Excerpts from Badri Raina’s article in “Communalism Combat” Anniversary Issue (July-August 2010) , pointing towards how Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India:
The three states of Hyderabad, Junagadh and Jammu and Kashmir offered interesting paradigms. Where the first two had Muslim rulers but majority Hindu populations, Jammu and Kashmir had a Dogra-Hindu ruler but a majority Muslim population. Of the three, Jammu and Kashmir, being also contiguous to Pakistan, had the clearest case for accession to Pakistan.
But the ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, desired accession to neither of the two new countries and wished to remain independent. Having succeeded in signing what was called a “Standstill Agreement” with Pakistan, it was his hope to do the same with India. Except that the fates intervened in the shape of a precipitate invasion of the state he ruled by tribal warriors from the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, with that state’s active support and involvement, in late October 1947.
With next to no means of his own to meet, let alone defeat the invasion, he found himself constrained to appeal to India for military help and thus sought accession to the Indian dominion. In a letter dated October 26, 1947 addressed to the then governor general of India, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, the maharaja wrote:
“The mass infiltration of tribesmen drawn from distant areas of the North-West Frontier… cannot possibly be done without the knowledge of the provincial government of the North-West Frontier Province and the government of Pakistan. In spite of repeated requests made by my government, no attempt has been made to check these raiders or stop them from coming into my state… I have no option but to ask for help from the Indian dominion. Naturally they cannot send the help asked for by me without my state acceding to the dominion of India. I have accordingly decided to do so and I attach the Instrument of Accession for acceptance by your government.”
This much from a Hindu ruler who was reluctant to join even a Hindu-majority India but for the fact that circumstances had forced such a decision upon him. And yet, even on acceding, the Instrument of Accession that he signed stated that the accession in no way bound him to “acceptance of any future Constitution of India” (Clause 7) and that “Nothing in this instrument affects the continuance of my sovereignty in and over this state” (Clause 8). Stipulations that to this day continue to colour the fraught history of tensions between the union and the state.
As a result, Article 306A was adopted in the Draft Constitution and in course of time became the much-talked-about Article 370 in the final Constitution of India. Most significantly, the “special status” thus accorded to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, backed by the then home minister of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (who said to the Constituent Assembly that “in view of the special problems with which the government of Jammu and Kashmir is faced, we have made a special provision for the constitutional relationship of the state with the union”), was accepted without demur also by Syama Prasad Mookerjee, a member of Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet who was later to become the most vociferous and disruptive voice of the Hindu right wing.
But the best part of the “uniqueness” lay elsewhere, namely in the heroically principled declaration of allegiance to a prospectively secular and democratic Hindu-majority India by a Muslim Kashmiri leader of a Muslim-majority state, Sheikh Abdullah.
Internally, within the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, a popular movement for the overthrow of the maharaja’s rule had been underway for two decades before 1947, precipitated by the events of July 1931 when some 21 popular resisters were gunned down by the maharaja’s police force in front of a courthouse. The incident marked a watershed in the state’s political affairs and led to the formation of the “Muslim Conference” which came to be led by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, a postgraduate from the Aligarh Muslim University who was denied a teaching post in the state by the maharaja’s regime at a time when the number of educated Kashmiri Muslims could be counted on one’s fingertips.
Within mainland India, although the Muslim League had come a cropper in the 1936 elections to the provincial assemblies (held under the Government of India Act of 1935), between that loss and 1946 the party under Mohammad Ali Jinnah made huge strides among Muslims in the states of Punjab and Bengal. It was during this time that Jinnah was to make fervent arguments to Abdullah urging that the Kashmir Muslim Conference join forces with Jinnah’s League and support the Pakistan resolution which the League had passed in 1940.
By then Sheikh Abdullah was undisputedly the tallest leader of the valley and indeed the entire state. Remarkably however, despite the Kashmiri maharaja’s decidedly anti-Muslim regime, and though Abdullah had himself forged the “Muslim Conference”, and despite the fact that Jammu and Kashmir was a Muslim-majority state, he came to reject the two-nation communal thesis of the Muslim League and instead declared his preference for the secular-democratic struggle that the Indian National Congress under Gandhi and Nehru had been waging against colonial rule as he converted the “Muslim Conference” into the “National Conference” in 1938. This was done some nine years before the partition of India and the tribal invasion of Kashmir.
In these years Abdullah repeatedly gave voice to his convictions. Arguing that the matter of accession could not be left to the whims and fancies of rulers but must reflect the voice of the people, he gave public expression to the popular Kashmiri view in a speech at a historic rally (some three weeks before the tribal invasion) on October 4, 1947:
“We shall not believe in the two-nation theory which has spread so much poison [referring to the communal killings that had been underway in the Punjab and in Bengal]. Kashmir showed the light at this juncture [Gandhi was famously to say that the only light he saw amidst the darkness of communal killings was in Kashmir where not a single incident took place]. When brother kills brother in the whole of Hindustan, Kashmir raised its voice for Hindu-Muslim unity. I can assure the Hindu and Sikh minorities that as long as I am alive, their life and honour will be quite safe.”
