The analysts over the last week or so have gone to great lengths to prove that Patel did not want Kashmir as desperately as Nehru did. Left to Patel, he might as well have parted with it. Historical references are quoted to support the contention that Patel as a realist could foresee the difficulties involved in retaining a Muslim majority state bordering Pakistan within the Indian fold. Nehru on the other hand wanted Kashmir, given his sentimental attachment to the land of his ancestors.
Much has been written in recent days on the role that Nehru and Patel played in JK State becoming a part of India in 1947. The raging debate followed PM Modi’s speech in parliament. Modi blamed Nehru for India failing to retain the entire erstwhile state, while implying that left to Sardar Patel, he would have done it. It has been a constant refrain of Sangh Parivar that India’s troubles in Kashmir spring from Nehruvian indiscretion. Patel on the other hand is lionized.
There is a lot of truth in what has been related regarding the role of the duo in recent days. However, the fact stands that Sardar Patel left nothing undone to see that Kashmir remains within Indian fold, once he was convinced of Nehru’s desperation. Interposed between the two was Lord Mountbatten, playing the converging role. In phases, he emerges as more Indian than the Indians. In retaining Kashmir, while as Nehru banked on Abdullah’s popularity, Patel worked through Kashmir’s Dogra Durbar. A September 1947 missive from Nehru to Patel is often quoted urging urgent action. It obviously implied acting before winter closes the vital passes. Historical evidences bear out that Patel did act whatever his personal inclinations might have been. The evidences could be counted as:
(a) Planting Lt. Col Katoch as adviser…13th. September. Katoch it may be noted was the son of Major General Janak Singh-the interim prime minister of J&K state, appointed by Maharaja Hari Singh on 11th August as he replaced Ram Chand Kak. Mehr Chand Mahajan-the Indian judge on Radcliff’s boundary commission took over soon from Janak Singh
(b) Arranging for the provision of one civilian aircraft [from Dalmia Jain Airways, presumably a DC 3] to run a special service between Delhi and Srinagar…28th. September
(c) Supplying wireless equipment to assist all-weather operations at Srinagar airport, to which supply flights could now begin to take in loads of arms and ammunition to J&K state forces from Indian stocks (which so soon after Second World War were indeed massive)…Ist. October
(d) Preparations afoot for more effective telegraphic communication between India and Jammu and Srinagar
(e) Improvement of the road from Indian Punjab border near Madhopur to Jammu by Indian Army engineers and a pontoon bridge over Ravi leading to Kathua
(f) Mid October-sending actual troops as well as arms and equipment from Patiala state army [published Patiala sources suggest the intervention took place at a personal request from Nehru to Maharaja Yadavindra Singh
These moves are noted in Alistair Lamb’s [Birth of a tragedy-Kashmir 1947-page: 70/71]. Taking the ‘K’ role of the duo further, Mountbatten contributed in fair measure to what the two were driving at. Lamb takes the tale further.
A communiqué from Lord Mountbatten to Srinagar based resident of British Raj-Col. Wilfred Webb is quite revealing. The confidential note conveyed the gist of the Nehru-Patel meet ‘Nehru had broken down and wept, explaining that Kashmir meant to him at the time more than anything else’. Mountbatten’s concern is evident in the note “both Maharaja and his Prime Minister, Ram Chand Kak hate Nehru with a bitter hatred and I had visions of Maharaja declaring adherence to Pakistan just before Nehru arrived and Kak provoking an incident which would end up by Nehru being arrested just about the time he should be taking power from me in Delhi’’.
Patel and Mountbatten agreed after considerable correspondence between Viceroy and Congress leaders, that Gandhi instead of Nehru may go. In a word of caution, as well as of advice, Mountbatten notes ‘Nehru is under great strain and I consider visit by him to Kashmir at this moment could only produce the most explosive situation; whereas if His Highness could be persuaded to handle Gandhi tactfully, I believe there is a good chance that the visit could pass off without any serious incident’ [Mountbatten to Webb, 28 June, Transfer, Vol. XII, Doc. 387, p.720]. Patel believed that neither should go, but in view of Pundit Nehru’s great mental distress if his mission in Kashmir were to remain unfulfilled, he agreed that one of them must go. Mountbatten noted that Patel bluntly remarked “It is a choice between two evils and Gandhiji’s visit would be the lesser evil’” [Viceroy’s report, 1 August 1947, No 15, Transfer Vol. XII, Doc. 302, p. 449]. In the note Mountbatten informs Col. Webb ‘I called upon him [Nehru] as a matter of duty not to go running off to Kashmir, until his new Government was firmly in saddle and could spare his services’ [Mountbatten in Transfer, Vol. XI, Doc. 319, p. 593]. All these documented transfer papers of Vol. XI/XII are mentioned in Victoria Schofield’s [Kashmir in the Crossfire-pages 123/124 and in the notes-page 310].
In historical parlance, in an assessment of the role of the duo—Nehru and Patel, the corroborative role of Mountbatten cannot be left out.
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]