New Delhi, July 24: Article 370 remains hot button, contrarian views and emotions swirl around the moment it is mentioned — some incendiary and others more subdued. At the very kernel of our constitutional framework which allows the state of Jammu and Kashmir special rights and privileges under the controversial Article 370 is the accession of the princely state to the Union of India.
It is important to get into the whys and wherefores of the accession on October 26, 1947, months after India and Pakistan became independent and thereby sovereign nations.
The umbilical cord that connected two of the principal characters in this thrilling chase to retain Kashmir were Pandit Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah. In their joint quest for Kashmir, they were constantly thwarted by the man who created Pakistan — Mohammed Ali Jinnah — who till the day he died thirsted for the valley.
To understand the importance of what was going on at that time, it will require the help of a Wellsian Time Machine for one needs to be transported back in time and beamed back to that fateful day.
Even as the Maharaja of Kashmir signed on the dotted line, and formalised the structure of the accession of his state to India and then packed his bags to flee to the safer haven of Jammu, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who treasured Kashmir as the big prize of his two-nation theory tried his best to reach out to Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah one last time. Knowing fully well that Sheikh Abdullah did not like him, he knew that the tall Kashmiri leader was his best bet to pouch Kashmir.
As the raiders knocked on Srinagar’s doors, the real drama shifted to New Delhi. At the behest of the British Home Office Political Department, Jinnah had made several attempts to get in touch with Sheikh Abdullah at 17 York Road, which was Pandit Nehru’s then residence.
Abdullah had arrived in Delhi to appeal to the Indian Cabinet to dispatch armed forces to help Kashmiris repel the Afridi tribesmen. Jinnah wanted Abdullah to visit Lahore for a dialogue. But alas, he left it too late. It was late October 1947 and the Indian Cabinet was in an emergency session, considering whether to send troops to Kashmir or not. Sardar Patel recommended strong action and he was supported by Defence Minister Sardar Baldev Singh.
Sheikh Abdullah who obviously slip of paper to an angry Nehru saying that the Indian Army needed to go quickly otherwise all would be lost. Things calmed down, the Defence Committee met again and green lighted the Indian assault on Srinagar. Sheikh Saheb was to fly with the first sortie of forty Dakotas on the morning of October 27 where the National Conference workers ferried them in buses from the tarmac.
Nehru had played the waiting game with Mahajan because he wanted an assurance that Hari Singh would set up an interim government with Sheikh Abdullah at its head. And this is what happened as together in a cohesive whole they formed the Red Cap Militia to repulse the invaders. Maqbool Mohammed Sherwani became a symbol of this exemplary was one of the petitioners as the Instrument of Accession hung in the balance, waited apprehensively.
Talking to Vijay Lakshmi Pandit and Dwarka Nath Kachru, private secretary to Nehru in turn, tension writ large on his face, he continued to spurn Jinnah’s repeated overtures — through multiple telephone calls — that day. V.P. Menon, who was flown to Srinagar to get Maharaja Hari Singh’s signature, arrived back on October 26. Kashmir’s then Prime Minister Meher Chand Mahajan, who accompanied Menon back to Delhi, found it hard to dislodge Nehru in front of him. Asking for military help to ward off the raiders, he found Nehru in no mood to relent. He then played a dangerous card, telling Nehru that he would go to Jinnah and negotiate. This is after Menon burst into the room saying – The bastard has signed it – Nehru spoke of UN and other such things, till Sardar Patel snapped at him telling him to act now if he wanted Kashmir. Send the Army said Patel to Nehru. Accompanying Menon to Kashmir to get the instrument signed was Col Sam Manekshaw.
Here is his version: “The tribesmen were believed to be about 7 to 9 kilometers from Srinagar. I was sent into get the precise military situation. The army knew that if we had to send soldiers, we would have to fly them in. Therefore, a few days before, we had made arrangements for aircraft and for soldiers to be ready. But we couldn’t fly them in until the state of Kashmir had acceded to India. From the political side, Sardar Patel and V.P. Menon had been dealing with Mahajan and the Maharaja, and the idea was that V.P. Menon would get the Accession, I would bring back the military appreciation and report to the government. The troops were already at the airport, ready to be flown in. Air Chief Marshall Elmhurst was the air chief and he had made arrangements for the aircraft from civil and military sources.”
