Alan Campbell Johnson, in his famous book, “Mission with Mountbatten” writes – while trying to explain why Kashmir, amongst the princely states, represented a special problem that “there was a Hindu ruler with a state geographically contiguous to both dominions and the majority of his subjects (were) Moslem.”
Campbell Johnson may have never created this logic of “geographically contiguous” he was merely repeating what everyone generally believed – and perhaps still believes. And it was true; on a map, Jammu & Kashmir appeared perched between India and Pakistan.
Yet in reality, for all practical purposes Maharaja Hari Singh’s princely state – surrounded by the ferocious Himalayas and other mountain ranges from three directions – till 16th August 1947, had no real physical links or lines of communication with the territories that were about to constitute India. In literally every respect Jammu and Kashmir was wholly and solely dependent for all its logistic needs on the territories that were about to form Pakistan.
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Geography: Map versus reality?
State of Jammu and Kashmir came into existence in the middle of 19th century – it was a patchwork that was stitched by Gulab Singh mostly after the 2nd Anglo-Sikh war and the Sikh defeat of 1846 when cash strapped East India Company sold him Kashmir for the infamous Rs. 75 lacs.
Kashmir valley, from past several hundred years, had only two main reliable physical links with the outside world: One through the Jhelum Valley Road (also called Pindi-Srinagar or Muzaffarabad-Srinagar Road); second through the Old Mughal Road that entered Jammu via Sialkot corridor (Bhimber, Jammu, Rajouri route and entering Kashmir at Shopian).
Old Mughal Road was the route, Mughal emperor Jehangir took many times to reach Kashmir – though he also used the Jhelum valley route on at least one occasion. In addition, Kashmir had several small hilly tracts from where traders and preachers from Central Asia and Iran penetrated the valley from pre-historic times but all from routes in North (present-day KP, Gilgit and Ladakh etc.). And thus the human life in the Kashmir valley was inextricably linked with the people and cultures that now constitute Pakistani Punjab.
This confusion about “geographic contiguity” got combined with another piece of misinformation. And that is the continuing false belief that Maharaja Hari Singh of J&K in August 1947 also had the option to stay independent
Almost 73 years after 1947, the Indian government in 2020 is still struggling with a Leh-Manali all-weather road that will connect Ladakh with Himachal Pradesh.
But this is now 2020, let’s go back to the middle of 20th century when two dominions of India and Pakistan were being created out of British India and its 565 princely states – out of which one was Maharaja Hari Singh’s Jammu and Kashmir.
Kashmir valley had one reliable (not all-weather but reliable) cart road, over Bannihal Pass (made all-weather through the famous Bannihal tunnel, in 1956) that connected it with Jammu.
But then Jammu itself could only be accessed via Sialkot (a city in Pakistan). All human traveling and trade between Jammu and Punjab, over the past several centuries, took place via Sialkot.
The bottom line is that State of Jammu and Kashmir (as it existed in 1947) may have looked – on a school atlas or wall hanging map – perched between the two potential dominion states of India and Pakistan but in reality, J&K had no physical relation with the areas that now constitute Indian Union.
It was the way geography and history had shaped the region. Maharaja Hari Singh’s state, for all practical purposes of statecraft, was not “geographically contiguous” with both dominions.
Yet these words, “geographic contiguity” and the wider sense they conveyed – repeated hundreds and thousands of times by historians, authors, academics, young doctoral candidates in their dissertations and by journalists in their articles had given rise to a “mental barrier” that has limited most people’s ability to understand the malignant politics that has given rise to the tragedy of Kashmir and its people.
But that was not alone; this confusion about “geographic contiguity” got combined with another widely believed “misinterpretation”. And that is the continuing false belief that Maharaja Hari Singh of J&K in August 1947 also had the option to stay independent.
How Bengal & states like Kashmir lost the option of Independence?
