In a historic decision, the unpopular Article 370 was declared null and void in August 2019 based on a presidential order, generating massive praise and enormous criticism at the same time. It has been one year since Article 370 was removed from the Indian Constitution. However, until today, many are unaware of the history behind Jammu and Kashmir, why it was the only state that was given a special status, and the story of its merger with India post-partition.
Is It True That The State Of Jammu & Kashmir Did Not Want To Merge With India ?
The answer to this question is as complicated as the geography of the state of Jammu & Kashmir. To understand the politics of Jammu & Kashmir we need to take into consideration some important riding factors namely Sheikh Abdullah, Maharaja Hari Singh, Lord Mountbatten, the Government of India and the geography of Jammu & Kashmir. The state had three dominant regions namely, the Jammu region, the Kashmir Valley region and the Ladakh region. The people there have a different set of cultures with respect to their appearance, clothing habits, the language they converse in. Muslims from Jammu for that matter, speak in Punjabi, whereas, the Muslims of Kashmir speak in Urdu. They also belong to a different school of thoughts. The demography in this state is diverse from area to area. Ladakh is dominated by the Buddhists and Shia Muslims of Kargil region. Kashmir on the other hand is dominated by the Sunni Muslims. Division of Jammu is dominated by Hindus. The geographical barriers between these regions are very eminent. As a result, although this state was one, people are hardly one by nature and feelings. Without understanding these demographic factors, pondering over this issue is futile.
The origin of the Jammu & Kashmir issue goes back to the British Indian period. The politics of Jammu & Kashmir was completely different from that of India. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was an unquestionable leader of the Kashmir region and maintained that position for almost 52 years in his life. The combination of Sheikh Abdullah and Kashmir was so strong that it was cognizable for Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, India, and the world. His purpose for the freedom of Jammu & Kashmir was extremely steadfast. However, the unjust nature of Jammu & Kashmir Hindu Maharaja rule was well noticed by Abdullah which led to strengthening his mindset for a separate Kashmir
It is important to underline that the popularity of Abdullah was limited only in the region of Kashmir and not spread over Jammu and Ladakh.
Maharaja Hari Singh decided to merge with the Indian Republic right in the first half of 1939 something which did not agree with Abdullah. He admonished the Maharaja against joining the Indian Republic, however, the latter outrightly rejected. This time around Britishers were coming with proposals such as self-determination for the princely states in India. Abdullah wanted to take advantage of this to achieve his supreme goal of independent Jammu & Kashmir. To gather the support of Hindus in the state and thereby presenting himself as a true mass leader, he renamed his political party from Muslim conference to ‘All Jammu & Kashmir National Conference’. The Cripps Mission in 1942 proposed the Federation of India and the princely states right to self-determination. Abdullah supported the Cripps Mission. The Indian National Congress had already rejected the Cripps Mission and begun the Quit India Movement. It should be noted that Sheikh Abdullah did not seek the help of Mohammed Ali Jinnah for the separate state of Jammu & Kashmir as he never wanted to be a part of Pakistan. By this time the Congress formed itself as an all Hindu dominated party whereas the Muslim League was presenting itself to be a Muslim Interests Party. (Congress was now labeled as an anti-Muslim party and the lone Muslim leader in the Congress was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.)
Until 1945 it was crystal clear that Congress was seeking Independence, Muslim League wanted Pakistan and Sheikh Abdullah was fighting hard for an independent Jammu & Kashmir. On 22nd April 1946, the National Conference wrote a letter to the Cabinet Mission Plan demanding self-determination and separation from India, and on 10 May 1946, he started the ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement. In short, Sheikh Abdullah was unquestionably demanding the separate nation of Jammu & Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh wanted to merge with India and the stand of Congress was not clear.
In this complex interdependent standoff, came the last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten.
The underlying factor of Lord Mountbatten’s plan was that only India and Pakistan will be formed as Nations. Consequently, the right of self-determination for the princely states in India was over. The demand for a separate Jammu & Kashmir was not met with and no decision was taken about the consolidation of Jammu & Kashmir with the republic of India. The constituent assembly of India rejected the merger of Jammu & Kashmir with India owing to the complicated situation
Is It True That a Different Merger Policy Was Applied For The State Of Jammu & Kashmir?
