There has been some controversy over recent remarks made by Congress leader Saifuddin Soz, who is in the news for his just-released book, Kashmir: Glimpses of History and the Story of Struggle. The first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of India Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was happy to let Kashmir go to Pakistan in exchange for Hyderabad, and it was then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s insistence that kept it with India, Soz told ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV’s Walk The Talk show on Saturday. He repeated the remarks on Monday at the release function of his book. Taking objection, Bharatiya Janata Party National General Secretary Anil Jain has said that such statements are evidence that Congress and its allied powers are becoming pro-Pakistan and questioned Soz “who even raised a finger at a nationalist like Sardar Patel”. Earlier, in February, during his speech in Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, “If Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel would have been the first Prime Minister of the country, then entire Kashmir would have been ours.”

But as the following excerpt from historian Rajmohan Gandhi’s 1991 book shows, Patel’s views on Kashmir changed from the time that he went about integrating princely states into what would go on to become the Union of India. Much before Independence, when Patel had first discussed the problem of princely states with Louis Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy, later to be the first Governor-General of independent India, he had asked him to bring in “a full basket of apples” by the date of Independence. Would he be satisfied with a bag of 560 instead of the full 565, the viceroy had wondered.

Vallabhbhai Patel had not forgotten, amidst the communal madness, the three apples missing from his sack – Hyderabad, Kashmir and Junagadh. An area of 82,000 square miles making it the largest of the princely states, Hyderabad possessed a population of 16 million (of whom 85 per cent were Hindu), its own coinage and paper currency and a Muslim ruler styled “His Exalted Highness”. Muslims controlled the army and the public services. Britain had refused to consider the Nizam’s plea for Dominion status but, largely on Mountbatten’s urging, Vallabhbhai had granted Hyderabad three months’ grace after August 15 for deciding on accession. No other state had been given such a concession, but Patel had instinctively realised that he would obtain Hyderabad last. “I am striving for Hyderabad,” he had written Gandhi on August 30. “It will take time.”

If Hyderabad was in India’s stomach, Jammu and Kashmir, almost as large as Hyderabad in area, though with one-fourth its population, lay strategically at the subcontinent’s head, bordering China and Afghanistan and almost bordering the Soviet Union. Three out of four Kashmiris were Muslims, but its ruler was a Hindu. Jammu, which had a Hindu majority, and Ladakh, which was predominantly Buddhist, were distinct areas.

Vallabhbhai was not quite sure that he wanted the Kashmir apple.

Though significantly located, it was, after all, primarily Muslim, and Srinagar, its capital, was 300 miles away from the nearest Indian border.

However, Radcliffe’s partition of Punjab’s Gurdaspur district had given India a road into Jammu. While taking no steps to obtain Kashmir’s accession, and declining even to conclude a Standstill Agreement with it, Patel did, on his own, authorise an improvement of this road which in places was no more than a cart track.

Visiting Kashmir between June 18 and June 23, Mountbatten had told Maharaja Hari Singh “that if Kashmir joined Pakistan this would not be regarded as unfriendly by the Government of India”. According to VP Menon, Mountbatten said to Hari Singh “that he had a firm assurance on this from Sardar Patel himself”.

We should note that Mountbatten was quoting Vallabhbhai and not Nehru. Kashmir, the beautiful land of his forebears, was an apple that Jawaharlal did not want to lose.

Nehru’s attachment to Kashmir was intensified by his friendship with the state’s popular leader, Sheikh Abdullah, a prisoner of the Maharaja when the latter hosted Mountbatten. Manibehn’s diary records the contrast between the Sardar’s perception of Abdullah and Nehru’s: “Jawaharlalji came at 2.30 pm and gave the news of Sheikh Abdullah’s release. Father gave him his opinion in one sentence.” Abdullah’s release took place at the end of September but Hari Singh had not yet decided about Kashmir’s future, though he had signed a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan.

