Mohandas Karmchand Gandhi’s first and only visit to Kashmir was in August 1947. But what business did he have to visit a state that was going to be independent in some days?
India’s first Prime Minister Jawhar Lal Nehru and Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had a grand design on Kashmir. Together with Viceroy Lord Mountbatten in complicit with Gandhi they brought disaster on Kashmir. These people first conspired to remove the pro-independence Prime Minister of Kashmir, Ram Chandra Kak.
A Congress agent in Srinagar, named Ramadhar, who was secretary All-India Spinners Association (an organisation set up by Gandhi), had informed them through his letter of July 14, 1947 that Maharaja Hari Singh was ready to join India and that the hunt for PM Kak’s substitute had been started. This letter also revealed that Gandhi was scheduled to visit Kashmir. However, Ramadhar advised Gandhi to defer his visit because Hari Singh apprehended trouble with Kak being PM.
Premier Kak was a staunch supporter of Kashmir’s independence. For that reason his co-religionists, the Kashmiri Pandits, were against him. Also National Conference leaders hated him. Sheikh Abdullah’s trusted lieutenant, Mirza Afzal Beg, had resigned from the Ministry of public works when Kak was inducted as PM in 1945. Before Kak’s induction as PM, NC collaborated with Hari Singh’s government. But when Hari Singh appointed Kak as PM, they launched ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement against the Maharaja. And it was Kak who placed Nehru under arrest when the latter forced his entry into Kashmir at Kohalla in May 1946, in support of Sheikh’s ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement. As a result Kak became a despicable figure for many from Srinagar to Delhi.
On the eve of Partition it was an open secret that Muslim majority Gurdaspur district would be awarded to India in contravention to the Partition principle. This was done to furnish a road link between India and Kashmir.
Cyril Radcliffe, chairman Boundary Commission (set up on July 9), impressed upon British India members of the Commission that entire Gurdaspur district would be awarded to Hindu India (From Jinnah to Zia by Justice Mohammad Munir). For this reason Mohammad Ali, cabinet secretary-designate of would-be Pakistan, on August 8, 1947, warned Hastings Ismay, chief of Viceroy’s staff, that government of Pakistan would consider the award of Muslim majority Gurdaspur district to Hindu India as a breach of faith imperilling future relations between the dominion of Pakistan and British government (Mountbatten and Partition of India by Larry Collins).
In this atmosphere when rumours were making the rounds that Gurdaspur would be awarded to India, Congress leaders were desperate to see Kak removed from the Premiership of Kashmir. Mountbatten had during his June visit to Kashmir advised both Kak and the Maharaja not to declare independence. He told them: “Nehru and Gandhi are very anxious that the Maharaja of Kashmir should make no declaration of independence” (Mission with Mountbatten by Alan Campbell-Johnson).
In July, Mountbatten wrote to Hari Singh that he should pave the way for Gandhi’s visit to Kashmir (Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy by Alastair Lamb).
All this suggests that they considered Kak to be the biggest hurdle in the path of their Kashmir strategy. In spite of Ramadhar’s advice, Gandhi arrived in Kashmir on August 2, 1947. This was his first ever visit to Kashmir. He stayed at Barazulla where he organised prayer meetings. He met Begum Sheikh Abdullah, Maharaja Hari Singh and Maharani Tara Devi at Gulab Bhavan palace.
He went to Jammu on August 5, and left the state on August 10. Next day the Maharaja sacked Kak and confined him to house arrest.
On arriving back at Delhi, Gandhi furnished a report to Nehru: “I organised prayer meetings there but I did not organise any public meetings. Not that there was any ban on addressing people but that I had promised myself that I would not hold any public rally there. I told PM Kak that he was very unpopular among the masses. He has written to the Maharaja that he was ready to resign if he so wished. When I met the Maharaja, their heir apparent son whose one leg was plaster cast accompanied the Maharani.”
Both Hari Singh and his wife accepted the fact that with the termination of British Raj sovereignty of Kashmir would pass into the hands of the people.
According to Sheikh, Gandhi also addressed a press conference at Delhi and told the media, “Maharaja has lost the confidence and support of Kashmiris and Sheikh is very popular among masses.”
Thus Gandhi was instrumental in getting Kak sacked and disgraced because he supported an independent Kashmir. Kak’s dismissal had also been necessitated by the fact that Sheikh would not declare allegiance to India so long as Kak was in the PM seat. Soon after Kak’s dismissal Sheikh declared his intention to his prison inmates that he would support India. He went to the extent of offering verbal and written apologies to Hari Singh against whom he had launched ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement.
Sheikh’s U-turn, coupled with the award of Gurdaspur to India, emboldened Hari Singh’s government so much so that they indulged in ethnic cleansing of pro-Pakistan Muslims in Poonch. At the same time they organised cross-border raids on Pakistani villages killing and looting the inhabitants to provoke retaliation from Pakistani side (Sardar Patel’s Correspondence Vol. I).
Ending October Pakistani tribesmen entered the state. The incursion became the excuse for NC and the Maharaja in Srinagar to seek help from Delhi, and expectedly it came. However, before flying troops to Kashmir in October 1947, Nehru, Mountbatten and Patel needed to take Gandhi’s informal concurrence for the measure. They also wanted to establish that they were sending troops to Kashmir on Kashmiris’ own request. Sheikh facilitated their task when on October 26, 1947, he volunteered to broach the issue with the old man. “One more obstruction was Gandhi. We were divided on whether he would allow sending the Indian army to Kashmir or not. Since I had come to Delhi to request the Indian leaders for providing military assistance to me I talked to Gandhiji on this issue,” Sheikh wrote in his “autobiography” Aatashi-Chinar. “I told Gandhiji that our struggle in Kashmir was not a fight for land,” writes Sheikh, “but for those very principles which he himself upheld and represented; which he had preached throughout his life; and for which even at that point of time he stood like a rock braving strong gusts of unfavourable wind. Therefore India should not shy away from assisting the Kashmiri people when they were fighting the rapacious raiders. But if India refuses to furnish aid to the people of Kashmir it would be an injustice more to these principles that we cherish together than to the people of Kashmir. Therefore, Gandhiji accepted my request out of love and sanctioned sending of Indian army to Kashmir.” So it was Gandhi who sent Indian Army to Kashmir.
When Indian army guided by NC collaborators crushed Kashmiri Muslims, Nehru told the world: “Democracy has dawned upon Kashmir”; and Gandhi declared in his prayer meetings at Delhi: “I see rays of light coming from Kashmir.”