Sardar Patel Reborn?

BJP’s PM candidate Modi has not said much about Kashmir issue during his recent campaigns. Dr Altaf Hussain Para  argues that being a Sardar Patel fan, Modi will try to carry forward his incomplete Kashmir mission. 

NarendraModi-PatelNarindra Modi, who has been recently anointed by the RSS backed BJP, the prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Parliament election, is presently most talked about Indian political figure among the political analysts – thanks to the rampant corruption and senseless governance of the UPA at the center.

Expectedly, every word and every gesture of Modi is being minutely scrutinized by the stakeholders of the forthcoming elections. Therefore it may not be out of place to ask what will be the approach of Modi viz-a-viz the complex ‘Kashmir issue’, if at all he gets an opportunity to rule India? Although he is yet to speak openly his mind about the issue since his nomination, he, however, is not expected to make any marked departure from the existing BJP line which, foolishly, revolves round the abrogation of the Article 370 of Indian Constitution.

However, Modi’s mind can be decoded regarding Muslims and Pakistan in general and Kashmir issue in particular if one tries to demystify his love for India’s first deputy prime minister – Sardar Patel. Modi declared  a nationwide campaign on June 11, to collect small pieces of iron from farmers and use them to build a ‘Statute of Unity’ in memory of Sardar Patel, the iron-man of INC, whom he declared the one who ‘brought the nation together’. This was not for the first time that Modi expressed love for his newly discovered hero, although, this time he did so purposefully, in anticipation to the elections. In 2011 also, on the birth anniversary of Patel, Modi lamented that “if Sardar Saheb had been the first prime minister, things would have been quite different in this country. Had Patel been the Prime Minister, the problems like Kashmir, terrorism, communalism and problems of farmers would never have cropped up.”

Glorification of Patel, a Congress leader who claimed to be a loyal disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, by Modi, a Hindutva icon who blessed the massacre of Muslims in Gujrat a decade ago, is not for nothing if following facts with regard to the former are taken into consideration.

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, one of the tallest political leaders of modern history of sub-continent, and perhaps second only to Mohammed Ali Jinnah in popularity among south Asian Muslims, and the one who worked very closely with Sardar Patel (albeit with bitter experience), concluded  in his autobiography, Aatish e Chinar, about the special love of Patel for Muslims and their newly established home land in these words: “He was influenced by Hindu fundamentalism and wished to secure the interests of the Hindu revivalists. From the social and political standpoints he was a staunch reactionary…. During the communal clashes he encouraged the Hindu communalists to combat the Muslims. Once, while talking to me, he said that the one way to destroy Pakistan was to drive more and more Muslims there so that it may burst at seams and be forced to come to terms with India.” Rajmohan Gandhi, in his biography of Patel, (Patel: A Life) suggested that he (Patel) spoke of evicting of all the forty million Muslims from India if Pakistan threw out the Hindus in the territory and to extending non Muslim zone from Punjab to Delhi and Western UP (pp. 431 & 497).

Patel never forgave Nehru for keeping him away from Kashmir affairs. He once complained that “if Nehru and Ayyangar had not made Kashmir their close preserve separating it from my portfolio of Home and States, I would have tackled the issue as purposefully as I had already tackled the Hyderabad problem”. That is by massacring and suppressing Muslims. P. Sunderayya in his book (Telengana People’s Struggle and its Lessons, pp. 88-89) brilliantly highlighted the “untold miseries” that were inflicted on “the ordinary Muslim people”. But then Patel actively involved himself in Kashmir affairs, albeit in his own way.

Patel had a special love for the RSS. He regarded its members at worst as “misguided patriots” (The Brotherhood in Saffron, By Walter Anderson and Shridher Damle, pp., 55-56) and invited them to join Congress. Thus, he used the RSS who had close relations with the Maharaja Hari Singh to woo the later to join Indian Union. He blessed the Golwarkar mission to Srinagar in October 1947. Golwalkar urged the Maharaja to recruit more Panjabi Hindus and Sikhs (perhaps who were migrating to the state from Pakistan) into his army (ibid., p. 49). It should not surprise anyone then that, both, Nehru and Gandhi discovered in December 1947 that arms sent by the Indian army to the National Militia raised by the National Conference were diverted to the members of the RSS activists in Jammu to massacre the Muslims there to change the state’s demographic composition. When Nehru complained Patel on 30 December, that “I am inclined to think that [Mehar Chand] Mahajan (who was appointed prime minister by Maharaja at the recommendation of the Patel after sacking pro-Pakistan R C Kak) sympathizes with these activists and perhaps helps them”, Patel foolishly denied the charges, a week later, by citing the enquiry conducted by Mahajan himself (Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, vol. I, pp.143 & 152).

