Though Jammu & Kashmir has been declared an integral part of India, Kashmiri leaders keep raising questions about its accession/merger, ignoring the sentiments of the people of Jammu and Ladakh
At the time of Independence, while British India was divided on the basis of religion, the Princely States were not. They were to go, each State as a whole, to either India or Pakistan. The decision of where to go was to be made by the erstwhile ruler. In the case of Jammu & Kashmir, the then ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, took the decision to accede to India. But to the contrary, most leaders in Kashmir built a false narrative — to mislead the nation and strengthen their credential as nationalists — that the decision of accession with India was taken by former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah and other Kashmiri leaders. They have also maintained that the accession was conditional.
It is an established fact today that the sole authority to decide on the accession was that of the ruler and in case of princely State of Jammu & Kashmir, it was the Dogra ruler Maharaja Hari Singh. Before taking the ultimate decision, the Maharaja was faced with a dilemma due to non-cooperation by Sheikh Abdullah. In the words of the Maharaja, “Muslims of Kashmir and some from Jammu, who were led by Sheikh Abdullah and leaders of the National Conference (NC), did not want the question of accession to be decided at that stage. They wanted me to part with power in their favour so that they could decide the question independently of me. They made no secret of their views and obstructed me in deciding the question of accession instead of helping me to accede to India; Hindus of Jammu and people of Ladakh were for affiliation with or accession of India.”
That NC or its leadership had no role to play in the decision-making process as far as the accession of the State is concerned is also an empirically proven fact. In fact, as stated by the Maharaja, they were acting as a hindrance to India’s accession. Thus, the oft-repeated statements by NC leaders that “we decided to accede to India or our accession to India is conditional or that the merger with India has not taken place” are all motivated and misleading with the deliberate intent of sowing the seeds of ‘exclusivity’ among the Kashmiri population. The same was confirmed by party ideologue Sheikh Nazir Ahmad, who said, “Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had no role in the accession as he was in prison at the time of accession.”
It is a known that Sheikh Abdullah had set his eyes on the throne of Jammu & Kashmir with blessings from his friend and mentor Jawaharlal Nehru. He wanted to be the sole representative of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. He wanted to rule the State as the undisputed leader of a ‘single-party State’. He abhorred opposition within and outside the party and behaved more like an autocrat than a democrat. However, many popular Muslim leaders who were non-Kashmiris posed a challenge to Sheikh Abdullah’s ambition. He ensured that they remain marginalised by managing the ceasefire in 1949 immediately after the Valley was liberated. But large parts of Jammu and frontier areas of Gilgit-Baltistan continued to be under the occupation of Pakistan.
This way, Sheikh Abdullah eliminated the threat posed to his supremacy by Pahari, Punjabi and Dogra Muslim leaders of the State. He also isolated the Shia leadership by allowing the frontier areas to remain under Pakistan’s occupation. Sheikh Abdullah killed two birds with one stone. He not only ensured his singular dominance in the politics of Kashmir but also ensured that the pro-Pakistan leadership remained isolated. It became evident that the Sheikh harboured political ambitions and wanted to use the issue of accession as a bargaining tool with the Indian Government so that he could rule an autonomous State under the patronage of Nehru-ruled India.
The interim Government was instituted by a proclamation made by the Maharaja on March 5, 1948. A Council of Ministers with Sheikh Abdullah as the Prime Minister was constituted to conduct the administration of the State. The Council was to function on the principle of joint responsibility. The dual Government did not take much time to run into trouble due to divergent views which followed diametrically different directions. The NC soon got engulfed with internal politics, forgetting the interest of the people. At last, the dual Government came to a tragic end.
Sheikh Abdullah, with the active support from New Delhi, succeeded in marginalising the Maharaja who finally relinquished his office on June 9, 1949. On June 20, 1949, through a proclamation, the Maharaja announced his decision to abdicate the State on grounds of health and invested all his power to his son, Yuvraj Karan Singh. Had Singh refused the regentship and decided to stand with his father, Sheikh Abdullah’s move would have failed pre-maturely since Jammu & Kashmir was still ruled under the Jammu-Kashmir Constitution Act 1939 and all constitutional powers were vested with the Maharaja only.