In reality, after the Shimla meeting (May 1947) between Mountbatten and Nehru, the third option for any state to “stay independent” was simply not available. The actual “partition plan” prepared by Viceroy’s team to be announced on May 17th had a complex option that could have theoretically provided a mechanism for British Indian province of Bengal to emerge as an independent third dominion; this could have paved way for large states like Hyderabad and Kashmir to claim independence – after the lapse of British paramountcy on 15th August.
However Mountbatten – against the advice of his team – shared that “partition plan” with Nehru and Krishna Menon in the quiet privacy of Shimla hills in first week of May 1947. Nehru violently reacted making it clear that Congress will reject and protest. Mountbatten had to surrender; he brought changes demanded by Nehru and created a new plan typed by VP Menon the same day.
This plan was then again sent to London for approval and thus instead of May 17, it was then announced on June 3 – and is known as the “June 3rd Plan” In this new partition plan, there could be only two “dominions” (Independent Bengal was ruled out) and while princely states were still theoretically independent (after 15th Aug) it was made clear through preaching and practice that every princely state had to opt for either Hindustan or Pakistan – keeping in view their population and geography. (Freedom at Midnight, Collins & Lapierre)
In university classrooms from Columbia to Oxford and media chat rooms the discussants often believe that Hari Singh, the erstwhile Maharaja of Kashmir, under the principles of “partition plan of 3rd June” could join either India or Pakistan or could have stayed independent.
Building their narratives on this misunderstanding, most people still think and argue that Maharaja had decided to join neither, was exercising the third option; he wanted to stay independent till the tribal lashkars from the then province of NWFP reached Srinagar, and the poor Dogra ruler was forced to sign the Instrument of Accession of 26th October in haste. Scores of publications, like Karan Singh’s “Heir Apparent” have further reinforced this misunderstanding.
This is more or less the same in “Mission with Mountbatten” with the difference that Johnson places the Kashmir visit in the third week of June while Mountbatten was returning from Shimla
Nothing could have been far from the truth. If anything, this patently false – yet immensely popular narrative – has limited the ability of three generations of scholars, academics, political interlocutors and media persons to understand the tragedy of Kashmiri people and how unjustly and clandestinely they were dealt in 1947 – by Maharaja Hari Singh, Nehru, Gandhi and above all Britain’s last viceroy: Mountbatten
This “misleading popular narrative” of a Dogra Maharaja (opting to stay independent) denies most people the insight to understand the roots of fury that have made Kashmir an enduring flashpoint between 1.5 billion people of India and Pakistan.
They don’t understand why Kashmir erupted into a violent cataclysmic insurgency in 1989 that continues in myriad ways despite 40 years of unrelenting Indian repression and how it is converting India from an “occupying state” into a ruthless, tyrannical “colonial power” – worse than the British Imperialism Gandhi fought 100 years ago.
Mountbatten told Maharaja to join either Pakistan or India?
Immediately after the partition of 1947, several key figures wrote their first-hand accounts; these included “Mission with Mountbatten” by his press attaché, Alan Campbell Johnson, “Story of the Integration of Indian States” by VP Menon (who worked for Mountbatten and later Sardar Patel) and many others who were part of the drama of the last few months including, “Memoirs of Gen. Lord Ismay” (Ismay served as Mountbatten’s Chief of Staff) and the “The Emergence of Pakistan” by Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, former PM of Pakistan. There are many other good works; mentioning them all is beyond the scope of this piece of writing.
After these initial authors came several dozen secondary publications by academic and journalistic researchers. Some of these are very influential like the famous “Freedom of Midnight” by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre who were inspired by Mountbatten and whose account – relying upon interviews with Mountbatten – reads more like interesting fiction.
And there have been meticulously researched accounts like, Stanley Wolpert’s biography, “Nehru: A Tryst with Destiny” that does not deal exclusively with the partition but provides lots of well-researched information.
Given the kind of hopeless nerd, this scribe has been all his life, I have read most of these and even other books that dealt indirectly with those events like Janet Morgan’s biography of Edwina Mountbatten, “Edwina Mountbatten: A Life of her own”.
