Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The story of Kashmir

The Instrument of Accession 1947- The story of Kashmir

What does October 26, 1947 mean for us? I still have the memories of October 1947, although I was still a kid. I could see the aircrafts flying over Srinagar. I did not know why such aircraft were hovering over the city. I only knew then that Kabalies (tribal invasion - raiders) from Pakistan had invaded us and were killing all Hindus and Sikhs.

I still remember the day we left our home, in four hired tongas (horse drawn carriages), with some of our belongings and family members of over 26 persons, in the middle of the night, to save our lives from the invaders from Pakistan. I still remember how our houses were burnt down and looted no sooner we were a few miles away from our village.

I had no answers to what was going on then. Being a Kashmir Pandit, many Indians and Pakistanis settled in Canada, and Canadians here ask me questions frequently about what is going on in Kashmir. A prospect to find an answer to it, 63 years on, is indeed heart-rending. Is it a matter of joy for us, or a sad legacy of the partition? Till today, we don't have an answer to it. For some it is a day to celebrate, while for others it is an eminently forgettable day. The truth lies somewhere between the two.

Gulab Singh acquired the title to Kashmir pursuant to the Treaty done with the British, at Amritsar, on March 16, March 1846. He consolidated his reign and established the State of Jammu&Kashmir's boundaries, whereof extended to far North-West in the Indian Subcontinent. That is history. We, however, need to extract and focus on the period of Rule by Maharaja Hari Singh, because that is germane to the present discussion. Hari Singh ascended the throne in 1925. The period coincided with the rise in political and economic aspirations of the Kashmiris, the majority of who were Muslims. Reading Room Party, of which the late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was a leading light, was formed by a few educated Muslim young men to deliberate upon their future.

The explosion of 1931 turned that into a political party called the Muslim Conference. This was a time when modern politics was taking shape around the world. The Indian Subcontinent was also experiencing it. The Muslim Conference articulated the demands of the Muslims ie jobs for the educated and re-opening of some of their closed religious places. With the passage of time a big political churning unfolded which attracted a good number of non-Muslims, from all the regions, to the anti-Ruler campaign. Sheikh Abdullah, too, reached out to them. Then a trend developed to open the doors of the Party to every community.

That resulted in transformation of the Muslim Conference into the National Conference, in 1938. Abdullah pioneered the move. His meeting with the leaders of the Indian National Congress, a party spearheading the freedom struggle against the British, acted as the catalyst for the changeover. A new relationship, based on common agenda and values, developed between the leadership of the National Conference and the Indian National Congress. The relations got cemented in the Sopore General Council meeting of the National Conference, in 1945, in which Jawaharlal Nehru, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan ('Frontier Gandhi'), Saif-uddin Kichloo, Samad Khan of Balochistan and Dawood Gaznavi of Sind participated as guests. An alignment between the two parties came into existence.

The seeds of Kashmir's association with India were, thus, sown. No wonder. Both the parties held many things in common. They believed in pluralism and the democratic way of governance. Along with the National Congress, Muhammad Ali Jinnah came up with his Muslim League on the Indian political firmament with a vengeance. He propagated a political creed which went quite opposite to the one held dear by the National Conference and the Congress. Jinnah propounded the 'Two-Nation Theory' and claimed a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims after the British left India. Sheikh and his National Conference were totally against it. They opposed Jinnah tooth and nail. It was not that Sheikh Abdullah made friends with the Congress at the first go. Even after he had converted the Muslim Conference into National conference (NC), some of his erstwhile comrades revived it and aligned with Jinnah and his Muslim League (ML). Sheikh was conscious of it. He wanted to strike at the roots.

Jinnah ignored Abdullah
David Devadas tells us in his well-researched book 'In Search of Future - The Story of Kashmir': "...Sheikh Abdullah told his biographer how he had first gone to Bombay in Feb 1944 to invite Muhammad Ali Jinnah; the League icon had said he was too busy to visit Kashmir but he could meet him again when Assembly session took place in Delhi. How Abdullah had taken Bakshi with him to Delhi in April the same year. How he had sent Bakshi to Banihal at the edge of the Valley to receive the brilliant Solicitor - after Gulam Abbas had received him warmly in Jammu.... Jinnah was not in Kashmir to bask in flattery.... He began to extol the Mirwaiz's piety and hector the NC to merge with the Muslim Conference â?¦." (P43).

Then he describes how Sheikh Abdullah was dismayed and frustrated at the behaviour of Jinnah. Jinnah nursed a pathological hatred for the Sheikh. So their relation never took off. Nehru meanwhile lent great support to the NC in its fight against the Maharaja. We know Abdullah wanted a relationship with India. Here we relate a foreigner's account. Sandeep Bamzai in his book 'Bonfire of Kashmiriyat - Deconstructing the Accession' records a report of Ihsan Abdel Koddous, a member of the Egyptian press delegation which visited India after the independence, thus: "Koddous, writing in Rosa El Youssef, said he asked Sheikh Abdullah why he had chosen to accede to India? While endeavouring that Kashmir might be made an Asian Switzerland?

