On the crossroads of history: the fateful interregnum

By K.N. Pandita

Strange are the quirks of destiny; these may bring a blessing, these may bring a curse; it can be the nectar and it can be the deadly potion, depending on how one conducts oneself in the course of history.

26 October is a memorable day in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. On this momentous day in 1947,  destiny impelled the then ruler of the State to put an end to nearly two and a half month-long stalemate that had ensued owing to his  indefensible indecision about the future course of his State in the aftermath of the partition of India and transfer of power. 

During that interregnum – between Declaration of Independence of India and the accession of the State to the Indian Union – he stood torn between two extremes, viz. pragmatic piece of advice from his well-meaning advisers and friends, and the sycophancy of a besotted guru who worked a spell on him that promised conferment of a vaster kingdom by miraculous dispensation of occult forces. He failed to realise that quitting of the British rule had made him defenceless. Moreover, withdrawing from the sub-continent did not mean that the British had wrapped up their international interests. The Maharaja failed to understand these dimensions as the time ran out of hand so fast.

Had the Maharaja administration any efficient intelligence mechanism in place? Future history showed it had none. In terms of geographical location on which the shadow of communist expansion southward loomed large, J&K had special significance for the imperialists. Disintegration of this sensitive kingdom, with a Muslim majority ruled by a minority Hindu Maharaja, conformed to the chemistry of imperialist ideology.

The British Governor of NWFP and his military staff were in close liaison with Muslim League bigwigs and the tribal chiefs of NWFP on the eve of partition of India. The tribal chieftains, deeply concerned about the status of annual indemnity money the British Raj offered them for buying peace, were not averse to barter the quantum of their annual subsidy with the occupation of Kashmir and the booty to be raised through general loot of the people there. The plan was not to merge Kashmir with Pakistan but with the Pukhtoonkhwa. After all, don’t forget that the Pukhtoons had ruled over Kashmir for about half of the 18th century.

Pakistan has churned the canard that WW II-disbanded soldiers of erstwhile Punjab regiments, belonging to western districts of Poonch Mirpur, Bagh, Sadhnoti etc., had raised a revolt against the ruler in Srinagar. Their aim was to justify the incursion of the tribesmen. They add that this was the beginning of armed struggle for liberation of Kashmir.

Historical facts speak the reverse of it. On 22 October, armed tribesmen from Swat, Buner and Bannu in NWFP joined by swarms of local armed groups of Hindkowans, Darads, Chitralis, Kalasha and Gujjars crossed the Kohala Bridge over Jhelum River located at the border town of Kohala, 35 km (21 miles) to north of Murree and 35 kms south of Muzaffarabad after overpowering the small Dogra force en-route. Many of them entered Muzaffarabad town, sacked it, massacred the Hindus and Sikhs, raped and kidnapped their womenfolk, looted their shops and houses and burnt down their temples. One group of the invading lashkar turned right at Sudhan Gali, fanned out in the districts of Sadhnouti, Plandari, Kotli, Bagh and Mirpur etc., and launched attack on Poonch where it repeated the story of carnage in Muzaffarabad. These districts fell without much effort, and the town of Poonch had to remain under siege for 14 long months, when at last, General Pritam Singh, the Hero of Poonch, bet the enemy and relieved the town.

“The first Indo-Pakistani war started after armed tribesmen from Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province invaded Kashmir in October 1947,” said a BBC broadcast of October 1947. Even Mir Qasim writes in his biography that the incursion from the tribesmen from NWFP changed the complexion of entire Kashmir situation in October 1947. Recent researches in this part of Kashmir history tell us authoritatively that the British seniors, Muslim League stalwarts and tribal chiefs from NWFP conducted secret meetings in Peshawar in which they even charted the roadmap of tribal invasion of Kashmir. The task of leading the invading forces went to some Pakistani military officers. Retired Generals of Pakistan Army have corroborated this statement.