And one thing that strikes – a Kashmiri like me – is that Mountbatten, Edwina and the team around them were comfortable believing that Hari Singh, Maharaja of Kashmir – with 80% plus Muslim population with strong emotional, historical and cultural bonds with people in the adjacent areas of Pakistan and all links of communications with Pakistani Punjab, had the right to choose any of the two dominions: India or Pakistan. And they never found anything intrinsically repugnant, morally unethical or simply wrong in the idea.
For instance, in “Freedom at Midnight” (Chapter: 10, “We will always remain brothers”) Collins and Lapierre describe Mountbatten’s main meeting with Hari Singh when Viceroy visits him in Kashmir in July (in reality it was June 1947, perhaps 19th June, and authors have made a mistake) and the Maharaja takes him out for fishing.
State of Jammu & Kashmir was almost 80% Muslim, and all its communication links were with areas into Pakistani Punjab then what could have been the basis of Mountbatten’s advice?
So, Mountbatten advises Hari Singh that before 15th August he must join either of the two dominions, i.e. India or Pakistan. This is more or less the same in “Mission with Mountbatten” with the difference that Campbell Johnson places the Kashmir visit in the third week of June while Mountbatten was returning from Shimla. Johnson’s account is a faithful production of his daily diary, and events are interconnected logically.
While words used by Johnson are different, it’s clear that Mountbatten is advising Maharaja to join either of the two new states (India or Pakistan). Others including Edwina’s biographer, Janet Morgan presents the same picture. Finally, Hari Singh agrees to have a formal meeting with Mountbatten on the third day (the day of Viceroy and Edwina’s departure).
It was Mountbatten’s plan – we learn from more than one narrator– that in a formal meeting including George Abell (Civil Servant & Viceroy’s secretary) and Col. Webb (British Resident in Kashmir) he would repeat his statements to Hari Singh for the record, however, next morning Hari Singh’s ADC informs that Maharaja has developed colic which Mountbatten refers to as “diplomatic colic”, and the formal meeting for the record never takes place.
Accounts in different books are so similar, virtually identical, that it is obvious that the source of all these myriad narrations is only one: Lord Mountbatten who provided this account to his press attache, Alan Campbell Johnson. Seventy-three years later, we have no option but to rely upon Mountbatten’s account of his discussion with Maharaja Hari Singh. However, the troubling thought remains that there has never been a second independent source to verify what actually transpired between the last British Viceroy and last Dogra ruler of Kashmir.
So, we are supposed to believe that the all-powerful last Viceroy of British India, former Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in South East Asia and cousin of King Edward VI tried convincing Maharaja Hari Singh for almost three days that he should join either of the two dominions, but Singh gives him a shut-up call?
Can we trust what Mountbatten tells us of this private conversation? Could it be possible that Mountbatten, in June 1947, actually encouraged Hari Singh to keep delaying the decision? Could it be possible that Mountbatten was telling Hari Singh to stay put with his ambivalence while options are being created for him?
None of the British or Indian authors wonders: how was Mountbatten persuading Hari Singh to join either of the two dominions? (India or Pakistan). Was not a princely ruler bound to decide as per the wishes of his subjects, geographical realities or communication links?
From Alan Campbell Johnson’s diary-based account, “Mission with Mountbatten” we know that the last Viceroy of British India had his plate full of insurmountable challenges – from Khyber to Kanya Kumari – that kept him busy 24/7
State of Jammu & Kashmir was almost 80% Muslim, and all its communication links were with areas into Pakistani Punjab then what could have been the basis of Mountbatten’s advice?
It was one of the 565 princely states, and almost 560 of these ended up joining India before 15th August; many of the rulers (like Nizam of Hyderabad & others) and Maharajas had either wanted to stay independent or defy the limitations of “population” and “geography” – to extract a better deal from Jinnah like Hindu Maharajas of Jodhpur and Jaisalmer (both geographically contiguous with Pakistan) – but Mountbatten and his team admonished them strictly; Why not the same clarity with Hari Singh in Kashmir?
