J&K’s Accession: An insider’s account – Punarvasu Parekh

Pandit Ram Chandra Kak & Maharaja Hari Singh
JournalistThe failure of the Indian state to find a solution to the J&K dispute is rooted in its refusal to face the facts. – Punarvasu Parekh

“What Sheikh Abdullah was really gambling for … was an independent principality whose continued existence would be guaranteed by the Indian armed forces and whose solvency was secured by the Indian treasury. There was, however, no idea of a quid pro quo from his side. He did not expect to be called to account either in respect of the internal administration of the state or the utilization of funds supplied to him by the government of India.”

How prophetic these words penned way back in 1955 have been! As Indian soldiers shed their blood to protect J&K from troublemakers of all sorts and as the Indian treasury bleeds to keep it solvent, only to be greeted by chants of “Azadi” from stone-pelting mobs and demand for “greater autonomy” from local sundries, we realize how farsighted the author was in warning us that “Sheikh Abdullah stood only for his own aggrandizement and had no affection for India and no use for her except to the extent she sub-served his ends.” The Abdullah tribe has multiplied several times since then, but its genes and DNAs remain unchanged.

The author Pandit Ram Chandra Kak was the prime minister of princely state of Jammu & Kashmir during the period leading up to the state’s accession to India in October 1947. He left behind a document that records the devious political games played to transfer authority over this Hindu-Buddhist kingdom to Muslims, specifically to Sheikh Abdullah.

Radha Rajan is the editor of Vigil OnlineUnsurprisingly, the document is barely known in “secular” India; its only known public copy is in UK. In a monumental piece of investigative journalism, Radha Rajan presents this document in full, along with her analysis of the communal political game played by Congress leadership in general and Nehru and Gandhi in particular, which has converted Kashmir into a festering sore in Indian polity.

Pandit Kak’s document traverses familiar ground, though it does highlight some less known facts. Its chief merit consists in providing a clear and consistent exposition of the dilemma faced by the State of J&K over accession to India on the eve of independence, by a perceptive patriotic powerful insider who was privy to overt happenings as well as covert machinations in the state, who was in the centre of the storm facing winds blowing from all directions. It tells us why things went the way they did and how India could have averted the current impasse. From the document, Pandit Kak emerges as a man of learning and character, a sterling patriot who had the courage to suffer for his convictions.

In her comments on the selected passages from the document, Radha Rajan shows that what happened in J&K was not accidental, but a logical culmination of the attitudes and policies consciously adopted by Gandhi, Nehru and Congress towards princely states, especially those with Hindu rulers.

The question of accession to India came up before J&K twice in less than a year, though in very different circumstances. Its decision on both the occasions was the same, but for different reasons. Then again, Prime Minister Kak and Maharaja Hari Singh concurred in their conclusion, but not for identical reasons.

Late in 1946, the state was sounded out by the Government of India on the accession to India after the Cabinet Mission had completed its consultations with Government of India and Indian leaders in Delhi. At that time, partition was not on the horizon except as a remote contingency and the accession was envisaged only to the newly-to-be-created Dominion of India.

Sheikh Abdullah and Jawaharlal Nehru

Pandit Kak tells us that as regards welding India into a single unit, he was not opposed to accession pure and simple. But there was a problem: Sheikh Abdullah, Congress leaders’ (especially Nehru’s) complete identification with him and their refusal to see any other point of view than his.

Sheikh Abdullah started his political career in 1931 as one of the two protagonists of Muslim Conference, an unabashed self-professed communal body. Later he fell out with the other protagonist Ch. Ghulam Abbas and set up his own outfit National Conference. As Ghulam Abbas managed to get close to Jinnah and Muslim League, Sheikh Abdullah approached Pundit Nehru for support. This he received in ample measure and soon he found himself a leading luminary in Congress firmament and President of All India States’ Peoples Conference.

While paying lip service to Congress ideals, Abdullah never forgot his original aim and ambition: absolute control over the state. With the power and prestige of Congress behind him, he started resorting to coercion and bullying against those who disagreed with him, including dissident Muslim groups. Some residents of Srinagar were for years unable to visit other parts of the town for fear of harassment. A maulavi who favoured Muslim Conference was prevented from preaching at the mosque where he and his forefathers had preached for generations before. Hindus began to live in perpetual fear. During the so-called Quit Kashmir agitation in 1946, thousands-strong mobs would surround houses of respectable persons for hours together, terrorise inmates and hurl stones and filthy abuses not sparing women folk of the house. For this reason, he was arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to three years of imprisonment by the state administration.

