Enraged by warning of J&K’s PM Mahajan, how Sheikh Abdullah’s note changed Nehru and the future of Kashmir

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by Saima Bhat

As the Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted in Parliament that “had Sardar Patel Been Prime Minister, Entire Kashmir would’ve Been Ours,” he was referring to events of August 1947 or series of developments before India finally got free from the English rule.

But it was on October 26, 1947, when a ‘warning’ from implored Jammu and Kashmir’s then Prime Minister Mehar Chand Mahajan to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is believed to have changed the course and eventually decided the future of Jammu and Kashmir.

A rare photograph showing Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and N Gopalaswami Ayanagar in Srinagar in May 1948.

As reported by Hindustan Times, Mahajan had met Nehru and Patel at Nehru’s residence where he clearly told them that either fly army to J&K or I will go and negotiate terms with Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan.

“Give army, take accession and give whatever powers you want to give to the popular party (National Conference headed by Sheikh Abdullah), but the army must fly to Srinagar this evening, otherwise I will go and negotiate terms with Mr (Mohammad Ali) Jinnah (the Pakistan leader) as the city must be saved,” Mahajan warned the top leadership, reports newspaper.

Angered by Mahajan’s threat, Nehru told the J&K PM, “Mahajan, Go away.”

Asked to leave, as Mahajan, got up to leave the room, Patel detained him and said in his ear, “Of course, Mahajan, you are not going to Pakistan.”

Mehar Chand Mahajan

As excerpts of the book suggest, minutes after the threat of Mahajan to go to Lahore to sign a deal with Jinnah, a piece of paper was handed over to Nehru which changed his attitude completely. The paper had come from Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, who Mahajan writes was overhearing the conversation between the three.

“Sheikh Abdullah, who was staying in the Prime Minister’s house, was overhearing the talks. Sensing a critical moment, he sent in a slip of paper to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister read it and said that what I (Mahajan) was saying was also the view of Sheikh Sahib,” recollects Mahajan. “His (Nehru’s) attitude changed completely.”

Abdullah, Mahajan said wanted to head a civilian government in the state and was also totally against Jinnah and opposed to the idea of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan.

File image of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Jawahr Lal Nehru

All these minute details of the accession of Kashmir to India comes from Mahajan’s autobiography ‘Looking Back’. Published first time in 1963, the book with telling the account of accession being republished now, 23 years after its last publication in 1995. The republished version will have two new chapters written by Mahajan and later handed to the publisher by his family.

“I decided to republish an updated version of the book since the past, present and future of Kashmir is of great importance for the country and the Indian subcontinent. The updated version has two new chapters that were not part of the book when it was last published. The new chapters, written by Mahajan himself, have been provided to me by his family,” Hindustan Times quotes Narendra Kumar, chairman of Har-Anand Publications.

With KH Khursheed (right), Sheikh Abdullah broke down in Muzaffarabad when he heard of Pandit Nehru’s death.

The new chapters give an inside account of Kashmir’s accession of India and on the demand for a plebiscite in the state.

A notable lawyer in pre-independence Punjab, Mahajan, was J&K’s Prime Minister between October 1947 and March 1948, when Sheikh Abdullah succeeded him. A member of the Radcliffe Commission formed to demarcate the boundary between India and Pakistan following the partition, Mahajan later became a Supreme Court judge and retired as the Chief Justice of India in 1954.

A delegation of the UN in a meeting with Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru at Delhi before the Karachi agreement was signed.

While talking to HT, Dr Karan Singh, son of last autocratic rule of J&K says “as per my understanding, Mahajan is the only one among the protagonists of the episode who has left us with the written account of the extremely crucial meeting and his integrity is unimpeachable.”

Giving the background of the crucial October 26 meeting when the destiny of Kashmir was decided, Mahajan wrote that by October 24, 1947, tribal raiders from Pakistan had reached the borders of Srinagar.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Hari Singh

He further mentions that in the summer of 1947, Hari Singh had toyed with the idea of remaining independent, a kind of Switzerland of Asia, but with Pakistan showing its hand by organising a raid on the state, the Dogra King was left with no option but to accede to India. He dispatched his deputy Prime Minister Ram Lal Batra to Delhi with the proposal of accession.

“Singh sent two personal letters as well for Prime Minister Nehru and his deputy Sardar Patel, seeking military help. But despite Batra reaching Delhi, there was no comforting sign of Indian military landing in Srinagar,” and adds that “Meanwhile, Jinnah had decided to celebrate Eid at Srinagar. Mahajan writes that Jinnah ordered his British commander-in-chief to march two brigades of the Pakistani army into J&K on October 27, one from Rawalpindi and the other from Sialkot.”

Muhammad Ali Jinnah

The British commanders did not act on commands of Jinnah, writes Mahajan, “The Sialkot brigade was to take Jammu and capture Hari Singh while the Rawalpindi brigade was to reach Srinagar but the British officer refused to march the troops of one dominion to fight those of another dominion (of the UK) without consulting the supreme commander of both the dominions.”

Mahajan writes than came events on October 26 when the Supreme Commander Claude Auchinleck told Jinnah on that Kashmir had decided to accede to India, which therefore had the right to send troops at Maharaja’s request. Jinnah then canceled his orders.

Indian army landing at Srinagar Airport on October 27, 1947.

The next morning, Mahajan writes that the Indian army landed in Srinagar following the offer of accession as well as the Maharaja’s promise to consider handing over power to Sheikh Abdullah.

A few days later, as per the desire of Nehru, Sheikh Abdullah was sworn in as head of emergency administration and a few months later as the Prime Minister of the state.

 

 

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