Following the maharaja’s proclamation of March 5, 1948 announcing the formation of a popular interim government, Sheikh Abdullah took over as prime minister of the state. The very next day he told a press conference:
“We have decided to work with and die for India… We made our decision not in October last but in 1944 when we resisted the advances of Mr Jinnah. Our refusal was categorical. Ever since, the National Conference has attempted to keep the state clear of the pernicious two-nation theory while fighting the world’s worst autocracy” (“The Statesman”, March 7, 1948).
On December 3, he spoke at a function held by the Gandhi Memorial College in Jammu: “Kashmiris would rather die following the footsteps of Gandhiji than accept the two-nation theory. We want to link the destiny of Kashmir with India because we feel that the ideal before India and Kashmir is one and the same.”
These ideals – secularism, democracy, an end to feudal land lordship – were the basis for the adoption of the “provisional accession of the state to India” by the National Conference in the month of October 1948.
Although the accession and Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which conferred a “special status” on Jammu and Kashmir had, as stated above, received approval from both Patel and Syama Prasad Mookerjee, a new situation was to develop as the Abdullah government launched its ‘New Kashmir’ manifesto which was founded – among other extraordinarily progressive pronouncements, equal status of women in education and employment being but one – on the promise of giving land to those who tilled it.
Thus disregarding Clause 6 of the Instrument of Accession (“Nothing in this instrument shall empower the dominion legislature to make any law for this state authorising the compulsory acquisition of land for any purpose” and should land be thus needed, “I will at their request acquire the land”), Abdullah declared a maximum land ceiling of 22.75 acres, set up a land reform committee and set about distributing surplus land thus acquired to those who were the actual tillers of the soil. Abdullah was to rub home the point that such land reforms would never have been possible in a feudal Pakistan.
This was trouble royal.
Most of the land was then in the possession of Hindu Dogras and most of the tillers were Muslim Kashmiris.
Thus it came to be that the material loss of land holdings was sought to be converted into a communal question through the opposition now to Article 370 by a newly organised forum called the Praja Parishad which came to be led by the very Mookerjee who had been a willing party to the adoption of the article as a member of the union cabinet.
According to the provisions granting “special status” to Jammu and Kashmir, the state was to have its own Constitution for which it would form its own Constituent Assembly. When elections to the Constituent Assembly took place in 1951, candidates picked by Abdullah’s National Conference won all 75 seats. The assembly met on October 31, 1951. In his address to the assembly on November 5, Abdullah outlined the major items on its agenda:
- To frame a Constitution for the governance of Jammu and Kashmir;
- To decide on the fate of the royal dynasty;
- To decide whether any compensation should be paid to those who had lost their land through the Big Landed Estates Abolition Act;
- To “declare its reasoned conclusion regarding accession”.
Abdullah noted: “The real character of a state is revealed in its Constitution. The Indian Constitution has set before the country the goal of a secular democracy based upon justice, freedom and equality for all without distinction. This is the bedrock of modern democracy. This should meet the argument that the Muslims of Kashmir cannot have security in India where the large majority of the population are Hindus. Any unnatural cleavage between religious groups is the legacy of imperialism… The Indian Constitution has amply and finally repudiated the concept of a religious state which is a throwback to medievalism… The national movement in our state naturally gravitates towards these principles of secular democracy.”
And, of Pakistan, he said:
“The most powerful argument which can be advanced in her favour is that Pakistan is a Muslim state and, a big majority of our people being Muslims, the state must accede to Pakistan. This claim of being a Muslim state is, of course, only a camouflage. It is a screen to dupe the common man so that he may not see clearly that Pakistan is a feudal state in which a clique is trying by these methods to maintain itself in power… Right-thinking men would point out that Pakistan is not an organic unity of all the Muslims in this subcontinent. It has, on the contrary, caused the dispersion of the Indian Muslims for whose benefit it was claimed to have been created [a prescient observation that is said to have been earlier voiced by Maulana Azad in an interview given to the Urdu magazine Chattan in 1946, a year before partition].”
Abdullah considered the third option of independence (Kashmir as an “Eastern Switzerland”) and concluded as follows:
“I would like to remind you that from August 15 (the day of Indian independence) to October 22, 1947 (when the tribal invasion began) our state was independent and the result was that our weakness was exploited by the neighbour with invasion. What is the guarantee that in future too we may not be victims of a singular aggression?”
All this notwithstanding, the Hindu right-wing assault also began to gather force as it launched the Jan Sangh (precursor of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the BJP) in 1951 – the year that the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly was established. The newly formed Jan Sangh was headed by none other than Syama Prasad Mookerjee with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh lending its leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani in support.
Stung by the redistribution of land holdings, the Hindu right wing sought to make the terms of the accession the issue and, defying the democratic-federal principles enshrined both in the Constitution of India and in their reflection in the trust reposed therein by Abdullah, it announced a programme ostensibly aimed at strengthening national unity. At its first session the Jan Sangh called for:
- An education system based on “Bharatiya culture” (read Hinduism);
- The use of Hindi in schools (in the knowledge that other than Kashmiri, Urdu was the language predominantly used by educated Kashmiri Muslims. Indeed from about the first decade of the 20th century, the wholly artificial cleavage between Hindi and Urdu had begun to be deployed by communalists on either side to press their claims to “true” national allegiance);
- The denial of any special privileges to minorities;
- Full integration of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian union.