The people of Jammu region were apprehensive of the pro-Kashmiri Muslim and anti-Jammu mindset of Sheikh Abdullah. An agitation against the Sheikh was launched in Jammu under the banner of Praja Parishad, an Opposition party formed in Jammu in November 1947. The main objective of the Praja Parishad was to achieve full integration of Jammu & Kashmir with the Indian Union, like other States and safeguard the legitimate democratic rights of the people of Jammu.
Sheikh Abdullah dubbed the Opposition from Jammu as “communal”. He started believing that Kashmir’s aspirations could not be met within the Indian Union. On the other hand, Jammu and Ladakh clamoured for a complete merger with India. The emergence of Kashmiri identity led Sheikh Abdullah to start differentiating between ‘Muslims and non-Muslims of the State’. It became imminent that his agenda evolved around ‘Independent Kashmir’. After initial bonhomie, Sheikh Abdullah started showing his true colours which forced Nehru to order his arrest in 1953.
Similarly, the narrative regarding Article 370 that it is not temporary, but permanent provision of the Constitution of India and acts as a bridge between the State and rest of India, is also a concoction based on twisting of facts. The fact is that Sheikh Abdullah manipulated its inclusion in the Constitution due to Pandit Nehru’s blind love for him.
It is a well-established fact that when the rulers of the princely States signed the Instrument of Accession and joined the Dominion of India, they surrendered legislative, judicial and executive control of three subjects — defence, communication, external affairs and ancillaries. The same is true with respect to the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir as well. This implied that the Princely States would have the right to decide upon policies, implementation and administration with regard to other issues, through such arrangements as Royal Proclamations or a separate Constitution for their respective kingdoms/states. Instead of doing so they expressed their faith in the under draft Constitution of India through its full applicability to their respective States, except Jammu & Kashmir due to manipulations of Sheikh Abdullah.
Thus, when the rest of the nation was readying to adopt the Constitution of India, there was a Constitutional vacuum in this State. To fill this vacuum, Article 370 was inserted in the Indian Constitution, with hopes that Jammu & Kashmir would, once the situation normalises, integrate like other States of the Union (hence the use of the term ‘temporary provisions’ in the title of the Article).
Another myth created by a few Kashmiri leaders is about merger against accession. While the Indian Constitution was being drafted to pave way for the nation to become a Republic from a Dominion, all other princely States individually or collectively decided to accept the paramountcy of the new Constitution of India, Sheikh Abdullah harboured different ideas. These States sent their representatives to the Constituent Assembly and were thus actively involved in the drafting of the new Constitution, which implied that they willingly joined the Republic of India and the Instrument of Accession signed by them (a uniform document signed by all 565 princely States) became redundant. This also sorted the issue of merger and no separate ‘Instrument of Merger’, as claimed by a few, was signed by them.
The fact is that Karan Singh exercising his powers as the Regent of the State did send a four-member team comprising Sheikh Abdullah, Mirza Afzal Beg, Moti Lal Baigra and Maulana Masoodi to represent the State in Indian Constituent Assembly. This was in tune with other princely States and signalled the will of being the part of the Republic of India surrendering the Instrument of Accession, which also meant the ‘merger’. It is a different story that the four taking advantage of the prevailing security and political instability in the State decided to sit out and not join the Constituent Assembly of India. Sheikh Abdullah, thus, cleverly gave shape to his ambition of capturing the throne of Jammu & Kashmir much against the wishes of two-thirds of the State’s population comprising the Jammu and Ladakh regions and non-Kashmiri speaking Muslims of Kashmir and the Shias of Kargil. In this, he enjoyed the full support and confidence of Pandit Nehru.
Though Jammu & Kashmir has been declared an integral part of India both by the State and the Indian Constitution, Kashmir-based political leadership continues to question the accession/merger on the pretext of Kashmiri identity, ignoring the sentiments and aspirations of the people of Jammu and Ladakh and encourage ‘separatism’.
(The author is a Jammu-based political commentator and strategic analyst. The views expressed are entirely personal)