66 Years Ago

The landing of the Indian army on October 27, 1947, is one of the most debated events of Kashmir’s contemporary history. For the last more than two decades, separatists have been sponsoring a strike as the army is celebrating it as the Infantry Day. Historian Ashiq Hussian pieces together bits of information to offer a completely new version of the larger story that even points fingers at the tribal invasion itself.

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

State narrative suggests that on October 27, 1947, India flew its troops to Kashmir to save the Valley from tribal invasion.

Then, tribesmen of Pakistan had entered the border town of Muzaffarabad on the early morning of October 22. Their masters had expected that by the same evening, they would be in the summer capital of J&K at Srinagar located barely 100 miles away. However, it took them five days to cover 70 miles of Jhelum Valley Road (JVR) to reach Baramulla on October 26.

The JVR, those days was one of the best-maintained highways of Asia, so connectivity was no issue. They were delayed because their march was hampered by the opposition at Muzaffarabad itself. Later, at Uri it was Chief of Staff of Jammu and Kashmir Rifles, Brigadier Rajinder Singh Jamwal, who, with the assistance of Patiala State Forces delayed their march (p 77 of  Kashmir: Birth of a Tragedy Alistair Lamb). Patiala Army had arrived in Srinagar on October 17 (p 131 Kashmir A Disputed Legacy Alistair Lamb).October 27-3

Patiala Army was part of Indian Army because Patiala State had acceded to India before Transfer of Power. Maharaja Yadavindra Singh of Patiala could not have sent his troops to Kashmir without Delhi’s complicity.

When on October 27, India officially sent its troops to Kashmir Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru claimed that the King of Kashmir had acceded to India. He promised Kashmiris that his government would conduct a plebiscite in the state on the question of whether its people wanted to be part of India or Pakistan.

Nehru knew that tribesmen would be entering Kashmir. Yes, he knew it in September only. The fact that he knew it in advance is revealed by what he wrote to States Minister Sardar Valabhai Patal on September 27, 1947 (pp 49  of Sardar Patel’s Correspondence Vol. I): “I am writing to you about Kashmir…It is obvious to me from the many reports I have received that the situation there is dangerous and deteriorating one. The Muslim League in the Punjab and NWFP are making preparations to enter Kashmir in considerable numbers. The approach of winter is going to cut off Kashmir from the rest of India. The only normal route there is via Jhelum Valley. The Jammu route can hardly be used during winter and air traffic is also suspended.”

At this point in time, September 1947, Nehru did not deem it fit to inform Hari Singh, the ruler of Kashmir, of the trouble that was brewing for him in West Punjab and NWFP. Instead of advising Hari Singh to take defensive measures, Nehru wrote to Sardar Patel to be ready for imperial adventure: “Therefore it is important that something should be done before these winter conditions set in. This means practically by the end of October or at least the beginning of November. Indeed air traffic will be difficult even before that.”

In the routine academic discourses, a question naturally arises: if Nehru was so desperate to help out Kashmiris against the invading tribesmen and also wanted to ascertain their wishes about their future, why did he wait for the tribal invasion to happen? He knew almost a month in advance that it was round the corner, .

A rare photograph showing Pandit Nehru with Hari Sigh and Sheikh Abdullah

Nehru did not warn Hari Singh because he wanted to corner him into acceding to India and also share power with National Conference. “It becomes important, therefore,” he wrote to Patel further, “that the Maharaja should make friends with the National Conference so that there might be this popular support against Pakistan. Indeed, it seems to me that there is no other course open to the Maharaja but this: to release Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference leaders, to make a friendly approach to them, seek their co-operation and make them feel that this is really meant, and then to declare adhesion to the Indian Union. Once the State accedes to India, it will become very difficult for Pakistan to invade it officially or unofficially without coming into conflict with the Indian Union.”

Accession to India was not something that Hari Singh was adverse to. He also wished to accede to India but upon his own terms and conditions. He was unwilling to share power with anyone. He had already dismissed his pro-independence Kashmiri Prime Minister R C Kak; and imported from India Deputy Prime Ministers and Prime Ministers such as Janak Singh Katotch, Ram Lal Batra, and M C Mahajan. This was all to appease Indian leaders. Also, he received Lt Col Kashmir Singh Katotch (son of Janak Singh) of Indian Army as Liaison Officer between Indian Army and Jammu Kashmir Rifles.

But, Nehru was unimpressed by these measures and with the prospect of mere accession. He was certain that accession without the semblance of some sort of popular support would not go well with the international community. Therefore, he was keen to see Sheikh Abdullah and his party rally for India. National Conference was J&K’s strongest political party with the support base in Kashmir valley and Nehru wanted the Valley for India. He cared little for Hari Singh. In fact, Hari Singh was disposable stuff.

In order to garner Patel’s support for his course of action – (they never saw eye to eye on any issue because dealing with (princely) States was Patel’s domain as he was States Minister but Nehru encroached his territory by conducted Kashmir policy himself), Nehru tried to convince the latter that the support of National Conference for India was indispensable. “It is equally clear to me,” he goes on to write, “that this can only take place with some measure of success after there is peace between the Maharaja and the National Conference and they co-operate together to meet the situation. This is not an easy task, but it can be done chiefly because Abdullah is very anxious to keep out of Pakistan and relies upon us a great deal for advice.”

Furthermore, Nehru apprised Patel that his line of thinking and that of Kashmiri Pandits was on the same plane: “This is the belief also of various minorities in Kashmir who have no other support to lean upon.” It was a time when Sheikh Abdullah was still in prison. Nehru was in contact with him through Kashmiri Pandits like Shamsunder Lal Dhar.

