Gandhi visited Kashmir just once but changed the course of its history. The man ‘who experimented with the truth’ all his life, lied, resorted to coaxing and cajoling to get Kashmir for India. While most of his agitations including the Salt Agitation failed, his mission Kashmir unfortunately succeeded.
The fateful events before and after Gandhi’s Kashmir visit reflect his intentions.
Sher-e-Kashmir was arrested in 1946 for Quit Kashmir Movement. Jawahar Lal Nehru wanted to appear as a defence counsel to get his ‘friend’ out. However, he was denied permission and even arrested by Dogra police. Time was running out of his hands. Sher-e-Kashmir had to play a vital role in the coming months. His release, therefore, was very important for fulfilling Indian agenda.
Nehru was worried for another reason also. He was misinformed about Maharaja’s intentions of declaring independence. He wanted to visit Kashmir to pressurize Maharaja not to declare independence. But Lord Mountbatten, the Indian viceroy did not allow him to visit Kashmir. He offered to visit the Valley himself. The Maharaja proved a hard nut for him. He sent the viceroy on fishing trips to avoid any serious interaction with him. The frustrated Viceroy one day took off his clothes and sun bathed in nude.
This was followed by the visit of his Chief of Staff. This visit also went in vain. Once again, Nehru wanted to go to Kashmir personally. Both Mountbatten and Sardar Patel strongly disapproved of his visit. However, they agreed to let Gandhi visit Kashmir.
Gandhi’s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi writes in his ‘Gandhi: The Man, His People, and the Empire’ that Gandhi wrote to a friend: “I am going to Kashmir to see for myself the condition of the people. In any case I shall have a glimpse of Himalayas. Who knows if I am going there for the first and the last time.”
I am not going to suggest to the Maharaja to accede to India and not to Pakistan. This is not my intention. The people of Kashmir should be asked whether they want to join India or Pakistan. Let them do as they want.”
The time was not opportune for a leader like Gandhi to visit Kashmir to know the condition of the people. The sub-continent was going to be partitioned in the coming days and communal tensions had set India on fire. Gandhi, therefore, was more needed in India than in Kashmir.
Gandhi’s mission Kashmir commenced on July 31. Exiled leaders of National Conference, Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad and Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq accompanied him to Kohala Bridge and then went back to Lahore.
However, after entering the state of Jammu Kashmir, Gandhi was greeted with a massive demonstration at Baramulla. His entry into Kashmir was strongly resented by the people. No mention of this demonstration has been made anywhere. The information as furnished during my interaction with workers of National Conference and Muslim Conference.
Begum Abdullah, however, organised a reception for Gandhi on his arrival in Srinagar with about 500 women activists joining this grand reception.
In Srinagar, Gandhi stayed with a Congress supporter Seth Kishori Lal, a forest lessee. He lived in a rented house near the present day Bone and Joint Hospital. Gandhi held prayer meetings in this house in the evenings.
Begum Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah participated in these prayer meetings and clapped her hands as Gandhi chanted Ragpati Raghava Raja Ram, Pati Tu Pawan Sita Raam mantra.
The day Gandhi arrived in Srinagar, he was taken around Dal lake. The then Prime Minister R C Kak invited him on behalf of the Maharaja to visit the palace known as Hari Niwas.
It is widely believed that Gandhi called Sale Deed of Amritsar a Bikri Pater (Sale deed) during his July-August visit of Kashmir in 1947. It is further believed that Gandhi refused to drink a cup of milk offered by Maharani Tara Devi when he called on Maharaja Hari Singh. Gandhi is also supposed to have expressed his displeasure over Dogra regime’s atrocities on the hapless people of Kashmir.
However, there is no evidence to corroborate this. Gandhi was on a mission in Kashmir. How could he afford to annoy Maharaja at that crucial juncture of history?
Noted columnist, AG Noorani wrote in Frontline March 28 April 10, 2009, “Asaf Ali’s performance as defence counsel in the Sheikh’s trial for sedition was splendid. He rested his case on the people’s right to demand freedom from a ruler whose title to rule was derived from what Mahatma Gandhi aptly called a ‘sale-deed’, the Treaty of Amritsar (1846) by which the Dogra Gulab Singh bought Kashmir for Rs.75 lakh.”
While a columnist of Noorani’s repute cannot be easily refuted, he too has not quoted the source of this information. As mentioned above Gandhi met Hari Singh and Tara Devi separately when nobody was around. Who, therefore, reported that Gandhi had uttered the word Bikri Pater (Sale Deed). And who reported Gandhi’s disapproval of Dogra atrocities on Kashmir? Hari Singh’s son Karan Singh who had his fractured leg cast in paster writes in his autobiography that Gandhi refused to eat fruit offered to him. “I do not eat at this point of time. Keep the fruits in my car. I will eat them later,” he told the royal family. He accepted the fruits offered by a tyrant ruler!
On the contrary, Gandhi scolded Begum Abdullah for a lavish tea party at her Soura residence.
“Mahtama, If sheikh Sahib had been out of prison, he would have arranged a grand party. I and my children shall be happy if you take this cup of tea with us,” the Begum said.
“This is not good. Why have you purchased so many eatables for this Tea party? How much can an old man consume? I do not like this at all. You need to save money,” he replied.
Gandhi had to be polite because he was seeking a favour. Now what was that favour? Sher-e-Kashmir was released on September 29, 1947. Hari Singh sought a written apology which was readily given. The historical document has been published in Sardar Patel’s papers.
The Times, London, October 25th 1947 wrote: “What exactly did Gandhi tell the Maharaja? We will never know, but the chain of events that followed his visit is an indicator of what must have happened. After his visit, the Prime Minister of Kashmir, Ram Chandar Kak, who had no inclination towards India was replaced by Janak Singh and then by the Indian loyalist, Mehr Chand Mahajan. The British officers in the Kashmir Army and Police were dismissed including the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of the General Staff. Orders for construction of a bridge over the Ravi River, near Pathankot, to allow connectivity between India and Jammu and Kashmir were issued. The road between Jammu and Kathua was improved and a telegraph line was constructed between Jammu and the valley. This was all possible because of assistance from India.”
Gandhi’s visit, therefore, changed the course of Kashmir history. He did what other leaders including Nehru and Lord Mountbatten could not do. He got Kashmir for India.
Gandhi visited Hari Niwas on 3rd August 1947. No one actually knows what transpired between Maharaja and Gandhi ji during that meeting.
He was fully aware of the strategic importance of Kashmir and the role Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah could play to throw Kashmir into the Indian basket.
On his way back, Gandhi said in Wah (where Sushila was asked to stay to help the refugees) that Kashmir had the biggest strategic value perhaps in whole of India.
And in a note on August 6 to Nehru and Patel, he quoted the assessment of Abdullah’s colleague, Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, that if Abdullah and his co-prisoners were released, all bans removed and premier Kak replaced, the result of the free vote of people would be in favour of Kashmir joining India.
When a delegation of Nagas led by AZ Phizo called on him for independence of Nagaland, Gandhi said total isolation was not possible.
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