Forgotten men of Kashmir
Among all the important men associated with Jammu & Kashmir in 1947, Rai Bahadur Pandit Ramchandra Kak and Brigadier Henry Lawrence Scott remain perhaps the least known. This is surprising, given that Kak was Maharaja Hari Singh’s minister-in-waiting from 1942 to 1945 and prime minister from June 1945 to 11 August 1947. Scott, meanwhile, was Kak’s chief of staff from 1936 until 29 September 1947. Both men held similar views on the conflict that engulfed Kashmir soon after they left, and both later wrote these opinions down. Scott’s The Options in 1947 and Kak’s Jammu and Kashmir State in 1946-47: Dilemma of accession, the missing link in the story both offer relatively unknown windows onto the ‘alternatives on accession’.
The question of accession was first posed to Hari Singh in late 1946, when Partition was still a remote contingency and accession was envisaged only with reference to united India. By the time it arose for a second time, in 1947, Partition had become a reality; the question then was whether to accede to India or to Pakistan. On both occasions, the maharaja’s answer was the same: he did not want to accede, but would be willing to enter into a standstill agreement. This would enable the continuation of existing arrangements with the outgoing British India government with India and Pakistan on issues such as trade, travel and communication until new administrative arrangements were made.
During the five years that he served under Kak, Scott enjoyed close relations with his senior. He has stated that he agreed “entirely” with Kak’s view “that Kashmir should remain on friendly terms with both India and Pakistan and must, for economic reasons and because 76% of the population if Muslim, have close relations with Pakistan.” He also reasoned that Hari Singh opted for the standstill agreement because it gave him the comparative autonomy of the ‘state laws’ against any form of closer integration with India or Pakistan. It also saved his state from the horror of post-Partition migration and massacre in Punjab, which saw hundreds of thousands of people pass through Jammu towards either side.
It was “the attitude of the Indian National Congress” and its “identification with Sheikh Abdullah” that influenced Kak against accession in 1946. Scott listed additional reasons for Kak’s lack of enthusiasm on the issue:
the fear of economic domination; Nehru and the Indian National Congress’ history of being, [generally], anti-princely state rulers and, [in particular], anti-Hari Singh as they were pro-Sheikh Abdullah, also Nehru had been refused a visit [thus] exacerbating animosity; accession to India would have reduced Hari Singh’s [personal] powers and privileges; at least 80% of his subjects were Muslims and while [the] Sheikh had a following in the valley of Kashmir, in western Jammu, Poonch, Gilgit, [and] Muzaffarabad, a move to India would not have been acceptable; and, in the Gilgit agency, [in particular], were the Gilgit Scouts (under the command of Major Brown) upon whose loyalty to the state under this particular issue, no reliance could be placed.
In 1947, accession, which had previously been merely a matter of choice, suddenly became a necessity. Louis Mountbatten, as governor-general, visited Srinagar in June 1947 with the specific object of getting a decision from Hari Singh on accession. When asked by Kak as to which dominion he advised Kashmir to accede, Mountbatten said, “That is entirely for you to decide. You must consider your geographical position, your political situation and the composition of your population and then decide.” Kak rejoined, “That means that you advise us to accede to Pakistan. It is not possible for us to do that; and since that is so, we cannot accede to India.” As Kak later put it, “Since Kashmir would not accede to Pakistan it could not accede to India.”
During his visit to Delhi of 23-27 July 1947, Kak also met with Mohandas K Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru (“for a few minutes”) and V P Menon. After a “lengthy and frank discussion”, Menon appreciated Kak’s “reasons prompting the State’s decision as regards accession.” They parted on the understanding that Menon would visit Kak soon after the transfer of power to consider the future security arrangements – a meeting that never happened, as Kak was removed from his post by Hari Singh on 11 August. Jinnah, in a long talk, advised Kak “to accede to Pakistan and stated that Kashmir, by immediate accession would get far better terms from Pakistan than she was likely to get later.” When Kak responded by assuring Jinnah that Srinagar’s position on non-accession was definite, Jinnah said that “so far as he was concerned, he was prepared to concede that this was an option which could be exercised by the State and so long as the State did not accede to India, he would not mind if it did not accede to Pakistan.”
Scott’s account helps to explain the abrupt removal of Kak on 11 August, and his succession by the 82-year-old Major General Janak Singh, who lasted for 64 days before yielding to Mehr Chand Mahajan. Scott, who supported Kak’s policy to secure the independence of the state with a view to saving it from the inter-communal strife, praises the former prime minister as doing all he could to ensure a not-actively-hostile Pakistan and Muslim League towards Kashmir. He points out that until the time that Kak was ousted as prime minister, Pakistan maintained troops along the two main roads leading into the state and allowed no tribal raiding into Kashmir (the likes of which took place in October 1947). Furthermore, embargos on the sale of Kashmiri timber and on the import of petrol from Pakistan into the state began only after Kak’s departure.
However, Scott also reveals that Kak was not so particular about maintaining friendly relations with India and the Congress, owing to his “personal dislike” for the Congress and “antipathy” towards Nehru. Scott feared that these factors unconsciously influenced Kak in his decision-making between May 1946 and July 1947. He also believed that Nehru and the Congress – “and even Mr. Ghandi intrigued in the State for the dismissal of Kak” – and their success was regarded by Pakistan and the Muslim Conference as “marking a change of policy from friendliness of Kashmir and Hari Singh to hostility to Pakistan … if not that then at least a mark of understanding with the Congress.”
