A Princely State & A New Country: What’s the History of Kashmir?

What happened at the time of Independence, and how did the accession of Kashmir become such a contentious issue?

Updated31 Oct 2019, 02:52 AM IST
Explainers
5 min read

(This story, originally published on 7 August, is being republished from The Quint's archives on the occasion of Jammu & Kashmir's bifurcation into two Union territories.)

Snapshot

On 5 August 2019, Home Minister Amit Shah rose in Rajya Sabha to announce that Article 370 has been effectively revoked by a Presidential Order, taking back the special status conferred on the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In one stroke, the government has struck at the foundation of the relationship between J&K and the Union of India, without the consent of the people of J&K. But what are the roots of the Kashmir conflict? What happened at the time of Independence? Why did accession of Kashmir become such a contentious issue? Why was Article 370 put into place? Here’s a breakdown of the history of Kashmir’s accession.

A Princely State & A New Country: What’s the History of Kashmir?

  1. 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?

    No one.

    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.

    Expand
  2. 2. Independence and the Rise of Sheikh Abdullah

    In the state of J&K, Hari Singh wasn’t exactly a popular king. A tall schoolteacher called Sheikh Abdullah outdid him in popularity and charisma. He’d been rebelling against the Maharaja for a while, opposing him on the lack of opportunities for Muslims in a state ruled by a Hindu dynasty.

    In 1932, Abdullah formed the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, which later became the National Conference. Despite being imprisoned in the mid-1940s, Abdullah was a beloved leader in Kashmir. When he was released from prison in September 1947, Abdullah wanted a complete transfer of power to the people in Kashmir.

    Freedom to decide which country to accede to.

    In August 1947, at the time of Independence, Hari Singh had offered a ‘stand-still’ agreement with India and Pakistan. This would allow free movement of people and goods across borders. Pakistan signed this agreement, but India didn’t.

    Come September, Singh’s relations with Pakistan were going downhill. Until 1947, according to historian Srinath Raghavan, Sardar Patel was open to allowing Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan in return for the Nizam of Hyderabad being encouraged to stay with India. After initial apprehension, Sardar Patel agreed with Nehru’s stance to have Kashmir accede to India.

    But the situation in the state was becoming more and more dangerous.

    Expand
  3. 3. Pakistan’s Armed Interference Rocks the Boat

    As winter descended in the Valley, J&K was still on its own. But then, on 22 October 1947, a few thousand armed ‘tribesmen’ attacked the North-Western Frontier area of the state. It’s a little unclear why the armed invasion of Kashmir took place, but it did, ostensibly supported by Pakistan.

    Irrespective of who or why, on 24 October 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh wired India for military help to defend Srinagar, even sending his prime minister to Delhi to make the case. In the capital, Sheikh Abdullah too urged his good friend Nehru to send troops to push back the invaders. India decided to help, but only on the condition that Maharaja Hari Singh sign the Instrument of Accession, which he did two days later on 26 October.

    As violence and a flurry of negotiations subsided in the state, Nehru wanted a settlement with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. According to historian Ramachandra Guha, Nehru wrote a letter to Maharaja Hari in December 1947, with four possible futures for the state of Jammu and Kashmir:

    1. A plebiscite for the whole state to decide where to go
    2. An independent Kashmir, with its defence guaranteed by India and Pakistan
    3. A partition, with Jammu going to India and the rest of the state to Pakistan
    4. Jammu and the Valley with India, with Poonch and beyond being ceded to Pakistan

    Then, a trip to the United Nations torpedoed the issue.

    Expand
  4. 4. A Trip to the United Nations

    On 1 January 1948, India decided to take the Kashmir issue to the UN Security Council, on Lord Mountbatten’s advice. Historian Srinath Raghavan writes,

    “To avoid this military option, Nehru reluctantly agreed to Mountbatten’s suggestion to refer the matter to the UN. Patel went along with it despite his earlier qualms, as did other cabinet members.”

    At this point, India had Kashmir, but there were still parts controlled by Pakistan. Sheikh Abdullah represented the interests of the people of Kashmir.

    In a resolution dated 13 August 1948, the UN asked Pakistan to remove its troops, after which India was also to withdraw the bulk of its forces. After this, a “fair” plebiscite was to be held to allow the Kashmiri people to decide their future. On 30 October 1948, Sheikh Abdullah was appointed the Prime Minister as part of an emergency government. But Pakistan ignored the UN mandate.

    The first of the three wars between the countries broke out in 1948.

    Expand
  5. 5. J&K Incorporated to India With Article 370

    With the onset of winter, the war subsided, and a ceasefire was agreed upon on 1 January 1949. This ceasefire meant that 65 percent of the territory remained under Indian control and the remainder with Pakistan.

    According to the Instrument of Accession, the Dominion of India would have control over the princely state of J&K in three areas — defence, foreign affairs and communications. In 1949, when the Constitution of India was being drafted, princely states were asked to set up their own constituent assemblies.

