Jawaharlal Nehru created a communal cleave by roping in Maharajas of Bikaner and Patiala as a counter force to Nawab of Bhopal within the Chamber of Princes, even as Maharaja of Kashmir's Rasputin tried to keep the independence bogey alive

When your eyes are focused on the King in a game of chess, you shouldn't necessarily worry about pawn sacrifice. In order to avoid a stalemate, Jawaharlal Nehru masterfully created a cleave on communal lines in the Winston Churchill/Mohd. Ali Jinnah/Lord Wavell trinity's stalking horse, the Chamber of Princes. The Maharaja of Bikaner emerged as the first Bishop (while Maharaja of Patiala acted as the second Bishop) to Jinnah's Queen to close ranks against the Muslim interlopers (powerful principals Bhopal, Junagadh and Hyderabad) within the Narendra Mandal.  In modern chess, the bishop pair has been established as a positional advantage in the majority of cases. It’s very common nowadays to hear teachers tell their students ‘keep your bishops’ or ‘capture that bishop’. It is a lethal weapon on the attack against the king. It can also be very efficient in attacking weaknesses – one bishop can put pressure on the target, while the other attacks the defending piece. Just to complete the chess analogy —  When fighting with the two bishops against the bishop and knight, one can place the pawns on the same color as our opponent’s bishop. This way, one reduces the mobility of this piece; This is exactly how it played out for Nehru as he divided the Princes in one fell swoop for Maharaja Lt Gen Sir Sadul Singh’s missive galvanised the Hindu Princes to opt for India after the end of the Standstill Agreements.

Chamber of Princes

Philip Woodruff in his seminal work – The Men Who Ruled India – captures the enigma of Indian princes succinctly. “When the English talked of going, there were really two possible heirs to political power, the Congress and the Muslim League; they eyed each other with sharply rising jealously. There were also the princes, who did not wish to be subordinate to either heir and each of whom had for several generations been bound to England by a treaty which involved obligations for both parties. To settle the jealousy and preserve the estate undivided ought, surely, to have been the first concern of the testator”.  Here one needs to examine the psyche of the community of princes, rulers over their states in their own right and obviously not willing to relinquish power.

So, it was not surprising that several of them flirted with the idea of independence. What was going through their minds? The Big Five of the 565 states, as many know were Hyderabad, Mysore, Baroda, Gwalior and Kashmir. All five were incidentally entitled to a twenty-one gun salute by the British. Rosita Forbes wrote as far back as 1940 after visiting several of these princes, “Many are absolute monarchs linked only by treaty to the British Crown”.

This is what Forbes wrote about Kashmir in her book India of the Princes: “The people of Kashmir offer as great a problem as their impenetrable hills, for the majority are Moslems with no sympathy for their Hindu Rulers. In Jammu there are a number of Rajputs, among them the Dogras who provide some of the best fighting material in India. Throughout history, the Kashmiri has been a victim. From his own character and the position of his country on the high road of invasion, he was predestined to be conquered.”

She touches upon one of the many prickly issues which became a sore point with Sheikh Abdullah in later years. “The Kashmir Army of Gulap (Gulab) Singh and his immediate successors modelled on the West and trained by Western adventurers sufficed to control the extraordinary conglomeration of mountain peoples. The Dogra Army, supported by Gurkha mercenaries held a long frontier, whose passes had become the channels of intrigues, rumours and the bribery by which Imperial Russia sought to undermine her rival’s rule in India. Since those splendid days, the Kashmir Army cannot recruit a man from among the people of the same name, has gone from strength to strength”.

The Maharaja of Bikaner, for instance, in a secret note to his fellow princes on April 1, 1947 in many ways laid down the agenda and highlighted the mindset of the princes as they were asked to decide which way they wanted to jump. And this was no April Fool’s prank. In many ways he challenged the Chancellor of the Chamber of Princes Nawab of Bhopal with this confidential note thereby driving a communal cleave within the Chamber; the majority Hindu Princes on one side while the Muslim Princes and among them Hyderabad and Bhopal on the other egged on covertly by Mohd. Ali Jinnah himself.

