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 Sardar Patel: The Orchestrator of Accession

 

“Truth has to be repeated. It doesn’t become stale just because it has been told once. So keep repeating it. Don’t bother about who has listened, who has not listened. Spreading lies again and again through various mediums and institutions have become so powerful that telling the truth once is not enough. You have got to keep repeating different facts, thus prove the same point.” {Confronting Empire, Eqbal Ahmad}

 

Yasir Bashir

The political struggle in Kashmir started long before the partition of Indian-subcontinent into two new countries namely Pakistan and India. It is very late, not earlier than the twenties of the twentieth century that the signs of consciousness against the dictatorial oppressive Dogra Raj began germinating in Kashmir. It was the continuous political activities that they succeeded in establishing a political party namely Muslim Conference under the presidency of Sheikh Abdullah which raised demands for agrarian and constitutional reforms. However, the Maharaja of Kashmir made every possible effort to suppress the Muslim movement. In May 1946, Sheikh Abdullah launched ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement to bring down the government of Maharaja.

  On 3 June 1947 Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India announced the partition plan. Under the 3 June plan the princely states, following Cabinet Mission Plan, were allowed to accede to India or Pakistan. The problem in Kashmir started when Maharaja failed to decide to accede to Pakistan or India by 15 August 1947. Being a Hindu, Maharaja was opposed to joining a Muslim country. The domestic situation within the State also played a part in Maharaja's delayed decision. In 1947, a no tax campaign started in Poonch. An uprising began throughout the State to depose Maharaja. To make matters worse, Maharaja ordered Muslims to surrender their arms and ammunition to the State. With the Muslims disarmed and unable to resist, the attacks of militant Hindus and Sikhs escalated and became more severe. Taking advantage of Maharaja’s indecisiveness, Congress leaders made all-out efforts to persuade Maharaja to join India. From here, the real problem started. All the important leaders of Congress including Nehru, Gandhi, Patel, Rafi Kidwai were involved in the process of annexing Kashmir militarily from September 1947 onwards. However, I have limited this article to the role of Sardar Patel in securing Kashmir for India due to paucity of time and space.

  Sardar Patel’s unique role with regard to integration of States and of his military action in Hyderabad (which was brutal by butchering Muslims on the streets of Hyderabad) and in Junagadh are known to the people at large. But not much is known about the part he played in securing Kashmir’s accession to India and of his further role in defence of Kashmir and paving a way towards in establishing firm rule of India in Kashmir in fulfillment of the terms of accession. It is important to know that soon after the Cabinet Mission’s proposals for the Britain’s withdrawal from India; Patel began to pay his attention to Kashmir. His deliberations were in close secret. On the 4th and 5th of July 1946, he had discussions with the premier of Kashmir Ram Chandra Kak in Bombay. One of these was in Gandhi’s presence which shows that Gandhi too was involved in securing Kashmir for India right from July 1946. From the later correspondence between them, it becomes clear that Sardar tried to impress upon Kak the need of liberalizing the administration and of releasing Sheikh Abdullah and the workers of National Conference. From August 1946, Patel was nominated by the Congress Working Committee in association with Maulana Azad to pursue this matter from the point where Nehru had left it on account of his preoccupation with the Cabinet Mission.

The Maharaja of Kashmir was reticent; he would not need advice from anyone. Due to India’s continuous support to Sheikh Abdullah at that hour, he felt estranged. Patel had to cut this Gordian knot through his sheer diplomacy and after one full year he could bring the Maharaja to his viewpoint.

In early July 1947, Sardar Patel again wrote to the Maharaja of Kashmir and Kak (Premier of Kashmir) that their interest lay in Kashmir’s association with India. Through his emissaries, Patel narrowed down the gulf between the respective approaches taken by both sides. But the important fact which should be mentioned that Sheikh Abdullah was a party to the accession process. Sheikh can’t be exonerated from the accession process; he took a lead role in galvanizing campaign in favour of India by rejecting two-nation theory and demonizing Pakistan. He was released from the prison through ‘Badamibagh Pact’ through the active intervention of Gandhi, Patel, and Nehru.  

After Major-General Scott left the State of Jammu and Kashmir, on 22 September 1947, some active steps were taken to strengthen links with India by providing Srinagar airfield with wireless equipments to make it more suitable for bad weather operation. Arrangements were made for the supply of extra arms and ammunition to the Jammu and Kashmir State armed forces through an Indian military adviser Lt. Col. Katoch. Staff preparations were made for Indian troop’s concentrations at Madhopur in the Pathankot tehsil near the Jammu border as potential reinforcements for the state army.

The improvement of road from Jammu to the Indian frontier in the direction of Pathankot which began around the time of the Transfer -of Power was accelerated and telegraphic lines of communication were expanded. All this activity, recorded in considerable detail in the first volume of Sardar Patel's correspondence which was published in 1971, makes it quite clear that both Patel and Defence Minister Baldev Singh were heavily engaged in the planning of Indian military intervention in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, if only on a contingency basis, by at least 13 September 1947, and by third week of October a substantial foundation for such an operation had been laid.

By mid-September 1947, all the necessary arrangements were made by the Government of India to annex Kashmir militarily. Lt. Col. Kashmir Singh Katoch, senior officer of Indian army was made Commander-in-Chief of Kashmir Forces through the efforts of Sardar Patel in league with Kashmir Government officers.  The communication system which linked Kashmir with India was made functional with high speed. Sardar Patel was busy in sending arms and ammunition to the Kashmir State to be used against rebels and the civilian population first in Poonch Jagir and then to massacre Muslims of Jammu who were butchered in the pretext of going to Pakistan. Mehr Chand Mahajan, a member of Radcliffe Commission and Arya Samaj was made Prime Minister of Kashmir on 15th October 1947 who was taking forward the mission of Congress to secure Kashmir for India. The Deputy Commissioner of Dera Ismael Khan, Shiv Saran Lal famous for anti-Muslim feelings was made chief of Jammu and Kashmir police. The army of Patiala Government had already taken control of the Humhama Airport well before 27th of October. These were the circumstances when ‘Operation JK’ was launched to take control of Kashmir through force as so-called tribal invasion served merely as a catalyst to justify their position before international community.

This all correspondence between the people at the helm of affairs both in Kashmir Government and Government of India is historical and a proof that the process of accession with India and ‘Operation JK’ does not start with the tribal invasion on 24th October 1947 but was planned earlier by the Congress High Command in league with the officers as well as with the Maharaja of Kashmir. It should also be mentioned that the Muslim majority district of Punjab, Gurdaspur was given to India on 16 August 1947 through Radcliffe Award, thus gave India land route to enter Kashmir. It helped India to move army and ammunition swiftly across the border to Jammu and Kashmir to realize their dream of annexing Kashmir at the barrel of gun and the rest is history.  

 

Yasir Bashir is a Research Scholar in the Department of History & Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia. He is working on ‘Contested Legacy of Sheikh Abdullah’. He can be reached at arfaat786@gmail.com.

One comment

  1. very benificial and informative article..keep it on yasir