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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 35, August 17, 2013 - Independence Day Special

Jawaharlal Nehru and Kashmir

Sunday 18 August 2013

by Mohd Yousuf Dar

Jawaharlal Nehru, the great Indian political leader, was the first Prime Minister of independent India. Nehru was an upholder of some of the concrete political values. He believed in socialism, secularism, democracy and in the modern values of positivism. He always worked to translate these values in the practical field through the relevant institutions. He was a Congressman par excellence, willing and able to rule by consensus and accommodation. He was aware of the conflicting pulls of narrow self-interest and high principle through his long experience of the Congress culture. He was also intensely aware of the international arena and was conscious of being constantly under observation.

Jawaharlal Nehru shared a genealogical link with Kashmir. Nehru’s policies towards Jammu and Kashmir have been shaped and fashioned by this link to a large extent. Moreover, the considerations of ideological perspective of the leader have also played an equally important role with regard to his contribution to the Jammu and Kashmir issue. He was a votary of Kashmiri identity and squarely supported Kashmir’s freedom movement against the Maharaja. He exhorted the Kashmiri Pandits to support the Kashmir struggle and persuaded them to give up narrow loyalties.

The path-breaking event of transformation of the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference into the National Conference gave a new dimension to Jammu and Kashmir politics in 1939. The decision was taken by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah after realising the change in the rules of the game. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had a very cordial relationship with Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. They shared close ideological proximity with each other. Nehru’s Kashmir mission required the identification of a regional figure, modern, secular and rooted in the local social milieu. He found in Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah a leader drawn from the plebian section of the Kashmir society who identified with the people and had an open mind on issues central to the Kashmir society and polity. Nehru appears to have honed in early on Sheikh Abdullah as his man in Kashmir, a role that the Sheikh played with admirable aplomb up to a point.

Nehru was a staunch supporter of the popular legitimacy of any political rule. It was this consideration which led him to rein in the political designs of the then ruler of the Jammu and Kashmir state, Maharaja Hari Singh. Nehru offered his full cooperation to the National Conference in the ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement in 1946. He tried to enter Kashmir but was arrested by the Maharaja and sent back. Nehru arranged a lawyer, Asaf Ali, to defend Sheikh Abdullah in one of the cases with regard to the Maharaja’s rule in the state.

He also helped the National Conference by putting in use the ideological resources which the latter needed for freedom from the rule of the Maharaja. The New Kashmir Document, which was framed by the National Conference in 1944, can be cited as an example. Almost all the political, economic and social values which Nehru adhered to came to be included in this document. Though the manifesto was essentially a product of local socio-economic realities, the Naya Kashmir Manifesto was basically a roadmap for the political and economic development of the J&K state. Its essence was redistributive justice which forms the bedrock of socialistic thinking. This document structured itself on the basic values of planning. All these values were very dear to Jawaharlal Nehru.

There were some important elements which formed the core of the common ideological project on Kashmir propounded by Nehru and the National Conference under the leadership of Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah. One was that a joint struggle of different communities, castes and religious groups, oppressed by autocratic rule, can lay down the basis for an emanicipatory political movement in Jammu and Kashmir. Second, both political organisations, the National Conference and Indian National Congress under Nehru, worked towards consolidating Kashmiri nationalism as an affiliate of pan-Indian nationalism to checkmate the influence of the two-nation theory on the political culture of the Jammu and Kashmir state. Third, both Nehru and Abdullah strove for a distinct constitutional/legal identity for the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the same remained the bone of contention and undermined the common politico-ideological project of the two leaders.

When the tribal invasion took place in October 1947, the Maharaja of Kashmir acceded to the Indian Union of course with due support of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. After the Instrument of Accession, Maharaja Hari Singh appointed Sheikh Abdullah as the head of the Emergency Administration on October 31, 1947. Sheikh Abdullah refused to work with Mehr Chand Mahajan, with the result that Mehr Chand Mahajan was persuaded by Pandit Nehru to quit the office in favour of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. Maharaja Hari Singh invited Sheikh Abdullah to form the Interim Government and to carry on the administration of the State. The Interim Government later changed into a full-fledged Cabinet on March 5, 1948 with Sheikh Abdullah as its head. The appointment of Sheikh Abdullah as a new Prime Minister of the State was a clear manifestation of the establishment of a popular government in the State.

It is beyond doubt that soon after Accession in 1947 Nehru made a good start. He was quite generous in handling the Kashmir State’s affairs. He along with the Kashmir leadership worked for an autonomous status for Kashmir within the Indian Union. He went to the UN Security Council hoping to get endorsement of the inter-national community for the Indian position on Kashmir. Nehru clearly wanted the world to condemn Pakistan for trying to undo partition. Though later his political position did not materialise, Nehru had considerable maturity and vision to seek to recast his Kashmir policy in its entirety.

Jawaharlal Nehru also had a very strong diplomatic insight. It was because of this insight that he came up with a constitutional contrivance of Article 370 to handle the Jammu and Kashmir problem and steer it through the murky waters of partition politics. Article 370 was a new sort of federalism in the Indian context. He realised the peculiar circumstances of Jammu and Kashmir politics. Nehru dealt with it uniquely. Allaying the fears of the National Conference, especially that of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, he ensured autonomy for the State within the parameters of the Indian Constitution. Only three powers were given to the Centre, namely, Defence, External Affairs and Communication.