It needs to be mentioned that the Maharaja of Bikaner played an instrumental part in the country’s borders being redrawn by the Boundary Commission headed by Sir Cyril Radcliffe. British PM Clement Atlee, who made Radcliffe a barrister in charge of such a complex job, is believed to have changed the borders near Ferozepur and Chittagong Hill Tracts under pressure from the Nehru-Mountbatten combine. Radcliffe’s private secretary Christopher Beaumont, after Radcliffe’s death in 1977 provided the Daily Telegraph with a memorandum, saying that the borders had been secretly redrawn in the run up to August 13 to Pakistan’s disadvantage.

The most important reversal involved Ferozepur, an area of some 400 sq miles, important because of its canal headwaters controlled the irrigation system in the princely state of Bikaner. Forewarned by a leak of Ferozepur’s award to Pakistan, Nehru reportedly joined with the Maharaja of Bikaner to alter it.

The Memorandum circulated by the Chancellor’s Secretariat for the meetings of the Constitutional Advisory Committee, the Standing Committee of Princes and the General Conference of the Princes and Ministers as regards the statement of the British prime minister in Parliament on February 20, 1947 induced the Maharaja of Bikaner to float this note, imploring his fellow princes to take the right decision. They provide an incisive insight into what was going through the minds of the princes:

I regret to have to say that the Memorandum does not deal with all the aspects of the very important question which the Princes have to decide and fails to bring out some of the very important issues involved which I consider my duty to raise.

The Memorandum has in more than one place stressed the necessity for the states to maintain a solid front at this critical juncture. It is, however, well known that there are two sections in the prince’s ranks who hold different views. It is not only in the interests of the states as a whole but in fairness to those who don’t agree with the views expressed in the Memorandum that they should make their position clear and the reasons for holding a different view. These reasons are weighty and are mentioned below:

The Cabinet Mission Plan had been originally accepted by the Congress and the Muslim League and the states, and even though the Muslim League subsequently decided not to cooperate it is felt that the states also took up this attitude, it would give the impression that the states were playing into the hands of a certain political part in British India. Such an impression or suspicion would be most unfortunate and I fear is widely prevalent already both amongst the people of the states and in British India.

The states had hitherto publicly taken up the position that they were not interested in the party politics of British India and were ready to help India to attain her independence and full stature in the comity of nations.

Moreover, the Constituent Assembly is to all intents and purposes functioning as laid down in the Cabinet Mission Plan even though the Muslim League is not cooperating. It is felt that so long as the British government did not scrap the Cabinet Mission Plan, the states should continue to cooperate in constitution making hoping that the Muslim League would come in sooner or later. Had the British government categorically stated that the Constituent Assembly proceedings were ultra vires, then alone could the States have discontinued participation in the work of the Cabinet Mission Plan; but clearly that is not the intention of His Majesty’s Government (HMG)

On the other hand, in the debate in Parliament when a categorical question was asked by Lord Simon as to whether the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly were not ultra vires, the secretary of state in reply stated that HMG hoped that before the meetings of the sections took place as laid down in the Cabinet Mission Plan, the Constituent Assembly would become fully representative and therefore he did not think it desirable to make any statement on the hypothetical question asked.

It is the desire and hope of all the parties concerned, including the states, should jointly frame a common Constitution. The Muslim League is standing out. By the states doing likewise, does it improve the position or bring nearer the consummation of a fully representative Constituent Assembly functioning? The answer is obvious: Such a step on the part of the states would not only be putting it off, but probably rendering impossible such a consummation.

Even if the Muslim League ultimately decided not to participate in constitution making, it is beyond question in the interests of the states as a whole, interspersed as they are with territories in British India, that by June 1948 (timeline for a Constitution worked out by a fully representative Constituent Assembly) a strong Central Government should be created which can take over power. The only safe policy for the states therefore is to work fully with the stabilizing elements in British India to create a centre at least for as large a section of India as possible to start with, leaving it open for any other part to come in at a later time, which would safeguard both the states and British India in the vacuum that would be created by the withdrawal of the British government and which would maintain peace, order and good governance and prevent civil strife.

If the states don’t help in the formation of such a stable and strong central authority, the inevitable result will be the weakening of the stable elements in British India working towards a settlement and consequent increase in the power and prestige of the left wing. If the latter comes to power, the position of the States can well be imagined.

The united front that is required to be put up by the states is therefore not by adopting a policy of wait and see, but by fully cooperating with the Constituent Assembly, with all the benefits that will accrue from such a step.

