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27TH OCTOBER BY Z.G. MUHAMMAD
Today is 27th of October. On this day every year writers and politicians revisit 1947 Kashmir history. There are lots of tales woven in controversies and contradictions about the happenings that lead to this day. And in the maze of controversies many important developments that have strong bearing on contemporary Kashmir history have been relegated to footnotes or have been totally ignored.
A lot has been written on the ‘instrument of accession’ that is counted by some historians in India as a precursor to the developments that followed this day. In this column I am not going to debate if an ‘instrument of accession’ really exists, and if it exists was it signed by a competent person before 27th or afterwards, or if the last feudal ruler who faced a rebellion and was on a run was competent enough to write destiny of over four million people. The issue has been debated by number of historians. There have been arguments and counter arguments. Every important author on the subject has tried to cull out new information from archives and some have in fact revealed facts that were hitherto buried in state archives and repositories. Instead of looking accession story from the ‘white paper’ viewpoints in this article I am to going to look at subject from a different perspective.
It was not ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement launched by the National Conference that pinpricked the last feudal ruler of the state in early late summer and autumn of 1947. He, by arresting leaders of this organization had overwhelmingly contained this movement and was at peace with himself but it was the armed rebellion in other parts of Jammu and Kashmir that had made him restless. Two months before landing of troops from Delhi at Srinagar airport that is on August 26 a peaceful rally near Bagh (now in AJK) was fired upon and people in the rally fired back thus sparking a rebellion on a large scale that spread like a wildfire to other areas. The state troops could not fight back the war hardened rebels known for their martial traits and warrior traditions. The Sudhans of Poonch who claim an Afghan ancestry were joined in the words of Josef Korbel by ‘formidable Afridi and Mashud tribesmen of Tirah and Waziristan who were aroused by stories of slaughter of Muslims by Dogra troops. They crossed the Kashmir frontier at the strategic outpost Domel and swept down, some 2000 strong along the Jhelum river valley, quickly, overcoming the resistance of the State troops.” (Danger in Kashmir page 71).
The boat of the last ruler by the second week of September had started rocking heavily. The rebels were almost having a cakewalk and in quick succession they occupied Muzzafarabad and Uri. Dispersing and liquidating the demoralized state troops they cleared Mirpur, Kotli, Poonch, Jhangar, Bhimber, Nowshahara, and started moving towards Baramulla. “In Jammu they were joined by the Azad revolutionaries and supported by Pakistan volunteers from West Punjab and the adjacent States of Swat and Dir.” (Danger in Kashmir page 73).
The developments in Jammu and Kashmir that after the lapse of paramountcy was in the words of Lord Mountbatten ‘technically independent’ did not go unnoticed in New Delhi. The newly formed government of Independent India with Jawaharlal Nehru in the cockpit was not only aware about the situation but was monitoring it very closely. It contemplated both political and military intervention in the state. On the political plan it had cast a role for Sheikh Abdullah, who at that time was in a jail in Bhadarwaha. ‘To prop up the shattered Maharaja the Congress leadership in New Delhi he suggested him to release Sheikh Abdullah. On 29 September 1947 Sheikh was released and his imprisonment was reduced by two years. In his autobiography Sheikh himself writes, “I was released after one year four months and eleven days only. Later on Jawaharlal announced in Parliament that situation compelled Maharaja to release Sheikh Abdullah.”
Sheikh had scant support outside Kashmir valley and his release from prison was not going to help in putting down the rebellion in these areas. Muslim Conference President Chaudary Ghulam Abbass and his other associates who wielded lot of influence outside Kashmir valley were not released from prisons. While Sheikh Abdullah was relishing the public adulation on his release New Delhi was drafting contingency plans ‘for emergency military aid to Srinagar and it was playing its role to “to put Kashmir’s political house in more congenial order as well” writes Prof. Robert G Wirising, “India’s ministration of Kashmir’s needs did not stop with personnel. Sardar Patel’s official papers are stocked with Indications that India had concerned itself throughout September and October with the improvement of Kashmir’s transport, road, and communications system and by that by early October it was engaging in serious discussions with Srinagar over the supply of military stores.” (India Pakistan and Kashmir Dispute page 48). Prof. Wirsing adds that ‘the Poonch rebellion had set Nehru thinking. An ‘emergency military action was on Nehru mind.’ In a secret letter on 27 September addressed to Sardar Patel Home Minister he, “warned him of deterioration of the political situation in Kashmir, of the approach of winter, of the likelihood that Pakistan would take military advantage of the state’s inaccessibility from Indian side in coming months, and therefore the Patel should take some action in the matter to force the pace and to turn events in the right direction – so as to bring about the accession of Kashmir to the Indian Union as rapidly as possible with the cooperation of Sheikh Abdullah.” (India Pakistan and Kashmir Dispute page 48-49).
The 27 October is like jigsaw puzzle there are wheels within wheels and stories within stories and the whole story is yet to be told. The last feudal ruler had an urge to remain independent and suggested a standstill agreement to both India and Pakistan. On 15 August 1947 Pakistan Foreign Secretary confirmed the Stand Still Agreement for the continuance of the existing arrangements pending settlement of details and formal execution of agreement.” Government of India denied executing a similar agreement with the Maharaja. The Government of India did not offer much of an explanation for not entering into Stand Still Agreement with the Dogra ruler. There were indications to suggest that India was working on a plan for total accession of the State with Indian Union. Lord Birdwood writes “had not circumstances arisen to precipitate her war with tribesmen, an agreement might have been concluded,” but the time gap between the Stand Still Agreement signed by Pakistan and tribesmen joining Poonch rebellion is almost two months. “We in fact had to wait for five years” writes Birdwood, “for an explanation of the Indian attitude. It was Sheikh Abdullah who then informed the Kashmir Assembly that India’s decision to refrain from signing the agreement had been governed by the consideration that such an agreement entered could not be considered valid until it had the approval of the People’s representatives.” He argues, “If this was correct, it would be seem that Maharaja’s word was not to be accepted when standstill agreement was involved, yet over just two months later was welcome when it was matter of a convenient accession!” (Two Nation and Kashmir page 60).
It will be difficult to say if Sheikh knew about all these behind the scene development or the visits by important Congress leaders for persuading Maharaja to join India or if he knew presence of outside troops and gunners in the state as pointed by Lamb in his book Kashmir- A Disputed Legacy but it is equally a fact that Sheikh after his release from jail at no point of time talked about the accession of the State with Indian union. He talked about the establishment of a ‘responsible government’ that ipso facto meant handing over power to him. He in fact raised new slogan ‘independence before accession.’ Talking about accession of the state in his autobiography while mentioning about his strong bonds with Congress and Nehru family he writes that ‘at present our first duty is to get freedom from the Dogra rule. After this if people want to accede to Pakistan, I will be first person to vote for Pakistan.’ Sheikh’s overtures towards India had caused worry to some of his old friends in Lahore. Many of them despite Punjab being caught up in orgy of violence visited him. ‘These included M.D. Taseer, Mian Iftikhar-ud-Din, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sheikh Hissamuddin of the Ahrar movement, Sadiq Ali journalist, Malik Tajuddin of Press Trust, Sadiq Hassan from Amritsar (Kashmir family).’ Sheikh in fact had agreed with them to visit Pakistan but for his own reasons he first wanted to meet Nehru in New Delhi. It may not be possible recount the development that took place in quick succession in New Delhi.
If Sheikh instead of visiting Delhi would have visited Pakistan could the history of Kashmir being different than it is today.
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