Patel was neither interested in getting Kashmir acceded to India on the basis of any ideological uniformity with the state’s political movement, nor  does he ever trusted its Muslim leadership. He reposed his trust in Hari Singh and wanted him to join India on the basis of his State’s past Hindu history. Thus, he wrote a letter to Maharaja on 3 July, 1947 which stated: “I wish to assure you that the interest of Kashmir lies in joining the Indian Union and its Constituent Assembly without any delay. It’s past history and traditions demand it, and all India looks up to you and expects you to take this decision.” However, in view of the adverse public opinion in the state, Patel knew that it would take some time to Hari Singh to make the decision. Therefore, he suggested to the Maharaja that “in the meantime, I am expanding as much as possible the linking up of the State with the Indian Dominion by means of telegraph, telephones, wireless and roads” (ibid. pp. 32-34 &42-43). This was after securing a land link to Kashmir through the Redcliff Boundary Commission and getting the pro-Pakistan R C Kak removed.

Patel was frustrated by the Nehru’s offer of plebiscite as a rider to the Maharaja’s accession to India. Thus, in a conversation with his Secretory, V Shankar, he remarked disapprovingly: “don’t you see we have two UN experts – The Prime Minister and the other Mountbatten – and I have to steer my way between them”. He was particularly disappointed when he saw prospects of the plebiscite getting brighter, thanks to the efforts of Own Dixon. A dejected Patel wrote to Nehru on 27 June, 1950, “if we are not careful, we might land ourselves in difficulties because once demilitarization is settled, a plebiscite would be, as it were, round the corner.” Thus, by publicly endorsing the offer he, along with Nehru, was only befooling the Kashmiris.

Patel’s hatred for Sheikh Abdullah is not unknown. He never forgave him for introducing radical land reform in the state, which he repeatedly dubbed as anti-Hindu, and for sidelining his autocratic and feudal protégé – Maharaja Hari Singh. His repeated attempts of forcing Abdullah to halt the land reforms, only infuriated the later for his fate solely depended on the reforms in the wake of an impending plebiscite. Thus, an agitated Sheikh, refusing to budge, wrote to Patel: “It is my firm conviction that it was our rigid adherence to that [New Kashmir] program that has saved us from the orgy of communalism during the last crisis” (N N Raina, Kashmir Politics and Imperialist Maneuvers 1846-1980, New Delhi, 1988, p. 163).

Land reforms became a reality and a frustrated Patel started poisoned Nehru’s ears, forcing him to appoint B N Mullik (Director of Intelligence from 1950 to 1965) to report on rumors concerning Abdullah’s alleged hostility to India and allegations by “large numbers of Kashmiri Pundits and Jammu Dogras”. Mullik found the allegations and rumors baseless and observed that Sheikh’s support to India was genuine. Patel was shocked. He brainwashed Mullik, (and, thus, laid the foundations of a disastrous approach of Indian Home Ministry towards Kashmir based on suspensions) that “Sheikh would ultimately let down India and Nehru and would come in his real colors.” His efforts bore fruits. Mullik wrote that future events “proved that the Sardar was right and I was not.”

Thus, Patel’s hatred towards Muslims and Pakistan, his distrust towards Sheikh, his strong opposition to the Article 370 and his love for RSS are the ideals very dear to Modi and which he will surely use to provoke communal passions in India. It will be interesting to see how INC will stitch the torn garb of secularism they used to cover Modi’s hero with.

Author Dr Altaf Hussain Para teaches history at Amar Singh College, Srinagar.

He can be mailed at: [email protected] .

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