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Remembering Sardar Patel

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By: Er. Prabhat Kishore

After article 370 revocation was upheld by the supreme court on 11th of this month, Jammu & Kashmir has become fully integrated with the country having the benefits of all central laws as well as public welfare schemes.

Technically, Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh came into existence as Union Territories on 31st October 2019, the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, the architect of present-day unified India, who was actually the choice to be the first PM. Due to Gandhi’s intervention, he was illegally kept away from the country’s leadership, paving the way for Kashmir, the China border and various other problems in the years to come.

If one goes through the happenings between 1946 to 1950, it is evident that the Kashmir problem is nothing, but is a result of lack of vision, determination, decision, courage and involvement of  a vested interest of ambitious politicians. Like Hyderabad and Junagarh, the Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh had also not signed the instrument of accession upto the fixed deadline, 15th August 1947. The Maharaja had executed a standstill agreement with Pakistan and wanted to have similar link with India also, but Indian leaders had no interest.

Initially Sardar Patel was dealing the affairs tactfully. Jinnah adopted a policy of coercion and force and cut-off supply of food, petrol and other commodities. Military pressure was also applied through border raids. At Patel’s initiative, planes were diverted to Delhi-Kashmir routes and communication equipments were installed between Amritsar and Jammu. Patel wrote to the Maharaja on 21th Sept. 1947 that “Justice Mehar Chand Mahajan will convey you the gist of our conversation on all matters affecting the interest of Kashmir. I have promised him full support and co-operation.” Patel had virtually instructed the Maharaja to appoint Mahajan as his PM.

Patel also sent Guru Golwalkar, RSS chief, to Srinagar to brainwash the Maharaja regarding the futility of independent Kashmir and convey the message that Pakistan will never tolerate your independence and will engineer a revolt.

Guruji assured the Maharaja that Sardar  Patel would look after the Kashmiri people. After Maharaja expressed his readiness to sign the instrument of accession, Guruji returned back to Delhi on Oct 19 and briefed Sardar about the happenings. On 15th October 1947, the Kashmir PM has complained to the British PM regarding the lack of supplies and border raids by Pakistan, but the Britishers had nothing to do.

In the valley, there were contrasting views between the two national personalities. Seeing Sheikh Abdullah’s vision and ambitious approach, Patel had negative thinking about him; whereas Nehru has aversion for Maharaja and affinity for Abdullah. Actually, Maharaja had arrested Nehru in June 1946, when he was fighting for Abdullah during the “Quit Kashmir” movement.

Nehru’s sole aim was to reinstate Abdullah and dethrone the Maharaja. Sheikh Abdullah was at loggerheads with Jinnah. He was against going to Pakistan for his own personal reasons. He had ambition to become the Prime Minister of Kashmir, but he was fully aware that Jinnah being the champion of Muslims he had no chance in Pakistan.

In 1947, Government of India received intelligence reports that Pakistanis were preparing to enter Kashmir. Nehru pressurized that accession should take place with the co-operation of Abdullah and a letter was written to Mahajan, the PM of Kashmir, that as Abdullah is anxious to co-operate in handling with external danger, power should be shared with him without in any way jeopardizing Maharaja Position.

As Maharaja Hari Singh had agreed in principle for the accession, there was no need to take such hasty steps. Before Mahajan received the letter, 5000-armed tribesmen from Pakistan entered Kashmir, burnt Mujaffarabad, shot dead Lt. Col. Narayan Singh (in Command of the State forces), captured the power house at Mahura and switched off Srinagar’s electricity.

Brigadier Rajinder Singh, Chief of Staff of State, engaged raiders in Uri for two days, but he and his team were allegedly killed. The raiders were near Baramula, just 40 miles from Srinagar.

Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) CM encouraged tribesmen to enter Kashmir and Pakistan General Akbar Khan openly acknowledged Pakistan’s involvement. Jinnah told Mountbatten that if his conditions were satisfied, the whole thing would be called off. The British Commander of Gilgit Scout, Major Brown revolted against Kashmir Government and handed over Gilgit to Pakistan.