The states may for a time take the stand of wait and see, but the vital question is as to what effect such a step will have on both their own people and upon British India. It is a fact which brooks no argument that it is essential for the rulers to carry their own people with them and nothing must be done which would impair their loyalty and support. It is therefore most strongly felt that a decisive step taken now with a broad vision and in the larger interests of India is not only in the interests of the states themselves but becomes imperative. Neither can the princes afford to lose the support of their people, nor can they ignore the resultant adverse repercussions in British India.

British India is keenly watching the attitude of the states, but it is perhaps not sufficiently appreciated, or I fear some quarters deliberately choose to ignore the fact, that the people of the states are equally keenly watching the attitude of the princes.

Furthermore, a policy of wait and see will give a loophole to interested parties to make mischief in every possible way. As it is, it is amply clear that such a policy is not only being mistaken and misunderstood everywhere, but it is openly being said that the princes in their heart of hearts don’t want /wish to cooperate in the work of framing a constitution.

Secret power behind the Kashmir throne

Against this backdrop, the intensity of Pandit Nehru’s belief in Kashmir and Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was such that as mentioned earlier in these columns, he even courted arrest due to the Maharaja’s detention of the National Conference leader. Pandit Nehru was fully supportive of the Sheikh’s rising against the autocratic rule of the Maharaja and perhaps that is why he felt so strongly about what was happening in Kashmir.

Take his views on May 27, 1946 as a sampler: “Kashmir affords a notable illustration of how things must not be done. So long as there was some attempt at cooperation between the state administration and the National Conference, unsatisfactorily as this was, there was no possibility of trouble. The moment this policy was reversed on the part of the state, the situation underwent a progressive change for the worse.

“As soon as Mr Kak became PM 11 months ago, one noticed the beginning of a new policy, for the new PM was deliberately preparing to fight and crush ruthlessly and without apology the Kashmir National Conference. The Maharaja who kept out of local politics has given a blank cheque to the present PM and others extend itself now to the Maharaja also for he is ultimately responsible”.

If Pandit Ram Chandra Kak was seen as the Maharaja’s closest adviser, then there was also another power behind the throne. He was the Raj Guru, Swami Sant Deo, a man who regularly stoked the Maharaja’s feudal ambitions, read designs of independence. Muhammad Yusuf Saraf, chief justice of Azad Kashmir High Court in his controversial two volume book, Kashmiris Fight for Freedom, writes, “He was not a citizen of J&K state and probably came from Punjab. Shapely in appearance, he first attracted attention in Srinagar during the last years of Maharaja Pratap Singh. He used to dress himself in costly silk and was given to extensive use of perfumes.

“He spent a few years in a gurukul in Kangrah with the Arya Samajists who conferred upon him the title of Swami. He met Pratap Singh on one of his visits to Hardawar and this is how he got into Kashmir. He took up residence in a government bungalow near Chashma Shahi, though for some time, he also resided at the Mughal built Barra Darri at Acha Bal. Mrs Brooke who lived in the vicinity of Chashma Shahi described him as a bad fellow. His intimacy with a female inmate of the palace during the last days of Pratap Singh somehow gained notoriety and annoyed Hari Singh who was then commander in chief.

“With the crowning of Hari Singh, the extreme fanaticism that prevailed in the Durbar came to an end and the Swami was banished from the court. Hari Singh, it may be said to his credit, was a liberal minded ruler when he ascended the throne and remained so till 1931 when to his great misfortune, the political awakening among Muslims touched great heights and led to the demand for responsible government which meant the end of his personal rule. Hari Singh was prepared to be liberal, he was prepared to give better treatment to his Muslim subjects than they had received before, but he was not prepared for radical political reforms.

“It seems that the Swami spent most of his time at Batote or Lahore without  being taken notice of by the Durbar until the last years of Hari Singh’s rule when he was somehow able to bring the Maharani under his hypnotic influence. There is no doubt that by 1945, Sant Deo had become known as the Raj Guru and commanded almost total influence in the palace through the Maharani and her son. An extremely bigoted Hindu, he was naturally able to mould the thinking of the Maharani on Hindu-Muslim questions.

The Maharani had no say, whatsoever, in matters of State until the early 1940s when she began exercising influence on the Maharaja for the first time in her life. The influence increased day by day till it reached a point in 1947 when the Maharaja was totally dependent upon her and did whatever she asked him to do. The first time her influence was discovered publicly was at the retirement of the Maharaja’s minister in waiting, an Englishman, and appointment in his place of BL Batra, a retired officer from the Punjab Civil Service and a “highly fanatic Hindu”.

