Mystery of accession

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For over two decades now, Kashmiri separatists are observing October 27 as the ‘black day’ to mark the landing of Indian army in 1947. For security forces, it is the ‘Infantry day’ to remember thousands of soldiers killed while retaining Kashmir for last 62 years. But, Sara Wani says the instrument of accession that is fundamental to the rival versions of Kashmir history remains a controversial issue.

V P Menon

Three places (Srinagar, Jammu and Delhi) and four days (October 24 to 27, Friday to Monday) in 1947 were crucial in the history of J&K when it was sliced between India and Pakistan. Barring the area that exists as ‘Azad Kashmir’, the state acceded to India in the most dramatic conditions.

There were quite a few characters involved: the ruler Maharaja Hari Singh, his Prime Minister Mehr Chand Mahajan, India’s Secretary of the States, V P Menon, besides Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Governor General Lord Louis Mountbatten. But the crisis is that most of the people who have either witnessed or were part of the process differ diagonally over the exact details.

Officially the instrument of accession was signed on October 26, 1947 and was accepted by Mountbatten, a day later. But the “circumstantial evidences” has led British author Alastair Lamb to claim that, most probably, it was never signed. Prem Shankar Jha, whose Origins of a Dispute: Kashmir 1947 is widely being considered as a response to Lamb’s series of works on Kashmir, says the document was signed on October 25.

Well before October 24, when the lights went off in his Srinagar palace because the people manning the Mahura power house near Uri had fled, Maharaja had sent a letter for assistance to Delhi.

Hari Singh’s apparent wait and watch in joining either of the two dominions – India and Pakistan (possibly driven by his thinking to retain the fiefdom) – triggered a crisis when ‘tribal raids’ started on October 21. Well before October 24, when the lights went off in his Srinagar palace because the people manning the Mahura power house near Uri had fled, Maharaja had sent a letter for assistance to Delhi.

No help came. But Menon flew along with some top army officials including Sam Manekshaw, then a lieutenant colonel, to Srinagar. They went to Mahajan’s home and later drove to Hari Sing’s palace only to find him packing his bags. “It is not clear,” journalist-author Andrew Whitehead writes in his scholarly A Mission In Kashmir, “whether Menon was able to have any discussion of substance  with the  Maharaja  about accession, but he certainly urged  Hari Singh to leave Srinagar with his family and moveable wealth and  head south to the relative safety of the city of Jammu…”

Either after midnight or during wee hours, Hari Singh and his family fled Kashmir. It was a caravan of around 40 vehicles, mostly jeeps and American limousines, carrying the royal family, their treasures and the most important staff. In Heir Apparent, Karan Singh, who had suffered a fracture, says the “convoy pulled out of the palace in the early hours of the morning”, drove through “that dreadful night”, slowly, haltingly and interminably “as if reluctant to leave the beautiful valley.”

Maharaja drove himself with his friend Victor Rosenthal on his side and two guards sitting behind them. A Russian jeweler, Rosenthal was a close friend of the autocrat and keen to extract Sapphire from the Padder mines. He happened to be in Srinagar at Kashmir’s most crucial time in history. He later told Karan Singh that Maharaja kept quiet during the long drive till he reached Jammu where he said; ‘We have lost Kashmir.’

Unlike Maharaja, Menon stayed back for the night in Srinagar. In the twilight of the morning when he started for the airport on the advice of Nehru, driving to airport became a problem because Maharaja had taken all the available transport as part of his cavalcade. Somehow an old jeep was arranged and he along with Mahajan and the crew of his aircraft somehow reached the airport.

Just then, a piece of paper was passed over to the Prime Minister. He read it and in a loud voice said’ Shiekh Sahib also says the same thing”. Shiekh Abdullah had been listening in on the conversation from an adjoining room, and intervened to endorse Mahajan’s appeal for military airlift.

In Delhi on Sunday (October 26) around breakfast time, Menon took Mahajan for a meeting with Nehru and Sardar Patel. In the meeting, writes Whitehead, Mahajan pleaded for an immediate Indian military intervention to save Srinagar. Nehru appeared to equivocate, to which Mahajan recalled responding: ‘give us military force we need. Take the accession and give whatever power you desire to the popular party. The army must fly to save Srinagar this evening or else I will go to Lahore and negotiate terms with Mr Jinnah…,” he quotes Mahajan from his memoir Looking Back. “Just then, a piece of paper was passed over to the Prime Minister. He read it and in a loud voice said’ Shiekh Sahib also says the same thing”. Shiekh Abdullah had been listening in on the conversation from an adjoining room, and intervened to endorse Mahajan’s appeal for military airlift.

