Musings on The Constitution-XII
The slogan ‘Quit Kashmir’ was meant for Maharaja to ‘Quit Kashmir’ and hand over the reins to Abdullah. Abdullah was arrested on 20 May, 1946. Nehru demanded his immediate release. To demonstrate his support for Sheikh Abdullah Nehru decided to visit Kashmir in June. The State Government banned his entry. Nehru decided to enter Kashmir defying the ban. He gave the reason for entering the state as follows:
“I am going to Kashmir firstly, to arrange for the defence of Abdullah; secondly, to see thing myself, although my visit to Srinagar will be brief one; and thirdly, to do all I can to put an end to the complication arising from the policy of the State Government.”
Nehru was advised by the Viceroy Mountbatten not to visit Jammu and Kashmir. But he ignored the advice of Viceroy, defied the order of the State Government, and decided to visit Jammu and Kashmir. He entered Jammu and Kashmir on 20 June. Nehru was arrested and subsequently released on 22 June, 1946 and brought back to Delhi. “This event, besides causing a great public stir, permanently impaired the relation between Maharaja Hari Singh and Nehru. As subsequent events showed, Nehru was never able to get over his hostility towards Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah exploited it to the hilt.”
Sheikh Abdulla with N Gopalaswami Ayyangar
Mountbatten gave an ultimatum to Hari Singh to take a call by Aug 14th, 1947, whether to go with the Indian or Pakistani Dominion or stay independent. Hari Singh was unable to decide because he was faced with the Nehru-Abdullah bonhomie on one side and the machinations of Mohammed Ali Jinnah on the other.
Sardar Patel, who had not lost hope to broker a peace deal , wrote on 3rd July, 1947 to Maharaja Hari Singh,
“I am sorry to find that there is considerable misapprehension in your mind about the Congress. Allow me to assure your Highness that the Congress is not only not your enemy, as you happen to believe, but there are in the Congress many strong supporters of your state… Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru belongs to Kashmir. He is proud of it, and rest assured he can never by your enemy… as a sincere friend and well-wisher of the state, I wish to assure you that the interest of Kashmir lies in joining the Indian Union and its Constituent Assembly without any delay.”
Maharaja Hari Singh
While the Maharaja was prevaricating as Nehru was insisting on the Head of Administration being vested with Sheikh Abdullah and his views given primacy, Pakistan attacked India in Oct, 1947. By then NGA had begun to play an active role at the instance of Nehru in interacting with Sheikh Abdullah and ‘giving instructions to Kashmir Administration’. Sardar Patel was not amused just as General Thimmaiah was not. Patel wrote to NGA,
“I feel that this matter should have been referred to and dealt with by the Ministry of States who would, if necessary, have utilised your Ministry and made the desired arrangements. I would, therefore, suggest that the related papers may now be transferred to the States Ministry and in future the Kashmir Administration may be asked to deal with the Ministry direct.”
NGA had the complete backing of Jawaharlal Nehru for interceding in the Kashmir affairs to keep Sheikh Abdullah in good humour. Naturally, NGA took the letters from Patel to Nehru, who responded to Patel:
“Gopalaswami has sent me copies of correspondence which has passed between him and you… I do not appreciate the principle which presumably the States Ministry has in view in regard to its work…. The present issue relates to Kashmir. This raises all manner of connected issues—international, military and others—which are beyond the competence of the States Ministry as such…And that is why I have to take personal interest in this matter as P.M. to bring about co-ordination in our various activities… I really do not understand where the States Ministry comes into picture except that it should be kept informed of steps taken.”
President Rajendra Prasad swearing Sardar Patel as Union Minister
Patel was a self respecting man. He did not wait to take a decision. He prepared the following draft reply:
“My dear Jawaharlal,
23 December, 1947
Your letter of today has been received just now at 7 p.m. and I am writing immediately to tell you this. It has caused me considerable pain.
Before I received your letter I had already written to Gopalaswamy a letter of which a copy is enclosed herewith…
In any case, your letter makes it clear to me that I must not or at least cannot continue as a member of Government and hence I am hereby tendering my resignation. I am grateful to you for the courtesy and kindness shown to me during the period of office which was period of considerable strain.
The letter got leaked and both Nehru and Patel were persuaded not to precipitate the Kashmir affairs at a vulnerable moment. But, aware that Jawaharlal was fully supportive of him Sheikh started to play the lord of all he surveys, in Kashmir, and thereby his influence grew and grew.
But Patel was not yielding yet. On noting an interview given by Sheikh Abdullah suggestively declaring independent status for Kashmir, he wrote to Nehru in the strongest possible words, making his position very clear.
“I am surprised to read this morning an account of the Press Conference which Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah is reported to have held here [Delhi] yesterday.… It is undignified and constitutionally improper for a Prime Minister [Sheikh Abdullah] to attack the Constitutional Head of his Administration. Knowing full well that the latter is not in a position to defend himself or to retaliate….
“Sheikh Sahib has also referred to certain people in India who believe in surrendering Kashmir to Pakistan. I should like to be enlightened who they are. As far as my information goes, there are many more of such people in Jammu and Kashmir State than in the whole India put together….
“I hope Sheikh Sahib realises that nobody has been more accommodating to him than the Government of India and none has extended to him greater understanding and sympathy in his struggle than the people of India… I think it would be difficult to find a parallel in constitutional history to the sort of attack, which he has made on Maharaja. I hope you will succeed in impressing upon him the mistake he has made.”
Nehru tried to explain to Patel, Sheikh Abdullah’s comments, with these words;
“I entirely agree with you that some of the statements that Sheikh Abdullah made in regard to Maharaja were very indiscreet and should not have been made….He is not a very clear thinker and he goes astray in his speech as many of our politicians do.”
Patel was not buying it.
To a subsequent interview of Sheikh Abdullah to a foreign correspondent;
“Accession to either side cannot bring peace. We want to live in friendship with both Dominions… an Independent Kashmir must be guaranteed not only by India and Pakistan but also by Britain, the United States and other members of the United Nations…. Yes independence– guaranteed by the United Nations – may be the only solution.”
Patel was not watching from the sidelines. He brought it the notice of NGA and Nehru that Sheikh Abdulla’s comments were explosive and it cannot be acquiesced in. NGA wrote to Sardar Patel…
(Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)