That Kashmir would join India was the Mahatma’s hope. Noting Abdullah’s pro-Indian sentiment, Gandhi prayed that Kashmir would disprove the two-nation theory. Neither Gandhi’s prayer nor Nehru’s attachment was shared by Patel, who had been unenthusiastic about a visit that the Mahatma made to Kashmir in August.

Gandhi declared after that visit that Kashmir was free to join either Dominion but in accord with the will of the people. As for Vallabhbhai, he was content, according to Shankar, “to leave the decision to the Ruler”.

Evidently, Patel even said that “if the Ruler felt that his and his state’s interest lay in accession to Pakistan, he would not stand in his way”.

Menon’s admission, in respect of the period before October 1947, that “if truth be told, I for one had simply no time to think of Kashmir”, strongly confirms the impression of Vallabhbhai’s passivity at this juncture regarding Kashmir.

If the Sardar was indifferent, the Maharaja was unable to decide. Unwilling, as a Hindu, to accede to Pakistan, Hari Singh seemed equally reluctant to join India. He feared that the state’s Muslim majority might not like it, and he knew that he would not like the elevation of Abdullah, which Nehru was bound to ask for. Joining neither India nor Pakistan, he hoped for the acquiescence of both in Kashmir’s independence.

The third missing apple, Junagadh, was a seaboard state, east of Porbandar, in Kathiawad or Saurashtra, the thumb jutting out of western India and containing numerous states and fiefdoms. Over 80 per cent of Junagadh’s 7 lakh population were Hindu, and the famous temple of Somnath, sacked by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1024 AD, lay in its territory, but its ruler, Nawab Mahabat Khan, an eccentric who bestowed great affection and expense on the many dogs he kept, was a Muslim. He would probably have joined India but for a palace revolution that occurred, while he was in Europe, in May 1947. In the changeover, Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto, a Muslim League politician from Sind, became the Dewan of Junagadh.

Bhutto was in close contact with Jinnah, who was prepared to jettison his two-nation principle and accept a Hindu-majority state. Obeying Jinnah’s advice, Bhutto did nothing until August 15. On that day, Pakistan having come into being, Junagadh announced its decision to accede to it. The newspapers of August 17 brought the news to Patel, who asked the Ministry of External Affairs, which was in Nehru’s charge, to discover whether Pakistan intended to accept the accession. After shirking an answer for almost a month, the Government of Pakistan sent a telegram on September 13 stating that the accession had been accepted.

The accession and its acceptance represented a blow to the prestige of the Government of India in Kathiawad. It caused the region’s Muslims, about eleven per cent of the population, to look to the pocket and to Pakistan’s capital, Karachi, rather than to New Delhi; it generated a wish in Junagadh’s Hindu neighbours to retaliate against the Nawab’s regime and also against Muslims all over Kathiawad; and it raised an important question.

If the Nawab and his Dewan could deliver Junagadh to Pakistan, could not the Nizam similarly offer Hyderabad? Above all, however, Junagadh was a pawn with which Jinnah hoped to get the Queen. Kashmir was the Queen.

If India argued, as Jinnah was sure it would, that not Junagadh’s ruler but its people should choose, he would make the same demand for Kashmir in case the Maharaja joined India. And in Kashmir an India-or-Pakistan option could easily turn into a poll for and against Islam. This implication was plain, yet on September 30 Nehru told Liaqat in Mountbatten’s presence that while India objected to the Nawab’s accession, it would always be willing to abide by the verdict of a general election, plebiscite or referendum in Junagadh. Patel would not have volunteered such a commitment. Emphasising Nehru’s words to Liaqat, Mountbatten added an assurance that if the need arose Nehru would apply the principle to other states too, whereupon, in Mountbatten’s words, “Pandit Nehru nodded his head sadly. Mr Liaqat Ali Khan’s eyes sparkled. There is no doubt that both of them were thinking of Kashmir.”

Vallabhbhai made it plain that a plebiscite in Kashmir would be conditional on one in Hyderabad.