“Anyway, we were flown in. We went to Srinagar. We went to the palace. I have never seen such disorganisation in my life. The Maharaja was running about from one room to the other. I have never seen so much jewellery in my life — pearl necklaces, ruby things, lying in one room; packing here, there, everywhere. There was a convoy of vehicles. The Maharaja was coming out of one room, and going into another saying, ‘Alright, if India doesn’t help, I will go and join my troops and fight (it) out’. I couldn’t restrain myself, and said, ‘That will raise their morale sir’. Eventually, I also got the military situation from everybody around us, asking what the hell was happening, and discovered that the tribesmen were about seven or nine kilometres from what was then that horrible little airfield.
“V.P. Menon was in the meantime discussing with Mahajan and the Maharaja. Eventually the Maharaja signed the accession papers and we flew back in the Dakota late at night. There were no night facilities, and the people who were helping us to fly back, to light the airfield, were Sheikh Abdullah, Kasimsahib, Sadiqsahib, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, D.P. Dhar with pine torches, and we flew back to Delhi. I can’t remember the exact time. It must have been 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.
“The cabinet meeting was presided by Mountbatten. There was Jawaharlal Nehru, there was Sardar Patel, there was Sardar Baldev Singh. There were other ministers whom I did not know and did not want to know, because I had nothing to do with them. Sardar Baldev Singh I knew because he was the minister for defence, and I knew Sardar Patel, because Patel would insist that V.P. Menon take me with him to the various states…
“At the morning meeting he handed over the (Accession) thing. Mountbatten turned around and said: “come on Manekji (He called me Manekji instead of Manekshaw), what is the military situation?’ I gave him the military situation, and told him that unless we flew in troops immediately, we would have lost Srinagar, because going by road would take days, and once the tribesmen got to the airport and Srinagar, we couldn’t fly troops in.
“Everything was ready at the airport. As usual Nehru talked about the United Nations, Russia, Africa, God almighty, everybody, until Sardar Patel lost his temper. He said, ‘Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir, or do you want to give it away’. He (Nehru) said,’ Of course, I want Kashmir (emphasis in original). Then he (Patel) said ‘Please give your orders’. And before he could say anything Sardar Patel turned to me and said, ‘You have got your orders’.
“I walked out, and we started flying in troops at about 11 o’clock or 12 o’clock. I think it was the Sikh regiment under Ranjit Rai that was the first lot to be flown in. And then we continued flying troops in. That is all I know about what happened. Then all the fighting took place. I became a brigadier, and became director of military operations and also if you will see the first signal to be signed ordering the cease-fire on 1 January (1949) had been signed by Colonel Manekshaw on behalf of C-in-C India, General Sir Roy Bucher. That must be lying in the Military Operations Directorate.”
The Kashmir story has been nothing but as dramatic as the tale of its accession over these last 72 years. While Pakistan now labels it as an indigenous uprising or they prefer to give it the nomenclature of a ‘ freedom struggle’, the reality is that the seeds of the Kashmir imbroglio were sown in the dark days of the accession.
The problem emanated from what H.N. Brailsford aptly described long years ago: ” The peculiarity of Kashmir’s case is that the Ruler and the subjects are the different creeds. The mass of the population, 93 per cent of it (in the valley), is Muslim whereas the Hindu Maharaja governs through a ruling class of Dogras and Rajputs drawn from his ancestral domains of Jammu.
“No Kashmiri may enter his army and there is an Arms Act which permits Rajputs to own firearms, a privilege denied to men of other stocks. The lower ranks of its civil administration were until recently the monopoly of Kashmiri Brahmins, though latterly, room has been made for Muslim candidates.”
If that was at the core of a complex accession, throw in Jinnah’s manic obsession to pouch the “Eastern Switzerland” and Pandit Nehru, as a Kashmiri himself, loathe to giving it away and you have all the ingredients of a high octane drama. If that wasn’t all, then add two more protagonists — Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah and his bete noire Maharaja Hari Singh and you have a bitter tale of a power tussle fuelled by a Muslim- dominated and long subjugated Valley opposed to a Hindu-ideology-backed Jammu province.