Several days have gone by since the BJP President Amit Shah blew up a political bombshell on Kashmir. While speaking at a function in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) in New Delhi, Shah accused Jawaharlal Nehru of having committed a ‘historic blunder’ on Kashmir. Referring to the declaration of ‘ceasefire’ when the Pakistan-backed tribal raiders in 1948 were being driven out in Kashmir, he noted that had such a decision not made, the Kashmir problem would not have existed today. The following is the statement: “Suddenly, without any reason…the reason is not known even today, truce was declared. Never has any leader of the country made such a historic blunder. If Jawaharlalji had not declared a ceasefire at that time, the Kashmir issue would not have existed,” pointing out that because of this, a part of Kashmir is now with Pakistan.
Why is that even after several days, nobody from the Congress Party or the erstwhile diplomatic-military personnel of that tradition came out with some clarification on the issue? Are there too many skeletons in the diplomatic cupboard?
One might think that Shah was only digging history as part of another series of Nehru-bashing episodes that the Sangh leaders have been researching out. Would this lead to a bona fide case for soul-searching on Kashmir? One doubts. What Amit Shah talked about Kashmir, regarding the unfinished operation during 1947-48, is a round unvarnished tale to those who watch the Kashmir problem historically.
It is true that the intervention of Nehru at a crucial stage of operation, in the last few weeks of 1947, prevented India from completing the operation up to the border with Pakistan. Though this was not actually a ‘ceasefire,’ as Shah pointed out, the truce that was effected through the UN resolution was the one across this ‘line’ of control sought by Nehru. Major-General Kalwant Singh, J&K Force Commander was appealing Jawaharlal Nehru to give him a few more days to complete the operation so that the entire J&K would be cleared off the raiders. But Nehru was unyielding, presumably under the pressure of Lord Mountbatten who was apparently persuading Nehru to take up the matter with the United Nations. Nehru himself told Major-General Kalwant Singh that he could not give sanction as the matter was under consideration by the UN. This was made known by a number of ex-army generals and diplomats in the past.
What happened after this ‘self-recognised ignorance’ of matters is history. The retreating Pakistani raiders, having found the Indian army lining up without proceeding further, would have informed their masters in Pakistan that the time had come to stay put across this part of the J&K. Hence it was much easier for the Pak forces to come down and strengthened their position in what constitutes the ‘Pak-occupied Kashmir (POK) today. As the matter came up for consideration, by the UN on 1 January 1948, India could convince the members of the Security Council that J&K was ‘under Pakistan forces,’ which obviously lacked any force strength to meet the Indian counterparts at that time. As a nascent state, Pakistan was only laying the foundation of its military (India even refused to give the share of military to Pakistan as per the decision of the partition tribunal).
Yet, India was under some compulsion not to finish the Kashmir operation. This was vindicated by the fact that in less than two weeks, Pakistan lodged a counter-complaint (15 January 1948) in the UN, saying that India was actually the ‘aggressor,’ and this was made clear while Pakistan sought to mix up the Kashmir question with Junagadh and Hyderabad, the two other sensitive issues of accession at that time. Pakistan effectively brought in these issues, obviously to widen the areas of India-Pakistan conflict. Curiously, the UN itself allowed the issue to get widened in its scope with even some of India’s friends joining Pakistan’s side. Yet, Nehru was intelligent enough to use the POK as sufficient reason to draw out the issue before the UN, including the question on plebiscite.
Imagine a situation when India had completed the operation in J&K (which was only a matter of time in military terms), and Pakistan lodging a complaint of ‘Kashmir under Indian occupation’ before New Delhi did it. The difficulties of the Indian diplomats (from Gopala Swamy Aiyankar to Krishna Menon, and others later) would have been much greater, given the patently biased attitude of Britain and the US on the question. The subsequent deliberations in the UN Security Council (UNSC) shattered Nehru’s expectations (apparently raised by Mountbatten) and this forced Nehru to write to his sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (who later became President of the General Assembly) that the UN is an ‘Anglo-American racket.’ What contributed to this thinking was the unexpected passing of resolutions on Kashmir in the UNSC during 1948-49 and its call for ‘plebiscite’ which, ever since, Pakistan used for a better bargain with India.