On 23rd October 1947, the Maharaja wrote to Patel that nearly whole military of a particular section had either deserted or refused to co-operate. On October 25, at the meeting of the defence committee of the Indian cabinet, Patel offered to help the Maharaja, but Nehru’s first reaction was “Maharaja must associate Abdullah without resistance”. On 26th October in crucial meeting at Nehru’s residence, Mahajan as well as Abdullah pleaded the urgent need for Indian troops. Patel asked Mahajan to return Kashmir and to convey the Maharaja that the Indian army was on its way. On the same day the Maharaja signed the Instrument of accession in Jammu and requested in writing for military assistance.

Under pressure from Nehru, the Maharaja agreed to install Abdullah as the head of the administration along with dejure Premier Mahajan. On 27th October 1947, over a hundred planes and a Sikh battalion were in Srinagar. Patel first time visited Srinagar on 3rd November 1947, studied the situation and ordered the enemy to be driven out.

As per the Hari Singh-Abdullah formula, Abdullah had to run the valley and leave Jammu to the Maharaja. But Abdullah started interfering in Jammu. Patel went to Srinagar to handle the issue, but Abdullah was rigid to be the premier for the whole State. The leaning Nehru wrote to the Maharaja “Sheikh should be the PM and should be asked to form the government. Mr. Mahajan can be one of the ministers and formally preside over the cabinet. You could be its constitutional head”.

This letter completely changed the whole scenario at a crucial juncture. Nehru was afraid of Patel that he would not allow Sheikh to do, whatever his ambition was. Viewing Abdullah as the key of Kashmir’s future, Nehru decided to manage Kashmir himself. To assist him N.G. Ayyangar, a former Dewan of Kashmir, was inducted into the Indian cabinet as a Minister without portfolio. Nehru violated the democratic propriety by intruding into the domain of his own Home Minister Sardar Patel.

A rift had been created between Patel and Nehru and a series of hot letters were exchanged, in which Patel offered even his resignation; to which Nehru wrote that as PM he must have a certain liberty of direction. On Mountbatten’s persuasion, Nehru had agreed to refer the matter to UN and also obtained Gandhi’s reluctant consent. Patel strongly opposed the move, but Kashmir was now Nehru’s baby.  Patel wanted the whole of Kashmir, even if it meant for war. In a private conversation, Patel said “Jawahar  Royega”, which came true  4 years later when Abdullah was sacked and arrested on charges of conspiracy.

The Indian army found that the only way to completely remove the raiders from Kashmir was to attack their bases and supplies in Pakistan. India warned that unless Pak denied assistant and base to invaders, she would be compelled to take action. Mountbatten confused Nehru that any such move would undermine his foreign policy and progressive social aspiration. In UNSC, Nehru’s representatives Abdullah and Ayyangar could not put forward the issue firmly and outperformed by Pak’s Zafarullah Khan.

Following Ambedkar’s refusal to draft Article 370 for special status to Kashmir, Abdullah approached Nehru; who eventually directed Ayyangar, also a member of Drafting committee, to frame it.  Not only Patel but Ambedkar and all leaders of constitutional assembly (except Maulana Azad andAyyangar) were in opposition on this issue. They felt that limited application of Central laws to J&K would create a lot of problems rather than solution. But the matter being Nehru’s childish insistence, no one interfere.

Dr. Karan Singh, the son of Maharaja Hari Singh and later on Sadar-e-Riyasat of the State, recalled “while Pandit Nehru was dealing directly with Jammu & Kashmir; it was Sardar Patel who carried on the correspondence with my father, which ultimately led to smooth political transition in J&K”.

Unhappy with Nehru’s handling of Kashmir, especially the offer of a plebiscite, the reference to the UN, the ceasefire that left one-third part of the State in Pakistani hands, free hand to Sheikh  and the removal of the Maharaja,  Patel  occasionally dropped remarks on these issues. But he never tried to dismiss the decisions in absence of Nehru, even when he served as the acting PM.

In the mid-fifties, he chatted with Rajaji, “Till Bapu’s death, I used to oppose and fight with him. But now I have given up. In view of Gandhi’s last wish, any open criticism would look bad. But he would not remain silent if he found Nehru causing irreparable harm to the country.”

Thus, the breakdown of Patel’s tactful action and Nehru’s personal recalcitrance for Sheikh’s ambition entrapped the Kashmir Policy and darkened its future indefinitely. The Central Government’s initiatives to mainstream Kashmir with the Republic of India will lead a step forward towards fulfilling Patel’s vision of “Sashakt andAtmanirbhar Bharat”.

(The author is a technocrat and an academician)

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