Was Kashmir handled or mishandled?

Added on July 7, 2009: Find this photo on the Shehjar Magazine: Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addressing a gathering in Srinagar in November 1947. Sheikh Abdullah sits in a chair next to him. Photo: The Hindu Photo Library.


By K.N. Pandita

At a recent social gathering in Delhi, an old friend of mine, a rabid Congressite (of course by design as most KPs are) asked me if  Nehru had taken a right decision on Kashmir. He knew I had other ideas on the subject.

Nehru’s sentimental fondness for Shiekh Abdullah stands in direct contrast to Jinnah’s cool assessment of the man. When the Shiekh rose to leave Jinnah after a meeting sometimes in pre-independence days, Jinnah cast a glance on the back of the Sheikh exclaimed, “This man cannot be trusted.” I am reminded of what in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus said of Cassius; “Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look; such men are dangerous”. 

Nehru the statesman failed to do a balancing act when he had to deal with Kashmir issue soon after the accession and then the mess at the UN Security Council in early 1948. He should have known that the House of Mirwaiz of Kashmir was a political and social force in Kashmir that could not be ignored at any cost. He should have known the centuries old historical background of the House and the public sentiment attached to it which the Shiekh tried to efface from the mind of Kashmiris by dubbing the House as pro-Pakistan in his private meetings with Nehru.  This House, though known for its Pan-Islamism and rightly so, was far more secular in outlook and treatment than the counterfeit secularism of pseudo-nationalists of National Conference.

Furthermore, Nehru never understood that by supporting Shiekh, he was supporting a movement in a Muslim majority Kashmir that was not essentially nationalist but against a Hindu ruler who, by quirk of fate, was more nationalist and patriotic than the populist leadership of the movement.. Let us not forget that this ruler had incurred the displeasure of his colonial masters in a conference of princely states in London in which he declared that he was a patriotic Indian first and a protégé of the British second. In his over 1000-page autobiography Atesh-e Chinar, there is not a single instance where the Shiekh calls himself a patriotic Indian. In the same book he labels Kashmiri Pandits as the spies of India, as if they were of an enemy country. Sahitya Akademy was proud to award the book.  Nehru was unrelenting in his animus against that Maharaja.

And when the “Kashmir secularist” euphoria gripped Nehru, he, in his flawed wisdom, did the rabble–rousing that Kashmir was the symbol of Indian secularism. Did he know that in doing so he had signed the death and destruction warrant of the Pandit minority community of Kashmir? The events of 1990 and its aftermath have proved what fallacy he was supporting.

A blunder more Himalayan than that of putting all eggs in Sheikh’s basket was the dramatic removal of the Sheikh from power on August 9, 1953 and his long incarceration. It was so crudely planned that the stigma never left Nehru. He manipulated the dismissal and arrest of the Shiekh through typical Chanakyan-style “cat’s paw diplomacy and used Maulana Azad and Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, two senior Muslim members of his cabinet for the misadventure so as to synchronize it with his “visit” to UK.  Apart from other results, the most important one that meant and even now means a lot to the domestic politics of India is that the Kashmiri Muslims lost faith in the nationalist segment of Indian Muslim community.

I once asked late Maulana Masudi, once the powerful General Secretary of National Conference, why he had not taken up the issue of the Sheikh’s dismissal and arrest with Nehru? The Maulana said he had, and when the matter was broached, Nehru paused for a while, tears welled up in his eyes and in a sheepish voice said, “ Maulana Sahib, Shiekh Sahib ne meri pith mein chhura ghunp diya hai.”  Was Jinnah wrong in his assessment?

And who among his foreign friends did not stab Nehru in his back: Chou-En-Lai, Clement Attlee, Joseph Korbel, Adlai Stevenson, and others. A bad master quarrels with his tools, we were told as schoolboys.

One should read the amusing story of how the Shiekh and his lieutenant Afzal Beg managed to get article 370 inducted into the Indian Constitution. No self-respecting Prime Minister, no dignified statesman and patriot would accept the humiliation which the Shiekh heaped on the Indian nation and its leadership while negotiating constitutional provision for his Sate. Sheikh’s every single argument began and ended with the threatening that if his conditions were not conceded, he would rescind the accession of the state to the Indian Union. The crux of his conditions was that the identity of the Muslim majority, vulnerable to unspecified threats in unknown future by the Hindu majority of Indian nation needed constitutional safeguards. And finally the “secularist” Nehru conceded these safeguards to his “secularist” counterpart in Kashmir.

