By Ashq Hussain
On 26 November 1949 the Constituent Assembly of India passed India’s new Constitution. It became effective on 26 January 1950. Till then the Constitution of India (as also of Pakistan) was based on the Government of India Act 1935. It is this Constitution of British India, passed by British Parliament on 4 August, that is relevant to 1947 Kashmir Dispute. The other document which is relevant to Kashmir Dispute is the 1946 States Memorandum which laid down that the treaties (1846 Treaty of Amritsar in case of Kashmir) between the Princes and the British would expire with the end of the British Raj.
The 1935 Constitutional Act talked of a Federal Government of British India in charge of three subjects: Defence, Foreign Relations, and Communications; leaving the residuary subjects with British Provinces and Princely States. The latter would join the British Indian Federation by executing Instruments of Accession. No State actually executed Instrument of Accession and consequently the British Indian Federation proved stillborn.
However, the term “Accession” came to be used in relation to States 1935 onwards. The “Accession” of States became a hot issue in 1947 when the British partitioned British India into the Dominions of India and Pakistan. The “Accession” of Kashmir became a matter of international dispute and cause of war between the two new Dominions. War between the two countries ended on the last day of 1948 but it left the State divided into two(or rather three) parts: Pakistan administered Kashmir; Northern Areas of Gilgit-Baltistan; and India administered Kashmir.
Under the mediation of United Nations, India and Pakistan had agreed in 1948 that the fate of the entire Princely State of Kashmir would be decided through a general plebiscite. So at the end of the 1948 India-Pakistan War the UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) resolved to hold an overall plebiscite in the entire State. For this purpose the Government of the State headed by the Maharaja was required to appoint a UN-nominated Plebiscite Administrator with full powers. They nominated Chester Nimitz in March 1949.
However, the Maharaja did not appoint PA because he (as also other Hindus) did not want Jammu to become part of Pakistan by virtue of overall Muslim majority vote. So he talked of zonal plebiscites as he had no problem if Muslim Kashmir became part of Pakistan. When Indian intelligence officers posted in Jammu reported to Prime Minister Nehru of what was brewing in Jammu, he started conspiring against the Maharaja: “In this report,” he wrote to Patel on 17 April 1949, “among other things, a reference was made to a growing Hindu agitation in Jammu province for what is called a zonal plebiscite. This idea is based on the belief that a plebiscite for the whole of Kashmir is bound to be lost and therefore let us save Jammu at least. You will perhaps remember that some proposal of this kind was put forward by the Maharaja some months back. It seems to me that this kind of propaganda is very harmful indeed for us. Whatever may happen in the future, I do not think Jammu province is running away from us. If we want Jammu province by itself and are prepared to make a present of the rest of the State to Pakistan, I have no doubt we could clinch the issue in a few days. The prize we are fighting for is the valley of Kashmir. This propaganda for zonal plebiscite is going on in Jammu, in Delhi and elsewhere. It is carried on by what is known as the Jammu Praja Parishad…financed by Maharaja… [from]… Dharmarth Fund (Sardar Patel’s Correspondence p.262).”
Together Patel and Nehru forced the Maharaja to abdicate in June 1949 in favour of more pliable 18-year-old son Karan Singh. In this way the Indian State avoided the appointment of PA. The UNCIP waited till December 1949 for the appointment of PA.
Meanwhile the Constituent Assembly of India passed in November 1949 the new Constitution describing the entire Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir as part of India. They also changed, with active support of Sheikh Abdullah, the State’s relationship with India from disputed “Accession” to Article 370 of the new Constitution. Even then “Accession” remained a hot issue for years to come. So the Jammu Hindus led by Praja Parishad talked of zonal plebiscites. Their leader Prem Nath Dogra said on 6 October 1952 that “an overall plebiscite in the State was suicidal and that it should be limited to the Kashmir Valley(p.232 Kashmir Saga Sardar Ibrahim).”
2016. The disputed “Accession” of Kashmir is as hot an issue as it was then. In fact it is hotter now. However, Jammu and New Delhi describe the former Princely State of Kashmir as “atoot ang (integral part)” of India. New Delhi is oblivious of the consequences that this shortsighted and opportunistic rhetoric may cost them in future. For example, if international pressure mounts against India on Kashmir issue they would be constrained to allow a plebiscite in Kashmir just as Indonesia had to allow one in East Timor, Sudan in South Sudan, Serbia in Kosovo, etc., then people in other parts of India may also clamour for plebiscite on the ground that if atoot-ang-Kashmir could be granted the boon of self-determination, then why not other parts of India also.
On the other hand if New Delhi educates the Indian public in advance that Kashmir is a disputed territory pending settlement, they may not have to face plebiscite demands in other part of the country. On the contrary their people will give them mandate to resolve Kashmir tangle. For now they don’t have any mandate to take momentous decisions on Kashmir.
And so far as Jammu is concerned, an overall plebiscite would prove to be their undoing. Therefore, it would be better for them to be on safe side. They (as also the Buddhists of Ladakh) would be well advised if they take a principled position on Kashmir issue and revert to the demand of zonal plebiscite as advocated by the Praja Parishad and the Maharaja in the early years of Kashmir Dispute.
You reap what you sow.