Not prepared for the latter, Jinnah offered no plebiscite in Junagadh. It was up to Jawaharlal, as the External Affairs Minister, to talk with Pakistan over Junagadh but when it came to dealing directly with Junagadh, Patel functioned for India. Jawaharlal was fully included by him and the Cabinet’s sanction obtained for all major moves but the direction of policy was in Vallabhbhai’s hands. On September 19 he had sent Menon to Junagadh. Menon found the Nawab elusive and Bhutto evasive. On September 24, at Patel’s instance, a brigade consisting of Indian troops and soldiers from some of the Kathiawad states was positioned near Junagadh’s frontiers. On September 25, residents of Junagadh and other parts of Kathiawad gathered in Bombay and formed, with Vallabhbhai’s knowledge, a provisional government for Junagadh, the Arzi Hukumat, with Samaldas Gandhi, a relative of the Mahatma, as its President. Rajkot became the Hukumat’s headquarters.

Four weeks of waiting followed. Patel was giving time to Pakistan to annul the accession or arrange a plebiscite. If it did neither, he would act – not, to begin with, by sending forces into Junagadh proper, but by tackling three of Junagadh’s feudatories, Manavadar, Mangrol and Babariawad. The latter two had already acceded to India, though the Sheikh of Mangrol alleged duress after freely signing the Instrument of Accession. The Nawab of Junagadh and the Government of Pakistan claimed that the feudatories lacked the discretion to accede, but Vallabhbhai disagreed. The Khan of Manavadar had not joined India but he had provoked his neighbours by arresting local leaders: the peace of Gondal State, which adjoined Manavadar, was endangered. On October 21 the Cabinet authorised the takeover of the three feudatories.

Mountbatten tried to argue against the decision; when he saw that the Sardar was firm, he urged that the Central Reserve Police rather than the Army be used. But Vallabhbhai was opposed to any admission, direct or indirect, of qualms. Manavadar was taken over on October 22, the other two on November 1. Between the two dates, volunteers of the Arzi Hukumat crossed the border, causing the Nawab to flee to Karachi. He took with him his family, his dogs, the palace jewellery and all the cash in the State Treasury. On October 27 Bhutto wrote a pathetic letter to Jinnah:

Our revenue [has] gone to the bottom. Food situation is terribly embarrassing...His Highness and the royal family have had to leave...Our brethren are indifferent and cold. Muslims of Kathiawad seem to have lost all enthusiasm for Pakistan. Responsible Muslims and others have come to press me to seek a solution of the impasse. I do not wish to say much more. My Senior Member of Council, Captain Harvey Jones, must have apprised you of the serious state of things.

On November 2 the Arzi Hukumat captured the town of Nawagadh. Five days later Bhutto sent the Briton, Harvey Jones, to Rajkot to request Samaldas to take over the reins of government. A day later, on November 8, Bhutto modified his request: would the Government of India accept the reins, rather than the Arzi Hukumat? The new proposal went to NM Buch, New Delhi’s Commissioner for the states of Western India and Gujarat. Samaldas voiced no objection. Late that night Buch gave the news over the phone to Menon during a dinner at which Nehru and Mountbatten were also present. Prodded by Mountbatten, Jawaharlal and Menon drafted a conciliatory telegram for Pakistan, stating that the Government of India was acceding to Bhutto’s request but would ascertain the wishes of the people of Junagadh before accepting the state de jure.

It was past midnight. Menon went to 1 Aurangzeb Road, woke Patel up and showed him the draft. The Sardar strongly objected to the offer of a plebiscite. It was “unnecessary and uncalled for”, he said. In his view, Nehru and Menon “were sissies to want to send any telegram at all”.

However, after a good deal of persuasion by Menon, Vallabhbhai agreed that the message might go, “subject to the omission of anything that could possibly be interpreted as friendly’. Buch and an Indian Army officer, Brigadier Gurdial Singh, entered Junagadh on the afternoon of November 9, Captain Harvey Jones piloting their convoy. The state’s soldiers were disarmed and reins taken over. Bhutto, however, had left the previous evening for Karachi.

