The year 1963… it was the month of September when India had just lost the war (not just another skirmish) against China! This defeat had damaged the then Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s image in the country (and abroad) to quite an extent! The psychological pressure built inside was taking its toll on Nehru’s health… the Indian National Congress Party became busy, locked in discussions in order to decide who his successor would be! Indira Gandhi requested her father to take some rest, but, Nehru would not listen to her! In December 1963, he had indulged in excessive travelling, to Madras, Madurai, Chandigarh, Calcutta, Bihar and Bombay (twice)… Nehru fell ill during the Congress Session at Bhubaneswar in January 1964. Upon his arrival in New Delhi, the doctors confirmed that the PM had suffered a stroke!
Perhaps, Nehru realised that his end was near, and he recalled Sheikh Abdullah and their friendship! Nehru was well aware of the fact that he had made a number of decisions, which were against his ideology. One of those decisions was to send Sheikh Abdullah to jail. Sheikh Abdullah was his friend from childhood… yet, Nehru, reportedly, did not hesitate to sign the Arrest Warrant on his name! It seems that something went very wrong as it was scheduled to happen on October 26, 1947. However, Nehru had accepted Sheikh Abdullah’s suggestion on October 26, 1947 and managed to save his image!
1947: New Delhi
It was Mehr Chand Mahajan, the then Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir during the reign of Maharaja Hari Singh, who had sent a letter to Nehru, urging the Indian premier to send Armed Forces to Srinagar at the earliest. Mahajan had reportedly scribbled: “Please allow Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference Party to take decisions. Please send the Indian forces to Srinagar by evening…” He had sent the letter immediately after receiving the news that the Pakistani invaders had left for Srinagar! Hari Singh (1895-1961) – the last ruling Monarch of the Indian Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, ‘wanted Kashmir to exist as a separate and neutral state between India and Pakistan!’ He never thought that Pakistan would make an attempt to conquer Kashmir. Pakistan’s move prompted Hari Singh to seek Nehru’s help, via Mahajan. Singh had also sent Mahajan to New Delhi in order to discuss the Kashmir issue with Nehru, and also with the then Indian Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel…
Mahajan tried to bargain with the Indian government, as he told PM Nehru that he would discuss the issue with Pakistan’s first Governor General Muhammad Ali Jinnah, if the Indian forces failed to reach Srinagar. And Nehru, stung and momentarily stunned, had made it clear to Mahajan that he could visit wherever and whoever he wished to! The PM of Jammu and Kashmir was about to leave Nehru’s official residence when Patel told Mahajan: “Go wherever you want… but, not to Pakistan.” Then, Patel handed over a note to PM Nehru, saying: “This is for you… sent by Sheikh Abdullah!”
Hari Singh, Nehru & Sheikh Abdullah
Sheikh Abdullah, who used to believe in Mahatma Gandhi’s ideology, was a friend of Nehru. He was at Nehru’s residence during Mahajan’s visit. He heard the heated discussions between Nehru and Mahajan, and sent the note to the Indian PM, mentioning that he was in favour of Mahajan’s view. Although Sheikh Abdullah was against the monarchy and in favour of a democratically elected government in Jammu and Kashmir, he had urged Nehru to accept Mahajan’s proposal!
The Indian PM had changed his decision after receiving Abdullah’s note, ordering the Indian Army to send troops to Srinagar… In his autobiography ‘Looking Back’, Mahajan revealed Jinnah’s actual plan and the outcome of his meeting with Nehru and Patel. He clearly mentioned in the book that the then Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army (as well as the Pakistani Army), Field Marshal Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck informed Jinnah on October 26 that Hari Singh signed the ‘Instrument of Accession’ agreement with the Government of India on the basis of which the former independent princely state of Jammu and Kashmir would join the Union of India! As a result, it was not possible for Pakistan to send forces to Srinagar, argued Field Marshal Auchinleck. Finally, Jinnah changed his plan of taking Kashmir by storm!
