By Brig Anil Gupta (Retd)*
October 26, 1947 is a red letter day in Indian history since on this day, Jammu & Kashmir — the crown of India — acceded to India and became its integral part from a princely state ruled by the Dogras.
Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession (IOA) on this day as was required by the Indian Independence Act 1947. Under this Act, the British Crown decided to grant independence to British India by dividing it into two independent nations — namely Pakistan and India.
The Partition was based on religion on the basis of the two-nation theory propagated by the Muhammad Ali Jinnah-led Muslim League and conceived by the Anglo-Muslim Alliance formed by the British to weaken the Indian freedom movement.
The two-nation theory was flawed right from its conception because it contradicted the very idea of a nation-state. If religion could form the basis of a nation-state then bulk of Europe should have been one Christian state and the Arabian lands would have been a single Muslim country.
Since the western nations, led by Britain, were scared of the potential of a united India, they decided to divide it. Prior to independence, the Indian nation comprised of British India, administered by the Crown, and 569 princely states which were ruled by their hereditary rulers who had accepted the suzerainty and paramountcy of the British Crown.
As per the Indian Independence Act 1947, the princely states were made free from the supremacy of British rule without being granted the status of a nation. They were advised to merge either with India or Pakistan. In order to prevent balkanization of India, the condition of geographic contiguity was laid down.
With the implementation of the Act, the British responsibility of ensuring security of these states ended automatically. The final decision to merge with which nation was vested in the ruler of the state and not the subjects. The merger of the state to either of the two nations was to be considered complete only after the Governor General accorded approval to the Instrument of Accession (IOA) to be signed by the ruler.
There was no provision for conditional merger since the standard format of IOA was uniform for all the rulers as drafted by the States Department of the Dominion of India. The Maharaja laid no pre-conditions/exceptions for the accession of the state to India neither did he demand any special status or special constitutional arrangements.
Maharaja Hari Singh was faced with a few dilemmas because of which he was unable to take a final decision that delayed his signing the IOA.
Firstly, the majority population of the state was Muslim. Secondly, all surface communication to the state was from West Punjab (that was to form part of Pakistan) and there was no direct road/rail connection with India though it shared geographical boundaries with both the Dominions. Thirdly, all major rivers flowing through the state finally drained into the sea via Pakistan.
The strategic location of the state and the British interest in Gilgit Agency also weighed heavily on the mind of the Maharaja. He was also advised by senior leaders in Delhi to withhold accession of his state till the Muslim rulers of Hyderabad, Bhopal and Junagadh disclosed their hand. Mahatma Gandhi visited the state on August 1 to discuss the accession with the Maharaja.
And while Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress adhered to the provisions of the Indian Independence Act 1947 by refusing the request of the Khan of Kalat and overtures of Nawab of Bahawalpur for accession to India, Jinnah and the Muslim League deceitfully threw to wind the two-nation theory by accepting the merger of Junagadh and offering use of Karachi port to the Hindu rulers of Jodhpur, Bikaner and Jaisalmer states bordering Sindh with invitation to join Pakistan.
Thus, Jinnah had no legitimacy in claiming Jammu & Kashmir based on the two-nation theory and it being a Muslim-majority state.
On August 14, 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh proposed a Standstill Agreement with both India and Pakistan. While Pakistan — in the hope that, under British pressure, the Maharaja will accede to it sooner or later — readily accepted the Agreement, India demanded further discussions before signing it. When Pakistan realised that the Maharaja was inclined towards India, it started creating trouble for the latter firstly by cutting off the supplies of petrol, sugar, salt and kerosene and then stopping trade in violation of the Standstill Agreement.
Pakistan’s real intentions became obvious when it started attacking and raiding the frontier outposts of the state. The Maharaja despatched his emissary Mehar Chand Mahajan to Delhi to meet Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to apprise them of the situation in the state. He also informed them of the Maharaja’s willingness to merge his state with India but Nehru insisted on first the release of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah who had been imprisoned by the former on charges of sedition.
Sheikh Abdullah subsequently wrote a letter of apology to the Maharaja seeking royal pardon and offering his services to work under the Maharaja for the development and prosperity of the state. He was released from jail on September 29, 1947.
On October 22, the state came under attack of tribal raiders, backed by the Pakistan Army. The beleaguered state forces fought valiantly but could not stop the advance of the marauding invaders. On October 26, 1947, the Maharaja signed the IOA which was approved by the Governor General, Lord Mountbatten.
Mountbatten approved the merger but created confusion by appending a letter that was unwarranted and illegal because the Act did not confer any such power on him. The princely state of Jammu & Kashmir lawfully acceded to India on that day and became its integral part without any pre-conditions.
The decision of the Maharaja was fully supported by Sheikh Abdullah and his party the National Conference. Sheikh was appointed by the Maharaja the administrator of the emergency government of the state.
The Maharaja was subsequently forced to leave the state in June 1949 and Sheikh Abdullah virtually became the head of administration of the state. The accession of the state with the Union of India was ratified by the State Constituent Assembly in February 1954. On October 30, 1956, the State Constituent Assembly adopted the state constitution declaring Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of the Union of India. Articles 3, 4 & 147 of the State Constitution are irrevocable proofs of the State’s final merger.
Why did Mountbatten create the confusion?
He was working for the Crown to further the interests of the Anglo-Muslim Alliance. The British had a special interest in J&K due to the strategic importance of Gilgit Agency that was critical to the British Empire and the pivot of the ongoing Great Game. Due to lapse of paramountcy, the Gilgit Agency was returned to the Maharaja on August 1, 1947 but the British were unwilling to lose control over the area. Through clever manipulation, the command of Gilgit Scouts was vested in a British officer, Major William Brown, who engineered a revolt and raised the Pakistani flag on October 1.
Earlier in June, Mountbatten visited Kashmir to convince the Maharaja to accede to Pakistan. Since connectivity to Gilgit was via Pakistan, the British were keen that the Maharaja should accede to Pakistan to serve their strategic interest. The British strategy was to use West Pakistan as a base to stop Soviet expansion towards the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Maharaja Hari Singh did not show any inclination towards joining Pakistan.
Thereafter, the British Chief of the Pakistan Army, General Sir Frank Messervy, conceived Operation Gulmarg, a military plan for annexation of J&K in case the Maharaja did not accede to Pakistan. The operation order for this plan was dated August 20. The plan was to be implemented in three phases with Phase 1 beginning in September and final multi-directional armed incursions to commence on October 22. As the events unfolded, the so-called tribal invasion was a ditto copy of Operation Gulmarg. However, the Maharaja did not succumb to the British pressure and voluntarily acceded to India thus upsetting the entire game plan of the Anglo-Muslim Alliance.
Jammu & Kashmir’s inclusion in India is final and non-negotiable. A confusion has been created about the status of the state by inimical forces led by Pakistan and the vested interests within and outside the state. The confusion stems from the time-to-time decisions (some amounting to blunders) taken by Nehru and subsequent Congress governments at the Centre and pliable governments in the state.
The need of the hour is to restore the original boundaries of the state as acceded by Maharaja Hari Singh to India on October 26, 1947 as resolved in the Indian parliamentary resolution of 1994.
*Brig Anil Gupta (Retd) is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at [email protected]