Patel arrived in Junagadh four days after its surrender and spoke to a large crowd on the grounds of Bahauddin College. After complimenting Bhutto and Jones for their realism and the Indian forces for their restraint, he touched on Kashmir and Hyderabad:

If Hyderabad does not see the writing on the wall, it goes the way Junagadh has gone.

Pakistan attempted to set off Kashmir against Junagadh. When we raised the question of settlement in a democratic way, they (Pakistan) at once told us that they would consider it if we applied that policy to Kashmir. Our reply was that we would agree to Kashmir if they agreed to Hyderabad.

Stating that the Government of India would abide by the wishes of the people, Vallabhbhai asked the audience to indicate whether they desired the state to accede to India or to Pakistan. Thousands of hands were immediately raised for India, whereupon Patel said: “No appeal to outside authority or to force or to any international court will succeed in dislodging this popular verdict.” As far as Vallabhbhai was concerned the plebiscite was over! However, a referendum was duly held on February 20, 1948. Witnessing it, correspondents of London’s Daily Telegraph and Sunday Times reported that it was properly conducted.

Out of 201,457 registered voters, 190,870 exercised their franchise. Of this number only 91 voted for Pakistan. There was a separate but simultaneous poll in Manavadar, Mangrol, Babariawad and two other feudatories. Out of 31,434 votes cast in these areas, only 39 were for Pakistan.

When, on his way to Junagadh, Patel passed through Rajkot, its ruler, Thakore Pradyumnasinh, prudently took the opportunity to inform the Sardar that he would “fulfil the agreement between the Rajkot State and yourself arrived at on the 26th December 1938”. The sender of this message was the brother and successor of Dharmendrasinh, who, along with his Dewan, Virawala, had blocked Vallabhbhai’s wishes nine years earlier.

After the Junagadh rally the Sardar visited the Somnath temple at Prabhas Patan. With him was Gadgil, his colleague in the Cabinet. Both were “visibly moved to find the temple which had once been the glory of India looking so dilapidated, neglected and forlorn”. Gadgil felt that the temple should be renovated. He mentioned the idea to Patel, who at once agreed and publicly proposed it. The Jamsaheb of Nawanagar, who was with them, donated a lakh of rupees on the spot, and Samaldas announced that the Arzi Hukumat would give Rs 51,000. Gadgil’s ministry, responsible for public works, undertook the task and the Cabinet approved, but after a discussion between Gandhi and the Sardar it was decided that a trust should renovate the temple with funds from the public.

Vallabhbhai told the Mahatma that “not a single pie would be taken from the treasury of Junagadh” or from the Government of India’s resources. The two agreed that India’s government was “not a theocratic one” and did “not belong to any particular religion”.

It was “secular” and temples should not be built or rebuilt by it. By the time Somnath was renovated, Patel, who had agreed to perform the inaugural ceremony, was dead. In his place President Rajendra Prasad discharged the role, ignoring objections voiced by his Prime Minister, Nehru.

Vallabhbhai’s lukewarmness about Kashmir had lasted until September 13, 1947. That morning, in a letter to Baldev Singh, he had indicated that “if [Kashmir] decides to join the other Dominion”, he would accept the fact.

His attitude changed later that day when he heard that Pakistan had accepted Junagadh’s accession. If Jinnah could take hold of a Hindu-majority state with a Muslim ruler, why should the Sardar not be interested in a Muslim-majority State with a Hindu ruler? From that day Junagadh and Kashmir, the pawn and the Queen, became his simultaneous concerns. He would wrest the one and defend the other. He would also defend Hyderabad, to him the King on the chessboard. Had Jinnah allowed the King and the pawn to go to India, Patel, as we have seen, might have let the Queen go to Pakistan, but Jinnah rejected the deal.

Excerpted with permission from Patel: A Life, Rajmohan Gandhi, Navjivan Trust.