On 17 April 1949, Nehru wrote to Sardar Patel over an intelligence report that indicated that the Praja Parishad—a political party based in Jammu and affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—was calling for a zonal plebiscite. Nehru felt that this was harmful to India’s interests, and took particular note of the fact that the party was being financed by the Maharaja through the Dharmarth Trust. The continuing public differences between the Maharaja and Sheikh Abdullah were debilitating India’s image internationally, and Nehru stated, almost ominously, that ‘it is no longer safe for us to allow matters to drift’. He referred to a previous discussion with Sardar Patel, which involved Ayyangar as well, where it was decided that the future of the monarchy in Jammu and Kashmir should be decided by the people of Jammu and Kashmir acting through a Constituent Assembly. To make this happen, he suggested that the Maharaja should be asked to leave the state for a while.
A month later, Nehru reiterated his concerns regarding the continuing divisive activities of the Praja Parishad in Jammu. The Parishad was reportedly seeking membership in the name of the Maharaja and spreading a rumour that Sheikh Abdullah ‘wants to dethrone Hari Singh and to become himself the Maharaja’. Nehru wrote to Sardar Patel that ‘whatever the fact may be, this public discussion of these problems is obviously injurious’.
As the activities of the Praja Parishad heightened, Patel conveyed to the Maharaja and
Maharani over meetings held on 29 April and 1 May 1949 that they leave their state.7 The
Maharaja sought certain assurances in return.8 These included guarantees against being forced into abdication, against any change being made to the constitutional position of the ruler without his consent, and against Sheikh Abdullah vilifying him further.
It was public knowledge that relations between Abdullah and the Maharaja were beyond repair. Asking the Maharaja to leave would undoubtedly provide some respite, but of equal
concern to Indian leaders was Abdullah’s own indiscretions at the time. In April 1949, he said to a British newspaper that accession to either India or Pakistan could not bring peace in Jammu and Kashmir. Arguing instead for an independent Jammu and Kashmir that had the friendship and economic cooperation of both countries, he went on to state that ‘an
independent Kashmir must be guaranteed not only by India and Pakistan but also by Britain, the United States of America, and other members of the United Nations’.
Sardar Patel in a letter to Ayyangar caustically remarked that ‘[a] vehement exponent of accession to India seems to have converted’. In reply, Ayyangar expressed his fear that Abdullah’s statements would ‘have the most serious and mischievous consequences both in India and abroad’, and that this may ultimately lead to ‘perhaps one of the greatest betrayals in history’. He expected Abdullah to publicly repudiate some of his comments.
While the contents of Abdullah’s statement would have raised the eyebrows of Indian leaders at any time, the timing in this particular case was especially concerning. Echoing Ayyangar’s concerns, Nehru wrote to Abdullah and almost chided him, saying ‘you and I happen to be in responsible positions and cannot throw out suggestions in the air’. He specifically referred to the pernicious effect this would have on the UNCIP and the delicate stage at which India presently found itself in that regard. Pointedly, he told Abdullah that ‘the less we say, the better’.
With UNCIP negotiations in full swing and matters in Jammu and Kashmir far from resolved, the developments surrounding Abdullah became a matter of deep concern to the Indian leadership. Patel and Ayyangar never thought much of him anyway—they would very much have preferred a quiet, predictable, and uncontroversial leader at this juncture. But for a while now, from his press conference attacking the Maharaja in September 1948 to his comments regarding independence in April 1949, Abdullah fell some way short of this expectation. Even Nehru whose relations with Abdullah at the time are best characterised as fraternal, had mixed feelings. In a letter to V.K. Krishna Menon on 14 May 1949, he wrote:
“Shaikh Abdullah, an excellent man and a very effective popular leader, rather lacks political foresight and has a knack of saying the wrong thing. He is influenced greatly by
odd groups. His recent interviews in the British press about the independence of Kashmir
have irritated me very much.”
