(This article has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. It was originally published on 6 August 2019.)
On Sunday, 22 September, Home Minister Amit Shah said that the issue of Kashmir should have been handled by Sardar Patel instead of former PM Jawaharlal Nehru. Addressing a rally on the Centre’s decision to effectively revoke Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted Jammu and Kashmir special status, Shah targeted Nehru and blamed him for the “non-integration of Kashmir” with India, as well as the creation of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.
"The PoK wouldn't have come into existence had Nehru not declared untimely ceasefire with Pakistan, a mistake of Nehru...Sardar Patel should have handled Kashmir, instead of Nehru handling it," Shah claimed at the event.
He blamed Nehru for the implementation of Article 370, implying that Patel had no hand in it. "After Sardar Patel's death in 1950, the Indian government signed the Delhi agreement with Sheikh Abdullah which became the foundation of Article 370," he said.
But do his claims have any factual basis? What is the truth? Let’s take a look at his claims one by one.
Special Status to Jammu & Kashmir
Article 370 is the basis of Jammu & Kashmir's accession to the Indian union at a time when princely states had to choose between joining either India or Pakistan after gaining Independence from British rule.
Before Independence, Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of J&K, a princely state, was in total control of all matters of administration and governance except – defence, foreign affairs and communication, which came under the British.
At the time of Independence, Maharaja Hari Singh, under pressure from tribal insurgents, chose to accede to India but agreed to sign the Instrument of Accession only if the same arrangement as before was allowed to continue.
An agreement was made that the Union of India would have control over J&K in only three aspects – defence, foreign affairs and communications. Other areas of administration and governance were left to the Maharaja to decide.
The article, which came into effect in 1949, gave special status to Jammu & Kashmir, exempting it from the Indian Constitution, establishing a separate Constitution, a separate flag and denying property rights in the region to outsiders. As per this article, except for defence, foreign affairs and communications, Parliament needs the state government's concurrence for applying all other laws.
Sardar Patel’s Role in Article 370
Srinath Raghavan, a Professor of International Relations and History at Ashoka University in a 2018 article for The Print, writes that the notion that Nehru was the sole one taking decisions about Kashmir's status is wrong. According to him, declassified documents, including records of cabinet and defence committee meetings, show clearly that both Nehru and Patel were closely involved in handling all three states – Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad.
While they had different approaches and differences in opinion, they worked in consultation with each other.
While the negotiations for the drafting of Article 370 were carried out over several months between N G Ayyangar (cabinet minister without portfolio and former Dewan of Kashmir), Sheikh Abdullah and his senior colleagues, Nehru rarely took a step without Patel’s agreement, Raghavan writes.
Writing in Frontline, historian AG Noorani also concurs on this point, stating that negotiations were held on 15-16 May 1949 at Vallabhbhai Patel's residence in New Delhi on Kashmir's future, where Nehru and Abdullah were present. At this time, one of the most important topics were "the framing of a Constitution for the State" and "the subjects in respect of which the State should accede to the Union of India."
Raghavan writes that when Ayyangar prepared a draft letter from Nehru to Abdullah, summarising the understanding reached in the negotiations, he sent it to Patel with a note: “Will you kindly let Jawaharlalji know direct as to your approval of it? He will issue the letter to Sheikh Abdullah only after receiving your approval”.
Further, Noorani writes that during the negotiations over the draft of Article 370, Ayyangar attempted to reconcile the differences between Patel and Abdullah.
When Ayyangar made a change in the draft that eventually went on to become final, Patel was the one who informed Nehru about it after the latter returned from the United States.
Moreover, when Abdullah insisted that Article 370 should leave it to J&K's constituent assembly to decide whether to adopt the fundamental rights and directive principles or not, Patel was the one who permitted Ayyangar to proceed with it because Nehru was abroad. In a letter to Nehru post his return, Patel informed him that with a great deal of difficulty, he had persuaded the Congress to accept this provision, Raghavan writes in his article.
Would Sardar Patel Have Secured All of J&K?
The claim that Patel would have secured all of Kashmir had he been the prime minister, instead of Nehru is also doubtful, Raghavan writes, stating that until late 1947, he was open to the possibility of allowing Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan in return for the Pakistanis telling the Nizam of Hyderabad to accede to India.
Raghavan quotes an incident where Patel told Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, “Why do you compare Junagadh with Kashmir? Talk of Hyderabad and Kashmir and we could reach an agreement”.
According to Raghavan, at another meeting with Khan on 28 November, 1947, Patel even made an offer to pull Indian troops out of Poonch if it would help pave the way for a diplomatic settlement. But Nehru was the one who opposed this course.
In 1948, when Nehru concluded that the best solution for Kashmir was to partition the state, Patel was in complete agreement, observing that it would offer “a permanent, immediate and realistic settlement”.
Therefore, as Noorani stated in his book “Article 370: A Constitional History of Jammu and Kashmir”, Article 370 had the complete approval of Patel, whom the BJP continues to portray as a "strong man" who was opposed to Nehru's move to grant special status to Jammu & Kashmir.
Earlier Claims Comparing Nehru and Modi
Earlier too, when the Centre effectively revoked Article 370 on 5 August, a variety of fake claims about the special status about Kashmir had arisen.
One of the claims that surfaced was a post which compared India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, with present PM Narendra Modi, saying that while the former had divided the nation by applying Article 370, the latter had successfully united the nation by revoking the constitutional provision. The post went on to state that PM Modi had now completed Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s dream of 'Ek Bharat'.
According to the Facebook post, Nehru was the sole architect of Article 370, giving Kashmir special status. In June 2018, Kiren Rijiju had also tweeted about it, blaming Nehru solely.
In the same year, PM Modi had also said in Parliament that “if Sardar Patel had become the prime minister, today a part of our beloved Kashmir would not have been under Pakistani occupation.”
(With inputs from ThePrint and Frontline.)
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