As long as Partition was a theoretical possibility, Kak’s objection to accession was due to the “particular set of circumstances”. Once it became a practical reality, however, his objection took on “a fundamental character”. He argued that “whatever may be said to the contrary, the decision to partition India owed its inception to the state of discord prevailing between the Hindus and the Muslims”, and was to be effected “in such a manner that not merely did the country fall into two parts, but provinces and even districts were divided” along the majoritarian principle. Thus, “the only rational course for a princely state – if it decided to accede – [was] to assure itself first whether its population would support the accession” – notwithstanding the rather “disingenuous and lofty legal option to accede to either”.
In the case of Kashmir, with an extensive border running with Pakistan and a population of 76% Muslims, the only safe and possible course, short of acceding to Pakistan, was, in the circumstances then prevailing, to remain outside the arena … To achieve this, however, it was essential so to act that it was obvious to all, friends and foes alike, that the State’s policy was genuine and that it really meant what it said.
Accession to Pakistan, however, offered many advantages to Scott’s mind:
The very great majority of State subjects were Moslems closely connected by religion and race with the Moslems of the Punjab. It was obvious that the Moslem League would use all its great influence with the Government of Pakistan to persuade the latter to take action to ensure the union of at least Poonch and Gilgit to Pakistan. Failing Government’s action the Moslem League was more than likely itself to take such action. The economies of the state and of the [West] Punjab were closely integrated. The principal land communications of the state with the outside world passed through Pakistan. The prosperity of the agriculture of the Western Punjab is dependent on the waters of two of the great rivers of the state, the Jhelum and the Chinab. It was most unlikely, to say the least, that Pakistan would permit, without a struggle, the headworks of these great canal systems to pass into the control of India or even probably of an independent J & K State. The principal source of the State government’s income derived from the sale of timber felled in the State forests and floated down the Jhelum and Chinab rivers for sale in the Punjab.
However, Scott understood that the idea of union with Pakistan was “repugnant” to the maharaja and his Hindu and Sikh subjects for reasons of religion. The anxiety was also that accession to Pakistan would result in widespread violence against the state’s Hindus and Sikhs. So, Hari Singh did not want to accede to Pakistan and his accession to India was to be in the face of overwhelming strategic, economic and religious odds. “Could Kashmir have survived if it had not acceded?” Kak asks. For him, that would have depended on both India and Pakistan coming to “an understanding between themselves … during the nine weeks that elapsed between 15 August 1947 and 22 October 1947, that no inducement be held out or pressure exercised to bring Kashmir within the orbit of either the one or the other, and that both Governments would guarantee the security of the State from outside aggression.”
Events developed otherwise. The mutual “apprehension of danger” on behalf of the predominantly Hindu state administration and the predominantly Muslim state population resulted in the events of August-October 1947 – with none-too-subtle participation of New Delhi (political manoeuvres) and Karachi/Rawalpindi (military adventures). Despite having done better than both its neighbours (the Punjab and NWFP) in maintaining law and order and tackling the refugee problem that had arisen, during Kak’s premiership Kashmir was to still find itself trapped in the cycle of violence.
That Kak was “determined to play for independence” – despite a precarious military and economic position – is confirmed by Scott, who concludes that Kak’s dismissal and the raid of October 1947 hurled the state between the “frying pan and fire”. Scott confirms that, in a state approximately as large as France, “throughout August-October 1947 State forces had been thoroughly stretched in managing the refugee problem in Jammu and establishing law and order.” Further, since 1846, the British Crown had been responsible for guarding Kashmir against external aggression – hence, its state forces were not adequate. It had been dependent for arms on the British Indian Army and now, with both the new dominions eyeing it, Kashmir was suddenly militarily vulnerable. The final blow was the embargo on the sale of the state’s timber in West Punjab, and on the import of petrol from Pakistan. These were enough for Scott to render “hopes of securing and maintaining the independence of the State illusionary”.
During his meeting with V P Menon in July 1947, Kak had drawn a parallel between 1947 and the circumstances of 1846, when the state of J & K was created. J & K emerged under General Gulab Singh after the first Anglo-Sikh War in which, while the Sikhs had been militarily defeated, their political base and power had remained far from vanquished. In 1846, the East India Company agreed with Gulab Singh to create a semi-independent state – an area ceded by the Sikh government of Lahore to them – that would remain friendly with the British and be a less expensive economic and military ally from behind the backs of the still-turbulent Sikhs of the Punjab. The strategic idea was that if the Sikhs moved against the East India Company, Gulab Singh and the J & K forces would be able to harass them from the rear. Three years later, in 1849, the second Anglo-Sikh war brought to an end the Sikh political and military dominance in the Punjab, and brought home the hurried nature in which the Company had come to terms with Gulab Singh.
In fact, the 1947 boundary between India and Pakistan in Punjab not very different from the 1846 boundary between the Company forces and Ranjit Singh’s successors in Lahore. This obvious and powerful parallel was best summed up by one Major-General W J Cawthorn, the founder of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in a speech in September 1948:
Whatever the legal position might be, from the political, economic and strategic points of view, Pakistan could not afford to have a hostile India right up to the Western borders of J & K: a) It would bring Indian army within 30 miles of the military headquarters of Pakistan and right behind the vital north-south communication line; b) it would give India control over the waterworks of Chenab, Jhelum and Indus; c) it would give India direct contact with Afghanistan and Chitral and Swat in the backdrop of indications that the Indian Congress and the Young Afghan Party were jointly encouraging the Pathanistan idea; d) it would also place India in an almost direct contact with Russia.
The above reasons meant that since Kashmir did not accede to Pakistan and could not become independent, it was not to be allowed to accede to India either.
~ Rakesh Ankit studied history at Delhi University and Oxford.