Vallabhbhai Patel
File photo of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel | Commons
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Until late 1947, Patel was open to Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan if Pakistanis would tell Nizam of Hyderabad to join India.

The BJP’s decision to pull out of the alliance in Jammu and Kashmir has led to recrimination on all sides. The junior minister for home affairs responded to criticism from the Congress president with a tweet: “Sardar Patel ji solved all other regions. Nehru ji took charge of Kashmir & created more trouble”. Kiren Rijiju was evidently taking his cue from the Prime Minister, who claimed in Parliament earlier this year that “if Sardar Patel had become the prime minister, today a part of our beloved Kashmir would not have been under Pakistani occupation”. Such assertions are of a piece with the larger attempt of the BJP to co-opt Patel and counterpose him with Nehru at every turn. But they scarcely comport with well-established facts of the matter.

Start with the notion that Nehru called the shots on Kashmir, while Patel dealt exclusively with the rest of the states. At the time of Independence, the future of three princely states remained unresolved in terms of their accession to India or Pakistan: Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir. Declassified documents, including records of cabinet and defence committee meetings, make it abundantly clear that both Nehru and Patel were closely involved in handling these three states. To be sure, they had their differences of opinion, approach and style, but these were worked through by extensive consultation.

Take the oft-criticised decision to approach the UN on Pakistan’s aggression in Kashmir. Patel was, in principle, opposed to the idea of referring such issues to the UN. When Mountbatten had suggested this with reference to Junagadh, Patel had demurred: “There was a grave disadvantage in being a plaintiff in such cases. Possession was nine cases of the law”. On that occasion, Nehru had agreed with Patel. Indeed, with both Junagadh and Hyderabad, Nehru was entirely on board to use force when diplomacy failed to deliver. The case of Kashmir, however, was different.

By late December 1947, it was clear to the Indian leadership that the tribal invaders could only be rolled back if the Indian Army struck across the boundary in Punjab and hit their bases. This meant all-out war with Pakistan. Against the backdrop of the horrendous massacres and population movement accompanying Partition, Nehru felt that a war with Pakistan could unleash further waves of communal violence with disastrous consequences.

To avoid this military option, Nehru reluctantly agreed to Mountbatten’s suggestion to refer the matter to the UN. Patel went along with it despite his earlier qualms, as did other cabinet members. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of Jana Sangh, would later concede in Parliament: “I was a party when the decision was taken to refer the Kashmir issue to the UNO … That is an obvious fact. I have no right and I do not wish to disclose the extraordinary circumstances under which the decision was taken”. Alas, such fidelity to elementary facts hasn’t rubbed off on his successors.

The claim that Patel would have secured all of Kashmir also flies against his own willingness to compromise at various points. Indeed, Patel believed that Hyderabad was of greater interest than Kashmir. Until late 1947, he was open to allowing Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan if the Pakistanis would tell the Nizam of Hyderabad to fall in line and join India. As he told Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, “Why do you compare Junagadh with Kashmir? Talk of Hyderabad and Kashmir and we could reach an agreement”. Patel even stated this publicly after the occupation of Junagadh on 11 November 1947: “Our reply was that one could agree on Kashmir if they could agree on Hyderabad.” At another meeting with Liaquat on 28 November, Patel offered to pull Indian troops out of Poonch if it would help pave the way for a diplomatic settlement. But Nehru opposed this course.

By the summer of 1948, after the Pakistan Army was fully engaged in Kashmir, Nehru concluded that the conditions for a plebiscite in the state were unlikely to be met and hence the best solution would be to partition the state on the basis of the “existing military situation”. Patel wholly agreed. Partition, he observed, would offer “a permanent, immediate and realistic settlement”. Parts of Poonch and Gilgit could go to Pakistan, while India retained the rest of the state. The Pakistanis were, however, unwilling to countenance the suggestion.

On the internal aspects of the Kashmir issue, too, Nehru and Patel worked closely together despite their differing emphases. Take, for instance, the drafting of Article 370 of the Indian constitution that accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The actual negotiations were carried out over several months between N.G. Ayyangar (cabinet minister without portfolio and former Dewan of Kashmir) and Sheikh Abdullah and his senior colleagues. These were difficult negotiations, but Nehru seldom took a step without Patel’s concurrence.

