The great betrayal in Kashmir

By K.N. Pandita – In one of my recent articles in these columns dealing with tenuous Nepal political situation, I had promised to tell readers some insides about New Delhi’s betrayal of Maharaja Hari Singh in 1947.

I am not recounting this story as a pro-royalist: I have no sympathy with autocrats wherever they are. Likewise, I have never been an admirer of Maharaja Hari Singh. Let this be clear to the readers at the very outset.

This piece is to be adjudged on purely historical basis and as a historian’s point of view. Since I found some similarity in New Delhi’s treatment of Nepal King Gyanendra and that of Hari Singh of Kashmir in 1947, I am inclined to share with my readers the facts of this sordid story.

Maharaja Hari Singh was not readily prepared to sign the document of accession with Indian Union. New Delhi was making frantic efforts to elicit his signature. Two persons were leading the campaign and flying in and out of Srinagar. They were Dwarkanath Kachru – Nehru’s private secretary — and Menon, the Cabinet Secretary.

In the meanwhile Hari Singh was trying to contact some sources (most probably Lord Auchinleck) beseaching him to call a halt to the tribal incursion and begin talks for the final disposal of the state.

It appears the Indians got a wind of it. May be they had moles in the higher bureaucratic echelons in Maharja’s administration. Therefore they speeded up the question of obtaining signature of the Maharaja on the accession document.

Late in the night, Kachru paid a short visit to his relatives in downtown Srinagar. He did not tell them the story of their deliberations with the Maharaja but a fragment slipped out of his mouth which his relative recounted in some private sittings later on. He had said that the Maharaja was a hard nut to crack and he was imposing many conditions. But that they would get it out of him.

When finally the document was signed, Menon dumped it in his pocket and flew back to New Delhi. He straightaway went to join a gala dinner party of mixed Indian and British bureaucrats that was underway right at that time. Large quantities of whisky were being consumed. Menon had his share of Scotch and was doubly tipsy partly because of his great victory in Kashmir and partly because of the influence of the devil in bottle. A high ranking British bureaucrat asked him. “What happened?” Pat came Menon, ”The bastard has signed it”, and then he pulled out the document from his pocket and brandished it in the face of the British officer.

The Maharaja had signed the accession for only three things. He had also left the option to regain sovereignty once the threat of external aggression was over. This is significant and it is here that the accession of J&K differs from the accession of other princely states to the Indian Union after 1947.

It was on the basis of this proposition that the Maharaja had expressed his desire to withdraw the case from the Security Council when it ran into trouble and Nehru’s so-called friends betrayed him at Lake Success. The Sheikh suddenly found how pusillanimous Nehru was. His realization was reinforced by what Jacob Malik, the Russian member of the Security Council told him in private. Thereafter he never spared misusing this weakness in Nehru.

In New Delhi, Nehru summoned his cabinet to discuss Maharaja’s letter and vehemently opposed it calling it an insult to him. Patel had advised him to deal with the matter with utmost cool and considerateness. But as the majority opinion went against the Maharaja, Patel was obliged to write to him that his suggestion of withdrawing the case from Security Council was not feasible.

The Sheikh, after becoming the Chief Administrator in Oct/Nov 1947, earnestly raised with Nehru the question of the status of the Maharaja. During one or two months after the Sheikh held the reins of administration, the Maharaja remained in constant touch with Patel informing him regularly about the misadministration of the Sheikh and some of his dubious policies that were not going to help build a healthy and congenial atmosphere.

Patel, on his part, regularly forwarded Hari Singh’s reports to Nehru, who more often than not rejected what Hari Singh said. Nevertheless, some intelligence reports submitted to the cabinet in New Delhi did corroborate with parts of the observations of Hari Singh and it did create an impression with Nehru that everything was not right in Kashmir.

When the Sheikh came to know of this, he rushed to New Delhi, harangued Nehru and demanded immediate ouster of Hari Singh. As was the wont of the Sheikh he doled out some threats also which were later on reflected while negotiations were going on for 1952 Accord.

Maharaja’s ouster could come only through the constituent assembly. It could not be through arbitration. The Sheikh mounted pressure, and legal luminaries were set to discuss the pros and cons of issue. Relations between the Sheikh and the Maharaja came to a brink and the former was confident that the Indian Prime Minister was on his side.

Ultimately a via media was found. A lot of negotiations ensued and the three parties – New Delhi, the Sheikh and the Maharja agreed that the Maharaja leave the state for a period of six months In the meanwhile a formula would be worked out regarding his status as a constitutional head or something like the symbol so that the sanctity of accession was not diluted.

With the three parties agreeing to this working formula, the Maharaja left the State and proceeded to Bombay. Significantly, he did not stay at Delhi where he could have maneuvered successfully if he had liked. We should recognize his quality of self respect and decency.

Hardly a month had passed when the Sheikh descended on Tin Murti House, sought an appointment with Nehru and told him bluntly that if the kingship was not finished in Kashmir, he would revoke the accession.

That was typical Sheikh Abdullah. Nehru told him to talk to Patel but the Sheikh declined. He had no guts to talk to the Deputy Prime Minister. When the matter was officially broached to Patel, he called for Kashmir file, flung it before Nehru and said take charge of Kashmir portfolio and be answerable to the history.

The Sheikh and Nehru easily compromised to renege on their promise to Hari Singh. After all both of them were cunning politicians. They were not brave and majestic soldiers who know how to fight and die for keeping their word. They together decided the fate of Hari Singh who never thereafter turned towards Kashmir or New Delhi till he passed away in peace in Bombay many years later.

Ever since I read this story of betrayal, a question has been constantly haunting me? Did the retribution of this betrayal shape in the tragedy of the scions of Nehru house – Sanjay, Indira and Rjeev? The write is the former Director, Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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