It is believed that Swami Sant Deo was in many ways responsible for planting in Hari Singh’s mind visions of an extended kingdom sweeping down from Lahore itself, where as Karan Singh was to say : “Our ancestor Maharaja Gulab Singh and his brothers Raja Dhyan Singh and Raja Suchet Singh had played such a crucial role a century earlier”.  In a letter to Pandit Nehru on July 11, 1946, the Maharaja wrote, “The reason why my government felt in their duty to prevent you from proceeding to Srinagar was that they were convinced, in view of the controversial nature of what you had stated in the press, in public and in your communications to me, that your coming at this juncture would be to result in danger to the public peace.”

What were the conditions prevailing in Kashmir at that point in time? How they had degenerated can be best gauged from this description by Mr Bhabha, a member of the South African delegation in a statement from Surat on June 5, 1946. It provides an insight into what was wrong in the state of Kashmir. He said, “The situation in Kashmir after Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest was similar to that which one would have found in Hitlerite Germany. Savagery and brutality committed by the military on innocent men and women by forcing people to shout Maharaja Bahadur ki Jai at the point of the bayonet, shooting at women processionists were reminiscent of the worst forms of Nazism. Though the Kashmir government has tried to whitewash the events, every word of Pandit Nehru’s statement is correct.  Pandit Nehru should immediately visit Kashmir despite the Kashmir premier’s threat to ban his entry into the state. His presence there will have the same salutary effect as it had at Faridkot”.

Between Kak and the Raj Guru, the game was afoot, the Maharaja’s feudal ambitions were being given shape. The talismanic Sheikh Abdullah was in jail along with Pandit Nehru’s private secretary DN Kachru. Keep the Kashmir movement leaders locked up and don’t allow Nationalists like Nehru entry into Kashmir was the hard-nosed strategy. Nehru was agitated. In a letter to the Maharaja on June 22, 1946 from the Dak Bungalow in Uri, he wrote:

“My last letter to you which was personally taken by Shri Dwarka Nath Kachru, was followed by various activities on the part of the Kashmir government resulting in my arrest and detention as well as the arrest and detention of a number of my colleagues. In these circumstances, perhaps another letter from me would hardly be called for. But I feel I owe it to you and to myself to send you this letter.

“In my telegram and letter sent to you from Delhi, I made every effort to approach you in a courteous and friendly manner. I wanted to avoid any undesirable development and to help in solving, or at any rate easing, a situation which could not be welcomed by anyone concerned with the welfare of Kashmir. I regret that you did not appreciate my approach to this question and instead permitted your action to take the action it did. I consider this action not only a grave discourtesy personally, which would not matter very much, but to the organization that I have the honour to represent.

“I am not agreeable at any time or at any place to my freedom of movement being interfered with, whether it is an Indian state, or the rest of India. Inevitably, I could not agree to obey the order served on me at Kohala. I am convinced that it was a major error on the part of your government to arrest Sheikh Abdullah as he was going to Delhi to meet me. It was the second error on the part of your government to stop me from going to Srinagar in connection with Sheikh Abdullah’s case. The consequences of these actions are patent, and I can hardly conceive that the Kashmir government is pleased with its own activities or with the consequences these activities have led to.

“In view of the directions of the Congress Working Committee conveyed to me by the Congress president Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, I have decided to return immediately to Delhi provided facilities are available for the purpose. I have done so, on the distinct understanding that I shall return to Kashmir as soon as the urgent work in Delhi permits me to do so. The fact that Sheikh Abdullah’s case has been adjourned has facilitated my present return. As soon as the date of my return to Kashmir is fixed up, I shall inform you of it. I don’t know how your government will view my return and whether it will again attempt to stop it or not.

If any such order is passed with a view to stopping me, I shall be unable to obey it. I see no justification whatever for any government, least of all the Kashmir government at present, to try and stop the entry of an individual like me and I cannot submit to any such restriction on my freedom of movement. I trust, however, that no such question will arise again and no obstruction will be placed in my way in my way in carrying out my programme.

“One of my colleagues DN Kachru was arrested at Kohala apparently for doing just what most of us did on the occasion. The reason for differentiating his case from others is not clear to me”.

