Of late, I have been going through the opinions of readers on the present turmoil in Jammu & Kashmir since last two months. It is quite interesting to read their views and opinions, though I feel that many of them are not aware of the origins and history of this crisis and the indecisive or wrong decisions of certain personalities that have been festering for over six decades.
At one time, the territories controlled by Great Britain in the name of the Crown were virtually one-fourth of the land area of the earth which, in fact, is the largest area controlled by anyone in history. After World War II, the British Government that administered and controlled the vast empire scattered all over the world, decided to relinquish their colonies in a gradual, phased manner, because the war had left them with massive debts, fiscal problems, etc. Further, people of diverse races that inhabited the territories of the vast British Empire were restive, agitating and clamouring for freedom and in the post war situation the Crown did not have sufficient men to administer these lands. One has to realize that in World War II, Great Britain made immense sacrifices by making massive contributions to the war efforts, working long hours, enduring rationing, losing hundreds of thousands in the war, faced relentless bombing by the Luftwaffe and rockets, especially during the Battle of Britain, etc.
The British Empire was to lose its Crown Colony of India, when Lord Mountbatten decided to give independence to India and he surprised everyone by declaring that Great Britain would transfer power to India on 15th August 1947, i.e. just a couple of months’ later, when most people and media felt that it would take two years at the maximum for this epoch-making event to happen. Due to Lord Mountbatten’s decision to grant independence at short notice, everything had to be done in utter haste and this led to chaos. Considering the subsequent turmoil, rioting and carnage, one wonders if this haste in granting independence was a prudent or wrong decision.
Great Britain decided to give it independence after 40 long years’ campaign by Indian National Congress. These agitations were led for the Indian National Congress by Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose, whilst Muslim League led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, successfully lobbied for a Muslim State, Pakistan. The partitioning of Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan led to massive and forced movement of people, widespread violence, carnage and deaths on scales which were rarely heard of in the history of mankind. During the partitioning of India and Pakistan, Hindus killed Muslims, Muslims killed Hindus and Sikhs and Sikhs killed Muslims. That was it.
Once Lord Mountbatten decided and set the date, he entrusted this arduous task (which would have historical ramifications) of drawing the boundary lines to a highly reputed and respected lawyer, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who sat in a house in Delhi poring over many maps and referring to data and other material. He took geographical and demographic factors into account, while drawing the lines that would finally serve as the international border between West Pakistan and India (and again India and East Pakistan).
Sir Radcliffe performed his job admirably and with fairness in drawing the boundary lines. However, this was a thankless job and he could not have averted the major riots and bloodshed that followed before and after partitioning of India. Seeing the outcome resulting from the partitioning of the subcontinent, Sir Radcliffe refused to accept his fees of ? 6,000/- for the task he had performed.
Just prior to independence, Lord Mountbatten told Mohammad Ali Jinnah that he had fears that East Pakistan may secede or be wrenched away from West Pakistan in the next 25 years. His prediction was virtually accurate because Bangladesh became an independent country in December 1971, just 24 years and eight months later.
Lord Mountbatten advised Princes, whose kingdoms straddled on the present day Pakistan and India (and present day Bangladesh and India) borders, to merge their territories to either Pakistan or India, with demography and geography being the guiding factors. Say, for example, if the ruler and/or the majority of his subjects were Muslims, then he should merge his kingdom with Pakistan and vice versa.
Jammu & Kashmir was a State that was quite big enough in terms of territory and population to prompt Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler, to think of being an independent ruler without joining Pakistan or India. Secondly, the Maharaja felt that he had a sizeable Army to defend his Kingdom. The ruler of Jammu & Kashmir was a Hindu; his subjects were predominantly Muslims, though there were Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists too.
Lord Mountbatten advised the Maharaja that he should opt for either Pakistan or India. He should not think of being a ruler with his own Kingdom, because the two giants, (i.e. Pakistan and India), would breathe down his neck by not allowing him any peace, through border incursions, invasions and, in worst scenario case, the entire State being annexed. Mountbatten told him that if any of these two countries tried to invade and annex his State, then that would be the end of him and catastrophic.
