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The mishandling of Kashmir

Karan Thapar

It’s odd that 50 years after his death, the question ‘Did Nehru mishandle Kashmir or is he being unfairly blamed?’ is being asked. But since Amit Shah has raised the issue, let me attempt an answer. However, I shall only focus on the issues that are conflict points between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

First, Amit Shah has claimed Nehru wrongly declared a ceasefire in 1948 and, as a result, one-third of the state was lost to India. This is arguably corroborated by unverified reports that Gen Cariappa, who was the commander in charge of the fighting, disagreed with the ceasefire decision. He felt India could regain all of Jammu and Kashmir if the Army was given three weeks more.

However, a decision to ceasefire is not determined by generals alone. In 1948, Nehru had three good reasons for ordering one. He faced international pressure – specifically from the US – which a one-year-old country would have found hard to resist. Equally importantly, beyond the ceasefire line, the terrain and logistics were increasingly in Pakistan’s favour whilst the forces our Army would have confronted would be the Pakistan army and not the Pathan Lashkars.

The second charge is: Nehru referred the Kashmir issue to the United Nations (UN). Few would disagree that time has proved this to be a bad decision. Even contemporaneously, Sardar Patel, the deputy prime minister, advised against it.

There is, however, another way of looking at the matter. Mridula Mukherjee, a former director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, says if India hadn’t gone to the UN, there was every likelihood Pakistan would have. Nehru needed to pre-empt that to ensure our case was heard as “victims” and not as alleged “aggressors”. Also, in the late 1940s, referring Kashmir to the UN was viewed as a high-minded and noble gesture. It was before the Cold War started and, therefore, impossible to perceive India would get bogged down in divisive politics.

The third charge is Nehru linked Kashmir to the Indian Union by way of Article 370 and did not fully merge the state in the way all the other princely states were merged. His supporters defend this on the grounds of the special circumstances of Kashmir’s accession. They point out that Kashmir only acceded in terms of three issues, defence, foreign affairs and communications. But that’s also true of every other state. After all, the Instrument of Accession was the same. Secondly, accession happened in 1947 whilst Article 370 was incorporated into the Constitution in 1949. So can you really justify the latter in terms of the former?

The truth is 370 was intended to be temporary and transitional but because the Kashmiri constituent assembly failed to recommend its abrogation before its own dissolution it’s now deemed permanent. Surely it was incumbent on Nehru, who served as prime minister for 17 years after Kashmir’s accession, to ensure 370 was revoked and Kashmir fully merged rather than let this special status continue? I, at least, haven’t found a convincing answer to that question.

The fourth charge is Nehru voluntarily made Kashmir’s accession conditional upon a plebiscite. Amit Shah raised this issue in the Rajya Sabha. But, as Mridula Mukherjee points out, this is precisely what Patel did when Junagadh acceded. In that case, a Muslim ruler was reluctant to merge a Hindu state with India. In Kashmir’s case a Hindu ruler merged a Muslim state with India. But the need to corroborate the accession decision with the wishes of the people was the same.

Finally, many believe Nehru’s judgment was clouded by his personal attachment to Kashmir. That could be his biggest lapse. But isn’t the BJP raking up all this and also exaggerating it for political purposes? And what meaningful purpose is served by doing so? At a time when you urgently need to calm the troubled waters of the Valley this is creating dangerous waves. It might make good scoring points in Parliament but its short-sighted and silly.

(HT Media)

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