Although Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Bismarck of India performed an eminent job in the consolidation of the country, he faced many hurdles. The accession of princely states in India was never so easy. Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted Jodhpur to be a part of Pakistan but Lord Mountbatten and V. P. Menon convinced the Maharaja of Jodhpur for merging it in India. After signing the Treaty of Accession, the Maharaja held a revolver against V. P. Menon which Lord Mountbatten forcefully took away. The Maharaja of Dhaulpur was negotiating as if he is talking about his own death, whereas, the Maharaja of Baroda cried while embracing Menon like an infant. Eight Maharajas of the Punjab region came together for the signature on accession. The whole program was like a cremation. One Maharaja in the central part of India died immediately after signing the Treaty of Accession while the Maharaja of Orissa was not ready to sign on the document. Sardar Patel incited people to surround his Palace who dispersed only after the signature formalities were over. The Maharaja of Travancore wished to be a part of none of the countries but after the Prime Minister of Travancore was attacked by a Congress leader, the Maharaja communicated to Delhi his willingness to merge with India. 560 out of 565 princely states were merged with India, the most important ones being Hyderabad, Kashmir, and Junagadh.
The yardstick for such mergers was very simple. If a princely state was Muslim dominated and located on the border of India and Pakistan, it would straight up go to Pakistan. As a result, all over India, Hindu dominance in demography was taken as a criterion for a merger with India. There were many states with Muslim rulers and Hindu masses and in such states, the Hindu opinion was generalized as to be willing to merge with India. Some of the examples were Bhopal, Pataudi, Savanur, Janjira, Mohammad Garh, and Rampur. On August 27, 1947, the new Governor-General Lord Mountbatten suggested the Nizam of Hyderabad conduct a plebiscite in his state. The Nawab of Junagadh accessed into Pakistan but India forcefully canceled it as the masses were Hindu. On the other hand, the Nawab of Bahawalpur wanted to merge with India despite his masses being Muslims. The same was rejected by the Indian authorities stating that it was against the democratic process.
These examples are sufficient to understand what could have been the fate of Kashmir concerning the division of India and the process of consolidation. The Government of India decided that Kashmir would be a part of Pakistan. According to H. V. Hodson, the advisor of Mountbatten, Indian leaders were completely neutral for the accession of Jammu & Kashmir into India.
Maharaja Hari Singh, however, decided to come to India to the extent that he appointed Janak Singh Katoch, an inactive Congress member but was unable to come out with intentions to merge with India.
In September 1947 Pakistani infiltrators entered Kashmir where he was welcomed by Sheikh Abdullah as he was finding it conducive to get away from India. Soon after, he realized that the intentions of Pakistan were the unconditional surrender from Jammu & Kashmir. He also observed the atrocious behavior of Pakistani infiltrators against the people of Kashmir. As a result, what infiltrators declared as Azad Kashmir was never accepted by Abdullah. He then requested Jawaharlal Nehru to accept the accession of Kashmir in India. The Indian authorities always wanted the say of Abdullah in the matter of merger because, for them, Abdullah was the supreme mass leader of Jammu & Kashmir.
Lord Mountbatten was against any help to Jammu & Kashmir as he wanted complete accession of Jammu & Kashmir before extending any help to the aggrieved state. Jammu & Kashmir was an independent region and it was illegal to send troops to fight on an independent piece of land. For Mountbatten, there was a firm legal cause needed behind this help, and since he was the then Chief of Indian Armed Forces, India had no other option but to respect his opinion and this is how the Treaty of Accession came into being.
Lord Mountbatten also proposed the Indian authorities to demand help from the United Nations. However, the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, was extremely adamant against this demand. Finally, after a lot of persuasions, the Government of India lodged a complaint, but in a different way. Mountbatten suggested Nehru lodge a complaint under article 37 of the United Nations Charter, but Nehru registered one under article 35. The big difference between these two articles is that article 37 demands help from the United Nations whereas article 35 only allows a complaint to the UN. There was no mention of the Treaty of Accession and other events whatsoever.The United Nations Organisation was thus thwarted from entering the region of Kashmir under the name of ‘Helping India’.
To conclude, India was never for the merger of Jammu & Kashmir. It always wanted Jammu & Kashmir to be a part of Pakistan. The opinion of Sheikh Abdullah held more importance over that of Maharaja Hari Singh. The matter was reported to the United Nations under the pressure of Lord Mountbatten, but there was no demand for help from the United Nations.
To know more on how Article 370 came into existence and how things unfolded thereon, stay tuned for our next article.