On the other side, in letters exchanged over a period of time between Abdullah and Nehru, an agreement between the state and the union was taking shape. This contract, which came to be called the Delhi Agreement 1952, stated:
- Commitment to Article 370;
- That the state legislature would be empowered to confer special rights on “state subjects” (a right that had been won through the anti-maharaja struggles of 1927 and 1932 – a form of privilege restricted to permanent residents of the state in property ownership and jobs);
- That Kashmir would have its own flag although subordinate to the union tricolour;
- That the sadar-e-riyasat (later, the governor of the state) would be elected by the state assembly but would take office with the concurrence of the president of India;
- That the Supreme Court of India would “for the time being” only have appellate jurisdiction in Jammu and Kashmir;
- That an internal emergency could only be applied with the concurrence of the state legislature.
The Hindu right wing’s riposte to this took the form of a slogan around which the Jan Sangh sought to mount its attack on the terms of accession later that year:
“Ek desh mein do vidhan,
Ek desh mein do nishan,
Ek desh mein do pradhan,
Nahin chalengein, nahin chalengein”
(We will not accept two Constitutions, two flags, two prime ministers in one and the same country).
This communalist right-wing putsch against the principles on which the state had agreed to accede to India began to find resonance within sections of the Congress party as well. Much to Nehru’s chagrin, his candidate for the first president of India, C. Rajagopalachari, was rejected in favour of Rajendra Prasad (who was soon to lock horns with Nehru on the Hindu Code Bill and go to the Somnath temple, once ravaged by Ghaznavi and other chieftains of old, to effect renovations at state expense – a move wholly in conflict with the secular foundations of the republic).
Other collateral tendencies also began to surface, such as bespoke scant regard on the part of the union of India for the federative principles. In his despondent letter to Maulana Azad dated July 16, 1953, Abdullah complained about the usurpations underway in contravention of the terms that had been agreed upon:
“We the people of Kashmir regard the promises and assurances of the representatives of the government of India, such as Lord Mountbatten and Sardar Patel, as surety for the assistance rendered by us in securing the signatures of the maharaja of Kashmir on the Instrument of Accession which made it clear that the internal autonomy and sovereignty of the acceding states shall be maintained except in regard to three subjects which will be under the central government [namely Defence, Communications and External affairs].”
And: “When the Constituent Assembly of India proceeded to frame the union Constitution, there arose before it the question of the state. Our representatives took part in the last sessions of the assembly and presented their point of view in the light of the basic principles on which the National Conference had supported the state’s accession to India. Our viewpoint drew appreciation and Article 370 of the Constitution came into being, determining our position under the new Constitution.”
Abdullah pointed out that although it had been agreed that the “accession involves no financial obligations on the states”, such demands were being made and that “the changes effected on several occasions in the relationship between India and Kashmir greatly agitated the public opinion”.
And on the other source of perceived menace: “A big party in India [the Jan Sangh] still forcefully demands merger of the state with India. In the state itself, the Praja Parishad is threatening to resort to direct action if the demand for the states’ complete merger with India is not conceded.”
Abdullah’s anguish at what appeared to be gathering storms on two fronts – the subversion by the union of the terms of accession and a Hindu communalist putsch to undo Article 370 – found poignant expression in a speech he was meant to deliver to an Id gathering on August 21, 1953 (12 days after his government was dismissed and Abdullah was arrested and incarcerated). In it, he wrote:
“[T]here is the suggestion that the accession should be finalised by a vote of the Constituent Assembly… It is the Muslims who have to decide accession with India and not the non-Muslims… The question is: must I not carry the support of the majority community with me? If I must then it becomes necessary that I should satisfy them to the same extent that a non-Muslim is satisfied that his future hopes and aspirations are safe in India. Unfortunately, apart from the disastrous effects which the pro-merger agitation in Jammu produced in Kashmir [the valley]… the Muslim middle class in Kashmir has been greatly perturbed to see that while the present relationship of the state with India has opened new opportunities for their Hindu and Sikh brothers to ameliorate their lot, they have been assigned the position of a frog in the well… What the Muslim intelligentsia in Kashmir is trying to look for is a definite and concrete stake in India.”
The die had been cast and his great friend Nehru had him arrested on suspicion that he had been hobnobbing with the Americans to garner support for Jammu and Kashmir’s secession from the union and its declaration of independence. And though there may have been grounds for such a suspicion, no evidence has so far been forthcoming.
It is another matter that long years later, in 1974, Abdullah signed an accord with Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister of India, which stipulated among other things that: “Parliament will continue to have power to make laws relating to the prevention of activities directed towards disclaiming, questioning or disrupting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India or bringing about secession of a part of the territory of India from the union…”