Not Nehru’s Blunders; India’s Disregard for Federalism Has Devastated Kashmir
by Akash Bhattacharya

The War of 1947-48

On 6 December 2023, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah blamed Nehru’s “two blunders” during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1947-48 for the subsequent suffering of Kashmiris: calling for a ceasefire when India was winning, and referring the dispute to the United Nations. Both claims are based on willful distortions of history at multiple levels.

A close look at the events of 1947-1949 reveals that the ceasefire was not called when India was winning, but when Indian found it difficult to drive the invaders out of what later became Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). The ceasefire was hardly Nehru’s call, it was the Union Cabinet’s call – no other cabinet member including Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and the avowedly Hindu supremacist Shyama Prasad Mookherjee objected to it. Besides, the much-maligned United Nations’ (UN) intervention, far from putting India at disadvantage, gave India a chance to facilitate the integration of Kashmir.

The 1947-48 war began with the invasion of Kashmir by a Pakistan backed tribal army on 22 October 1947. The Indian Army, still extremely new and lacking the necessary training and equipment to fight a high-altitude war, struggled during the winter of 1947. Most of what is now Jammu and Kashmir was captured during the spring offensive of 1948. It was under the dire circumstances of the 1947-48 winter that the Indian government formally referred the dispute to the United Nations. On 30 December 1947, India made a formal reference to the UN Security Council to build international pressure on Pakistan to withdraw its ad-hoc army from Kashmir.

Contrary to the lies that have been told about the UN intervention, the ceasefire and the de-facto partition of Kashmir did not take place on UN orders.  The UN’s Resolution 47, adopted on 21 April, 1948, indeed called for an immediate ceasefire and a plebiscite to decide the future of Kashmir. But subsequently, the UN also set up the United Nations Committee on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) which visited Kashmir and submitted a report. The ensuing Security Council resolution S/995, adopted on 13 September 1948, tilted the scales heavily in India’s favor.

S/995 called for complete Pakistani withdrawal from all of Kashmir and, importantly, did not call for a plebiscite. Instead, it merely said that the final decision about Kashmir’s future should be made according to the “will of the people”, leaving the procedure open-ended. It opened the door for India to drive out the Pakistani army and initiate a process of democratic integration of Kashmir.

The harsh winter of 1948-49 however put paid to India’s military plans. India’s position in Gilgit-Baltistan continued to be precarious. Key British generals stationed in Kashmir, like the Scottish Major William Brown who headed the Gilgit Scouts, had sided with Pakistan. Most of the Indian army were soldiers from the plains. They had been flown in through Dakota aircrafts due to the lack of an adequate air force.  These aircrafts had to land in torchlight in some places, as Pakistan had cut off the electricity.

Understandably, no one in the Union Cabinet objected to a cessation of hostilities under these circumstances. The ceasefire was finally agreed upon as late as 1 January 1949. Sardar Patel, whom the BJP props up as the voice of patriotism vis-à-vis Nehru, had in fact expressed reservations about India’s capability to wage a long war in the mountains of Kashmir as early as June 1947. The BJP also conveniently overlooks the role of Maharaja Hari Singh in creating the crisis during 1947-48. His prevarication about acceding to India and his sheer ineptness had allowed Pakistan to consolidate its position in Gilgit-Baltistan, through the help of Major Brown, whom Pakistan posthumously rewarded with its third-highest civilian honor (Sitara-e-Imtiaz, 1993). 

Integrating Kashmir

In the wake of the ceasefire, India was faced with the challenge of integrating the part of Jammu and Kashmir which lay on the Indian side of what later became the Line of Control (LoC). National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah was eager to integrate with India but not at the cost of Kashmir’s autonomy. Powerful Kashmiri nationalist sentiments, coupled with the peculiar circumstances of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India, led to the insertion of Article 370 in the Indian constitution which granted Kashmir a range of legislative exceptions. 

Article 370 did not make Jammu and Kashmir sovereign; in fact, it was instrumental in its accession to the Indian Union. It was agreed that it would be temporary but its possible abrogation was dependent on the creation of a consensual roadmap by the Indian state in coordination with the Kashmiri leadership.

