VIEW: Areas undefined —Ralph Shaw - Sunday, February 13, 2011

Source :\02\13\story_13-2-2011_pg3_5

Maharajah Hari Singh certainly did not sign an Instrument of Accession with India before the Indian forces moved into Kashmir on October 27, 1947 and it is highly doubtful that he ever signed one at all. Copies of such a document have been floating around for more than 60 years, but the original has never been produced by the Indians

The genesis of the now intractable problem of Kashmir, a problem that has plagued two generations of Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris essentially boils down to one word — areas. Specifically, it was the inability of the Muslim League leadership, at the time of partition, to define clearly what it meant by units or areas that it desired to be combined to form Pakistan. Viceroy Mountbatten and the Congress leadership took full advantage of this definitional ambiguity and added some deception to affect an outcome favourable to India.

As Mountbatten saw it, the logic of the Two Nation concept made the partition of Punjab and Bengal inevitable. In a series of six vital meetings with Mr Jinnah during the first two weeks of April 1947, the newly appointed viceroy first tried to dissuade Mr Jinnah from the idea of Pakistan and having failed in that attempt, despite all his powers of charm and persuasion, declared, rather convincingly, that the Two Nation logic demanded that the substantial Hindu minorities of Punjab and Bengal be spared the prospect of Muslim rule just as the Muslim minority in India did not want to be ruled by a Hindu Majority. Apparently, neither side trusted that a liberal democracy on either side would guarantee minority rights. Mr Jinnah justifiably protested that such a partition would make his state unviable and moth-eaten but Mountbatten held on to his logic. The carving up of Punjab and Bengal thus became inevitable. Incidentally, a few scholars have suggested that the Two Nation idea did far more for India than it did for Pakistan. Lumping together the myriad of non-Muslim Indian ethnicities and languages into a bipolar Muslim and non-Muslim (Hindu) classification insured the integrity of what remained of India after partition. The alternative could have been a “Gadarene rush towards ‘Balkanisation’”, as some have suggested.

The origin of the Kashmir problem is intimately tied to the way Punjab was sliced up by the British. The Pakistan Resolution, March 23, 1940, stated that “...the areas in which the Muslims are a grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.” According to historian and scholar Alastair Lamb, “British constitutional experts, notably (Sir) Reginald Coupland, were quick to point out the implied conflict between the expressions ‘autonomous’ and ‘sovereign’...”, i.e. sovereignty is inclusive of autonomy. More importantly, however, the resolution did not explicitly state the smallest administrative unit to be used in assessing partition. The intent obviously was entire provinces, yet, even when partition became inevitable, specificity on the issue was lacking. What shape Pakistan would take especially along the fault-line of partition remained a mystery. The word ‘states’ also left open the possibility of more than one Muslim state in the subcontinent. Thus the delineation of the border in Punjab and Bengal was left for the British to decide upon. And the British decided to give Maharajah Hari Singh a choice by dividing Gurdaspur at the sub-district level. In doing so, they were following an outline developed in January 1946 by the previous Viceroy Wavell’s Reform Commissioner VP Menon who was a Congress sympathiser. Menon’s plan called for partition on a district-by-district basis generally, except for some special cases such as Gurdaspur where partition would take place at the tehsil (sub-district) level.

There is little doubt that had this critical area of Punjab been partitioned on the basis of districts rather than tehsils, the Maharajah, in the long run, would have had no choice but to join Pakistan. In such a division, the entire Muslim majority district of Gurdaspur, including its strategically crucial Hindu majority eastern tehsil of Pathankot, would have gone to Pakistan, depriving the Maharajah of his only land link to India and also of his invidious option to act against the will of his people. Gurdaspur District, with one tehsil on the west bank of Ravi and the remaining three on the eastern side, had an overall Muslim majority of 51 percent but one of its eastern tehsils Pathankot was 65 percent non-Muslim. Not only Pathankot but the other two Muslim majority eastern tehsils were also awarded to India by the Radcliffe Commission. Radcliffe tried to justify his decision on the grounds of irrigation works but the fact really is that he was only following Menon’s partition plan.

It appears that the Congress was ahead of the Muslim League in recognising the geopolitical importance of Gurdaspur and its division at the sub-district level. While Mr Jinnah, in his September 1944 discussions with Mr Gandhi, who was not interested in any sort of Pakistan, rejected a proposal developed by the future governor general of India, C Rajagopalachari, of dividing the provinces along district lines, Congress sympathisers in government were working to prevent such a possibility. Mountbatten’s revised partition plan that became the basis for the Indian Independence Act of July 18, 1947 ensured that the partition criterion used would be areas, i.e. if needed districts and divisions could be subdivided. Around August 9, 1947, Mr Liaquat Ali Khan, future prime minister of Pakistan, was secretly informed of the fate of Gurdaspur which really was the death-knell for Kashmir. It is interesting that his protest to the viceroy’s office did not mention Kashmir. It appears that either the Muslim League leadership still did not grasp the strategic significance of Gurdaspur or it was not bold enough to accuse the British of being part of an Indian plot against Pakistan.

Maharajah Hari Singh certainly did not sign an Instrument of Accession with India before the Indian forces moved into Kashmir on October 27, 1947 and it is highly doubtful that he ever signed one at all. Copies of such a document, on which India’s claim of Kashmir being Indian sovereign territory is based, have been floating around for more than 60 years, but the original has never been produced by the Indians. Menon’s story that he travelled by plane to Jammu on October 26, 1947 to get the Maharajah’s signature is not only contradicted by his alleged companion on that day M C Mahajan but also by highly respectable witnesses who met him in Delhi. Thus, it is obvious that India’s military intervention in Kashmir was illegal and any accession document signed after the intervention lacks legitimacy because it could very well have been signed under pressure.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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