Could Hari Singh had joined India without Gurdaspur?
Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, the author of “Emergence of Pakistan” who briefly served as PM of Pakistan (1955-56), had also worked as one of the two secretaries of the Partition Plan assisting Mountbatten in 1947. His book makes it obvious that he was someone who directly dealt with issues on the ground.
He picks up V.P Menon’s narration, of Mountbatten’s Kashmir meeting in which Menon describes: “[Mountbatten] assured the Maharaja that so long as he made up his mind to accede to one dominion or the other before 15th August no trouble will ensue, for whichever Dominion he acceded to would take the state firmly under its protection as part of its territory” (Story of the Integration of Indian States” by VP Menon).
Muhammad Ali then raises this provocative question; “But India and Pakistan were not equally well placed to undertake Kashmir’s defence. Indeed, there was a world of difference between the two Dominions in this respect. All of Kashmir’s lines of communications led into West Pakistan, whereas there was no link with India.
Unless Gurdaspur district was divided in such a way as to provide India access to Kashmir, India could not have taken the state under its protection or assumed responsibility for its defence. (Chapter: 10, Radcliffe Award, Emergence of Pakistan, 1967).
Gurdaspur District, in 1947, had four tehsils: Gurdaspur, Batala, Shakargarh and Pathankot. District, on the whole, was Muslim majority and only one tehsil, Pathankot, had a non-Muslim majority. District bordering Jammu, at the foothills of Himalayas, was the only land link connecting Jammu with Indian Punjab.
However, even if Radcliffe had awarded Pathankot to India, it would still not get access since Muslim majority Tehsils of Batala and Gurdaspur to the south would have blocked the way.
Gurdaspur (when Radcliffe Award was announced on 16th August) was the only Muslim majority district where Radcliffe’s pencil lines defied the majority principle; no Hindu or Sikh majority district in Punjab was given to Pakistan on any consideration.
The special triangular relationship that developed between the Edwina, Mountbatten and Nehru – that automatically developed into antipathy towards Jinnah
Mountbatten Nehru Simla Meeting: Was there a Deal?
Boundary Commission had to start its work in end June 1947. However, at a press conference on 4th June, (two weeks before his meeting with Hari Singh in Kashmir and 4 weeks after the Simla Meeting with Nehru & Krishna Menon) Mountbatten was asked why he had in his broadcast of the previous evening on 3rd June partition plan categorically stated that “the ultimate boundaries will be settled by a Boundary Commission and will almost certainly not be identical with those which have been provisionally adopted”.
Viceroy had immediately replied that because in the district of Gurdaspur, Muslims are only 50.4%. With this slim majority, it’s unlikely that Boundary Commission will throw the whole district into Muslim majority areas.
In reality, Mountbatten was slightly mistaken; the Muslim majority was 51.4%, and non-Muslims were concentrated mostly one Tahsil (Pathankot). However, Muhammad Ali in his book wondered that Mountbatten’s mistake was immaterial, what was actually significant was that Mountbatten had made a close study of the statistics of this particular district and had made it public that this should be divided.
From Alan Campbell Johnson’s diary-based account, “Mission with Mountbatten” we know that the last Viceroy of British India had his plate full of insurmountable challenges – from Khyber to Kanya Kumari – that kept him busy 24/7. It was indeed surprising that his mind was focused on one particular district in Punjab – perhaps it was ominous of the things to come!
Perhaps in the Simla meeting when Mountbatten had to revise the original partition plan under dire warnings from Nehru there developed a tacit understanding that for Congress to join British Commonwealth and maintain good relations with London there is no compromise on Calcutta, Hyderabad and Kashmir (for details read: Freedom at Midnight, Chap:6, Precious Little Place, Simla May 1947, P: 155-160, 1996 Ed). One may also keep in mind that within next few weeks, Nehru and Gandhi both formally asked Mountbatten to continue as independent India’s first Governor General – providing a legacy conscious Englishman with something unimaginable.