Kashmir’s demand for autonomy was hardly exceptional. Tribal communities in the North-east demanded the same. The 6th schedule of the constitution was created in response to this demand. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) in fact called for a separate sovereign state for Tamilians; a demand which they held on to as late as 1962, till they were assured of regional autonomy. However, in the case of Kashmir, no consensual roadmap evolved.

The Indian state, even prior to its Hindu majoritarian turn, had been insecure about demands for autonomy in a Muslim majority state bordering Pakistan. The Kashmir Conspiracy Case, in which Sheikh Abdullah was arrested, marked the first major step in India’s efforts to coerce Kashmir into integration solely on its terms. It was this attitude of the Indian state, rather than Article 370, that reeked of “asymmetric federalism.” Eventually India’s relations with Kashmir broke down completely, leading to the 1989 insurgency, the massive increase in state repression and militarization, and the unfortunate exodus of a large number of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley. 

The Indian Constitution had urged the nation builders of the future to strengthen federalism. Questions remain as to why India evolved into a quasi-federal state rather than a substantively federal state in the decades following independence. Punjab, Assam, Mizoram, Tripura have all witnessed  insurgencies due to the Indian state’s failures to meet popular aspirations in these regions coupled with persistent regional inequalities. The one-size fits all model of nation-building, with a North Indian Hindu template, has consistently alienated Indians elsewhere. The gradual replacement of the Congress by the BJP as the premier national party has worsened the thrust towards uniformity in the name of national integration.

A False Solution

Amit Shah’s remark about Nehru’s “errors” came in the wake of the judicial approval of the abrogation of Article 370. With the abrogation, BJP claims to have “solved” the Kashmir “problem”, integrating the region with India without any “concessions” in the form of legislative exceptions. The abrogation of Article 370 is part of the BJP’s uniformity-as-integration model of nation-building. Its “success” is a myth.

Kashmir is being held at gunpoint. There is an unprecedented military presence in the state, which is witnessing large-scale disappearances, media censorship, arrests of journalists and human rights activists, regular internet shutdowns and frequent house arrest of even those politicians perceived to be pro-India. Kashmir’s statehood has been abrogated in complete violation of Article 3 of the Indian Constitution which prohibits such reorganization without the consent of the state legislature. Kashmiri Muslims in India are facing regular discrimination and harassment on account of their regional and religious identities. Notably, the abrogation has hardly improved the situation of exiled Kashmiri pandits, a community whose voice the BJP has eagerly appropriated.

Far from resolving the crisis in Kashmir in accordance with democratic and federal principles, the BJP has consistently manipulated facts related to the issue in order to stoke hatred and division, and to render its negative role invisible. In fact, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits took place during the tenure of the V.P. Singh government which had the backing of the BJP. Jagmohan, who later became a BJP legislator and a union minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet, was the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir during those days. What did he do to stop the exodus?

A 1990 letter addressed to Muslims of Kashmir by 23 prominent Kashmiri Pandits, published in the Alsafa newspaper on 19 March 1990, states that the Indian government “had drawn plans to massacre a large section of Kashmiri Muslims particularly those in the age group of 14 to 25”. The letter emphasized in particular the role played behind the scenes by “Hindu communal organizations like the BJP, RSS” and their leaders like “Advani, Vajpayee, and Jagmohan”. The letter appealed to the UN to intervene to restore peace in the valley.  

CN Annadurai, the leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK), told the Rajya Sabha in 1962 that the DMK had given up its demand for a separate Tamil nation-state and agreed to integrate with India, after being assured that India would win over the Tamils by love and not by force. This was a warning: integration at gun-point was not a “solution”.

The Home Minister may score as many brownie points as he wishes to through his stale Nehru-bashing rhetoric. The fact is that his integration-at-gunpoint model, far from solving the “Kashmir problem”, has in fact imperiled both the futures of Kashmiri people and the security and stability of India.

Nehru and Kashmir