But why did Sheikh Abdullah, the then most popular leader, support India? Did he believe in Gandhi’s nationalism rather than in Jinnah’s Two Nations Theory?

I believe that he did not believe in anything except his own self-interest. He had been in jail at the time of Transfer of Power. Within a week of the emergence of Pakistan Governor-General M A Jinnah dismissed on August 22, the elected Government of pro-Congress Red Shirts in NWFP on the ground that the creation of Pakistan, which they had opposed, meant that their mandate to rule the Province had expired.

Now, if Muslim Kashmir became part of Pakistan on the ground of demography it would have meant that Sheikh Abdullah would not be allowed to rule Kashmir given the fact that he too had opposed the creation of Pakistan and on top of that he was not an elected representative of Kashmiris. Sheikh would perhaps have swallowed the bitter pill, put on sackcloth and fell on the feet of Jinnah whom he had disgraced in Srinagar three years ago. But the award of Muslim majority Gurdaspur district to India against Partition Principle which furnished India the only road link to Kashmir Valley via Jammu Province saved him from political doom. There was absolutely no need to be an elected representative to gain ascendance to political power if he supported India. Nehru would see to it that he became Prime Minister no matter if Kashmiris liked it or not. Thus it was the award of Gurdaspur district to India which made Nehru’s Kashmir schemes to succeed.

Since the beginning of Mountbatten’s Viceroyalty, Nehru had worked diligently to get Gurdaspur awarded to India against norms. Mountbatten was personally beholden to Nehru. British Government had appointed Mountbatten as the last Viceroy of India to fulfil Nehru’s wish (p 08 of Freedom at Midnight Larry Collins) because they desired that India should remain within British Commonwealth after Transfer of Power and for that reason they wished to earn Nehru’s favour.

Lord Mountbatten

So from day one, the obliged Mountbatten tried to appease Nehru. He did everything in his power to upset Nehru’s political adversaries especially Jinnah whom Mountbatten disliked for many reasons. Knowing that Nehru cherished a grand design on Kashmir and that he needed a road link to fulfil his dream Mountbatten worked his influence to furnish him one via Pathankot, Gurdaspur.

It was on May 11, 1947, when Mountbatten raised the issue of keeping Gurdaspur district beyond the purview of Partition principle in a top-secret meeting with his staff which Nehru attended in the capacity of Vice-President of Interim Government of British India. However, he met fierce opposition from Deputy Secretary Ian Scott which constrained him to assure the members present in the meeting that he would not press his demand and would instead ask the Boundary Commission “to handover from one side to the other any area within border districts where there was clearly a majority of the opposite community (p 759, 760, and 781 of Transfer of Power Vol. X).”

It was a time when the Partition of British India had not been officially decided nor had the Boundary Commission been set up but the fate of Kashmir was sealed.

In the backdrop of Mountbatten-Nehru Gurdaspur conspiracy, it would be safe to presume that the decision to fly Indian troops to Kashmir on October 27, was not a sudden development consequent upon tribal incursion. The implementation of the plan had started on 11 May.

Mountbatten’s June visit to Srinagar (and November visit to Lahore); and Mahatma Gandhi’s August visit to Kashmir were different links in the same chain. Gandhi came to Kashmir in early August to conspire against pro-independence Prime Minister Rama Chandra Kak. Mountbatten visited Srinagar in June to warn the Maharaja not to declare independence (p 120 of Mission with Mountbatten A C-Johnson). Post-Indian Army’s intervention in Kashmir, Mountbatten went to Lahore to avert a Pakistani attack on Kashmir which Jinnah had ordered on October 27 – the order that was floated by his acting Army Chief General Douglas Gracy (p 226 Mission with Mountbatten A C-Johnson). The Vicereine Edwina also contributed her share towards the success of Nehru’s Kashmir scheme.

The bell tolled for Kashmir when on Mountbatten’s bidding Cyril Radcliffe of Boundary Commission dropped Muslim majority Gurdaspur district into Nehru’s lap. Nehru, now furnished with a road link to Kashmir, turned Sheikh Abdullah to his side courtesy of Kashmiri Pandits and waited for the Pakistani tribesmen to enter Kashmir.

An interesting question is: who informed Nehru in September that tribesmen were preparing to enter Kashmir? Was it the Red Shirt Pathans of NWFP, whose government had been dismissed by Jinnah, and who were still on Congress payrolls? And who, (in addition to Manki Pir, Mamdot Pir, Qayoom Khan, and Sardar Ibrahim), instigated the tribesmen against Hari Singh’s government? These questions assume relevance given the fact that Maharaja would not have submitted to Nehru’s demands of accession so tamely and so soon, and Nehru wouldn’t have gotten any justification to capture Kashmir in the absence of one furnished by tribal invasion.

Pakistan’s tragic fault lied in the fact that they did not stop tribesmen from entering into Kashmir. Tribal invasion proved counterproductive to Kashmir.

Now so far as Nehru’s promise of the plebiscite is concerned, it was aimed at hoodwinking the world on one hand and on the other to keep open the option of capturing Hindu majority States of Junagarh and Hyderabad on the grounds of demography. This argument is strengthened by his statement of Kashmir Policy to Sardar Patel in April 1949: “The prize we are fighting for is the Valley of Kashmir (p 262 Sardar Patel’s Correspondence Vol.X)

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