M. K. Gandhi, pioneer and perfector of Satyagraha – the resistance of tyranny through mass civil disobedience, played a very shadowy role in the politics of Kashmir. He was successful in preventing the Maharaja of Kashmir from declaring independence and thus paved the way for a forceful accession of Kashmir.
The events of the summer of 1947 reveal astonishing facts about Gandhi and thus his role in the present conflict of Kashmir, a conflict that has the potential of sparking a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.
Hari Singh, the Maharaja (King) of Kashmir, loathed the Indian National Congress and wanted to stay independent of both India and Pakistan. He asked for a standstill agreement from India and Pakistan so as to be able to pursue his goal of an independent Kashmir. Pakistan signed the standstill agreement but India did not, giving an indication of India’s intentions on Kashmir.
Nehru acutely aware of these facts wanted to visit Kashmir to be able to pressurize the Maharaja to accede to India. Nehru claimed that he wanted to visit Kashmir to obtain the release of Sheikh Abdullah, who was put under arrest by the Maharaja. However, Joseph Korbel gives us matter for thought:
But, one wonders whether Nehru was interested in Abdullah’s personal welfare – devoid of political implications – at a time when the Subcontinent boiled with insurrection and thousands of people were being killed.
Joseph Korbel, Danger in Kashmir, p. 60
Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy of India, did not approve of Nehru’s visit and offered to visit himself. He visited Kashmir on 18th June 1947, and stayed there for four days. Lord Mountbatten was unable to have a proper discussion with the Maharaja, as the Maharaja did not wish to be influenced and advised about the fate of his land and people. It is strange that the Dogra King, whose reign was one of the cruelest, did not accede to India immediately, based on his religion, but tried to stay independent. Was this an attempt to give back something good to his people? or were his intentions purely selfish?
Lord Mountbatten’s visit was followed by the visit of Lord Haslings Ismay, who was the Chief of Staff to Lord Mountbatten. Both of these proved an utter failure as far as obtaining a surety from the Maharaja that he would not declare independence. This upset Nehru and he wanted to visit Kashmir himself. Sardar Patel strongly disapproved of this visit but on Nehru’s insistence, he agreed to let Gandhi visit Kashmir, which he thought would be ‘lesser of the two evils.’ Mistrust of Gandhi was already on the rise among the Muslims of India.
As Campbell Johnson noted:
Both Nehru and Gandhi have been very anxious that the maharaja of Kashmir should make no declaration of independence.
Campbell Johnson, Mission with Mountbatten, p. 117
To clear this anxiety Gandhi visited Kashmir by the end of July, 1947. The windows of his car were shattered in Baramullah, where an angry crowd protested his visit. Nevertheless, he was to go ahead and obtain a cure for his and Nehru’s anxiety: a guarantee of Maharaja’s accession to India.
The Times, London, reported:
“… But the Union of India has been taking a lively interest in the subject and indications are that the Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir, Sir Hari Singh, has lately been much influenced by representations made by Gandhi who visited Kashmir three months ago and by other congress leaders.”
The Times, London, October 25th 1947
What exactly did Gandhi tell the Maharaja? We will never know, but the chain of events that followed his visit is an indicator of what must have happened. After his visit, the Prime Minister of Kashmir, Ram Chandar Kak, who had no inclination towards India was replaced by Janak Singh and then by the Indian loyalist, Mehr Chand Mahajan. The British officers in the Kashmir Army and Police were dismissed including the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of the General Staff. Orders for construction of a bridge over the Ravi River, near Pathankot, to allow connectivity between India and Jammu and Kashmir were issued. The road between Jammu and Kathua was improved and a telegraph line was constructed between Jammu and the valley. This was all possible because of assistance from India.
Gandhi obtained the cure for his anxiety, but the people of Kashmir have suffered anxiety ever since. Gandhi, the man of peace, brought misery to the men of Kashmir. It is interesting that after all this lobbying; the Maharaja still did not sign the instrument of accession. The British Historian Alistair Lamb, in his book, falsifies the Indian claim of the signing of the instrument accession by the Maharaja.