This was the man backed to the hilt by Congress and its leaders right from the beginning. Nehru, Maulana Azad, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and others visited Kashmir and participated in deliberations and demonstrations of National Conference, which often culminated in violence. After Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest Pundit Nehru insisted on visiting Srinagar despite being told that his visit would be most undesirable in the prevailing circumstances. Nehru was detained in the Dak Bangalow at Muzaffarabad, provided all the facilities possible and the state arranged for his return to Delhi when he so decided. Indeed, after a meeting with Sardar Patel in Mumbai where Gandhi also was present, Pandit Kak facilitated Nehru’s visit to Srinagar in July 1946. Yet, it seems, Nehru never forgave Maharaja and Pandit Kak for his detention.

Against this background, it is not surprising that the decisive factor which influenced Pandit Kak in rejecting accession was the attitude of the Indian National Congress as regards the affairs of the state.

Radha Rajan points out that in the attitude of the Indian National Congress towards princely states, there was nothing peculiar to J&K. It is strange but true that Congress under Gandhi who reached out to the likes of Ali brothers, Muslim League, Jinnah and even Britishers nurtured undisguised hostility towards princely states and sought to undermine them on every conceivable occasion. J&K is the best example to show that this hostility has cost the country dearly.

The issue of accession came up again on the eve of independence when partition had been agreed upon and princely states, which were to regain sovereignty after the lapse of the British paramountcy, were advised to join either India or Pakistan.

J&K again found itself on the horns of a dilemma. It was Jinnah or Nehru-backed Abdullah. Lord Mountbatten told Pandit Kak “you must consider your geographical position, your political situation and composition of your population and then decide.” Pandit Kak rejoined “that means you advise us to accede to Pakistan. It is not possible for us to do that. And since that is so, we cannot accede to India.”

India was divided on communal lines and the only rational course of action for any state before deciding on accession was to ascertain whether its people would support the accession. And with 76 per cent Muslim population, J&K could not be sure of the support of its people if it acceded to India. Accession to India was also hobbled by Congress’s infatuation with Sheikh Abdullah. Sheikh Abdullah was in prison at the time of independence. Top Congress leaders were insisting not merely that he be released forthwith, but also that a new constitution be drafted for the state with their advice and power transferred to Sheikh Abdullah. Accession to Pakistan was ruled out because Pandit Kak had no illusions about the nature of Islamic state that was coming up. In other words, Kashmir would not accede to Pakistan and could not accede to India.

Pandit Kak met Jinnah who advised him to join Pakistan and offered favourable terms. However, when Jinnah was told that J&K’s decision not to accede was final, he said so long as the state did not accede to India he would not mind if it did not accede to Pakistan. Of course, he had no intention of honouring this assurance. Less than ten weeks after its formation, Pakistan invaded J&K.

From Government of India side, V. P. Menon, secretary, Ministry of States, had a lengthy discussion with Pandit Kak in Delhi and it was decided that Menon would pay a visit to Srinagar after 15 August 1947 to discuss the future course of action. Pandit Kak, therefore, resolved that under the given circumstances, it would be ideal for all stakeholders if J&K became an independent state, maintaining good relations with India and Pakistan.

Maharaja Hari Singh came to the same conclusion, though for more grandiose, if irrational, reasons. He was dreaming not just of remaining independent, but also of ruling over a larger territory. Fuelling his ambitions was Swami Sant Dev, part of the assortment of swamis, gurus, astrologers and others claiming direct communion with the supernatural collected by Maharaja Hari Singh’s uncle and predecessor Maharaja Pratap Singh. Such was the influence acquired by the Swami on Maharaja that even Pundit Nehru paid him a visit when he came to Kashmir in 1946.

For all his supposed spirituality, the Swami did not neglect the mundane. He was keen to earn jobs, contracts and other favours for his large but non-descript followers and constantly made suggestions to the administration on behalf of his cronies. On most of the occasions, Pandit Kak found it hard to oblige him. The enraged Swami started looking for an opportunity to get rid of the “obstinate” prime minister.

The opportunity came when accession became a live issue. The Maharaja was convinced that after the departure of the British, with the potency of Swami’s supernatural powers, he would be able to extend his rule to new areas. In June 1947, he met with rulers of some adjoining princely states and planned a federation of J&K and some areas now in Himachal Pradesh. When Maharaja Hari Singh sought Pandit Kak’s opinion about his plan, the latter explained to him that it was a futile and impracticable idea; it was utterly unrealistic to imagine that forces which had compelled the British to leave India would allow the creation of a new empire in their midst.