These developments spurred the Indian leadership to reach a decisive agreement on the
internal governance of Jammu and Kashmir. On 15 and 16 May 1949, meetings were held at Sardar Patel’s residence involving leaders of the National Conference and their counterparts in the Indian National Congress, including Nehru, Abdullah, and Ayyangar, on the future of the state. Aside from questions pertaining to the state forces and the Indian Army, these critical meetings also discussed the framing of the state’s constitution, the subjects that the state would accede to India, and the future of the Dogra monarchy.
Two days later on 18 May 1949, Nehru sent a draft to Abdullah which summarised the agreements that the two parties had arrived at in their meetings. This draft clearly stated India’s policy regarding the aforesaid subjects—that the constitution of the state, the subjects of accession in addition to those contained in the Instrument of Accession, and questions relating to the state’s monarchy should be determined by the people of the state represented in a Constituent Assembly.
Even at this pivotal stage, however, there is reason to believe that Sheikh Abdullah’s primary concerns lay with the internal constitutional question, i.e., power-sharing with the Maharaja. Prior to sending the draft to Abdullah, Nehru wrote to Sardar Patel referring to the verbal assurance given to the National Conference leaders regarding the Maharaja departing the state for the time being. Nehru hoped that this verbal assurance, along with the written draft containing the agreements arrived at in the meetings, would put an end to Abdullah’s public squabbles. In a separate informal letter accompanying the draft, Nehru explicitly asked Abdullah ‘to avoid raising personal and controversial issues in public’ since the main questions relating to the future of the Jammu and Kashmir State had now been settled to their mutual satisfaction.
A few days after this meeting, Sardar Patel wrote back to the Maharaja on the question of the assurances that he was seeking. He assured him: “The question of Your Highness’ abdication does not arise. We have made the position quite plain to Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, and we hope that there will be an end to the public controversies centering around this matter as well as to the derogatory references to Your Highness in the Press and on the platform in the State. However, consistent with what was decided in the meetings, Sardar Patel also made it clear to the Maharaja that the future constitution of the state would be determined by the duly elected Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly. Therefore, the assurance regarding abdication was in truth only of an interim nature, and within a few weeks, the Maharaja nevertheless issued a Proclamation, dated 9 June 1949, entrusting all his powers to his son, Yuvraj Karan Singh.
It seems that even before the formal draft of the agreed position with India was sent to
Abdullah along with the informal request to steer clear of controversy, the meeting had
succeeded in achieving its immediate objective. On 17 May 1949 itself, Abdullah repudiated
his earlier statements regarding independence, stating that independence ‘may be and is a charming idea but on consideration meaningless’. He clarified that no alternative other than accession to India was being considered.
With this détente having been achieved, Nehru built on its foundation to make some strident statements regarding the question that was central to his mind—Jammu and Kashmir’s place in the Indian Union. On 21 May, Nehru wrote: “We are convinced that Kashmir’s future lies with India. It will be for the Constituent Assembly of Kashmir, whenever it meets, to draw its constitution. That constitution will necessarily be based on the accession of Kashmir to India on the three subjects mentioned above. Any further arrangements will have to be by mutual consent … it is clear that the future of Kashmir lies as an autonomous unit of this Indian Union or, if I may say so, of the Indian Republic that is coming soon.
The reference to the ‘Indian Republic that is coming soon’ must be seen in light of the proceedings in the Indian Constituent Assembly that were entering their final stretch. With the Maharaja effectively forced out of the state and the Indian Republic close at hand, the ‘external’ constitutional question viz. Jammu and Kashmir’s position within the Indian Union was set to take centre stage at long last. It was perhaps anticipated at this point that constitutional provision would soon be on the cards.
Excerpted with permission of Navi Books, an initiative of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, from Hamīñ Ast: A Biography of Article 370 by Arghya Sengupta, Jinaly Dani, Kevin James, and Pranay Modi. The book is available on http://navibooks.in