- Believes, therefore he acts
At 1 pm on 23 December 1947 Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, deputy Prime Minister, sent his resignation to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The reason was a sharp divergence on how to handle Kashmir.
The status of Jammu and Kashmir was fluid when India and Pakistan became independent. So was that of Hyderabad. Patel, as home minister, was more concerned, with Hyderabad, whose Nizam was not only negotiating separate Dominion status with the British, but was also arming his mainly Muslim official troops. Jinnah was determined to add Hyderabad to Pakistan or keep it a Nizamate.
Patel’s mind cleared on 13 September 1947 when Jinnah accepted the accession of Junagadh. If Hari Singh acceded to India, Delhi could always use the same logic and accept. Being practical and decisive, Patel immediately began to lay down what might be called the infrastructure of Kashmir’s accession.
Nehru had more difficulties in dealing with Hari Singh; his rapport was with Sheikh Abdullah, which was equally important in the fast-evolving scenario. In the last week of September Nehru passed on to Patel information that Pakistan was preparing a military assault.
Nehru was as eager to keep Jammu and Kashmir within India, but on critical occasions he became vulnerable to British pressure. An early instance came on 30 September 1947 Nehru, during a meeting between him, Mountbatten and Pakistan Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan, agreed to honour the results of a plebiscite in Junagadh.
But Muslim League leaders, sent some 5,000 armed tribesmen in around 300 lorries, under the command of a Pak Army officer, Major General Akbar Khan. The invasion began on 22 October; Hari Singh’s forces were overwhelmed but he did not send a message to Delhi until the evening of 24 October.
At the Defence Committee meeting on the morning of 25 October, Nehru urged resistance and Patel advocated Delhi’s support. Mountbatten, who technically should not have had any executive role, chaired the Committee. While Nehru was initially hesitant about Indian military support, Patel never had any doubts. VP Menon, working for Patel, got Hari Singh’s signature on the document of accession. This received Britain’s formal approval through Mountbatten’s endorsement. On the morning of 27 October 329 men of the Sikh Regiment, with arms and supplies began to land at Srinagar airport just as it was on the point of falling into Pakistan’s clutches.
So far, as home minister, Patel was in charge of Kashmir. On 2 December 1947, however, Nehru sent Hari Singh a letter saying Abdullah should become Prime Minister, and took over the management of Kashmir affairs.
Nehru then brought N Gopalaswami Ayyangar, a former Dewan of Hari Singh, as Minister without Portfolio in his Cabinet, without consulting Patel, and gave him responsibility for Kashmir, reporting to Nehru. When Patel was upset, Nehru rebuked his deputy in writing. On 23 December Patel sent his resignation.
The ruling families of Kashmir, abetted by Congress, traded adherence to accession for widespread corruption. There was hardly any semblance of governance. Moreover Article 370 denied rights and reservations that had evolved within India’s democracy to the Kashmiri people
That night, Nehru apologised for the pain, but noted that “our approaches are different, however much we may respect each other”. But he insisted a Prime Minister’s liberty of direction could not be constrained, and offered his own resignation. The problem was resolved only when Gandhi agreed to arbitrate in any dispute between them.
These facts should make clear who was responsible for what during the seminal phase of Jammu and Kashmir’s integration. As Deputy Prime Minister, Patel could not deny his place in collective responsibility, but the decisions were made by Nehru after December 1947. They included the momentous reference to the UN, which quickly became a bleeding ulcer.
Nehru was in control of Kashmir affairs when on 17 October 1949 his nominee Ayyangar moved Article 306A in the Constituent Assembly to give Constitutional status to the conditions laid down by Maharaja Hari Singh. Even at the inception it was widely recognised that this provision, which became Article 370 finally, was temporary. No one has ever disputed this. Then how and why did it gradually attain a kind of political inviolability?
A generic flaw in its very conception enabled secessionists, quasi-secessionists and of course Pakistan, to slowly, reposition Article 370. They made it look as if the accession was temporary, when the clauses were designed to smoothen a transition. And so, in public discourse, even experienced politicians argued, including in the just-concluded debate, that abolishing Article 370 would snap Jammu and Kashmir’s link with India, when the opposite was true.
Accession to India became legal and binding when Maharaja Hari Singh signed the treaty of October 1947. Mountbatten recognised its legitimacy by permitting British officers of the Indian Army to fight in the 1947-48 war. British officers refused to obey Jinnah’s orders to send troops in uniform to the Kashmir theatre because Pakistan’s aggression was held to be illegal. The narrative has been much altered over the last seven decades behind the fog generated by Article 370. Islamabad made Article 370 into its evidence of a dispute, rather than confirmation of Kashmir’s accession. This is the challenging paradox that our foreign policy has had to deal with for too long. Today, Pakistan has been blindsided by this historic move.
Home Minister Amit Shah raised a basic question while piloting, with authority and conviction, the legislation abolishing Article 370: how temporary is temporary? Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have answered the question. Temporary is limited.
But the wounds inflicted upon Jammu and Kashmir over the last seven decades by three cliques who used and abused power will not be easily healed. Sheikh Abdullah, whose struggle for the people’s emancipation and solidarity against Pak aggression deserves praise, became a different person once seated in office by Nehru. He began to use Article 370 as a shield against accountability. He rigged the first elections, held in 1951, by a simple ruse. No one was permitted to contest against the National Conference. He won 75 seats out of 75. Nehru and Congress not only indulged this, but subverted elections in their own ways when they got a chance after the dismissal and arrest of Sheikh Abdullah. It was the beginning of an ominous trend that destroyed the Kashmiri voter’s faith in democracy.
The first honest elections were held in 1977, when Morarji Desai was Prime Minister. In 1980, Congress won again, and electoral corruption returned to Srinagar, reaching a dangerously high in 1987.
The ruling families of Kashmir, abetted by Congress, traded adherence to accession for widespread corruption. There was hardly any semblance of governance. Moreover Article 370 denied rights and reservations that had evolved within India’s democracy to the Kashmiri people.
It is unsurprising that the political cabals who milked Article 370 opposed its abolition so vehemently. Congress even risked a rebellion that could see the beginnings of a split if not calmed by concession. The rebels saw the massive surge of popular support for Prime Minister Modi, and found their party once again swimming towards a shipwreck. If Congress does not go into reverse gear, its future will move from dim to dark. The Indian people know Modi took this decision in the national interest, not partisan. If BJP merely wanted votes, surely it would have abolished Article 370 before the general elections.
For Modi, conviction is the alchemy that makes the impossible into the possible. He believes, therefore he acts.