Neither Maharaja nor Swami forgave Pandit Kak for this candid advice, the cold douche he administered to their towering aspirations. Machinations started to remove him from the office. Matters reached Sardar Patel who asked Pandit Kak to convey to the Maharaja that in those crucial days it was essential that the Maharaja and his Prime Minister pulled together, and if that was not possible the situation must be brought to an end immediately. In other words, Maharaja Hari Singh had to choose between swami and Kak. Inevitably, he chose the Swami.

From that point, it was a downhill journey. On 11 August 1947, Maharaja gave Pandit Kak “permission to retire.” It was followed by decapitation of the entire administration. Top officers including Chief Secretary, Chief of the Army Staff, the IGP, Governor of Kashmir, Director of Civil Supplies, the Chief Engineer and several other important officers were removed and replaced by people of little or no experience. Sheikh Abdullah was released in September and lost no time in spreading his tentacles. These developments disheartened and alarmed the citizenry. The result was that when Pakistan attacked the state around 22nd October, it was in no position to counter it. Its helplessness was aggravated by perfidy of the British officers and treachery of the Muslim soldiery.

Pandit Kak had to pay a heavy personal price for his love of truth and candour. Charges of trumpery were forged against him and he was denied permission to leave the state even though he feared for his safety. This enabled Sheikh Abdullah to have his revenge when he paraded Kak and his elder brother through the streets of Srinagar with their hands tied and residents asked to shower shit and filth on them. Kak was pressured to give statement against Maharaja Hari Singh rule. But he did not utter a single word against the Maharaja. Kak later migrated to Kasauli.

The Hindustan Times

With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that Pandit Kak’s idea of an independent state of J&K was not viable. Pakistan would not let it remain in peace. Given its location, onset of the Cold War and China’s ambitions, it would have been a hotbed of international intrigues and a constant source of anxiety to India.

Ideally, J&K should have been fully integrated into India, just like hundreds of other states, small and big. What we now have is a halfway house, an arrangement in which India has the worst of both the worlds. For all nationalist objectives, J&K is an alien state—the steadfast refusal of Sunni Kashmiri politicians to the return of Kashmiri Pundits, establishment of sainik colonies or even temporary facilities for Amarnath pilgrims should clinch the issue. However, India has all the obligations regarding its security and solvency.

Pandit Kak’s document tells us how we could have avoided landing in this position of no rights and all responsibilities. India could and should have insisted that accession of J&K to India would be on the same terms as that of any other state. There was no insurmountable reason why it should be on a different basis. There was no need for India either to accept Mountbatten’s suggestion to make accession conditional upon a plebiscite or transfer power to Sheikh Abdullah or agree to a separate constituent assembly for the state. The Indian army was fighting the state’s battle and the simplest thing was to set up a military administration as was done subsequently in Hyderabad. By the time the military operations ended, a lot of things would have become clear. Then again, there was no need to allow Sheikh Abdullah to oust Maharaja Hari Singh and elect a new Head of State when the issue was being debated in the UN Security Council.

The failure of the Indian state to find a solution to the J&K dispute is rooted in its refusal to face the facts. The two-nation theory was false and pernicious, but after conceding Pakistan Congress lost moral right to oppose it. The country was divided on communal lines and the logic of partition has to be accepted. The existence of a large Muslim population in India does not alter the reality that after the secession of the Muslim component, what remained was and is Hindu Rashtra.

How could India expect to retain the valley of Kashmir with a 95 per cent Muslim population contiguous to the entirely Muslim province of NWFP? Replying to this poser in 1950 by Gordon Walker, then secretary of state for commonwealth relations, Pandit Kak pointed out that it was wrong to assume that the status of the valley affects only its residents and therefore they alone could decide its future. From time immemorial, Kashmir has been cradle to a vital corpus of Hindu thought and rituals. For that reason all the Hindus in India and beyond have a stake in the fate of Kashmir. Kashmir has always been a part of the Hindu Holy Land (punyabhoomi) and the question of handing it over to those who are hell-bent on destroying its Hindu ethos does not arise.

To sum up, reading this book would be a sobering, painful experience for any patriotic Indian. It narrates a sordid tale of historical vicissitudes and human weaknesses from which no player emerges unscathed. But truth, however unpalatable, must be faced. For truth alone liberates from bondage of fear, from folly and its consequences. That is the significance of Radha Rajan’s book.

»  Punarvasu Parekh is an independent journalist in Mumbai.
» Radha Rajan is a political commentator and animal rights activist in Chennai. Pandit Kak’s original document (PDF) is available on Radha Rajan’s website Vigil Online.

Jammu and Kashmir: Dilemma of accession: A historical analysis and lesson by Radha Rajan and Krishen Kak

       Published by Voice of India, New Delhi.  Pages 140, Maps 2, Price Rs 300 

Order from Voice of India or Amazon

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