Sardar Patel's Kashmir Dilemma

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Sardar Patel's Kashmir Dilemma

Sunday, 05 November 2017 | Romit Bagchi

Sardar Vallabbhai Patel was not much eager to have Kashmir acceded into India. He as the head of the State Ministry- entrusted with the task of negotiating with the rulers of the princely states to help them accede into the Indian Union- was more obsessed with Junagadh and Hyderabad than with Kashmir. Notably, the British Government had given rights to the rulers of the principalities in undivided India to accede either into India or Pakistan or to retain their independence under the instrument of accession act. Junagadh and Hyderabad were ruled by Muslim rulers, though the people living there were mostly Hindus. Sardar Patel thought that in case they opted for Pakistan or chose to retain independence they would prove to be the ‘Trojan Horses’ within the Indian mainland to be used by hostile Pakistan to destabilise India.

By August 15 1947, all the principalities situated in the midst of the Indian mainland-the number was a staggering 562-got acceded into India thanks to the Machiavellian mixture of carrot and stick adopted by the redoubtable Sardar except three- Junagadh, Hyderabad and Jammu and Kashmir. India was outraged, as the Muslim ruler of Junagadh (now in Gujarat) with nearly 80 per cent Hindu population decided to accede into Pakistan on September 15 1947.  Patel was for military action to annex it while Nehru was dithering.  The Governor- General of India, lord Mountbatten convinced Nehru of the risks involved in the military action, given Pakistan’s hostility. He advised Nehru to commit himself to a plebiscite in Junagadh instead.  Finally, Patel won and Army was sent to annex the State on November 1 1947 some days after the ruler fled to Karachi with his family and formed a provisional Government there.  A plebiscite was held in December the same year during which 99 per cent of the people chose India over Pakistan.

Things were more complicated in Hyderabad ruled by the Nizam where 11 per cent of the population was Muslim with the rest predominantly Hindus. The wily Nizam abstained from acceding to any of the two Dominions before August 15 1947 and, at the same time he was engaged in expanding his army while buying arms from Europe. Mountbatten coaxed Nehru in signing a standstill agreement with the Nizam for a year with an understanding that the questions of accession and the formation of a responsible Government would be settled by the time. However, things took a turn for the worse as members of a fanatic Muslim organisation known as Razakars unleashed terror on the Hindus with active connivance of the Nizam dispensation. While ruling out military action, Nehru sought an amicable settlement with the Nizam Government. However, things turned more serious as the Nizam took Nehru’s stance as weakness. With the Hindus there left to be massacred by the frenzied Razakars, the whole of southern India was about to erupt in retaliatory violence. Nehru was still dithering, considering the impact of a military action there on volatile Kashmir and India’s relation with Pakistan.  Patel acted again. A military operation was launched on September 13 1948. Hyderabad was annexed into India.

As said earlier, Sardar Patel was not much enthusiastic to take Jammu and Kashmir into India. He made it clear that he would not be unhappy if the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir Hari Singh opted for accession into Pakistan. This was perhaps because he had foreseen the turmoil, dogging India since independence, because of the valley being contiguous to Pakistan and also of the valley having a Muslim majority. However, Nehru burst into histrionics, saying that Kashmir-it was his native land- meant more to him at the moment than anywhere else. He said he would go to Kashmir. Sardar Patel dissuaded him, saying that in that case he would land in Maharaja’s jail, the same fate that happened to his friend Sheikh Abdullah.  Somehow forced by Nehru’s dogged stance, Mountbatten went to Srinagar to cajole the Maharaja into acceding into India. However, Hari Singh did not meet him, citing indisposition. It was clear to the discerning that the Maharaja was for retaining independence of his State, given his antipathy towards Nehru. Nehru was dead against feudal system and was for replacing the Maharaja dispensation with a popular rule under Sheikh Abdullah. 

What happened thereafter is history. On the night of October 24 1947, organised tribesmen, unleashed by MA Jinnah, entered Kashmir and marched towards Srinagar, prompting the   Prime Minister of the embattled State Mehr Chand Mahajan to air- dash to Delhi to request the Indian Government to send Indian troops to the valley. Subsequently, Indian troops were flown to Srinagar on October 27 after the accession was completed. However,   Mountbatten coaxed Nehru into referring the Kashmir tangle to the United Nation.  That was another history.

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