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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 38 New Delhi September 10, 2016

The Story of J&K’s Accession to India

Friday 9 September 2016


by Praveen Davar

Sixtynine years after the State of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India questions are still asked as to why India accepted a ceasefire and why its Army was not allowed to evict the Pakistani raiders from the other side of the LoC which since became PoK and the Gilgit-Baltistan area. This brief article attempts to trace the origin of the dispute and answer these oft-raised questions. Before doing so it is important to know that both the Indian and Pakistan armies during the period were headed by British Generals. While M.A. Jinnah, as the Governer- General of Pakistan, was the supreme authority for Pakistan, Lord Mountbatten, as the Governer-General of India, was the Chief of India’s Defence Committee comprising Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Home Minister Sardar Patel and Defence Minister Baldev Singh. All decisions on J&K—accession, sending troops, reference to the UN, ceasefire etc.—were taken by the Defence Committee.

As for the other princely states, it was open to the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, a state which was contiguous to both India and Pakistan, to sign the Instrument of Accession and join it to either Dominion. All the princely states, except J&K, Hyderabad and Junagadh, acceded to India or Pakistan by August 15, 1947. Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, delayed his decision as it was for him not an easy decision: his state was contiguous to both Dominions and, while he was a Hindu, his subjects were predominantly Muslim. He sought to enter into a standstill agreement with each Dominion in accordance with the Indian Independence Act, which, while terminating the suzerainty of the British Crown, had provided for the continuance of certain existing arrange-ments pending the establishment of permanent relations.

The ruler’s offer was conveyed in identical terms to both the Dominions on August 12, 1947. Pakistan agreed to have a standstill agreement on communications, supplies and postal and telegraphic arrangements. The Government of India requested the ruler to send a representative of his government to negotiate and settle the terms of the Standstill Agreement and expressed their desire for the maintenance of “existing arrangements and administrative arrangements”. Pakistan acted beyond the terms of the Standstill Agreement by applying economic and other pressures against Kashmir for its accession. Supplies of food, salt, petrol and other essential commodities were cut-off, and so also the only rail link with the state. Tribal raiders covertly led by the Pakistani Army officers started crossing the frontiers of the state in the third week of October. By October 22, the incursions swelled to the size of a large-scale military invasion. The armed forces of the state were mobilised to offer resistance but by October 25 the invaders had advanced deep into Kashmir and were within a few miles of Srinagar.

The state people’s movement in Jammu and Kashmir had been led Sheikh Abdullah, an outstanding leader, but neither Jinnah nor any other Muslim League leader had taken any interest in the state people’s movement, while a strong bond of cooperation had been forged between the Indian National Congress and the Kashmir National Conference. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah had formed a firm friendship which was to prove a great advantage for India.

With Mountbatten’s advice, and under pressure from Nehru and Patel, two days later the Maharaja offered to accede to India and asked for immediate military assistance. V.P. Menon, Secretary, Ministry of States, flew to Jammu and got the instrument of accession signed by the Maharaja on October 26. The emergency meeting of the Defence Committee comprising Nehru, Patel and Baldev Singh, despite initial resistance from Lord Mount-batten, the Chairman of Defence Committee, ordered troops in the Valley to evict the invaders. Operation J&K commenced at first light on the morning of October 27. One after another more than a hundred planes, both civilian (BOAC) and military (RIAF), flew out of Safdarjung Airport, ferrying weapons, rations and troops of the Sikh regiment led by Lt Col Ranjit Rai who was one of the first soldiers to sacrifice his life, but not before his unit had succeeded in establishing a bridge-head on the Baramula-Srinagar road which halted the invasion and saved Srinagar.

According to M.J. Akbar in Nehru—The Making of India, “Fortunately, the Prime Minister understood what was happening as soon as he got the news and he wasted not a moment in his response. As it turned out if Nehru had dithered even for a couple of hours, Srinagar would have fallen, and all would have been lost.”

And what of the Kashmiri people and how did they feel about the war raging around them? Sheikh Abdullah in a speech was effusive in his praise for the sacrifice and gallantry of the Indian Army. He said: “The attainment of our dream of independence might have received a setback or its realisation delayed owing to the grim war that had been forced upon us from Pakistan. The blood, which the heroic sons of India have shed on the battlefields of Kashmir in defence of the people, cannot go in vain and is bound to blossom forth as a symbol of comradeship between the people of Kashmir and India. Let us stand by the pledge that India has given us and we have given India forever.”

