kashmir’s autonomy and it was that the home ministry was not really working in tandem with him.
The onslaught of the Praja Parishad in Jammu was so intense that the Jana Sangh not only jumped on the bandwagon, but also started a vigorous campaign of vilification against the Sheikh and presented him as someone antagonistic to the nation. Vociferous leaders of the Jana Sangh such as Balraj Madhok regularly maligned the Sheikh and criticised Nehru for supporting him. The Hindu Mahasabha and its leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee also maligned the Sheikh and criticised Nehru and his policy towards Kashmir. While Patel was known as a person not sympathetic to the Sheikh, his sympathy with the maharaja and the Praja Parishad was fairly known.
One reason why the Praja Parishad, the Jana Sangh, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS had started a vigorous campaign against the Sheikh was a thoroughly parochial and sectarian idea that revolutionary reforms envisaged in the “New Kashmir” manifesto such as abolition of landed estates, the institution of the board for cancellation of debts, etc., were meant to benefit only Muslims. Undoubtedly, the land reforms were revolutionary and other pro-people measures had no parallel in the subcontinent, but it was not true that these were meant for Muslims alone. These Hindu organisations never cared to accept the reforms had benefitted the entire labour and peasantry (largely Hindus) in Jammu province also.
Gandhi was a bridge of understanding between Nehru and Patel. On his assassination, Nehru lost a big support. He felt lonely and gradually lost his vigour to combat communal forces inside and outside Parliament.
Patel did not support him on many occasions. Azad’s support wasn’t something powerful to help Nehru fight his enemies. Surprisingly, Nehru had imagined the Sheikh would gradually appreciate his difficulties.
While Nehru’s speech in Parliament on the Delhi Agreement (on 24 July 1952) constituted a weak defence of the agreement and the agreement was not put on records, the Sheikh presented the same agreement to the Jammu & Kashmir Constituent Assembly and spoke on it on 11 August 1952 as his lifetime achievement.
Alas! The builder of modern India, the visionary who looked to India’s future as a federal, secular, progressive and vibrant democracy, got weakened in his support to the Sheikh on the question of autonomy envisaged in the Delhi Agreement.
The Sheikh had earlier lamented the fact that leaders such as Sardar Patel and Rajendra Prasad had not supported Nehru on the question of special status to Jammu & Kashmir. He took particular notice of Patel’s antagonistic stand on many issues he raised with Nehru. He records in his autobiography Aatish-e-Chinar that once a senior officer of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), BN Mullik, was sent to Srinagar in the middle of 1949 to report the factual situation in Kashmir. Mullik met, Mohyuddin Kara, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, GM Sadiq, DP Dhar, Maulana Masoodi and others. He sent a report to his office in Delhi and Nehru felt happy and sent copies of the report to all embassies. When Patel came to know of it, he summoned Mullik and admonished him for sending the report directly to Nehru. Mullik got nervous and immediately told Patel that he had only sent the report to the senior officer of the IB.
In his book Kashmir:My Years with Nehru, Mullik notes, “Sardar spoke against Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and said he differed with Nehru on his assessment of him and considered the Sheikh as dangerous and staunchly anti-Hindu. Mullik got the hint and his later reports to Delhi got accordingly changed. The Sardar made Mullik chief of the Intelligence Service superseding thirty officers and the rest is history.” The Sheikh says further, “What colour Mullik gave to the reporting about him (the Sheikh) and his activities later, during that fateful time, was, essentially, what was expected of him by the Home Ministry.”
But it was clear that the Sheikh would not accept any dilution of autonomy granted to the state. When he found things drifting and relation with the Union getting awry, he publicly showed his disgust.
The Sheikh’s dismissal and arrest on 9 August 1953, apart from causing a revolt in the state, caused a deep wound in the psyche of Kashmiris. It meant while Kashmir remained steadfast with secular India, the Union didn’t!
Writing in his book Maverick Unchanged, Unrepentant, prominent jurist Ram Jethmalani expresses a strong feeling that the institution of the Constituent Assembly for Jammu & Kashmir had settled the political issue once and for all saying, “Commentators and sympathisers of the Kashmir problem would do well to remember that the Constitution of India was not foisted upon the state and that it applies only in those parts that have been voluntarily accepted by the people of Jammu & Kashmir. The state is primarily governed by its own Constitution, unlike any other state in India, Kashmir has voluntarily become part of a free progressive, secular republic. That is Azadi.”
While Jethmalani expresses these thoughts in his book, he feels that jingoistic elements have spoiled the constitutional relationship with Kashmir. I know it at personal level that Jethmalani has his own set of grievances with Pakistan, but he has continued to be of the view that neighbourhood can’t be changed and India has to find ways to have cordial relations with Pakistan.
Jethmalani further writes, “The Kashmir problem is not insurmountable and could have been solved long ago, but the political will and adroitness to do so has been lacking. If the president of Pakistan is ready for negotiation, the prime minister of India has to be willing. If parties like the BJP advocate immediate cessation of diplomatic relations, the people of India should and will dismiss it as a political bankruptcy and electoral insanity.”
Perhaps, Jethmalani wrote these lines after General Pervez Musharraf ’s famous formula for peace between the two countries had not found favour with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
On the sidelines of a seminar on Kashmir initiated by former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri on 11 April 2017, Jethmalani told me in presence of Kasuri, Mani Shankar Aiyar and OP Shah that soon after Musharraf championed his formula for peace and lasting friendship between India and Pakistan, Jethmalani had told Musharraf that he agreed with him and he would not change even a comma of the formula. On this occasion, Jethmalani lamented that when he had raised the issue with the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and shared his mind with him, Vajpayee hadn’t revealed his mind. Jethmalani presumes that while Vajpayee was clear in his mind, his real difficulty was created by his party.
Excerpted with permission from Kashmir: Glimpses of History and the Story of Struggle, Saifuddin Soz, Rupa Publications.