During the two and a half month interregnum, the Maharaja remained under severe pressure from more than one side. Quit Kashmir activists painted him in darkest colour of an autocratic ruler; Congress leadership (Gandhi-Nehru combine) castigated him for not handling Sheikh Abdullah’s mosque-based agitation with superior modicum of ethics. Jinnah threatened him with his turgid insinuation like “Kashmir is in my pocket. The British, through their former Viceroy (and later on Governor General), Lord Mountbatten, tried to push their covert agenda, and the Dogra nobility beseeched him not to abandon the pride and martial tradition of their clan. His standstill agreement with Pakistan had ended in smoke. Top NC leadership was overtaken by despondency and sharp sense of revenge after Jinnah sternly rebuffed Sadiq, the envoy of the Sheikh given the assignment of negotiating a settlement of J&K with the Dominion of Pakistan. History will decide who between Jinnah and Nehru understood the Sheikh better.

Biased chroniclers call the incursion a “nationalistic uprising” in the region of “Azad Kashmir”. Only after the tribesmen were galvanized by the Pakistani leadership and military brass into long march to Kashmir did the locals make common cause with them. This asks for objective analysis.

First, Muslim Conference, the predecessor of National Conference, was essentially managed by the elite Muslim leadership from Mirpur and Muzaffarabad. Although like its later avatar — the National Conference— Muslim Conference ostensibly professed secularist tabloid, yet all through those years of great political activism on the sub-continent, the Muslim Conference remained closely connected to Muslim League never contradicting its ideology and objectives. Second, Direct Action programme floated by Jinnah and the ensuing carnages in Bengal of those days electrified the Muslim minority all over the sub-continent. The region of J&K under discussion could not remain without impact. Third, the dramatic humiliation inflicted by the pro-Muslim League activists on the Congress in the course of referendum in NWFP which sent the Frontier Gandhi into long hibernation never to revive, had profound impact on the Muslim Conference activists in Muzaffarabd-Mirpur axis. Fourth, and the last, was that Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah had taken the wind out of the sails of Muslim Conference stalwarts like Chowdhury Abbas, Ibrahim Khan et al. All these factors need to be kept in mind when we analyse the political scenario in PoK during the period August 15 to Oct 26, 1947.

The reason for Sheikh Abdullah to do abnormally excruciating spade work in Jammu region soon after he parted ways with Muslim Conference in 1939 was to shrink space for the latter in Jammu. The instrument he used was of land reforms, called “land to tillers” in political parlance of those days. R.S. Pora, in particular, became the bastion of his land reform mantra in Jammu because it was this fertile region where the poor scheduled caste tenants eked out a miserable living at the big farms of local landlords.

However, this slogan, orchestrated in its solitariness, would have meant very little if the Sheikh had not done the icing of communal unity (ettehaad) on the cake of land reforms. This antics worked, and worked wonderfully because the Sheikh was unmatched in scratching the tender part of peoples’ sensitivity.

In the background of this political scenario in our State on the eve of independence of India, it should be clear how inimical forces ganged up to grab Kashmir. On 24th of October 1947, the greatest soldier of the motherland, the bravest of the brave, Brigadier Rajindra Singh of KLI, sacrificed his life defending the country, and thus fulfilled the order of his Supreme Commander, Maharaja Hari Singh “to fight till the last man”. Muzaffarabad fell on 22 October, then Domel fell, Chakothi fell, and Uri fell. At Baramulla front, Col Roy laid down his life defending the town. Then Patan and Narbal fell in quick succession, and the marauders laid siege to Srinagar airport. Simultaneously, other groups of tribesmen spread their fangs in the four districts of present PoK inflicting inhuman atrocities on the minority groups, and then besieged the crucial town of Poonch.

At this decisively crucial juncture, in which the beleaguered Maharaja was under duress from two diametrically opposite sides —the tribesmen and the NC— he signed the instrument of accession that enabled Indian government to send him military support. It was 26th of October that the first company of Sikh LI landed at Damoodar airport in Srinagar and engaged the enemy. J&K State had acceded to India. What followed is not intended to be detailed in this write-up.

This was the day in 1947, on which we stood on the crossroads of history; this is the day of true freedom of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. This day will remain written in letters of gold in our history, and the people of the State will celebrate it year after year as the day of deliverance. This is also the day when we pay homage to our brave martyrs who laid down their lives in the service of the nation.

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