Gandhi’s pre-partition Kashmir Yatra: Objective, response & fallout

Acting on the recommendation of Mountbatten, the British Government on 3rd June, 1947 announced its plan of partition of India into two Dominions of India & Pakistan. The Indian Independence Act, 1947 enacted by the British on 18th July 1947 gave legal recognition to the creation of the two Dominions. Under the Act, the British suzerainty over the provinces including 584 princely States was to cease on 15th August, 1947 & the provinces were given choice to accede to either of the two Dominions. But the choice of the rulers to join either Dominion was to be determined by their geographical position to the Dominion and the predominance of Muslims or Hindus in their populations. (Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan (1954) Hector Bolitho, page 206). In simple terms, “predominantly Hindu provinces were to form the Union of India & the predominantly Muslim provinces were to form Pakistan”. (Josef Korbel, Danger in Kashmir, page 44).

Immediately after declaration of Partition Plan, pro-India Hindu rajas of neighbouring States & INC leaders queued up to visit Maharaja Hari Singh at Srinagar to influence & convince him for acceding to Indian Dominion. At that crucial time, against all ethics of impartiality, a line of “Hindu” monarchs of some erstwhile provinces like Patiala, Kapurthala and Faridkot, and the “president of INC”, Achariya Kripalani, paid visits to the Maharaja Hari Singh. The rulers of Patiala, Kapurthala and Faridkot had already declared their intention to accede to India. Achariya Kripalani had year before in 1946 visited Hari Singh & openly sided with him against SMA’s Quit Kashmir Movement of that year. The ruler of Patiala was responsible for Muslim subjects massacres in his province.

Fast approaching day of 15th August, 1947 made Nehru restive & restless as he wanted to visit Kashmir personally to convince Hari Singh that he had no ill-will towards him and that he wanted to bring reconciliation between him and SMA as the latter’s support was imperative for bringing accession of JK with India. On 29th July 1947 a meeting was convened at Birla House, Delhi, between Mountbatten, Nehru, Patel & Gandhi wherein it was decided that Gandhi being a “saintly personality” would be sent to Kashmir for the job. (M Y Saraf, Kashmiris Fight for Freedom, (2009) volume II, page 763).

Gandhi Ji was the last but most powerful personality to visit Kashmir at that most crucial time. He was not an ordinary politician visiting Maharaja. He was Mahatma, holy, saint, Godly, for Hindus including Hari Singh. His advices to Hari Singh could not be ignored by the Maharaja. He “was one of the world’s most ingenious politicians and it was hard to think what could have drawn him, as a saint, to Srinagar at that time”. (Horned Moon: An Account Of A Journey Through Pakistan, Kashmir And Afghanistan (1953), Ian Melville Stephens, page 107).

So, Gandhi Ji set on Kashmir Yatra via Rawalpindi. Bakshi whose entry in Kashmir was banned by Hari Singh government for his role in Quit Kashmir Movement of 1946 & was hiding in Rawalpindi accompanied Gandhi Ji in Rawalpindi. Gandhi Ji reached Baramullah town on 1st August 1947 where he faced huge demonstration of people who rushed towards his car with black flags & handkerchiefs raising pro-Pakistan & anti-Gandhi slogans. Gandhi Ji asked his driver to slow down car & asked the crowd: what they want? A demonstrator told Gandhi Ji: we want Pakistan. Gandhi Ji replied: Pakistan to ban gaya hai? On this another demonstrator retorted: Hum Yahan Pakistan Mangta Hai. Gandhi Ji did not respond to this & instead his car drove away from the scene. Similar anti-Gandhi Ji & pro-Pakistan demonstrations were faced by him at Sangrama. (For full details see Kashmiris Fight For Freedom (1979) Volume Two, M Y Saraf , page 764-765: M Y Saraf has been eyewitness to all these events).

At Chattabal Srinagar, the followers of Muslim Conference protested Gandhi Ji’ s entry into Kashmir by raising anti-Gandhi, pro-Pakistan & pro-Jinnah slogans. But, on the other hand, NC supporters, following a planning set by their leaders, welcomed Gandhi Ji at Chattabal & Amira Kadal by raising slogans in his favour. It is recorded that Gandhi Ji “positively” responded with “smiles” to MC supporters & their pro-Pak sloganeering. (Nid-e Haq (2016) by Munshi M Isaaq, page 154). Gandhi Ji attended at the palace of Maharaja Hari Singh & Maharani Tara Devi at Gupkar Srinagar on 1st August 1947. Maharani came barefooted with milk in a golden cup on a golden tray but Gandhi Ji refused & said: “beti jis raja ki praja dukhee ho, Gandhi uska doodh nahin peeta (Gandhi does not drink milk of a Raja whose subjects are unhappy” (Kashmiris Fight For Freedom (1979) Volume Two, M Y Saraf , page 763).