And when late Pandit Shiv Narayan Fotedar, the President of Kashmiri Hindu Yuvak Sabha in Srinagar wrote to Nehru not to make such dangerous concessions to the Sheikh, and if these concessions were made then justice and common sense demanded that the Pandit minority in Kashmir should also have similar safeguards in the Sate and Union Constitutions, Nehru jerked as if somebody had rubbed salt into his wound and charged Shiv Narayan with communalism.

Baramulla town was recaptured by the Sikh Light Infantry on 12-13 November 1947. During the preceding fortnight of its capture, the invading tribesmen had taken the entire Pandit community of the town as captives.  Hundreds of their womenfolk were put in the concentration camp in Tehsil complex. In this entire operation the locals played the key role of informers and guides including that of identifiers of known Pandit elders who were selectively gunned down. Soon after the recapture of the town, the remnants of the oppressed and persecuted Pandits told Shiekh Abdullah that his slogan of communal harmony had been trampled under foot first by his own party men and then by others when the town fell to the  invaders. A fortnight later Nehru visited the town and in a huge public rally he rose to spell out encomiums for his mascot. He said the future of Kashmir was in the hands of the Sheikh. A Pandit youth stood up in the gathering and addressing Nehru asked him if the Shiekh had told him the story atrocities perpetrated by the locals lionizing the murderous spirit of their co-religionists from across the border? The goons of National Conference pounced on the Pandit youth, gagged him, and dragged him like a dead body away from the scene. The great Pandit continued with his slew of encomiums for the Sheikh. He had not a word to assuage the feelings of the wretched minority whose ancestors were his blood relations.

The result of this “willing suspension of disbelief” is that today the land of Kashmir may be with the Indians but not her people. That is a gift of the tallest among the “secularist” of National Congress.

And who among hiises associates was it that Nehru did not trivialize? Subhash Chander Bose, Sardar Patel, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukerjee, Rammanhar Lohia, Jaya Praksh Narayan, Pandit Premnath Dogra, and even Dr. Rajendra Prasad not to speak of lesser mortals like senior Army officers who were accused of engineering a coup in 1950 and then demoted, transferred, sidelined and denigrated.

Within months after Shiekh Abdullah was made Chief Administrator and head of the government in November 1947, he began complaining to Nehru that Maharaja Hari Singh was creating impediments in his way. The Maharaja had been protesting to the Union Home Minister, Sardar Patel, against arbitrary and unconstitutional measures and decisions of Shiekh administration. Matters came to a logjam and finally in a meeting between the Shiekh, Maharaja, Nehru and Patel, it was agreed that the Maharaja would leave the state at least for six months and give time to the state and union authorities to decide his fate. The Maharaja like a good soldier signed the deal and left the state to live in Bombay. Not more than a month had passed when the Shiekh visited Nehru in Delhi and stunned him with his demand to remove Maharaja from the headship of the state, abolish monarchy and declare Kashmir a republican state. He forgot the deal that he had signed. He used the lever of secession and had his way. Sheepishly Nehru succumbed to dishonourable transgression of moral code. The great moralist that Nehru was had no qualms of conscience to tell the Maharaja that neither he nor his successors were to return to Kashmir even though his letter of accession of the state continues to be branded a strong proof for justifying the unjustifiable.

When the Shiekh assumed unbridled power after the invaders were thrown out in mid November 1947, he embarked on a policy of vengeance. He banished most of his opponents who had a say among political circles like Mirwaiz Maulavi Yusuf Shah, the person who had been instrumental in making Shiekh Abdullah what he became. Among others whom he banished were Premnath Bazaz who moved to Delhi, Kanhaya Lal Kual who moved first to Sopor and then to Baramulla and Jagarnth Sathu who too met with displacement. All of these were the Royists or Radical Humanists (School of M.N. Roy) and hence formidable ideological opponents to an oligarch like Shiekh Abdullah. Thousands of Muslims were pushed under Sheikh’s instructions across the cease fire line on the pretext of being pro-Pakistan, though actually the dividing line was ideological perception. Now his political inheritors are bating their breast for the sufferings heaped on those exiles and want them to be brought back to the state through Resettlement Bill.

The story of the role of local people in October /November 1947 in the erstwhile districts of Baramulla and Muzaffarabd in functioning as guides and informers to the marauder tribesmen has not been told so far. A day will come when researchers will tell this sordid story and expose to the hilt the Goebelian canard of “Kashmir secularism” orchestrated from Srinagar and Delhi for nearly six decades in the past to mislead the Indian civil society and the world community. How come that “secularism” evaporated in thin air in 1990?

I hope my friend, who had sarcastically asked me the question, will do some self-introspection after going through this piece.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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