How Kashmir was won from Mountbatten & Jinnah
Lord Mountbatten was the first person to raise the issue of the future of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with Maharaja Hari Singh once the partition plan was announced on June 3, 1947.
History consists of a corpus of ascertained facts. The facts are available to the historians in documents, inscriptions and so on, like fish on fishmonger’s slab. The historian collects them, takes them home and cooks and serves them in whatever style appeals to him,” wrote the famous historian EH Carr in 1961. It is so true even today. It is not new that historical facts have been cherry-picked and opinions let loose like unbridled horses. One witnessed it so since last evening on Jammu and Kashmir – everyone seemed to be an expert on the subject without even knowing the facts. What I propose to do is to place the facts in their historical context and my understanding of the same and leave it to the judgement of readers to make their own interpretation.
Lord Mountbatten was the first person to raise the issue of the future of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with Maharaja Hari Singh once the partition plan was announced on June 3, 1947. On return from his trip to Srinagar (June 19 – 23, 1947), Mountbatten briefed his staff that Hari Singh was politically very elusive and avoided meeting on last day pretending colic pain. Mountbatten claimed to have told Hari Singh that he should not declare independence but find a way out to ascertain the wishes of the people and send representatives to either of the constituent assemblies before August 14.
He went on to say that the newly created state department was prepared to give assurance that if Kashmir went to Pakistan this would not be regarded as an unfriendly act.
A questionable assertion of Mountbatten that is not borne by the correspondence Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who headed the state department, was having with Hari Singh. On July 3, 1947, Patel had proposed to Hari Singh that the interest of Kashmir lay in joining the Indian Union and its constituent assembly without further delay. To allay apprehensions of the Maharaja, Patel reminded him that Nehru was proud of being Kashmiri and he can never be your enemy. The same day, Patel had also raised the issue of continued detention of Sheikh Abdullah with Ramchandra Kak, PM of J&K, seeking his release.
Giving an entirely different version of his discussions, Mountbatten told Jawaharlal Nehru on June 24, 1947, that he had told Hari Singh not to decide on joining any constituent assembly till Pakistan constituent assembly was set up and the picture became clearer. He had also suggested that in the interim Hari Singh should not declare independence and enter into “standstill” agreement with both the new states. And this is exactly what the Maharaja did. He signed the agreement with Pakistan and avoided discussion on the same with India.
Earlier, Mountbatten had stonewalled the requests of Nehru to visit the state to ensure release of his friend Sheikh Abdullah, who was arrested by Hari Singh on May 19, 1946, when he was on way to Delhi on the invitation of Nehru. Nevertheless, Nehru gave a note to Mountbatten before his departure for Srinagar on June 17 in which he clearly brought out that “National Conference has stood for and still stands for Kashmir joining the constituent assembly of India”. Later, Mountbatten very reluctantly allowed Gandhi to go there in August, only after seeking assurance that the latter would not indulge in any political activity during his stay there. Soon after release by Maharaja on Sept 29, 1947, Sheikh Abdullah rejected the proposal of Jinnah asking him to support merger of Kashmir with Pakistan.
Maharaja’s game plan of keeping the state independent became vulnerable once Pakistan was formed on August 14. Jinnah made approaches through intermediaries with the Maharaja to join Pakistan, but without success. Among the Muslim leadership in the state, Jinnah could never develop a relationship with Sheikh Abdullah, as he wanted to be the sole spokesman of Muslims and, unlike Sheikh, believed in religion being the basis of nationhood. He always believed that Kashmir was a ripe fruit which would fall into his lap keeping in mind religious affinity, geographical location and economic connectivity.
The only other option available to Pakistan was to use force. In September 1947, Pakistan first blocked the supplies of essentials (food, petrol and clothing) to the state and thereafter sent tribal raiders to take control of the state on October 22. As the fear of losing his state to raiders gripped the Maharaja, he signed the Instrument of Accession and left for safety to Jammu. India accepted the Instrument of Accession on October 26 that gave it three subjects of defence, foreign affairs and communication. Simultaneously, the Maharaja had to appoint Sheikh Abdullah, the most popular leader, as Emergency Administrator.
Jinnah was furious and wanted Pakistan Army to march towards Srinagar, but could not get it implemented, as the force was at that time headed by British officers, who threatened to pull out if the order was not withdrawn.
Thereafter, for the first time, the offer of plebiscite was made by India during the meeting of Lord Mountbatten, Governor General of India and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Governor General of Pakistan on November 1, 1947, at Lahore, which was promptly rejected by the latter. Jinnah made acounter offer, which was unacceptable to India, of holding of plebiscite supervised by the two Governor Generals. With Sheikh Abdullah in power, India was confident that Muslims in the state would not vote for Pakistan in any plebiscite and had no hesitation in proposing the same. For the same reason, Jinnah was opposed to holding of plebiscite with Sheikh Abdullah as Emergency Administrator.
After several acrimonious exchanges of correspondence and two meetings between Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, India realised that there was little hope of resolving the issue diplomatically with Pakistan. Militarily, it was necessary to strike at the supply lines of invaders passing through Pakistan, which meant a war between the two dominions.
But Britain was averse to any hostilities breaking out between two of its former colonies. Britain feared losing frontier with their new enemy, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and strategic control of Indian Ocean.
India expected Britain to use its influence on Pakistan to call off aggression in J&K, but Clement Attlee, PM of UK, refused to intervene and suggested Nehru to rely on “proper channel” of the United Nations.
Left with no option, India lodged a formal complaint to the UN on January1, 1948, demanding directions to Pakistan to deny to invaders use of its territory, desist from extending military and other support and prevent Pakistan military and civil personnel from taking part in invasion of Kashmir.
Therefore, in my understanding, the three main culprits for the Kashmir conflict of 1947 and division of state were Lord Mountbatten, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Governor General of Pakistan and Maharaja Hari Singh. On the other side, the three tall leaders, who played a crucial role at that time in getting the state for us were Sheikh Abdullah, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.
(The writer is a former Intelligence Bureau officer, who served in Pakistan and Kashmir)