Gandhi Ji stayed at Baghat e Barzalla Kothi of forest lessee Seth Kishori Lal . Gh Mohi ud Din Qarra who was hiding to avoid arrest following participation in Quit Kashmir Movement also met Gandhi Ji. Gandhi Ji paid a visit to “Mujahid Manzil”( NC headquarters) at Srinagar. He visited SMA residence at Soura & presented some gifts to wife of SMA. ( Nid e Haq ( 2016) M M Isaaq, page 154). The wife of SMA told Gandhi Ji if SMA were not in jail, he would have arranged a grand reception & party for him. Gandhi Ji told her that everything will be alright in due course of time. Trust God. The wife of SMA offered tea with snacks to Gandhi Ji.
Gandhi Ji asked Begum Sahiba to recite few verses of the Quran which she did . SMA was himself upholding “higher ideals of Gandhi Ji’s India in Kashmir”. (Blazing Chinar (2016) pages 148, 308).
Gandhi Ji before returning to Jammu on 3rd August, 1947 had discussions with Hari Singh in his palace at Hari Niwas, Gupkar, Srinagar. What exactly transpired between the two is not precisely known, (The Times, London, October 25th 1947), but the fact that India had been taking lively interest in the subject of Kashmir & that Hari Singh was “much influenced by representations made by Gandhi who visited Kashmir”, cannot be denied. (Ibid quoted with approval by Josef Korbel in Danger in Kashmir, page 59).
The veteran journalist, Ved Bhasin, has confirmed it in these words:
“In this backdrop Gandhi Ji visited Srinagar on August 1 and met the Maharaja. Though Gandhi declared that his mission was not political and he was only fulfilling an old promise to the Maharaja to visit Kashmir, there were clear indications that he had advised him to join the Indian Union. Gandhi Ji returned to New Delhi via Jammu where he arrived on June 3,” (Experiences of Partition: Jammu 1947’, paper presented at Jammu University in 2003 by Ved Bhasin , cited by Saeed Naqvi in Being the Other: Muslim in India (2016), page 176).
Later developments following Gandhi Ji’s visit are clear indicator of the influence he had exercised on Maharaja Hari Singh. They were as below:
Firstly, Pandit Prem Chand Kak, a Kashmiri PM of Maharaja Hari Singh, who had signed Standstill Agreement with Pakistan & who had prevented Nehru in May 1946 from entering JK borders & got him detained at Lakhanpur border, was replaced by a MP-Kangra-man Janak Singh (10 August to 14 October 1947) who was Maharaja’s close kinsman & had also served as his Army Minister. He was later replaced by Mehr Chand Mahajan (15 October-5 March 1948), who was most significant Indian Congress representative in Radcliffe Commission, and who had openly sided with India and was for the State’s accession with India. (Josef Korbel, Danger in Kashmir, page 60).
Secondly, the British officers were dismissed from the Kashmir police and Dogra army, including the Chief of the General Staff and the Inspector General of Police. (Ibid).
Thirdly, the arrest warrants of Bakshi & other NC leaders were cancelled. Bakshi , Sadiq & Karra had been avoiding arrest & since his days of absconding arrest Bakshi had come very close to Sardar Patel. After Gandhi Ji’s visit, Bakshi was openly praising Sardar Patel. (Ibid, Nid e Haq, page 155: Note: As SMA was in jail at that time, Bakshi was acting President of NC).
Fourthly, following Gandhi Ji’s Kashmir Yatra, Nehru started manoeuring possibilities of getting SMA released from prison. At that time, SMA was serving three years term in jail for sedition charges since September, 1946 while his closest associates were avoiding arrests which were cancelled by Dogra regime after Gandhi Ji’s visit to Hari Singh. SMA was, thus, released from jail on 29-09-1947 after tendering an unconditional apology & offering some Asrafiyan (gold coins) to Hari Singh as was customary. (Sardar Patel’s papers; Nid e Haq). His release was orchestrated by Nehru is proven beyond doubt by several recorded & documented historical facts in lieu of a “Faustian bargain” he was making with India. The facts are as under:
a) The letter dated 27-09-1947 addressed by Nehru to Patel amply proves the contention. It reads as: “there is no course open to Maharaja than to release SMA & other N C leaders to make a friendly approach to them, seek their co-operation & make them believe that this is really meant , and then to declare adhesion to the union of India”. (Cited in Kashmir Issue, A M Mattu, (2002) page 46).
b) Public speeches & addresses of SMA right from the day of his release were openly against two nation theory & Pakistan & pro-India. Qabeel entered Kashmir on 22nd October 1947, to mention.
c) SMA was appointed as PM of JK succeeding Mehar Chand Mahajan on 30-03-1948 after his “famous” anti-Pak & pro-India speech at UN GA on 5th February 1948. SMA , in express terms, has admitted how he persuaded Nehru & Patel to make him PM of JK in place of Mehar Chand Mahajan as he had told them that “diarchal administration in Kashmir” would prove disastrous for India. SMA writes “proudly” that he was the “first Muslim” PM under the royal dynasty of Maharaja Hari Singh. (Blazing Chinar (2016) pages 320-322; Birth of a Tragedy-Kashmir, Aliaster Lamb, page 53).
d) Stanley Wolpert records that Nehru and Patel thought (right so, if one may add) that as PM of Kashmir, SMA would be able to convince his fellow Muslim majority in the Vale to remain happy within India’s union, rather than so anxious to join their Muslim brothers in Pakistan.( Shameful Flight , Page 184 ).

e) In a letter addressed by Nehru to SMA, role that was cast for SMA in facilitating accession & bringing Indian troops to Srinagar together with Nehru is plainly acknowledged by SMA in his work, however, with a friendly caution from Nehru to be observed: “…..There is going to be rough time for us in the future”. (Blazing Chinar (2016) at page 293).
Note: Views are personal & not of the organisation the author works for.