Lord Mountbatten narrated to him what happened to the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II (Nicholas Romanov), who was his relative. There were many reasons why the Tsar became unpopular and the Army forced him to abdicate. Immediately thereafter, due to the rise of Bolshevism, the Tsar and his entire family were arrested, moved from west to east across the vast land, with limitless distances, to avoid capture by the White Russians and one day the entire family died under the hail of bullets fired at them by the Bolshevists in a small room of a house in the town of Yekaterinburg, where presently a Church stands.
Having cited this incident, Lord Mountbatten advised Maharaja Hari Singh that the best thing for him was to merge with Pakistan or India. However, the Maharaja did not listen to Lord Mountbatten’s advice and pursued with his dreams of an independent Jammu & Kashmir, even though India and Pakistan were carved out and became independent countries in the comity of nations.
Thereafter when Indian emissary went to meet the Maharaja, he would not be in his palace, but vanish to the brooks and streams of his Kingdom fishing trout, in order to slip away from the visitor.
However, on 26th October 1947, Maharaja sent a letter from The Palace, Srinagar, out of sheer desperation to Lord Mountbatten, informing him that Afridis and Pakistani soldiers in plain clothes and desperadoes with modern weapons had attacked his Kingdom with the full knowledge of the Government of Pakistan. They were advancing to his capital, Srinagar, and he pleaded for help and sent the Instrument of Accession for acceptance by the Indian Government. This important document was carried back to Lord Mountbatten by Mr. V.P. Singh and Colonel Sam Maneckshaw.
The Government of India moved into action. This was the first baptism by fire for the independent India’s Army, when paratroopers were dropped into Kashmir, followed by the infantry and other elements to engage the Pakistanis. The Indians managed to take tanks on the mountains by dismantling and stacking them on the trucks, assembling them there and going on the offensive against the Pakistanis armed for mountain warfare occupying vantage positions. This shocked the Pakistanis, who just could not believe what they were seeing and wondered how could tanks manage to climb the mountains? Thereafter, they were engaged, killed, captured and pulverized by the Indian Army. When they sent SOS to their commanders and superiors behind their positions, they felt that this was impossible and replied back, ?Are you mad? Are you sure??
As the operations were going on for eight months, United Nations requested to combatants to cease fire and Jawaharlal Nehru promptly accepted it without weighing the pros and cons. Till today, many experts question Nehru’s wisdom in agreeing to a ceasefire, instead of continuing the operations for sometime till the Pakistanis were totally evicted and India got control of the entire State.
In short, there are two personalities who were responsible for the present crisis. One was the Maharaja Hari Singh for harbouring the dream of having his own, independent State. This man lacked foresight and did not realise that he was sandwiched between the two giants and could be crushed at any time. Further, he did not realise that even under the best of circumstances, his Kingdom would be landlocked and mountainous, economically unviable, depending on the two giants for all its needs. Had his dreams of an independent Kingdom become true, then he would have faced strangulation.
In conclusion, Mahatma Gandhi loved all people, be it Hindus, Muslims or any other denominations. When India had dithered in paying the money to Pakistan, Mahatma Gandhi said that this was wrong and at his insistence the money was paid promptly. That is why, Hindu fanatics considered him to be pro-Muslim, hatched a plot and ultimately this great personality paid it with his life.
Gandhi did not want the Indian subcontinent to be partitioned till the very end and he pleaded with Mohammad Ali Jinnah to become the President of undivided India and Nehru to become the Prime Minister. However, both wanted to be the leaders and this was possible only by partitioning undivided India (into separate entities, namely India and Pakistan). In short, both these leaders were hungry for power, name and fame. Well, when Mahatma Gandhi failed in all his honest attempts, he broke down and cried bitterly.
Nelson Lewis, Bahrain
Author: Nelson Lewis- Bahrain