    The state of Jammu and Kashmir sent Sheikh Abdullah and three others to the Constituent Assembly in Delhi. Negotiations were carried out between Abdullah, N Gopalaswami Ayyangar and others, in consultation with PM Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The state of J&K incorporated only those provisions which were in accordance with the Instrument of Accession – this was Article 370. In 1957, the state was formally incorporated into the Indian Union, but with a special status under Article 370 of India's Constitution.

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    The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.

    Expand

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?

No one.

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.

Independence and the Rise of Sheikh Abdullah

In the state of J&K, Hari Singh wasn’t exactly a popular king. A tall schoolteacher called Sheikh Abdullah outdid him in popularity and charisma. He’d been rebelling against the Maharaja for a while, opposing him on the lack of opportunities for Muslims in a state ruled by a Hindu dynasty.

In 1932, Abdullah formed the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, which later became the National Conference. Despite being imprisoned in the mid-1940s, Abdullah was a beloved leader in Kashmir. When he was released from prison in September 1947, Abdullah wanted a complete transfer of power to the people in Kashmir.

Freedom to decide which country to accede to.

In August 1947, at the time of Independence, Hari Singh had offered a ‘stand-still’ agreement with India and Pakistan. This would allow free movement of people and goods across borders. Pakistan signed this agreement, but India didn’t.

Come September, Singh’s relations with Pakistan were going downhill. Until 1947, according to historian Srinath Raghavan, Sardar Patel was open to allowing Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan in return for the Nizam of Hyderabad being encouraged to stay with India. After initial apprehension, Sardar Patel agreed with Nehru’s stance to have Kashmir accede to India.

But the situation in the state was becoming more and more dangerous.

Pakistan’s Armed Interference Rocks the Boat

As winter descended in the Valley, J&K was still on its own. But then, on 22 October 1947, a few thousand armed ‘tribesmen’ attacked the North-Western Frontier area of the state. It’s a little unclear why the armed invasion of Kashmir took place, but it did, ostensibly supported by Pakistan.

Irrespective of who or why, on 24 October 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh wired India for military help to defend Srinagar, even sending his prime minister to Delhi to make the case. In the capital, Sheikh Abdullah too urged his good friend Nehru to send troops to push back the invaders. India decided to help, but only on the condition that Maharaja Hari Singh sign the Instrument of Accession, which he did two days later on 26 October.

As violence and a flurry of negotiations subsided in the state, Nehru wanted a settlement with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. According to historian Ramachandra Guha, Nehru wrote a letter to Maharaja Hari in December 1947, with four possible futures for the state of Jammu and Kashmir:

  1. A plebiscite for the whole state to decide where to go
  2. An independent Kashmir, with its defence guaranteed by India and Pakistan
  3. A partition, with Jammu going to India and the rest of the state to Pakistan
  4. Jammu and the Valley with India, with Poonch and beyond being ceded to Pakistan

Then, a trip to the United Nations torpedoed the issue.

A Trip to the United Nations

On 1 January 1948, India decided to take the Kashmir issue to the UN Security Council, on Lord Mountbatten’s advice. Historian Srinath Raghavan writes,

“To avoid this military option, Nehru reluctantly agreed to Mountbatten’s suggestion to refer the matter to the UN. Patel went along with it despite his earlier qualms, as did other cabinet members.”

At this point, India had Kashmir, but there were still parts controlled by Pakistan. Sheikh Abdullah represented the interests of the people of Kashmir.

In a resolution dated 13 August 1948, the UN asked Pakistan to remove its troops, after which India was also to withdraw the bulk of its forces. After this, a “fair” plebiscite was to be held to allow the Kashmiri people to decide their future. On 30 October 1948, Sheikh Abdullah was appointed the Prime Minister as part of an emergency government. But Pakistan ignored the UN mandate.

The first of the three wars between the countries broke out in 1948.

J&K Incorporated to India With Article 370

With the onset of winter, the war subsided, and a ceasefire was agreed upon on 1 January 1949. This ceasefire meant that 65 percent of the territory remained under Indian control and the remainder with Pakistan.

According to the Instrument of Accession, the Dominion of India would have control over the princely state of J&K in three areas — defence, foreign affairs and communications. In 1949, when the Constitution of India was being drafted, princely states were asked to set up their own constituent assemblies.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir sent Sheikh Abdullah and three others to the Constituent Assembly in Delhi. Negotiations were carried out between Abdullah, N Gopalaswami Ayyangar and others, in consultation with PM Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The state of J&K incorporated only those provisions which were in accordance with the Instrument of Accession – this was Article 370. In 1957, the state was formally incorporated into the Indian Union, but with a special status under Article 370 of India's Constitution.

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Published: 07 Aug 2019, 11:25 AM IST

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