From Gulmarg to New York
Maharaja Hari Singh managed to protect Kashmir from the invaders in 1947 this way. However, Sheikh Abdullah was not sure whether Kashmir would have to face an existential crisis because of its proximity to the two major countries! The National Conference leader had no faith in Jinnah’s ‘Two-nation Theory’. He was quite sure that Kashmir would not be able to maintain its own characteristics in the neo-natal State of feudal and Islamic Pakistan. Nehru had raised the issue at the UN in January 1948. The World Body had urged Pakistan not to send invaders to Kashmir and requested India to (gradually) withdraw troops from the region! In August 1952, PM Nehru told the Indian Parliament: “We are not going to impose ourselves (India) on them (Kashmir) on the point of the bayonet.” He was heard further mentioning: “If, however, the people of Kashmir do not wish to remain with us, let them go (to Pakistan) by all means. We will not keep them against their will, however painful it may be to us. I want to stress that it is only the people of Kashmir who can decide the future of Kashmir.”
Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah
However, Sheikh Abdullah wanted to decide the future of Kashmir through a referendum… and, in 1953, the Head of State of Jammu and Kashmir, Yuvraj Dr Karan Singh, dismissed Abdullah and appointed Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed as the prime minister of the state. It is to be noted that the elected head of government of Jammu and Kashmir was called the ‘prime minister‘, and not the ‘chief minister‘, at that period of time. Dr Singh had informed PM Nehru that Sheikh Abdullah planned to join hands with Pakistan and sent some of his letters as proof! This piece of information to the Indian premier got him alarmed..still, he was not ready to believe that Sheikh Abdullah, who had changed the name of his party from ‘Muslim Conference’ to ‘National Conference’ in the 1930’s, would become a puppet of Pakistan! This event is popularly known as ‘Kashmir Conspiracy Case‘…
Nehru had signed the order for arrest of Sheikh Abdullah in the night of August 9… The Kashmiri leader was staying at a government Guest House in Gulmarg at that time. In his autobiography ‘Flames of the Chinar’, Sheikh Abdullah mentioned that his secretary informed him in the dawn of August 10 that the Indian soldiers were guarding the Guest House. Sheikh Abdullah immediately came out of his bedroom… but an Army officer advised the National Conference leader not to leave his room. Sheikh Abdullah followed his instructions, and called the Police Super. When he asked the Police Super about the situation, the officer produced the Arrest Warrant. Sheikh Abdullah, then, calmly asked the officer whether he would be allowed to offer prayer in the morning…
Hazratbal Shrine & thereafter…
December 27, 1963… Kashmir was on fire, as the Moi-e-Muqaddas (believed by many Muslims of Kashmir to be a hair of Prophet Muhammad – PBUH) was stolen from the Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar. Surprisingly, the holy relic was found in the shrine within a week. However, the Kashmiri people refused to accept the truth that it wasn’t stolen! Kashmir witnessed widespread riots and the Muslims attacked the Hindus not only in India, but also in Pakistan and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan)…
As Nehru’s health condition had deteriorated, he sent his Cabinet minister Lal Bahadur Shastri to Srinagar in the last week of January. Shastri held a meeting with some Muslim clerics and urged experts to check whether the relic was original or fake. After experts confirmed the authenticity of the relic, peace returned to the Valley slowly… the entire episode, however, hurt Nehru deeply!
The Child of a Traitor…
Sheikh Abdullah had spent eight years under house arrest… Nehru was in a dilemma when he had signed his Arrest Warrant in 1953 as there was absence of serious charges against the National Conference Supremo! Abdullah was released in January 1958. Immediately after his release, the self-styled ‘Sher-e-Kashmir‘ (The Lion of Kashmir) addressed two rallies – one in Srinagar and another in Hazratbal… and, the response from the Kashmiri people was overwhelming! This development was not well received by his political opponents and the administrative officers… Sheikh Abdullah was arrested for the second time in April 1958 and this time, he was charged with conspiracy against the Government of India, with the help of Pakistan! Abdullah was sent to a jail in Jammu. Although Nehru accepted all these because of his political obligation, he did feel guilty within! The Indian PM was in touch with Sheikh Abdullah’s family members because he was worried about them. Sheikh Abdullah’s son Farooq Abdullah was a student of Medicine at SMS Medical College in Jaipur at that time. Earlier in July 1955, Farooq met Nehru in New Delhi and had told the latter that his classmates used to call him ‘the child of a traitor’! Nehru immediately sent a letter to one of his ministers, asking him to take proper care of this matter!
