Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Is it Jawaharlal Nehru’s fault?

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From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Integration of Princely states

Nehru

Context

  • Jawaharlal Nehru has recently come under criticism for declining to accept the Kashmir Maharaja’s initial offer to accede to India in September 1947, several weeks before the tribal invasion. Even great statesmen make occasional mistakes and Nehru was no exception. However, a careful examination of the historical background shows that Prime Minister Nehru cannot be faulted in this case.

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Background: Jammu and Kashmir’s Maharaja Hari Singh and his stand on accession

  • Stand against accession with either India or Pakistan: Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir was one of the few princely rulers who had held out against accession to either India and Pakistan before the partition of British India.
  • Lord Mountbatten visit and assurance: a couple of months prior to the partition, the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, visited Srinagar in an attempt to persuade the Maharaja to opt for one or the other of the two states, offering him an assurance from Sardar Patel that India would raise no objection if the ruler were to opt for Pakistan.
  • Maharaja evaded discussion and hopes for an independent state: The Maharaja entertained his guest in regal style but evaded any discussion on the political issue, pleading a stomach ailment. Hari Singh evidently hoped that, with the lapse of British paramountcy, he would become the ruler of an independent and sovereign state.

How Maharaja’s hope of a sovereign state got dashed?

  • Uprising assisted by Pakistan: An uprising in Poonch assisted by Pakistani elements.
  • Economic sanctions by Pakistan: an undeclared economic embargo imposed by the Pakistani authorities. Since Kashmir’s main trade exchanges in those days were with Pakistan, the unofficial embargo resulted in great hardship.

How Maharaja revised his position on accession?

  • Decided to talk on terms of accession and a message to Nehru: Maharaja asked Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan, his prime minister-designate, to convey to Nehru the terms on which he was prepared to accede to India.
  • Nehru urging Maharaja to induct Sheikh Abdullah into state government: Nehru had been urging the Maharaja to induct Sheikh Abdullah, the leader of the secular National Conference, into the state government in order to ensure popular support for the administration.
  • Reluctant to have immediate administrative reforms Maharaja refused: The Maharaja was not agreeable to introducing immediate reforms in the administration of the state. The Maharaja indicated that he was not prepared to do so, at least at this stage.
  • Nehru reiterated to associate Abdullah with the governance of the state: When Mahajan conveyed these terms to Nehru in the third week of September, the latter reiterated that Abdullah should be freed from prison and associated with the governance of the state.

Nehru

Why did Nehru insist on bringing Sheikh Abdullah into the administration?

  • He anticipated the armed intervention by Pakistan and armed rebellion: Nehru anticipated armed intervention by Pakistan in Kashmir and foresaw that this could be repulsed only by a government that enjoyed popular support.
  • A letter to Sardar patel before a month before tribal invasion: He set out his views in a letter to Sardar Patel on September 27, 1947, nearly a month before the tribal invasion. This remarkable letter has not received the attention it deserves.
  • Anticipating the demand of the time, he confirmed his way: Nehru, therefore, concluded that the only acceptable course was for the Maharaja to seek the cooperation of Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference while acceding to India. This was the only effective way of countering Pakistani designs.

Interesting: Nehru’s letter to Sardar Patel a month before tribal invasion assisted by Pakistan

  • “The Muslim League in the Punjab and the NWFP are making preparations to enter Kashmir in considerable numbers. The approach of winter is going to cut off Kashmir from the rest of India,” he wrote. “I understand that the Pakistan strategy is to infiltrate into Kashmir now and to take some major action as soon as Kashmir is more or less isolated because of the coming winter. I rather doubt if the Maharaja and the State forces can meet the situation by themselves without some popular help… Obviously the only major group that can side with them is the National Conference under Sheikh Abdullah’s leadership.”

Nehru

Rest is the story of accession

  • Nehru’s assessment confirmed and Maharaja agreed to his advice: Nehru’s assessment of Pakistan’s plans to invade Kashmir were confirmed within three weeks. It was only at this stage that the Maharaja heeded Nehru’s advice. He inducted Sheikh Abdullah into the government and acceded to India. This had momentous consequences for the defence of Kashmir against the invaders.
  • Resistance against Pakistani invaders: The normal administrative machinery had broken down and responsibility for maintaining law and order had been taken over by National Conference volunteers. Abdullah and his followers organised the popular resistance against the Pakistani invaders.
  • Advance of raiders and then Indian troops were airlifted to assist and protect the state: With the advance of the raiders towards Srinagar, the Maharaja’s administration had virtually collapsed. By the time Indian troops were airlifted to Srinagar on October 27, 1947, the Maharaja had departed to Jammu for safety. The first batches of Indian troops who had been airlifted to Srinagar had arrived without transport vehicles.

Conclusion

  • Far from being a blunder, Jawaharlal Nehru’s insistence on linking accession to the installation of a popular government in Jammu and Kashmir bears testimony to his foresight and statesmanship.

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