A hornet’s nest has been stirred by Dr. Jatinder Singh, BJP MP from Udhampur and a Minster in Prime Minster’s Office when he said that steps were underway to abrogate article 370 of Indian Constitution.
While much has been said upon the non-revocable character of Article 370 due to a host of reasons like absence of J&K constituent assembly whose approval is a sin-qua-non for the revocation etc.etc., not much has been said or debated about the non-existence of instrument of merger between Srinagar & New-Delhi and its effect vis-à-vis abolition of Article 370.
The history of mergers of Princely states, like Kashmir is an interesting one & needs to be told briefly to understand the ongoing controversy of abolition in a proper perspective.
It is a historical fact that the instrument of accession of all princely states, including Kashmir was similar in all respects and ceded only three subjects to the centre namely Defence, Communication & Foreign affairs. However, difficulties were soon experienced in matters of governance particularly after crimes were committed in Orissa province and criminals taking shelter in neighboring princely states. Patel, as Deputy Prime Minister of India, along with Menon went to Cuttack where all Maharajas of neighboring states were invited for a meeting and advised to hand over the administrations of their states to the Orissa Government. The Princes first suggested the mechanism of Extradition treaties with Orissa Govt. to overcome the problem, but Patel did not agree . After heated discussions & coercive persuasion, the Maharajas signed the instrument of merger with Orissa Govt and hence became part & parcel of Indian Union.
From Cuttack, Patel and Menon flew directly to Nagpur. There were small Princely states around Nagpur, creating similar problems for the Central Province and Berar (later Madhya Pradesh and now Chattisgarh). These Princes were shown the Cuttack agreements and using the same tactics as applied in Cuttack, all the Mahrajas signed the instrument of merger. Triumphantly, Patel and his team returned to Delhi the next day. Gandhi was happy with the operation and likened it with application of Castor oil to resisting children.
Having heard about the fate of their counterparts in Cuttak & Nagpur, the Maharajas of remaining princely states raised a hue &cry and on Jannuary 7 1948, they held a meeting in New-Delhi under the chairmanship of Mountbatten. Mountbatten pleaded his inability to help but said that those states which were “big” & “Viable” would not be merged. Later events proved that this was a false promise made at the instance of Nehru & Patel.
A few weeks later, a massive merger operation was engineered in Kathiaward belt in Western India Many States – big and small, (Barring Junagrah)were merged into a new State named Saurashtra. Since Patel belonged to this area, he exercised his personal influence to make the merger a smooth affair with virtually no protests.
The next on the hit-list of Patel was Alwar in Rajastan. Its recalitant Maharaja would not yield and upon Gandhi’s assassination on Jannuary 30, 1948, even refused to join in the mourning & lower its national flag. As ill luck would have it, communal riots flared in Alwar where muslims were killed & forcibly converted into Hinduism under a plan called “Shuddi”. Patel seized the opportunity &
Instructed Maharaja of Alwar to come to Delhi on 4th February 1948. On the same evening AIR broadcast a news that Mahraja of Alwar was suspected to be behind the murder of Gandhi & hence lodged in preventive Custody. Unnerved by the threat, Mahraja signed the instrument of merger without much resistance. The news travelled like a wild fire & remaining Mahrajas, hitherto unwilling to cede their authority, made a bee-line to Delhi with instrument of mergers in their hands. A consideration in the form of privy purses, in lieu of merger was settled with each Mahraja. This was, however, abolished in 1971 by Indira Gandhi Govt. It needs to be mentioned here that in 1951, after the death of Patel, A Mahraja of an eastern State alleged that Law & order problem in their States was deliberately created by Union Home Minstry to manufacture conditions for their surrender of authority.
It is a historical reality that Kashmir did not sign any instrument of merger with New-Delhi because it could not do so due to the disputed tag attached to it and UN resolutions still awaiting implementation. So in absence of this instrument , Article 370 was conceived as a Governing mechanism by Union of India with word “temporary” prefixed to it to avoid international censure. Now in case this article is abolished, the Governing mechanism disappears & India will be left with only an instrument of accession in hand, on whose veracity many historians, including our own Dr. Abdul Ahad ( Kashmir-Triumphs & Tragedies) have expressed serious doubts.
(The author is a practicing chartered Accountant. E mail: email@example.com)