After the Hazratbal incident, Nehru decided to make another attempt in resolving the Kashmir issue. The atmosphere had already been created as India and Pakistan held a number of meetings in 1962-63. While Sardar Swaran Singh represented India in those meetings, ‘young Turk’ Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto represented Pakistan. Interestingly, no one represented Kashmir! Prime Minister Nehru decided to allow Sheikh Abdullah to take part in meetings with Pakistan as a representative of Kashmir. Nehru discussed the issue with Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and asked the latter to release Sheikh Abdullah from prison!
Sheikh Abdullah came out from the jail on April 8, 1964. Soon after his release, the Kashmiri politician declared that India had two problems: Communalism and Kashmir! He also said that India could resolve these problems under the leadership of Nehru! The PM invited Sheikh Abdullah to visit New Delhi. Sheikh Abdullah accepted the invitation and informed Nehru that he would meet the PM on April 23 (after Eid)… Before leaving for New Delhi, Abdullah addressed a number of political rallies in Kashmir. While attending a rally, he said that “Kashmir is like a girl whom Pakistan and India both want to marry. But, no one wants to know what Kashmir wants. India will have to decide.” He also said that there was no hatred in his mind and he would try to help Nehru resolve the ‘Kashmir issue’.
Nearly 500,000 people greeted Sheikh Abdullah when he reached Srinagar on April 18. After talking to them, he realised that the people started considering him as a supporter of Pakistan. The government of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad was responsible for that, as the Provincial Government projected Sheikh Abdullah as a supporter of Pakistan, although the fact is that realistic Sheikh Abdullah was never ready to go with Pakistan! He had held talks with various local leaders, including Maulvi Farooqi, and advised them not to join hands with Pakistan… While addressing a rally in Srinagar on April 23, the National Conference leader was heard saying: “We would have to keep in mind the condition of 50 million Indian Muslims and one million Pakistani Hindus while finding solutions to the Kashmir problem”… Before leaving for New Delhi, he urged Muslims to protect the Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir!
The Protests by Jana Sangh…
The Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), an Indian right wing political party that existed from 1951 to 1977, was the political arm of Hindu nationalist volunteer organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)! The BJS was seen staging of protests against Nehru’s ‘new Kashmir Policy’. Jana Sangh organised a huge rally in Delhi on April 28. The Jana Sangh had also asked the Nehru government to abolish Article 370 of the Indian Constitution (that gives autonomous status to the province of Jammu and Kashmir), and to declare the region as an ‘integral part of India’! Jana Sangh leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee reportedly advised Nehru to tell Sheikh Abdullah that he would have to accept Kashmir as an integral, as well as inalienable part of the country! In fact, some of Nehru’s Cabinet members and senior Congress leaders backed the Jana Sangh’s demand. There were other leaders, too, who were in favour of the Indian PM’s ‘new Kashmir Policy’. Jayaprakash Narayan was one of those who had strongly criticised the Jana Sangh leaders, saying that the ‘Kashmir issue’ could be resolved through peaceful negotiations. The other one was Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, informally called ‘Rajaji’ or ‘C.R’. Rajaji was not only a long-time comrade of Nehru, but a harsh critic of the PM, as well! He did not hesitate to oppose the Congress rule in the 1960’s. Rajaji formed the Swatantra Party in 1959 as a protest against Nehru’s economic policy. Interestingly, he welcomed Nehru’s decision to release Sheikh Abdullah from jail. Rajaji, too, had wanted India to resolve the ‘Kashmir issue’ through peaceful negotiations with Pakistan!