Let’s fast forward: On 25th October 1947, when after the tribal incursion via Muzzafarabad-Srinagar Road, Mountbatten ordered British Indian Army to move into the state of Jammu & Kashmir the first Sikh Regiment definitely landed at Srinagar airport – but what about the large army that follows?
Mountbatten, the former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in South East Asia, had taken command of all civilian flying aircraft in India and a huge airlift to save Kashmir from presumably Pakistani backed tribals was in motion.
Yet, over the next few months, almost 100,000 Indian Army soldiers battled the Pathan tribals and allegedly the regulars of Pakistan Army who by defying their British commanders, under tacit nod from the new Pakistani government had joined in from November onwards to help tribals with military planning. The continuous Indian reinforcements with their logistic and motorised support could now enter through the “only land link joining India to Kashmir, the inadequate road Cyril Radcliffe’s pencil had providentially delivered to India when he had assigned New Delhi the town of Gurdaspur with its largely Muslim population” (“Kashmir – only Kashmir”, Chap:15, Freedom at Midnight, Collins & Lapierre, P: 448, 1996 Ed)
This huge Indian force, starting from end October 1947, along with its motorised equipment and logistic supplies, did not arrive via Srinagar airport. It simply could not. It arrived via the dirt road that passed through Gurdaspur District – the only and the only road link that connected Indian Punjab with Jammu -and later provided the route for NH-44. Former Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in South East Asia had delivered to Nehru what he may have promised him in the Simla Meeting in the second week of May 1947.
Why Mountbatten handed Kashmir to Nehru?
From the accounts of all those who worked with Mountbatten and the later day authors – like Collins and Lapierre – who were literally giving Viceroy’s version we know that Mountbatten was extremely conscious of the fact that Nehru – and even Gandhi – were desperate to possess Kashmir; we find mention at several points that both Nehru and Gandhi did not want Maharaja to declare his “Independence”; Campbell Johnson mentions Nehru’s desire to possess Kashmir as part the complexity of Kashmir along with the fact that it was “geographically contiguous” with both dominions.
Everyone who is reading this now knows that it was total baloney -fabricated nonsense which was easily bought because on the map the state of Jammu & Kashmir looks like perched in between India and Pakistan. And for all practical purposes of statecraft, state of Jammu and Kashmir had no geographical contiguity with India.
But was Nehru’s desire so important, so decisive for Britain’s last viceroy that it overruled all other fundamental considerations of “80% Muslim majority” and “contiguous territory”, that he went on influencing Radcliff Award? And in the wake of that treachery left behind a legacy of hatred, contempt and ever-growing hostility between 1.5 billion people of India and Pakistan?
It’s not difficult to see that tragedy in Kashmir has not only created dangerous wars in South Asia, but it has affected the overall direction of politics and society in India and Pakistan – injecting such toxicity that keeps finding ever new ways to multiply.
Kashmir is a disaster created principally by the follies of two men: Nehru and Mountbatten. Nehru, in the final analysis, can perhaps still be forgiven for lacking a broader vision of future, for being a selfish unprincipled politician but what about the British Viceroy, Why Lord Mountbatten, Earl of Burma so visibly shirked his historical responsibility?
The answer probably lies in two areas: One, Mountbatten’s compulsion to please Nehru and Congress to persuade masters of new independent India to join as members of the British Commonwealth, which was London’s strategic requirement, but Congress was playing hardball; Second, the special “triangular relationship” that developed between the Edwina, Mountbatten and Nehru – that automatically developed into antipathy towards Jinnah. Denying Kashmir was also Mountbatten’s way of taking revenge from the old barrister he and Edwina had come to hate.
Moeed Pirzada is Editor Global Village Space; he is also a prominent TV Anchor and a known columnist. He previously served with the Central Superior Services in Pakistan. Pirzada studied international relations at Columbia University, New York and Law at the London School of Economics, UK as a Britannia Chevening Scholar. Twitter: MoeedNj. A slightly abridged version of this article will appear in August issue of Global Village Space print Magazine.