Nehru and Kashmir: After SC’s Article 370 Order, BJP Attempts to Distort History Again by Ram Puniyani

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Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru. Photo: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

After the Supreme Court upheld the dilution of Article 370, the RSS ideologues are celebrating it as a ratification of the Union government’s decision while leaders of parties based in Jammu and Kashmir are aghast with the decision.

Hours before the top court pronounced the order, Amit Shah took the opportunity to vilify Jawaharlal Nehru yet again

. Using selective and distorted history, the RSS-BJP has been promoting the narrative that had Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel handled the Kashmir issue, the problem would have been solved then and there. Adding to that, Shah stated that Nehru’s decision to declare a ceasefire with Pakistan was a Himalayan blunder and that granting special status to J&K – which he painted as Nehru’s decision alone – was a mistake which led to a series of problems.

These accusations are far from the reality of the events that unfolded. The attempt to show Nehru and Patel as having differing opinions on Kashmir is a figment of imagination which abuses the facts of history to the extreme.

As such, it was due to the actions of Nehru (and Sheikh Abdullah) that Kashmir acceded to India. Maharaja Hari Singh had refused to merge with India, a decision that was supported by the Praja Parishad. Sardar Patel, who was dealing with the integration of princely states, had enough on his plate. Rajmohan Gandhi in his book Patel a Life points out that what Patel had in mind about Kashmir was to strike a bargain: to have Hyderabad for India and to let Pakistan have Kashmir. Rajmohan Gandhi cites a speech Patel delivered at the Bahauddin College in Junagadh following the latter’s merger with India, when he said, “We would agree to Kashmir if they agreed to Hyderabad.”

The treaty of accession with India was signed by Maharaja Hari Singh after the marauding tribal militias launched by the Pakistan army were close to Srinagar. He approached India, whose leaders sent the army on the condition that Kashmir accede to India.

When Hari Singh fostered dreams of an Independent Kashmir and Patel was content with making sure that Hyderabad merges with India, it was Sheikh Abdullah who advocated that the region join the Indian Union. His consideration was not religion but the ideals of secularism and socialism. He was keen on land reforms, which he saw as an impossibility in Pakistan, where the predominant leadership had a feudal mindset. With many Indian leaders talking socialism, he felt it was possible here. His belief in a secular India was based on Gandhi and Nehru’s messages.

Shah and other RSS ideologues say that Nehru’s decision to agree to a ceasefire was faulty and was under the pressure of British commanders, to whose opinion Nehru succumbed. This again is disproved by the facts of history. At the time, Lord Mountbatten was the governor general of India. He advised a cease-fire and took the matter to the United Nations. He was not alone. The Indian leadership saw the consequences of extending the war: many civilian casualties and a lack of resources for the Indian army. As per Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, 1945-50, published in 1974 by the Navjivan Publishing House, he expressed “on 4 June 1948, in a letter to Gopalswamy Ayyangar, that the ‘military position is not too good, and I am afraid that our military resources are strained to the utmost’.” So much for Amit Shah’s false bravado that had the ceasefire not been declared, the whole of Jammu and Kashmir would have been part of India! This is a concocted view that is not backed by historical facts.

As per the view that taking the matter to the UN was a historical blunder, let us again listen to Sardar Patel. “As regards specific issues raised by Pakistan, as you have pointed out, the question of Kashmir is before the Security Council,” he wrote in a letter to Nehru dated February 23, 1950. And that “… having invoked a forum to the settlement of disputes open to both India and Pakistan, as members of the United Nations Organization, nothing further need be done in the way of settlement of disputes than to leave matters to be adjusted through that forum.” The letter is available in the tenth volume of Sardar Patel’s Correspondence.

The UN called the Pakistan army’s actions in Kashmir an invasion and the resolution asked Pakistan to vacate the aggression while asking India to reduce the army to a minimum as a condition for a referendum. Pakistan, backed by US support, refused to withdraw its armies leading to a stalemate. And a referendum, to assess the opinion of the Kashmiri people, could not take place.

As far as blaming Nehru for Article 370 goes, the RSS combine deliberately forgets that Article 370 – which gave total autonomy to the J&K Assembly except in the matters of external affairs, defence and communication – was finalised in the Constituent Assembly. Sheikh Abdullah was a member of the assembly and Sardar Patel, as home minister, was overseeing the drafting.

At the end of five months of negotiations, when the outline of what would become Article 370 had been decided, N.G. Iyengar wrote a letter to Sardar Patel, which is again in the public domain for people to verify. “Will you please let Jawaharlal Ji know directly that all these provisions are agreeable to you… only after you agree will Nehru issue a letter to Sheikh Abdullah that you (he) can go ahead.” This shows Patel’s centrality to the provisions of Article 370.

The distortion of history is a major tool in the hands of communal forces. While they have routinely been distorting medieval history, lately they have intensified distorting the history of the freedom movement and the events related to Kashmir. Through these efforts, driven by their vast propaganda machine, Nehru is criticised to the hilt and an attempt is made to create a binary between Patel and Nehru. Nehru is targeted because he stood rock solid against the communalism practised by Hindu nationalists. What is needed most is the promotion of democratic norms in Kashmir and respect for the commitments which were given to the people of the region. Vilifying Nehru is no solution to this vexed issue.

Ram Puniyani is president of the Centre of Study of Society and Secularism.

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