As Bharat Jodo yatra, in its final phase is in Kashmir, there is an overwhelming response. At the same time some writers and commentators are using the occasion for Nehru bashing, blaming him for the difficult situation created there. Some are using this to create a binary between Nehru and Patel yet again, stating that had Patel handled the issue it would have been ‘solved’. This understanding is not only naïve, accusatory but also far from truth. This only aims to further the BJP-RSS narrative on the troubled past and painful present.
As India was to gain Independence from colonial rule, the princely states were given the option to either merge with India or Pakistan or even to remain Independent. Most of the princely states could be merged with ease. The problem remained with Hyderabad and Kashmir. Hyderabad was merged to India through the police action (Operation Polo), while issue of J&K became more complicated due to its geographical proximity with Pakistan and majority of its population being Muslims.
Maharaja Harisingh wanted to keep J&K independent. He also offered ‘standstill agreement’ (status quo with use of facilities with India and Pakistan) to India and Pakistan both. Pakistan accepted this and her flags flew over the Post offices in Kashmir, as postal system was being run by Pakistan. India did not accept this agreement. There was another factor in the state. Anti-Muslim violence was engineered by Maharaja Harisingh. His understanding was that he is ruling over a Muslim majority state, so there should be at least one area in the state where Hindus are in majority. This violence led to the massacre of nearly two lakh Muslim in the state. Saaed Naqvi writes, “To quote a 10 August 1948 report published in The Times, London: “2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated – unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border – by the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.” And it is this massacre which made Jammu as Hindu majority and partly triggered the Kashmir problem.
Using this as a pretext the Tribal supported by Pakistan army launched the attack on J&K. The state was unprepared to face this assault and wanted India to send its armies to quell this aggression; it was in this backdrop that the treaty of accession was signed.
Earlier Harisingh had refused to merge with India. Also Jinnah had commented that Kashmir is in his pocket as it a Muslim majority state. National Conference, which was earlier Muslim Conference, led by Sheikh Abdullah had launched a democratic agitation against the Maharaja’s rule to end the feudal structure of society. That apart as the three states (Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir) were not willing to merge with India; Sardar Patel was willing to let Kashmir to go to Pakistan if Junagadh and Hyderabad merge with India. Rajmohan Gandhi in his book “Patel: A Life”, tells us that Patel was thinking of making an ideal bargain: if Jinnah lets India have Junagadh and Hyderabad, Patel would not object to Kashmir acceding to Pakistan. He cites a speech by Patel at Bahauddin College in Junagadh, following the latter’s merger with India, in which he said: “We would agree to Kashmir if they agreed to Hyderabad.”
As far as handling Kashmir was concerned, unlike in other Princely states, here Pakistan was also involved and so Nehru, being Foreign affairs minister also, had to lead the issue. Patel and Nehru were on the same page in this endeavor. Patel was more interested in Junagadh and Hyderabad, while negotiations of Article 370 and the steps in handling the same were happening with him being very much around. He may not have been central figure in drafting of 370, but was very much in the know of the same and there is no evidence of Patel opposing it in any way. “Patel was neither central to Article 370 as …(some) suggests, nor is there any evidence that his centrality would have ensured full integration of Kashmir with India, as is assumed by the governmental narrative today.”
Also those suggesting that Patel would have taken the army further rather than call for ceasefire should know that Patel in a letter to Gopalswamy Ayyangar on 4th June 1948 wrote, “The military position is not too good and I am afraid that out military resources are strained to the utmost” (Sardar Patel’s Correspondence)
The march of Indian army did save Kashmir from the marauding tribal’s (supported by Pakistan army). The cease fire was declared to protect the civilians and also to ensure that a peaceful solution will emerge through the United Nations. The matter being taken to United Nations has been criticized but that must have been the best option in that circumstance.
Patel very much approved of it, “As regards specific issues raised by Pakistan, as you have pointed out, the question of Kashmir is before the Security Council. Having invoked a forum to settlement of disputes open to both India and Pakistan, as members of the United Nations Organisation, nothing further need be done in the way of settlement of disputes than to leave matters to be adjusted through that forum.” (Patel’s letter to Jawaharalal Nehru dated 23 February 1950, page 105-106, of the book “Sardar Patel’s correspondence 1945-50 Volume 10 Navjivan publishing house, Ahmedabad, 1974).
The attempt to create a binary between the line taken by Nehru and probable line of Patel is figment of fiction for political considerations of sorts, as Nehru and Patel both were on the same page on the issue. As far as Kashmir is concerned, as people have welcomed Bharat Jodo yatra, it is yet another occasion to introspect and restore democratic norms in the state.