In such a scenario, Sheikh Abdullah landed in New Delhi on April 29. From the airport, he went straight to the Teen Murti Bhavan (official residence of the first PM of India in New Delhi) where Nehru was waiting for him. The two friends met each other for the first time after a gap of 11 years. Both Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah spent five days at Teen Murti Bhavan and held talks twice, everyday! Sheikh Abdullah also met senior Congress and Jana Sangh leaders during his stay in New Delhi. The Kashmiri leader paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at Raj Ghat and also offered prayer at the Jama Masjid in the capital.
Many Congress leaders issued separate statements on the ‘Kashmir issue’ and 27 of them openly declared that they wanted Peace in Kashmir Valley. As Lal Bahadur Shastri was a member of Nehru’s ‘core team’, Rajaji had sent a letter to him, mentioning that he was in favour of giving ‘autonomous’ status to Jammu and Kashmir! Sheikh Abdullah, too, was eager to meet Rajaji. After spending five days in New Delhi, he left for Madras (now called Chennai). On his way, he met Vinoba Bhave in Wardha! “I came to talk about the spirituality with Bhave and about real politics with Rajaji,” he was heard telling the Press.
The Rajaji Formula…
Sheikh Abdullah met Rajaji in Chennai on May 5. Next day, the Hindustan Times daily reported that the two leaders prepared the ‘Kashmir Formula’ in order to resolve the issue. However, Rajaji made no comments on it. For his part, Sheikh Abdullah said that Rajaji helped him deal with the issue in a different manner. He had expressed to the media that they prepared a formula that would allow both India and Pakistan to resolve the issue without making any compromise… According to Sheikh Abdullah, the formula would also be beneficial for the people of Jammu and Kashmir!
While in Madras, Sheikh Abdullah came to know that the military dictator and second President of Pakistan Mohammad Ayub Khan wanted to meet him! He returned to New Delhi on May 6 and met PM Nehru once again at the Teen Murti Bhavan mainly to discuss the ‘Rajaji Formula’. After their meeting on that chalked-out formula, Nehru had formed a committee to implement the same! The then Indian Foreign Secretary, Yezdezard Dinshaw Gundevia, the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, G Parthasarathy, and then Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University Badruddin Faiz Tyabji were members of that committee! Abdullah discussed the ‘Rajaji Formula’ with them for the next couple of days. They concentrated mainly on the referendum, the situation in Kashmir before 1947 and the condition of people in contemporary Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). Abdullah made clear to the Committee Members that he wouldn’t like to trigger a fresh tension between India and Pakistan, disturbing the ‘secular’ image of the Indian Constitution, and create further troubles for the minority communities (in both the countries!) He further urged the committee to prescribe multiple solutions, which he could discuss with President Khan.
It seems that Sheikh Abdullah was not interested in holding a referendum in Jammu and Kashmir after his meeting with Rajaji in Madras. He was well aware of the fact that the minority communities of the two countries would be in trouble whatever might be the outcome of the referendum. The ‘mysterious Rajaji Formula‘ tried to give autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir as much as possible. As per the Formula, the two neighbouring countries would look after the foreign policy and security of Kashmir, while the people of Kashmir would make decision on rest of the issues independently! Another possibility was to create a Confederation of India, Pakistan and Kashmir.
Sheikh Abdullah used to believe that Nehru was the only person who could resolve the ‘Kashmir issue’. Nehru, too, trusted Sheikh Abdullah a lot! While speaking at a meeting of All India Congress Committee in Bombay (now Mumbai) on May 16, the Indian premier praised Sheikh Abdullah’s ‘secular’ ideology!