The opening meetings took place on 15-16 May 1949 at Patel’s residence in Nehru’s presence. When Ayyangar prepared a draft letter from Nehru to Abdullah summarising the broad understanding reached, he sent it to Patel with a note: “Will you kindly let Jawaharlalji know direct as to your approval of it? He will issue the letter to Sheikh Abdullah only after receiving your approval”.

Later, Abdullah insisted that the article should not extend the fundamental rights and directive principles to Jammu and Kashmir but leave it to the state’s constituent assembly to decide whether or not to adopt them. Patel was unhappy but allowed Ayyangar to proceed. At this time, Nehru was abroad. When the Prime Minister returned, Patel wrote to him: “After a great deal of discussion, I could persuade the [Congress] party to accept”. When Abdullah threatened to resign from Constituent Assembly owing a lingering disagreement, Patel asked Nehru to intercede.

Sardar Patel was thus the architect of the Article 370. Historical howlers aside, there is a delicious irony in the BJP’s attempt to claim him for itself while simultaneously seeking to overturn his effort to ensure genuine autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian constitution.

Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at Centre for Policy Research.

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  1. The article is well written, but does not justify its intention at all: asserting that Patel was the architect of Article 370. The author appears to believe that since a letter from Nehru to Abdullah regarding Article 370 was drafted when Nehru was abroad, the whole action was conceived, initiated and executed by Patel. In fact, this essay only emphasizes the fact that Patel respected and succumbed to the insistence of Nehru in respect of Kashmir despite having clear different opinion. That is the relevant point. Even Mahatma Gandhi was not happy about what Nehru did with Kashmir. Mahatma was opposed to Partition itself! He insisted that the Kashmir issue should be settled once and for all making whatever portion available to India as integral part of the nation so that no dispute arise in future. Patel proposed practical solutions to implement what Gandhiji desired. However, it was Nehru’s insistence probably because of his personal relations with Raja Hari Singh and Sheikh Abdullah, that resulted in granting Kashmir special status, keeping the border line unclear and thereby giving permanence to Kashmir problem. After all, subsequent history unequivocally proves that Congress and Nehru family benefited from keeping the coals alive in Kashmir – exploiting sentiments of Muslims in the country and converting the fear psychosis as vote bank. Therefore, doubting intentions of Patel, who gave great regard to his Prime Minister, is absolutely rubbish.

  2. Based on the facts put forth by the author himself, the argument seems very flimsy and doesn’t even have the facts to support him. All just for a clickbait article.

  3. Patel was hardly involved in the actual negotiations as the article point out. It was clearly Nehru’s apointees thatcdid that with Sheikh Abdullah giving the last touches.
    Wonder how that makes Patel the archutect? Bonkers!

  4. What u have failed to mention is:

    1. Nehru first asked Ambedkar IN 1949, who was chairing the constituent assembly to include article 370, which he vehemently refused & legt the meeting.
    2. Nehru then turned to Patel b4 going to London to talk to Ambedkar & get Stricke 370 included
    3. Unser extreme restraint Ambedkar included article 370 with a condition as “provisional & transient”.

    So where is the irony when BJP today wants to revoke article 370?

  5. Totally baseless article , no proof attached , on the other hand there is proof available that Sardar Patel and Ambedkar were against 370, Nehru choose the other way, he tried his best to get support of congress working committee . But failed. In the last paragraph a word NOT is deleted deliberately.

  6. Good article. Nehru also informed the Constituent Assembly (Legislative Assembly) as to how it would be impossible to clear Pakistani raiders from Jammu and Kashmir without cutting off the supply lines of the raiders. He added that to cut off the supply line would mean attacking Pakistan which was the source of supply lines. He maintained that attacking Pakistan would have blown out a full fledged war which would have attracted adverse attention to India and it would have been dubbed as an aggressor. To avoid that situation Nehru decided to go to the UN.

  7. It was a collective decision of the team…..They were not children not to understand the pros & cons at that point of time. Once the resolution was finally accepted we should not draw lines between them. All were matured politicians accepted & led by the then PM. Whether good or bad. We should behave responsibly not to use them for any vested interests now. Moreover, without any pun intended, it seems BJP is looking for breathers and soft skills from the Congress camp having exhausted its own limited resources. The Nation wants performance from its representatives and not hide behind the legends. !! What had happened should not be debated, rather what can be done, if required, needs introspection & engagement. We can never authoritatively assert anything now in the passing.


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