A first-hand account of some events around 1947 as written by Maharaja Hari Singh
It is often said that the last ruler of erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), Maharaja Hari Singh wanted Kashmir to remain independent and it was the ‘tribal invasion’ who left Maharaja with no choice but to accede to India.
Over time, two narratives emerged and are termed as Indian or Pakistan narrative. A first-hand account of some important events that took place around 1947 is provided in this article which is based on the correspondence between Maharaja and Indian leaders. This communication was published in a book (Jammu and Kashmir 1949-64) by Dr. Karan Singh, son of Hari Singh.
The findings of these letters provide unquestionable evidences regarding the ground situation in today’s Gilgit Baltistan region, Azad Kashmir and also Maharaja’s vision of the future of J & K State. These letters also explain why Hari Singh eventually disappeared from the scene and little is known about his role in J&K after 1947 till his death in 1961.
A little background: Maharaja, in a letter addressed to K.N. Katju (the then home minister of India) on 29 June 1952, complains that the rights and privileges of his dynasty are being taken away. He places an emphasis on Privy purse. This outraged Nehru who advised Hari Singh to think beyond his personal interests when the State is facing crises.
Nehru also threatened Maharaja that if he comes in the way of inevitable changes (regarding Kashmir new administration), the privileges given to him by India will be endangered. This threatening letter from Nehru became the reason that Hari Singh wrote to the then Indian President a detailed letter to show his loyalty and, in doing so, he made some historical confessions that unveils myths surrounding incidents that took place in Kashmir around 1947.
Srinagar: Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru meets Maharaja hari Singh in May 1948. Photo credit: The Hindu Archives
Was Maharaja working for an independent Kashmir?
Hari Singh, in his letter (dated 16 August 1952) to the President of India Rajendra Parsad writes ‘I have been accused by the Prime Minister (Nehru) of not listening to the advices of the Congress leaders during the fateful period of 1946-47. I deny that charge.’
He reminds President of India of the actions he took to content Indian leaders in creating an environment, together with Sheikh Abdullah, in favor of accession to the Indian dominion.
Hari Singh mentions receiving a letter on October 2, 1947 from Sardar Patel stating that the work on the road linkage between the State and India is already being expedited. (Note that this is 22 days before the arrival of tribal people in Azad Jammu & Kashmir/AJK, Maharaja is in a standstill agreement with Pakistan, no agreement yet made with India and the construction between State and India had already kicked off!).
Hari Singh also emphasizes on his obedience towards Indians leaders as he released Sheikh Abdullah from prison (29 September 2019) so that Sheikh’s popularity can be effectively used to divert public opinion towards India. Responding to the accusations made by Nehru, Maharaja states ‘I have acted all throughout from September 1947 under the advice of GOI, Mountbatten, Nehru and Patel’. Note that, at this stage, Maharaja is still in a standstill agreement with Pakistan!
He also reveals that Kashmir was a matter of personal importance to Nehru (a Kashmiri descendant) and that according to Nehru, if Kashmir went to Pakistan, it would be a great tragedy.
Sheikh Abdullah and Pandit Nehru
The most astonishing confession comes from the earlier letter to Katju. Hari Singh writes:
‘I agreed to and carried out the suggestions made by the Government of India (GOI) from time to time, with a view to create a situation which would secure full accession of J&K with India and would facilitate the process of complete integration’.
A more shocking confession is seen in the same paragraph.
While following the suggestions from the GOI ‘I did not stick to the legal aspects of the various steps which were taken, I realized that the occasion was not for indulging in legal niceties, but for facing the inevitable pressure of the events and making adjustment accordingly’!
These event show Maharaja’s loyalty towards Indian dominion and his plans to integrate J&K with India. In fact, both Sheikh Abdullah and Hari Singh appear eager to show their loyalty to Indian leaders in a bid to secure a position in an emerging governance setup. Maharaja can also be seen complaining against Sheikh Abdullah as the latter ignores the existence of the Ruler of the past State of J&K.
The people of J&K and question of the accession
Questions come to mind regarding the unity of the State and the feelings of the people in 1947 on joining India, Pakistan or remaining as an independent State under Maharaja.
The answer to these questions can be found out in these letters.
Hari Singh writes that after he offered standstill agreement to both dominions on 12 August 1947, Pakistan immediately accepted and India did not make up her mind and dealt with the situation in a half-hearted and desultory manner. Towards the end of August, Lord Ismay (representative of Lord Mountbatten) visited the State and advised Maharaja to accede to either dominion without any delay. The answer from Hari Singh provides an undeniable account of the ground realities of the erstwhile State of J&K.
- He admits that the State is divided in various entities and each entity has their own opinion about the accession.
- He admits that the people of Hunza, Nagar, Chitral and Gilgit are definitely for accession to Pakistan and are pressing me to accede to Pakistan without delay and threatening me with dire consequences if I didn’t act according to their suggestion.
- Muslims from Mirpur (now Mirpur and Bhimber districts), Poonch (today’s Poonch, Bagh, Sudhnati, some areas from districts of Kotli and Havel and the Poonch city in IOK and adjacent areas) and Muzaffarabad (Muzaffarabad and Neelum) are for accession to Pakistan. Hari Singh accuses Pakistan of misleading his subjects in these areas!
- He further writes that Muslims of Kashmir (the Kashmir Valley) and some Muslims of Jammu (Jammu then also included current Mirpur and Bhimber and some parts of Kotli) are with Sheikh Abdullah and they do not want to make any decision at this stage (this itself contradicts Maharaja’s confession of releasing Shiekh Abdullah from prison upon Nehru’s suggestion. Why would Nehru want Sheikh to be released and pursue an independent Kashmir? It just doesn’t make sense.). What is more surprising is the confession Maharaja make in the next line. He writes ‘they (Sheikh Abdullah and his party) DID NOT HELP ME TO ACCEDE TO INDIA. He further writes that a small portion of the population in the Valley of Kashmir also favors accession to Pakistan. We know from the letter from K.H. Khurshid to Quide-e-Azam in July 1947 that this is not completely true. A significant population, if not majority, in the Valley of Kashmir wanted to join Pakistan.
- Non-Muslims of Jammu and all people of Ladakh were for affiliation with or accession to India.
These statements are eye-opening. Even the Ruler of J&K accepts that the areas of Gilgit will fall for Pakistan. This clears all the myth around Gilgit Baltistan (as it is often said) that GB wanted to remain with Azad Kashmir and Pakistan did not allow for this to happen. This also tells that there were no sentiments of an independent Kashmir in today’s AJK region and that the people in this region also wanted to accede to Pakistan.
The statement regarding non-Muslims in Jammu also need to take into account that a small population of Kashmiri non-Muslims (Kashmir Socialist Party) and Kisam Mazdoor Party were in favor of accession to Pakistan. On 18 September 1947, Kashmir Socialist Party (a party of local non-Muslims) passed a resolution asking all people of the State, to whatever section, caste or creed they belong, to unanimously request Maharaja to accede to Pakistan. Their decision was based on geography, natural and historical linkage between J&K and Pakistan.
Clearly, the areas of AJK, GB, a large population of the Valley of Kashmir and significant parts of Jammu can be seen favoring accession to Pakistan. A significant population of Valley of Kashmir (primarily the National Conference) favors an independent Kashmir or accession to India. Parts of Jammu and Ladakh are also for accession to India. These ground realities and sentiment of people in some areas have slightly shifted since 1947 due to various political differences but that remains topic of another article.
The writer is a researcher at the University of Konstanz, Germany and can be reached at email@example.com . Twitter @azharfakhar1