However, India could have effectively conducted a plebiscite in J&K and proved its credentials, as we did in Junagadh. The ground situation was certainly conducive for a favourable vote. That would have strengthened even Nehru’s democratic credentials. But Nehru had an inherent fear about the ultimate ‘outcome.’ He felt, if in any case it would come contrary to his expectations, that would have shattered his dreams. So he ruled out the possibility of a plebiscite, pointing to the vulnerability of the one-third of J&K under the Pak control. Subsequently, in all UN deliberations and in engaging the UN-initiated commissions (from the Owen Dixon Commission to Frank Graham Commission), India could effectively establish this fact about ‘Pakistani occupation.’ Yet, right from the first day, the third party intervention in Kashmir proved to be a time-testing and nerve-racking experience for India (though India did not hesitate to use it twice, however reluctantly, in 1965). The reward of the India-Pakistan diplomatic showdown in the UN was nothing but ‘monkey justice’ as Mahatma Gandhi had forewarned while opposing Nehru’s decision to refer the matter to the world body. To say that Nehru was erring in Kashmir is easy from a military point of view. But the fact was that he had very few options diplomatically and politically, insofar as he was under much greater compulsion from his colleagues—from Mountbatten to his trusted political lieutenants.
We have heard of similar episodes even later, including during the Kargil conflict in 1998 when the role of Brigadier Surinder Singh, Commander of the Kargil-based 121 Brigade, was considerably undermined in dealing with the impending threat from Pakistan (Seethi 1999; Seethi 2009). The Kargil Review Committee Report (2000) also sought to undermine his role as inconsequential.
In his first interaction with the Kargil Review Committee, which was set up to look into the events leading up to the conflict in May 1999, Brigadier Surinder Sigh had made the point that during the visit of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in August 1998, he had projected “the requirement of certain additional resources” for “further monitoring and gaining of confirmed information” about the enhanced activity across the LoC:
I feel that if I was given the resources that I had asked for, then this intrusion could never have taken place. It is obvious that the resources were not given because no one up the chain right up to Army HQ had any idea of the enemy attempting an operation of this scale and magnitude. This is basically an intelligence failure at the National level, for which I am being made a scapegoat (Kargil Review Committee 2000: 156-157).
The Kargil Review Committee, however, came to the conclusion that “the Commander 121 Brigade did not read the threat at that stage as being series enough to warrant high-risk snow patrolling.” Moreover, the Committee stated that Brigadier Surinder Singh “was demanding resources for further monitoring and gaining of information about the enemy activity across the LOC which the nation as a whole did not have…”(158). Howsoever conflicting these versions were, there was certainly a lapse on the part of the higher authorities. The Kargil Review Committee, though tried to bring out “grave deficiencies in India’s security management system”(252), failed to reckon the role of the state apparatus in sustaining such lapses (Seethi 2009).
The price of such unrecognised episodes in Kashmir has, however, been very high. The enemy within is invisible and the enemy across the boundary is still so persistent as to direct the course of India’s Kashmir policy. Even after several decades, the powers that be at the Centre seldom indulge in any political introspection with regards to its policy failures in the past, from within, instead of looking upon Pakistan for a ‘reasonable’ explanation of things at the ground level.
Seethi, K. M. (1999): “A Tragedy of Betrayals: Questions beyond the LoC in Kashmir, “Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 34, No. 37 (Sep. 11-17): 2682-2684.
Seethi, K. M. (2009): “Kashmir: Rethinking Security beyond the Line of Control,” in Rajen Harshe and K.M. Seethi (eds.), Engaging with the World: Critical Reflections on India’s Foreign Policy, New Delhi: Orient Black swan).
The Kargil Review Committee (2000): From Surprise to Reckoning: The Kargil Review Committee Report, New Delhi: Sage.
The author is Professor, School of International Relations and Politics, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org