By Vimal Sumbly
On October 26, the state of Jammu and Kashmir completes seventy years of accession with the union of India. It was exactly on this day, seventy years ago, that the then ruler of Jammu and Kashmir Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with India. It is an irony that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the leader who should otherwise be praised and credited for the state of Jammu and Kashmir being part of the Indian union, is blamed for the ‘Kashmir problem’ today. The current regimes, in particular, both at the centre and in J&K, have made it an ‘agenda of governance’ to attribute all the ills to Pandit Nehru and subvert and undermine his contribution towards the integration of the state with the union.
Instrument of Accession that the Maharaja signed with India was not an isolated incident of history. It was only a part of a series and sequence of events. The Kashmir problem has multiple reasons including the delay on part of the Maharaja to accede to India as he apparently wanted to remain as a sovereign and independent ruler. It is a fact of history, even acknowledged by Dr Karan Singh, the son and the successor of Maharaja Hari Singh that he toyed with the idea of remaining independent, while hoping to have friendly relationship with both the newly independent countries of India and Pakistan. He had been assured about his ‘sovereignty’ by the ‘foxy’ Jinnah. The idea did not work as Jinnah betrayed him and breached the ‘Standstill Agreement’ by invading Kashmir using mercenaries and regular army. The Maharaja apparently realised that Jinnah had assured to respect his sovereignty only to take him off guard and annex Kashmir, which he actually tried, though unsuccessfully. This left the Maharaja with no option but to accede to India.
It was not merely the compulsion, due to Pakistani attack, that Maharaja decided to join the Indian union. He could have conveniently acceded to Pakistan also and there would have been no attack. However, there were some other overriding factors. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had emerged as the most popular and powerful leader of the Kashmiri Muslims. Originally having started his movement under the name o the Muslims Conference, he had rechristened it later to National Conference to make it more inclusive and secular and genuinely so. This was primarily because of his close association and relationship with Pandit Nehru and the great influence of Mahatma Gandhi. Despite Jinnah’s desperate attempts, Sheikh opted for India and Nehru against Pakistan and Jinnah. Had there not be a leader like Nehru, whose secular credentials were above board, it is quite unlikely that the Sheikh would have supported the move of accession with a Hindu majority India.
In 1947 India was divided along the religious lines. While Pakistan was formed on the basis of religion, India adopted a secular, liberal and democratic system of governance. The accession of a Muslim majority state like Jammu and Kashmir with a Hindu majority nation like India, while rejecting the Muslim state of Pakistan was an instant endorsement of the idea of India as dreamt by Gandhi and Nehru. It would have required humongous amount of faith in the secular credentials of Pandit Nehru that Sheikh Abdullah rejected the Mulsim state of Pakistan and accepted the Hindu majority India, despite himself being the leader of Muslims.
Pandit Nehru is blamed primarily for two things; the special provision for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution of India and taking the Kashmir dispute to the United Nation. It is difficult to pronounce the judgement without appreciating the historical and strategic compulsions of that particular period of time.
As is obvious, the state of Jammu and Kashmir did not accede with the Indian union under normal circumstances. The natural course for the state at that time would have been accession with Pakistan as it was a Muslim majority state and was geographically contagious with that country sharing hundreds of miles of border with it. Despite all this the state acceded with India. For a nation like India it really didn’t matter much if it granted some special concessions to the state which would preserve its distinct identity, while remaining part of the Indian union. That is how Article 370 was incorporated into the Constitution of India.
Second major blame attributed to Nehru is that he took the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations, which mandated holding of the “plebiscite”, so that the people of the Jammu and Kashmir would themselves decide their own future. Given the popularity of Sheikh Abdullah, even holding “plebiscite” at that time would have won the case for India. But plebiscite could not be held, and it can never ever be held, as the UN had laid down certain conditions prior to that which can never be fulfilled. If the plebiscite was to be held, both India and Pakistan will have to withdraw their armies from the respective parts of the state. That issue aside, the successive elections and the participation of people in the democratic process have rendered the idea of plebiscite redundant. The 1977 assembly elections in particular, genuinely believed to be the most fair, were held after India-Sheikh Accord of 1976. Sheikh Abdullah was voted to power with a sweeping majority. The accord was signed after he dissolved the Plebiscite Front and decided to join the mainstream. (After six years of accession Sheikh had developed differences with Nehru and later toyed with the idea of plebiscite for a long time). The very fact that people participated in overwhelming numbers and voted overwhelmingly for his party National Conference was categorical endorsement of his ‘accord’ with Indira.
Even Nehru’s critics know that they cannot prove their baseless charges against him on Kashmir, yet they will continue with their malicious campaign against him. Even if Kashmir issue was not there, they would still have tried to find some other excuse anyway to malign him as they will have to undermine his great and unmatched persona and contribution towards building a modern, prosperous and progressive India.
Pakistanis have always and often been preaching that Kashmir is their ‘windpipe’ (shah-ragg) meaning it is incomplete without Kashmir, rather it cannot survive without Kashmir. But actually it is a thorn in their ‘idea of Pakistan’ that was based on religion, as a Muslim majority state led by a popular Muslim leader rejected it to opt for a secular and Hindu majority nation, India. The accession of Kashmir with India is an approval of the idea of India the same way it is the rejection of the idea of Pakistan. Sheikh Abdullah later stood vindicated in 1971, for supporting accession with India in 1947, when the ‘Muslim Pakistan’ broke down into two parts as the religion could not hold it together.