“This almost comic off-stage intervention by Nehru’s friend and allay appears to have won over the Indian prime minister to immediate military intervention in Kashmir,” observes Whitehead.

Later, that morning Cabinet Defence Committee meeting got appraisal of situation in Srinagar by Menon and Manekshaw, and decided to flow an infantry battalion to Srinagar next morning, the October 27.

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel

Around dinner time that day, Mahajan writes in his Looking Back, Nehru sent him a message that he should fly to Jammu with Menon and inform Hari Singh of the cabinet decision besides getting his signatures on certain supplementary documents about the accession. “I frankly informed him that I was not prepared to go to Jammu till I got news from my aerodrome officer at Srinagar that the Indian forces had landed there. Panditji did not insist and said: you can fly to Jammu next morning.”

Army did land in Srinagar and Mahajan got the message from Srinagar at 9 am on October 27. “…on receipt of this message, I flew to Jammu with Mr V P Menon…..After some discussion, formal documents were signed which Mr Menon took back to New Delhi,” he recorded.

Does that means the 28 sorties of Dakotas that landed at Srinagar airport preceded the signing of instrument of accession? Mahajan says the documents were signed only after the troops landed.

But Menon believes otherwise. In his narrative Integration of Indian States, Menon says he and Mahajan flew to Jammu to see the palace in a state of utter turmoil with valuable articles strewn all over. “The Maharaja was asleep. He had left the Srinagar previous evening and has been driving all night. I woke him up and told him what had taken place at the Defence Committee meeting. He was ready to accede at once. He then composed a letter to the Governor General of India describing the pitiable plight of the state and reiterating his request for military help. He further informed the governor general that it was his intention to set up an interim government at once and to ask Sheikh Abdullah to carry the responsibility in this emergency with Mehr Chand Mahajan, his Prime Minister. He concluded by saying that if the state was to be saved, immediate assistance must be available at Srinagar. He also signed the Instrument of Accession.”

With signed accession papers in his pocket, Menon says he flew back to Delhi where Sardar Patel was waiting at the aerodrome and the two went straight to a meeting of the Defence Committee which was arranged for that evening. “There was a long discussion, at the end of which it was decided that accession of J&K should be accepted, subject to the proviso that as plebiscite would be held in the state when the law and order situation allowed. It was further decided that an infantry battalion should be flown to Srinagar the next day,” Menon records in his memoir. That means the documents were signed on October 26.

So there are three dates – October 25, 26 and 27. Jha says October 25 but it is unofficial. Menon says October 26 but lacks corroborative evidence because Maharaja might have been traveling the whole day. Mahajan says October 27 after the troops landed but this is in conflict with the officially stated records.

But Alatair Lamb says in his Incomplete Partition: The Genesis of Kashmir Dispute 1947-1948 that Menon was in Delhi in the evening of October 26 and that he had a meeting with Alexander Symon, the acting British High Commissioner in Delhi. “Both men talked Kashmir. However, Menon ‘declined to give Symon any information about what action India was contemplating for Kashmir…V P Menon said nothing about Instrument of Accession,” says Lamb.

Interestingly, Sam Manekshaw who accompanied Menon to Srinagar and back on October 25 remembers: “Eventually the Maharaja signed the accession papers and we flew back in the Dakota late at night… I did not see the Maharaja signing it, nor did I see Mahajan. All I do know is that V P Menon turned around and said, ‘Sam we have got the Accession’.”

Andrew Whitehead writes: “certainly Nehru’ clearly acted at the time as if the Maharaja’s signature was secured by V P Menon in Jammu on October 27”. On that day Nehru wrote to the Maharaja: “Shri V P Menon returned from Jammu this evening and informed me of the talks. He gave me the instrument of accession and the stand still agreement which you have signed, and I saw also your letter to the Governor General of India. Allow me to congratulate you on the wise decision you have taken.”

Author and columnist Prem Shanker Jha believes that Hari Singh signed accession papers in Srinagar on October 25. He relies totally on Manekshaw’s version while dismissing accounts of Mahajan and Menon as inconsistent and fleeting. Menon, he says in Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute handed over ‘the [accession]thing to Mountbatten at the start of or just before the meeting of the Defence Committee on October 26 morning.

So there are three dates – October 25, 26 and 27. Jha says October 25 but it is unofficial. Menon says October 26 but lacks corroborative evidence because Maharaja might have been traveling the whole day. Mahajan says October 27 after the troops landed but this is in conflict with the officially stated records.

The larger question is a bit different. Maharaja wanted accession with India. Sheikh Abdullah was supportive of it. Nehru was keen to have it and both Mahajan and Menon were committed to it. If all the characters involved stood for Kashmir’s accession to India, which actually took place, why is there a contradiction on the dates?

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