The Kashmir leadership was not ready at any cost to allow any kind of drastic interference in the autonomy of the State. It had cautiously resisted the same whenever any move to that effect was made by the Government of India. The Government of India was successful to secure the consent of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of which the President of India issued in 1950 an Order, namely, the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order 1950.

The controversy over the Centre and State relations in due course of time, however, assumed various dimensions. In April 1952, the Sheikh criticised and resisted every move or attempt which aimed at undoing the autonomy of the State. However, the governments of the Centre and the State of Jammu and Kashmir agreed to hold a meeting for the settlement of differences regarding the Centre and State relations on July 24, 1952 in Delhi, in which both the governments signed an agreement called the Delhi Agreement. The President of the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly, Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, in his speech after the completion of Constitution-making spelled out that the State’s Constitution was framed within the terms of the Delhi Agreement. Soon after the Delhi Agreement was signed, the Praja Parishad in Jammu burst into an agitation against the special status of the State and demanded total merger of the State with the rest of the country. Nehru tried his best to bring everybody on board with regard to Article 370.

By the end of 1953, the Praja Parishad agitation took a very serious turn. The slogan raised—one Constitution, one Prime Minister, one Flag (Ek Vidhan, Ek Pradhan, Ek Nishan), which attracted the popular support of almost all non-Muslims from every corner of country—had shattered the Sheikh’s faith in Indian secularism. In his public speeches, Sheikh Abdullah warned India of grave consequences, if Hindu communalism was permitted to continue to spread its virus against Muslims. Sheikh Abdullah’s attitude towards Delhi hardened. This attitude of the Sheikh was not liked by the Indian leadership, and even Maulana Azad was sent to Kashmir to persuade Sheikh Abdullah to change his attitude but all such efforts failed to bear fruit.

The Government of India had kept a strict vigilance over the Sheikh’s movements and activities. When Adlai Stevension, the Democratic leader of the USA, was on a visit to Srinagar, the Sheikh had a prolonged discussion with him in which he was suspected to have discussed the issue of independence of the State. On the other hand, developments in Indian domestic politics were threatening to force a closer integration of J&K with the rest of India than was postulated in the Instrument of Accession; and the renewed surge of Hindu communalism and fate of secularism after Nehru also created doubts in Sheikh Abdullah’s mind. The Sheikh increasingly and forthrightly attacked all forces he thought were responsible for vitiating the mutual agreements and under-standings.

As a result Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed from prime ministership of the State on August 9, 1953. The whole move was personally directed by Pandit Nehru. A tame Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir under the remote-control of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad agreed with the demands from Delhi for closer integration which whittled away the restriction of Accession to the three subjects of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communication. It was during Bakshi’s regime that the Presidential Order of 1954 empowered the Government of India to act on all matters in the Union List and not just Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communication. This was the beginning of the erosion of the autonomy of the State.

Similarly, the Constitutional Amendment of 1958 brought the State under the control of the Central administration, including extension of Articles 356 and 357.

Nehru’s nostalgia for past comradeship and hopes of developing a harmonious working relationship with Sheikh Abdullah as the model regional leader, however, persisted. The Sheikh was released in 1958 only to be rearrested a few months later. A prosecution was launched thereafter.

Yet Nehru was convinced that Sheikh Abdullah still had a strong hold on the people of Kashmir and in the changed circumstances no political settlement in the Valley could be thought of without bringing him in.

After the withdrawal of the Kashmir conspiracy case, the Sheikh and his associates were also set free in April 1964. Pandit Nehru invited Sheikh Abdullah to New Delhi. After holding talks with Nehru, Sheikh Abdullah went to Pakistan. But the sudden demise of Pandit Nehru on May 27, 1964, when Sheikh Abdullah was in Azad Kashmir, shattered all the prospects of the success of Sheikh Abdullah’s mission. Before leaving for Pakistan, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah had wide consultations with different sections of political and diplomatic opinion. He also met some Muslim groups. He set the tone in a futuristic mould. He listed four conditions for durable piece in the subcontinent: any settlement of the Kashmir problem (a) should not mean victory for either India or Pakistan, (b) should not weaken Indian secularism (c) should not result in displacement of minorities, (d) should seek to ensure honour and dignity of the Kashmiris.

The successors of Nehru had little confidence and institutional backing to carry forward Nehru’s reappraisal on Kashmir. (However, the accord of 1975, reached through protracted negotiations in the changed political landscape of the subcontinent, helped the Sheikh to return to the helm of affairs and assume charged of the State. It was a return to Nehru’s original vision on Kashmir and attitude towards the Sheikh.) The overall approach of Nehru towards Kashmir and his different experiments and strategies can serve as cues for the present leadership to handle the Kashmir problem in as effective a manner as possible.

The author is a Ph.D scholar, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir, Srinagar. He can be contacted by e-mail at daryousuf86 @yahoo.com

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