Gilgit’s population did not favour the state’s accession to India. Sensing their discontent, Major William Brown, the Maharaja’s comm-ander of the Gilgit Scouts, mutinied on November 1, 1947, overthrowing the Governor Ghansara Singh. The bloodless coup d’etat was planned by Brown which was also joined by a rebellious section of the Jammu and Kashmir 6th Infantry under Mirza Hassan Khan. A provisional government (Aburi Hakoomat) was established by the Gilgit locals with Raja Shah Rais Khan as the President and Mirza Hassan Khan as the Commander-in-Chief. However, Major Brown had already telegraphed Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan asking Pakistan to take over. The Pakistani political agent, Khan Mohammad Alam Khan, arrived on November 16 and took over the administration of Gilgit. Gilgit-Baltastan and the western portion of the state (called Azad Jammu and Kashmir) have remained under the control of Pakistan since then. After taking control of Gilgit, the Gilgit Scouts along with the Azad irregulars moved towards Baltistan and Ladakh and captured Skardu by May 1948. They successfully blocked the Indian reinforcements and subsequently captured Dras and Kargil as well cutting off the Indian communications to Leh in Ladakh.

The war in J&K went on for fifteen months, till the end of 1948. On January 1, 1948, India took the issue of Jammu and Kashmir to the United Nations Security Council. In April 1948, the Council passed a resolution calling for Pakistan to withdraw from all of Jammu and Kashmir and India to reduce its forces to the minimum level, following which a plebiscite would be held to ascertain the people’s wishes. However, no withdrawal was ever carried out, India insisting that Pakistan had to withdraw first and Pakistan contending that there was no guarantee that India would withdraw after-wards. By the end of November 1948 Indian forces had recaptured Dras and Kargil, securing the route from the Valley to Ladakh. Simul-taneously they took Mendhar and linked up with the Poonch garrison, so lifting the year- long siege. Having fully secured Ladakh and Rajouri-Poonch, India accepted ceasefire for which international pressure had been building up and could not be resisted any longer. The guns fell silent on the last night of 1948 and ceasfire became effective from January 1, 1949.

Writes Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramanian in his recently released book on India’s Wars : A Military History: “Despite his (Nehru’s) tenta-tivenness with matters military when forced to face the grim realities of an impending war and its impact on what was dear to him (Kashmir), many of his early military decisions were spot on. Given the precarious situation at Poonch, his decision to divert a part of the buoyant 161 Brigade southwards, much to the consternation of some of his military commanders, was instrumental in saving Poonch. Similarly, his decision to overrule his British C-in-Cs and allow the use of air power, albeit with some restrictions, against the raiders within Kashmir proved to be a significant force multiplier.”

India agreed to a plebiscite subject to certain very specific conditions, the most important of which was that Pakistan should withdraw all its troops and vacate the entire territory of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. This Pakistan refused to do and still refuses to do. According to top diplomat J.N. Dixit, “An even more interesting factor, which is not widely known, is that Sheikh Abdullah himself was not very keen that Indian forces retrieve the western areas of the state from Pakistani troops. The reason was that he was not sure of his popularity with and acceptance by the people who now inhabited Pakistan-occupied areas of Kashmir. His leadership and his political party, the National Conference of Jammu and Kashmir, did not have the same support in those areas which they had in the rest of Jammu and Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah therefore endorsed India referring the case to the UN Security Council instead of having to cope with a portion of the state which would have opposed him after the completion of the military operations.”

Though the whole of J&K, including PoK and northern areas of Gilgit-Baltistan, rightfully and legally belongs to India, the only pragmatic solution for India and Pakistan is to respect the status quo. This was the essence of both the 1999 Lahore Declatation and 1972 Simla Agreement. The only alternative is war which, in the 21st century, will not be conventional but a nuclear war resulting in mutual destruction. Hence it must be ruled out.

The author, an ex-Army officer, is a member of the National Commission for Minorities. The views expressed in the article by him are personal.

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