"Sheikh during the conversation recognized the impossibility of that endeavour, that designs against his country were too strong to be resisted, and that as one is given by him to understand, it will ultimately have to join either Hindustan or Pakistan.... This would leave one in (no) doubt as to Sheikh Abdullah's preference that his country should join India and not commit suicide through accession to Pakistan. "Throughout the stage of his struggle against the British and Maharaja, the only support he received was from Congress Party, Gandhi and Nehru. The late M.A. Jinnah, the creator of Pakistan, had on the contrary considered him as an extreme leader who is more deserving of imprisonment rather than support..."

Then came 1947, along with joy and horror. The British, while preparing to leave India, announced on June 3, 1947 the plan to partition the country into two Dominions. As per the Memorandum issued by the Cabinet Mission on May 26, 1946 the rights surrendered by the Princely States to the Crown would revert back to them when two new Dominions are created. Princely states would not be transferred to the Indian Government until then. Mountbatten addressed the Chamber of Princes on July 25, 1947 and advised them, although they had become independent, to accede to one of the Dominions, keeping certain considerations in mind. He told them that accession was to be under Cabinet Mission Memorandum of May 16, which meant the surrender to the Central Government of only three subjects: Defence, External Affairs and Communications.

Accordingly, a draft Instrument of Accession was circulated. A State could accede to either Dominion by executing an Instrument of Accession signed by the Ruler and accepted by the Governor-General of the concerned Dominion. While accession of 564 States to the Indian Dominion was a smooth affair, it encountered problems in regard to J&K, Hyderabad and Junagadh States. The difference in the religions of the Rulers and the subjects may have been the reason. The Maharaja of Jammu&Kashmir proposed a Stand-Still agreement to the two Dominions. Pakistan agreed to it only to tear it apart soon after. India paid no heed to it. Maharaja Hari Singh was in a dilemma, whether he should accede to Pakistan or India. Most of his subjects were Muslims. His State was physically well connected with Pakistan. But for the Radcliffe award it lacked connectivity with India.

The NC and Sheikh Abdullah meanwhile wanted association with India, while the Muslim Conference lead by Gulam Abas and Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah favoured a relationship with Pakistan. Within Muslim Conference there was also a section lead by Ch Hameedullah which preferred an independent state. The Maharaja too had a similar preference. His Prime Minister R.C. Kak shared this view. Jinnah tried to influence the Ruler through his next PM, Meherchand Mahajan, to settle for Pakistan. Whatever the decision Mountbatten, in Srinager, was also pressing Hari Singh to accede to either Domonion before August 14.

Failing in their effort to coerce the Maharaja to accede to Pakistan, an economic blockade of the State followed by the tribal invasion was resorted to. In consequence the Maharaja approached the Government of India for help. He was told that in the absence of accession it would not be possible for them to render military aid. Therefore the Maharaja deputed Mahajan to Delhi with a letter offering accession to India.

Accession signed Oct 26
Mountbatten's press attache Alan Campbell-Johnson writes in his book 'Mission With Mountbatten': "Mountbatten said in the defence committee meeting on Oct 25, which considered Maharaja's request, that in the absence of accession of the State to India, military assistance could not be sent to the State. Moreover, accession should only be temporary prior to a plebiscite" (P189). The Instrument of Accession was, then, signed by the Maharaja on Oct 26, Oct 1947 and accepted by the Governor General of India. So the day became momentous for the nationalist forces, a day to commemorate. The Constituent Assembly of the State ratified it.

Sorrow, however, followed. The Indian Army landed in Srinagar on Oct 27 and, at great cost, repelled the tribal attack, which by then had the support of the regular Pakistan Army. But even after, Pakistan remained in illegal possession of some part of the State known as POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). Meanwhile India lodged a complaint with the United Nations Security Council against Pakistan regarding withdrawing her forces from Kashmir. Thus an intervention of the world body had international arbiters like Owen Dixon, Gunnar Jarring and Frank Graham coming onto the scene. A plebiscite was mooted. Before that, however, Pakistan was required to vacate that part of Kashmir that it had occupied illegally. That did not happen.
From 1947 until now three major wars have broken out between India and Pakistan. Since 1990 Kashmir - and India - have been facing the brunt of Pakistan-sponsored militancy, which has consumed thousands of people and given rise to a convoluted discourse, besides turning hundreds of thousands of people homeless. The most tragic part of it is that the pro-Pak publicists like Alastair Lamb, Stanley Wolpert and Victoria Schofield have the audacity to challenge the very existence of the Instrument of Accession, and the eye-witness accounts of dramatis personae like V.P. Menon, Alan Campbell-Johnson and the then Prime Minister M.C. Mahajan.
Let there be a dispassionate and sincere debate on the nature of the issue. We may not be sure how things would turn out exactly for the people of the State but we can hope that, regardless of how they turn out, they would make some sense for the people to live here.

(Guest Columnist Kanayalal Raina is a Brampton-based engineer by training, project consultant by profession and freelance writer by passion)

(Courtesy : www.southasianfocus.ca, 26/10/2010)

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