Dr Altaf Hussain Para
India’s Prime Minister, Narinder Modi, made two marathon speeches in both the houses of Indian Parliament on February 7. In the Lok Sabha speech, , Modi reinterpreted modern and post independence Indian history through the Hindutva paradigm trying to write off Nehru’s and Congress’s contribution to post 1947 India. He made a reference to Kashmir and lamented that had Sardar Patel become the first Indian Prime Minister, instead of Nehru, the whole of Kashmir would have been part of India. This was not for the first time that Modi expressed love for his newly discovered hero.
It is impossible to deny the fact that Nehru was known for his obsession with Kashmir and it was his untiring efforts and machinations that saw land connectivity established between the Kashmir and India through Radcliff Boundary Commission. Why then, the Indian Right, including Modi, is unwilling to acknowledge his efforts and instead wanted another Congressmen, Patel to have supervised the accession issue? The answer lies in understanding Patel’s approach rather than his ideology. Both wanted Kashmir to be with India. Nehru wanted it through popular consent, whereas Patel wanted it for its Hindu past and with the consent of the Hindu prince rather than with the mass consent. The present Kashmir policy of BJP reflects the unfulfilled approach of Sardar Patel.
Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, who worked very closely with Sardar Patel concluded in his autobiography, “Aatish e Chinar,” about the special love of Patel for Muslims and their newly established home land in these words: “He was influenced by Hindu fundamentalism and wished to secure the interests of the Hindu revivalists. From social and political standpoints, he was a staunch reactionary…. During the communal clashes, he encouraged the Hindu communalists to combat Muslims. Once, while talking to me, he said that the one way to destroy Pakistan was to drive more and more Muslims there so that it may burst at the seams and be compelled to come to terms with India.” Rajmohan Gandhi, in his biography of Patel, “Patel: A Life” suggested that he (Patel) spoke of evicting all the forty million Muslims from India if Pakistan threw out the Hindus in the territory and to extending non Muslim zone from Punjab to Delhi and Western UP (pp.431 & 497).
Patel never forgave Nehru for keeping him away from Kashmir affairs. He once complained that “if Nehru and Ayyangar had not made Kashmir their close preserve separating it from my portfolio of Home and States, I would have tackled the issue as purposefully as I had already tackled the Hyderabad problem”. That is , by massacring and suppressing Muslims. P. Sunderayya in his book (Telengana People’s Struggle and its Lessons, pp. 88-89) brilliantly highlighted the “untold miseries” that were inflicted on “the ordinary Muslim people”. But, then Sardar actively involved himself in Kashmir affairs- albeit in his own way.
Patel had a special love for the RSS. He regarded its members, at worst , as “misguided patriots” (The Brotherhood in Saffron, By Walter Anderson and Shridher Damle, pp. 55-56) and invited them to join Congress. Thus, he used the RSS which had close relations with Maharaja Hari Singh to woo the later to join Indian Union. He blessed the Golwalkar mission to Srinagar in October 1947. Golwalkar urged the Maharaja to recruit more Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs (perhaps who were migrating to the state from Pakistan) into his army (ibid. p. 49). It should not surprise anyone then that both, Nehru and Gandhi discovered in December 1947 that arms send by the Indian army to the National Militia raised by the National Conference were diverted to the members of the RSS activists in Jammu to massacre the Muslims there to change the state’s demographic composition. When Nehru complained to Patel on the 30th of December and wrote that “I am inclined to think that [Mehar Chand] Mahajan (who was appointed prime minister by Maharaja at the recommendation of the Patel after sacking pro-Pakistan R C Kak) sympathizes with these activities and perhaps helps them”, Patel denied the charges, a week later, by citing the enquiry conducted by Mahajan himself (Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, vol. I, pp.143 & 152).
Patel was neither interested in getting Kashmir acceded to India on the basis of any ideological uniformity with the state’s political movement, nor did he ever trust its Muslim leadership. He reposed his trust in Hari Singh and wanted him to join India on the basis of his State’s past Hindu history. Thus, he wrote a letter to Maharaja on 3 July, 1947 which stated: “I wish to assure you that the interest of Kashmir lies in joining the Indian Union and its Constituent Assembly without any delay. It’s past history and traditions demand it, and all India looks up to you and expects you to take this decision.” However, in view of the adverse public opinion in the state, Patel knew that it would take some time to Hari Singh to make the decision. Therefore, he suggested to the Maharaja that “in the meantime, I am expanding as much as possible the linking up of the State with the Indian Dominion by means of telegraph, telephones, wireless and roads” (Ibid. pp. 32-34 &42-43). This was after securing a land link to Kashmir through the Radcliff Boundary Commission and getting the pro-Pakistan, pro independence politician R C Kak removed.
Patel was frustrated by the Nehru’s offer of plebiscite as a rider to the Maharaja’s accession to India. Thus, in a conversation with his Secretary V Shankar, he remarked disapprovingly: “don’t you see we have two UN experts- The Prime Minister and the other Mountbatten- and I have to steer my way between them”. He was particularly disappointed when he saw prospects of the plebiscite getting brighter, thanks to the efforts of Owen Dixon. A dejected Patel wrote to Nehru on 27 June, 1950, “if we are not careful, we might land ourselves in difficulties because once demilitarization is settled, a plebiscite would be, as it were, round the corner.” Thus, by publicly endorsing the offer he, along with Nehru, was only befooling the Kashmiris.
Patel’s hatred for Sheikh Abdullah is not unknown. He never forgave him for introducing radical land reform in the state, which he repeatedly dubbed as anti-Hindu, and for sidelining his autocratic and feudal protégé- Maharaja Hari Singh. His repeated attempts of forcing Abdullah to halt the land reforms, only infuriated the latter for his fate solely depended on the reforms in the wake of an impending plebiscite. Thus, an agitated Sheikh, wrote to Patel: “It is my firm conviction that it was our rigid adherence to that [New Kashmir] program that has saved us from the orgy of communalism during the last crisis” (N N Raina, Kashmir Politics and Imperialist Maneuvers 1846-1980, New Delhi, 1988, pp. 163).
Land reform(s) became a reality and a frustrated Patel started poisoned Nehru’s ears, forcing him to appoint B N Mullik (Director of Intelligence from 1950 to 1965) to report on rumors concerning Abdullah’s alleged hostility to India and allegations by “large numbers of Kashmiri Pundits and Jammu Dogras”. Mullik found the allegations and rumors baseless and observed that Sheikh’s support to India was genuine. Patel was shocked. He brainwashed Mullik, (and, thus, laid the foundations of a disastrous approach of Indian Home Ministry towards Kashmir based on suspensions) that “Sheikh would ultimately let down India and Nehru and would come in his real colors.” His efforts bore fruits. Mullik wrote that future events “proved that the Sardar was right and I was not.”
Thus, Patel’s hatred towards Muslims and Pakistan, his strong opposition to Article 370 and his love for RSS are the very ideals that are dear to Modi.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]