On his return after courting arrest and being turned away from Kohala, Panditji met the press on June 25, 1946 in the capital Delhi. And an angry Panditji gave vent to his spleen as he thought that a popular and peaceful movement led by Sheikh Abdullah was being garrotted by the Maharaja and his minions. Here are Panditji’s fulminations:

“I don’t consider myself an outsider in any state. The whole of India is my home and I claim the right to go to any part. I am not sorry for what has happened if it makes rulers and others think of the new condition of India and the temper of her people.

“Highnesses and Excellencies don’t count in people’s eyes in India today. Treaty rights, which are as dead as door nails, or dynastic rights which have no value in people’s eyes, don’t count. It is by that standard alone that all problems have to be considered or judged.

“I want to present the factual turn of events – Our party reached Kohala on the afternoon of June 19 and after lunch at the Dak Bungalow, we crossed the bridge into Kashmir territory at 2.15. I was served with an order under Defence of Kashmir rules asking me to leave Kashmir. I said I was unable to obey that order. I saw no justification for it and I proposed to remain there. The road further ahead was blocked by a wooden barrier and by the police and military. Our party sat on the roadside near a small customs hut for a long time. The district magistrate had told us that he would communicate with the higher authorities and asked us to wait for an answer. We agreed to do so. We grew rather impatient as hour after hour went by and no answer came. Ultimately at about 7.45 pm, I told the district magistrate that I could not remain on the wayside any longer and that I proposed to march on foot on the road to Srinagar. Obviously, I could not go very far on foot and Srinagar was 132 miles further on.

“While we were waiting, some residents of Kohala, chiefly young men and schoolboys gathered at the spot. They sang national slogans and raised the usual slogans. On the police side, lorries had brought a number of people from Srinagar to the neighbourhood with black flags. They were shouting ‘Jawaharlal, go back.’ They were, however, quite disciplined about it and when a police officer raised his hands, they stopped shouting. Much later some of these black flag demonstrators came to me to apologise privately and to say that they had been paid for the occasion.

When news of my being stopped reached Murree about 20 Congressmen from there came over in a bus to Kohala. At about 7.45, I started marching on the road to Srinagar. Others followed me.  When we came up to the police and military, I pushed ahead in between them and so did the others. Some of the military had bayonets, some had rifles, while the police had lathis. In fact, when one bayonet was only a few inches away from me, Kachru, standing next to me diverted it. He was arrested soon after. I have no complaints against the police or the military who were placed in a difficult position. But when there are bayonets and loaded rifles, accidents can easily take place.

“I was not injured in any way. We must have walked about 250 yards, the latter part being a procession with the policy and military joining in.

“We then stopped again and had a talk with the district magistrate. Right at the beginning we asked whether we were arrested, and he said No. If we were not arrested, we claimed the right to march on. Ultimately the magistrate took away the police and military to Domel 25 miles ahead. We had some kind of meal on the middle of the road and motored to Domel, where we spent the night. The next morning we were told that we were technically under arrest. Mr Asaf Ali and Diwan Chamanlal wanted to go to Srinagar (to represent Sheikh Abdullah in the case), but were unable to do so only when special permission came from Srinagar in the afternoon.

“Late at night we were removed from there to Uri, 50 miles from Srinagar. A military convoy accompanied us and the Uri Dak Bungalow was converted into some sort of prison guarded by the military and there we remained for two days. Then I received Maulana Azad’s telegram demanding my presence here. I had no alternative but to obey. The fact that Sheikh Abdullah’s trial had been postponed made it easier for me.

“About Kashmir, I don’t wish to say anything at the present. But these incidents do throw a significant light on conditions in the states. Why I or anyone else should be stopped from entering any state I don’t understand. So far as I am concerned, I have the strongest object to me being ordered to restrict my movements and I don’t propose to obey any orders that I consider unreasonable anywhere and at any place, whether in a state or in the rest of India. The whole of India is my home and I claim the right to go to any part of it.

“I am not sorry for what has happened if it makes the rulers and others think hard of the new conditions in India and the temper of her people. Let me repeat that Highnesses and Excellencies don’t count for anything in people’s eyes in the India of today and the worth of a man is not how much he takes, but how much he gives to the public in the shape of labour and service.”

This was the nature of narrative in Kashmir and India at that delicate time, a narrative which was deadly dangerous, even as it was delicate. Hateful revisionists of Nehru's legacy ignore his contribution to nation building and nation first and how he single-handedly laid siege to the Princes and their Balkanising experiments. 


Sandeep Bamzai