Even as achhe din remain elusive, India’s great discovery of the past five years has been the role of Jawaharlal Nehru and his descendants behind most of India’s ills. And the discovery has been aided to a great degree by PM Narendra Modi himself, with his frequent references to India’s first Prime Minister.
As the 17th Parliament met, true to his style, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, not content with politically vanquishing the Opposition in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls, took another dig at the Congress while replying to the Motion Of Thanks on the President’s address. In the Rajya Sabha on June 26, Modi said: ‘It is our belief that if Sardar Patel had been the first Prime Minister of India, there would have been no J&K problem.’
Two days later, Home Minister Amit Shah on June 28 reiterated the same ‘facts’, to thumping desks and cheers from treasury benches.
In its pursuit of appropriating Patel’s legacy, BJP often trots out this nugget to emphasise the Sardar’s nationalistic Iron Man image, in contrast with Nehru’s ‘dithering resolve to protect India’s interests’.
In this era of fake news and deep fakes, when a rumour becomes a historical fact, a WhatsApp forward becomes a couplet by Ghalib and is recited by none other than the PM, how many really care about the truth? But for those who do, what really were India’s first Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s views on tackling the Kashmir imbroglio?
Here’s what facts — verifiable, in the public domain — show.
At the time of independence, three princely states — Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir — remained a bone of contention between India and Pakistan.
In his book, Pakistan – The India Factor, Rajendra Sareen has written about a conversation between Sardar Patel and Sardar Abdul Rab Nishtar, a minister in the Pakistan cabinet, in which Patel has been quoted as saying: “Bhai, give up this talk of Hyderabad and Junagarh, and talk of Kashmir. Take Kashmir and settle the issue.”
Most historical references disclose that Patel was more interested in Hyderabad than Kashmir, which had a majority Muslim population.
Patel even stated this publicly after the occupation of Junagadh on November 11, 1947: “Our reply was that one could agree on Kashmir if they could agree on Hyderabad.”
In fact, at a meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan November 28, 1947, Patel even offered to pull out Indian troops from Poonch if it helped resolve the issue. It was Nehru who opposed this move.
It was only after Pakistan accepted the accession request of Junagadh, a Hindu-majority state with a Muslim ruler, that Patel focused resolutely on Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state with a Hindu ruler.
Contrary to the narrative being peddled for petty political gains, according to declassified documents, including records of cabinet and defense committee meetings, both Nehru and Patel were working closely to resolve the Kashmir stalemate by extensive consultation.
In his book, My Reminiscences of Sardar Patel, V Shankar, who was then political secretary to Patel, writes the Sardar was content “to leave the decision to the Ruler (of Jammu and Kashmir)”, and that “if the Ruler felt that his and his State’s interest lay in accession to Pakistan, he would not stand in his way”.
After Pakistan’s military transgressions in Kashmir on October 22, 1947, when Nehru reluctantly agreed to approach the UN, Patel went along with the decision despite his own reservations. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of Jana Sangh, who was himself part of the consultations, later said in Parliament: “I was a party when the decision was taken to refer the Kashmir issue to the UNO … That is an obvious fact. I have no right and I do not wish to disclose the extraordinary circumstances under which the decision was taken”.
Almost six months later, with no military solution in sight, Nehru concluded conditions for plebiscite would not be met in Kashmir. Patel agreed that the best solution would be to partition the state based on the “existing military situation”. Partition, he observed, would offer “a permanent, immediate and realistic settlement”. Parts of Poonch and Gilgit could go to Pakistan, while India retained the rest of the state.
As far as the supposed differences between the two leaders on the Kashmir issue are concerned, the following excerpts from Nehru-Patel: Agreement Within Differences, Select Documents and Correspondences, 1933-1950, lay bare the facts.
While Nehru’s intent and patriotism has increasingly been under the BJP’s scanner, Patel never doubted his Prime Minister.
Writing to Pandit Jiyalal Kaut Jalali, retired assistant general, J&K, on June 16, 1946, Patel said, “Political agitation should, as far as possible, be kept apart from communal questions. The two should not be mixed up… I understand that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru is himself coming there (Kashmir) as a messenger of peace to bring about honourable settlement of this vexed question. After all, he is also a Hindu and that a Kashmiri Hindu, and he is one of our foremost patriots and one of the greatest leaders of modern India. He is, as all human beings are, liable to err. But all his actions are governed by considerations of highest patriotism. Therefore, you need not be afraid of him or his actions. Let us hope this unfortunate trouble in Kashmir will end soon and it will leave no bitterness behind.”
On October 8, 1947, responding to Dwarkanath Kachru’s letter, Patel wrote to Nehru:
“…I do not think that anything which could have been done for Kashmir has been left undone by me; nor am I aware of any difference between you and me on matters of policy relating to Kashmir. Still it is most unfortunate that persons down below should think that there is gulf between us. It is also distressing to me.”
Another interesting fact is Patel’s role in drafting Article 370. Even as it tries to make Article 370 an electoral tool to rally its vote bank, BJP forgets that in drafting the Article that accorded special status to Jammu and Kashmir, Patel and Nehru worked together closely. While the negotiations were carried out between NG Ayyangar (cabinet minister without portfolio and former Dewan of Kashmir) and Sheikh Abdullah and his senior colleagues, Nehru never took a decision without Patel’s nod.
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