1. The Beginning: A Princely State Called Jammu and Kashmir
It’s 1946. India is about to be free from British rule, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is integrating more than 500 princely states, and the state of Jammu and Kashmir is ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh.
Jammu and Kashmir was not always one state though. Its five regions – Jammu, the Valley, Ladakh, Gilgit, and Baltistan – came together in the 19th century under the Dogra Rajputs. A Muslim-majority state overall, J&K had a Hindu majority in Jammu, while Muslims dominated the Valley.
The state shared borders with both newly partitioned India and Pakistan. As a Muslim-majority state, it could go to Pakistan, but Hari Singh was uncomfortable with being a Hindu ruler in a Muslim-majority state. And as contemporary accounts show, the Maharaja didn’t like the Congress, which was sure to form the Central government in India. There was only one question on everyone’s lips: Whom would the state accede to?
In July 1946, Hari Singh stated that people would “work out our own destiny without dictation from any quarter which is not an integral part of the State,” writes Ramachandra Guha in his book ‘India After Gandhi’. Singh famously wanted J&K to be the ‘Switzerland of the East’; effectively a neutral territory between India and Pakistan. As India became independent on 15 August 1947, Jammu and Kashmir hadn’t gone to either India or Pakistan.
But things were just beginning to get stormy.