And now Jammu & Kashmir.
Any discussion of J&K’s accession will be incomplete without a comparison to Sikkim; however since there are many parallels to be drawn, contrasts to be made and lessons to be learnt, we reserve the Sikkim details for subsequent analysis.
Back to J&K- 80% Muslims and 20% Hindus in 1947; ruled by Maharja Hari Singh, a Hindu Ruler. Maharaja wanted to remain independent. However he signed Standstill Agreement with Pakistan which guaranteed status quo with regard to trade and commerce between them! (We will discuss Standstill Agreement, Instrument of Accession and Merger- their meaning and importance, a little later. Let’s complete the intro first.) However not only was the Maharaja not deciding on signing the Instrument of Accession with Pakistan, but was, in fact exploring the Indian option as well! Pakistan grew restless.
Meanwhile Poonch region, bordering the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan revolted against the Maharaja. Maharaja’s army could not contain them. Seizing this opportunity, Pashtuns, a tribe from Pakistan with the blessings of Pakistan invaded Kashmir and reached the outskirts of Srinagar. Pakistan’s strategy behind the tacit support to Pashtuns’ invasion was to pressurize the Maharaja into signing the Instrument of Accession.
And what happened? Anti-climax as in Ekta Kapoor’s serial…..
Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession with India in October, 1947 and requested India to protect from Pakistan invasion! Thereafter India airlifted its troops. Indian troops under the leadership Filed Marshall Cariappa not only contained the advance of the rebels, but captured back some of the territories.
Meanwhile Pakistan objected to Indian involvement and sent its army.
The resulting Indo-Pak war lasted for the next six months when India took the issue to UN. The war continued till Dec, 1948 when ceasefire was declared. But the damage was done by that time- Pakistan was in control of the Northern region comprising Gilgit-Baltistan and Eastern Region (what is now called the Azad Kashmir.)
This issue is pending with UN even today.
So much for the historical background.
Let’s turn to the accession process. Both India and Pakistan followed almost the same process.
Initially the Princely States were asked to sign a Standstill Agreement. Through this agreement India or Pakistan, as the case may be, guaranteed to the Princely State continuation of trade and other agreements that the Princely State had with the British Government before Independence. In the absence of this agreement, the economies of the Princely States, being small and dependent heavily as they were on British, would have collapsed.
While this agreement gave the Princely States time to think, it did not commit them to joining either India or Pakistan.
Instrument of Accession:
In the next stage, Princely States were asked to sign the Instrument of Accession. While this document committed them to acceding to the country of their choice, it was still not a merger or integration. This document was a loosely worded one. Generally defence, external affairs and communication were the only matters acceded to the Country of their choice- India or Pakistan. In the case of smaller states, a few other subjects were also covered. In other words India or Pakistan could legislate only on these matters. The king of the Princely State retained his right to legislate on all other matters.
Convincing the Rajas, Maharajas, Badshahs and Nawabs to sign even this loose document was a mammoth task. Sardar Patel and V. P. Menon, Secretary of the States Department (today’s Home Ministry) were very successful in getting the nod of the 550+ States to sign the Instrument of Accession.
Of course the critics have raised issues regarding Maharaja Hari Singh’s signing of the Instrument of Accession.
- That he signed under pressure- rebellion in Poonch, invasion of Pashtuns, etc. But who applied these pressures?
- That it was a monarch’s decision, not backed people’s will. But which Princely State had a representative government at that time?
- That he had already signed a Standstill Agreement with Pakistan. But that did not curtail his freedom to align with another State.
The final stage. The Princely States were asked to give up all the matters, the jurisdiction over which they had retained for themselves under the Instrument of Accession. This move was resented by many Princely States; they felt that India was breaching the promise it gave while signing the Instrument of Acession viz. the Princely States would enjoy autonomy over all the matters other than the ones specified in the Instrument.
Consider for a moment that the Merger agreements were not signed by the Princely States. What would have happened?
- There would have been Provinces in which India would have been legislating on all issues- defining fundamental rights, setting civil and criminal procedure codes, etc; side by side there would have been 550+ states, some of them as small as talukas, guaranteeing different set of rights and laws to their people. People of one village would have been governed by laws substantially different from the ones applied in the adjacent village! Obviously there would have been large scale migration between the Provinces and Princely States.
- Above all there would have been 550+ Arundhati Roys!
- Poor Chidambaram would be preparing list of 5,000 most wanted criminals (instead of 50) and submitting to Pakistan, China, Srilanka, Bangladesh….!
- Chaos, it would have been!
Why then did India, Sardar Patel in particular, go back on the promises given to Princely States at the time of signing the Instrument of Accession? It appears to me that the Sardar was simply preparing the kings step by step for the merger. The kings, pampered over the centuries, were clearly lacking the vision-they could not see the impracticality of sustaining their States; they could not see the benefits that would accrue to the people by integrating with India; they could not perhaps sacrifice their personal fiefdoms for the sake of the people.
Had Patel started with the Merger Agreements in the first instance, it would have been a non starter.
Finally the kings signed the Merger Agreements in return for Privy Purse- monetary compensation. (Indira Gandhi abolished the privy purse system in 1971- though a very popular move, I think it constituted the real breach of trust.)
There were allegations that the Sardar-V.P. Menon duo applied pressure tactics in getting the kings to agree to the merger; but these were from historians and theoreticians who master the art of viewing things in isolation. For us, the earlier mentioned commoners who cannot but help look at things in perspective, these, even if true, are too trivial considering the enormity of the achievement- just two years and 550 States were integrated! An achievement which the British could not do for more than century!
Let’s turn to the specifics of the Instrument of Accession, the discussions between Nehru and Sheik Abdullah and the consequent changes incorporated in the Indian Constitution.
Of course in Part III.