October 26, 1947, was the day my father, Maharaja Hari Singh, signed the Instrument of Accession in Hari Niwas, Jammu. I was not present at the signing but in a room next door, confined to a wheelchair at the time. Accession was an important event, occurring soon after the Partition of India on religious lines. Jammu and Kashmir was founded by my ancestor Maharaja Gulab Singh in 1846 and strategically located, with its border provinces of Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh contiguous to Central Asia and Tibet respectively.
In a recent article, Union law minister Kiren Rijiju targeted India’s first Prime Minister (PM) Jawaharlal Nehru on several counts. That is a separate matter. My purpose in writing this article is only to clarify the unseemly controversies that seem to have emerged about my father’s role at that crucial juncture. We must remember that he was in an extremely difficult position. The whole continent had been divided on the basis of religion, and although the partition document did not cover Indian States, Jammu and Kashmir was 80% Muslims with the rivers, transport, communication and trade going towards Pakistan. In a situation such as this, a snap decision was not possible because 20% of the state, including the entire Dogra community, was also an important consideration.
Rijiju asserted that my father was ready to accede to India well before August 15, but that Jawaharlal Nehru was reluctant to accept it unless it had the support of the people, by which he obviously meant Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference. I must admit that I have no knowledge of this; nor did the matter come up in palace conversations. It is possible that then deputy PM of Jammu and Kashmir, Ram Lal Batra, may have spoken informally to someone in Delhi, but there is no clear evidence that my father authorised this.
The reason I say this is that his thought process was clearly expressed in the covering letter he wrote to Lord Louis Mountbatten on October 26, 1947, along with the Instrument of Accession, which is a crucial document seldom recalled. In this letter, he said, “As your excellency is aware, the State of Jammu and Kashmir has not acceded to the Dominion of India or to Pakistan. Geographically my State is contiguous to both the dominions. It has vital economic and cultural links with both of them. Besides, my state has a common boundary with the Soviet Republic and China. In their external relations, the Dominions of India and Pakistan cannot ignore this fact. I wanted to take time to decide which Dominion I should accede to, or whether it is not in the best interests of both the dominions and my state to stand independent, of course with friendly and cordial relations with both.”
This letter gives no indication that he had decided to accede well before Partition. Even in a 1952 speech quoted by Rijiju, Nehru said, “even if the Maharaja and his government then wanted to accede to India”, which implies that he had not, in fact, done so.
As it turned out, my father was totally overtaken by events. Already, an uprising against his government had begun in Poonch, and in a remarkable absence of any intelligence report, we discovered enough only during the Dussehra Darbar in Srinagar on October 22, that the raiders from Pakistan had already entered the State, captured the power house in Mahura and were moving towards Srinagar.
My father’s chief of army staff, brigadier Rajendra Singh, was sent with 100 soldiers to fight the invaders to the “last man and the last bullet”. This they did bravely at Uri and though they all perished, they were able to hold the invaders up for a critical 48 hours. These events obviously forced my father’s hands and led him to sign the Instrument of Accession.
History has been unkind to Maharaja Hari Singh, who, during his 22-year-long reign, introduced a number of progressive measures in the state, including throwing the Dharmarth Temples open to Dalits in 1929, abolishing the obnoxious practice of begar (forced labour) in Kashmir, making education for girls compulsory, building fine hospitals and colleges in Jammu and Srinagar, and so on.
It is indeed unfortunate that events in 1947 overwhelmed him so that, in the end, we lost half the territory of the state, including Gilgit-Baltistan, the Mirpur-Muzaffarabad strip known as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and, in 1962, the whole of the Aksai Chin area. Whether this denouement could have been prevented is for historians to debate. My limited purpose is to clarify the role of my father during this crucial period.
Let me conclude by recording the fact that within two years of signing the Instrument of Accession, Maharaja Hari Singh was virtually exiled from his state. Only his ashes returned when I brought them back from Mumbai and sprinkled them over the Jammu area in accordance with his will.
Karan Singh is a senior Congress leader, a former Union minister and parliamentarian
The views expressed are personal