Sheikh Abdullah arrived in New Delhi again on May 20. He planned to meet Nehru for one last time before visiting Pakistan. Nehru met the press on May 22… but, did not inform the media about his meeting with the Kashmiri leader. However, the then Indian foreign secretary revealed that PM Nehru had discussed about the proposed Confederation with the legal experts. According to Y D Gundevia, Nehru had assured Sheikh Abdullah that India would never reiterate its claim over the PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. Meanwhile, Indian Parliamentarian and Swatantra Party leader Minoo Masani sent a letter to his friend Allah Bukhsh Karim Bukhsh Brohi, saying that Ayub Khan should hold an open discussion with Sheikh Abdullah. It is to be noted that Brohi was a prominent Karachi-based lawyer, former Pak High Commissioner to India and one of Ayub Khan’s trusted officials.
On the way to Pakistan
Thousands of people greeted Abdullah upon his arrival in Rawalpindi on May 24. The then Chinese Premier Chou En-lai had visited Pakistan in February… Reportedly, the Chinese leader did not receive such a welcome. Talking to the local media, Sheikh Abdullah said that he would spend two weeks in Pakistan before leaving for PoK. He also said that he would visit East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to see the condition of the minority community there… Sheikh Abdullah claimed that his visit was aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the ‘Kashmir issue’.
Sheikh Abdullah and President Khan held talks for almost three hours on May 25 and although the two leaders had avoided the press after their meeting, it was evident in Sheikh Abdullah’s gesture that the meeting was ‘positive’. He stressed that he had received a positive response from the Seat of Power in Pakistan! While addressing a rally in Rawalpindi in that evening, the Indian visitor said that it would be crucial to resolve the ‘Kashmir issue’ in order to safeguard the interests of the ‘minorities‘, both in India and Pakistan. He further claimed that the misunderstanding between the two nations would damage the bilateral ties!
Sheikh Abdullah with Ayub Khan
Sheikh Abdullah and President Khan met again on May 26. Later, the Kashmiri leader announced that the Pakistani president had agreed to meet the Indian PM in mid-June! He also announced that the meeting would take place in the Indian Capital, and he would be present in New Delhi, too! Somewhat akin to India, Pakistan, too, did not consider Sheikh Abdullah’s initiative in a positive manner, it seems! Perhaps, Sheikh Abdullah had hurt the sentiment of the people of Pakistan by highlighting the ‘secular’ character of India and also by giving too much importance on bilateral ties (instead of the ‘Kashmir issue’)! The Pakistani media strongly criticised the visiting Indian leader for doing so!
Abdullah was scheduled to visit Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK, on May 2 to know about the views of Pakistani Kashmiris, and before his departure from Rawalpindi (on May 27), Abdullah came to know that Nehru had passed away in Delhi! The news spread like wildfire in India. A little later, it reached Pakistan, too! The jubilant crowd that had gathered to welcome Sheikh Abdullah turned into a mourning one, sobbing, weeping and praying to Allah to bless Nehru’s soul by raising their hands to the sky! Sheikh Abdullah left for New Delhi almost immediately… At Teen Murti Bhavan, he found his old friend lying on a bed… motionless! He broke down, as he could realised that a great opportunity was lost!
Sheikh Abdullah breaks down on seeing Nehru’s body on May 28, 1964 in New Delhi.
The Times of India daily reported that condolences were expressed in the Pakistani National Assembly and Pakistani flags were flown at half-mast in respect to the Indian PM, a departure from protocol for Pakistan! Newspaper offices throughout Pakistan were flooded with telephone calls and reader visits, while several shops in various cities, like Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Peshawar, had put up big signs informing the people that “India’s Nehru is no more”. The next morning, the Pakistani dailies carried the news with Banner Headlines…
Commenting on the impact of Nehru’s death on the ‘Kashmir issue’, a Pakistani daily wrote: “…the end of a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue… for whoever succeeded Nehru, would not have the stature, courage and political support necessary to go against the highly emotional tide of public opinion in India favouring a status quo in Kashmir.”
History shows us how true and relevant this statement is, more so in the Era of Surgical Strikes!
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