The Mirza Ismail Kashmir plan
The untold story behind the proposal that convinced Nehru that Sheikh Abdullah was confused about his role for Kashmir and accelerated the path to his arrest

Tormented by indecision, plagued by self doubt, agonised by ghouls, frazzled with communal events in Jammu where resurgent Hindu forces were wrecking his dream of a United J&K, Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah was slowly becoming a captive of his conflicted and ambivalent mind. This led to a growing chasm with Jawaharlal Nehru, his most trusted ally in the fight against Monarchial and autocratic forces in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Rising from serfdom to become a mass leader of Kashmiri Muslims, Abdullah was Nehru's stalking horse against Princely India.  His descent, a precipitous fall from the towering heights of nationalism to a narrow minded schismatic and even sectarian leader who wanted to carve out Kashmir Valley as his domain, wedged as it was between the geographical divisions of Ladakh in the north and Jammu in the south, was unacceptable to the Govt of India and Nehru who had constantly propped him up in Kashmir. Driven by malcontent over Maharaja Hari Singh continuing to peddle influence with the Hindu revisionist forces in Jammu, lacking political foresight, succumbing to regional political pressures and religious considerations, Abdullah once viewed as the man who could deliver Kashmir was now being seen as pale shadow of the tall ultra patrioteer and once partisan Sher-e-Kashmir, now constantly looking over his shoulder. The spectre of Hari Singh all pervasive had forced him to go on the defensive. Pulling out plans for a free Kashmir Valley, one which would nestle peacefully between India and Pakistan was an utopian and alien concept. This is that story hitherto not revealed.    

The growing estrangement between Sheikh Abdullah and Pandit Nehru was one of the most unfortunate happenings in the years after independence. Kashmir’s accession, though controversial; Mountbatten’s advice to go to the UN, something that Nehru regretted, and finally Sheikh’s arrest and Bakshi’s installation -- the wheel had come full circle in a short span of six roller coaster years. The ever growing Jammu-Kashmir divide had taken its toll and the biggest casualty was Sheikh Abdullah himself. He was someone who had never reconciled to a Hindu dominated Jammu for he regarded it as a symbol of the Dogra dynasty. The agitation by the Praja Parishad-Jan Sangh combine and the controversial death of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee while in jail in Kashmir acted as catalysts in his decline.

By December 1952, the entire Jammu province was in disarray. Businesses and shops were shut as the clarion call of – Ek Desh Mein Do Nishan, Ek Desh Mein Do Vidhan, Ek Desh Mein Do Pradhan, Nahin Chalega, Nahin Chalega – kept the pot boiling. Samba, situated on the Pathankot-Jamm road, was the scene of the worst rioting, after all it was the epicentre of what till recently had been the Dogra empire.

The confusion in Sheikh’s mind at this stage did not help. And with all this drama taking place at the speed of knots, Sheikh was increasingly becoming a captive of his own thinking. Even earlier in 1953 in the month of February, a disconsolate Sheikh was ruminating about the political situation in the state which was simmering. His thinking was that the lull gave a false sense of calm. He was of the opinion that Jammu would never reconcile with the Valley. In a confidential note to the prime minister after conversing with Sheikh Saheb, senior government officials claimed that he was convinced that Jammu wanted to separate with the help of external support from India. Talking about re-assessment and readjustment, a visibly rattled Sheikh said the unthinkable, “It is my definite view that I cannot deliver the goods anymore. Nobody in Jammu is with us and will never be with us.”

He said, “Even the Delhi Agreement is not going to satisfy certain elements in India. Mookerjee has already indicated that the Agreement in full without any proviso must be implemented. I cannot continue to keep people in the Valley on tenterhooks. So far the people in the Valley have been silent because they know that I will not barter away their interests. Moreover, how can we have peace in the state if the solution which India and Kashmir adopt is not acceptable to Pakistan.

“Sir Mirza Mohammad Ismail’s (considered one of the cleverest men in India at that time, he was Dewan of the erstwhile Princely States of Mysore, Jaipur and Hyderabad) plan should be considered dispassionately. If today Jammu has rebelled, it is not far off when we will lose all sympathy in the Valley. In the circumstances, independence is best because Pakistan would never agree to a unilateral arrangement and our borders will always be attacked by them. Tell Panditji to have a solution which will be honourable to all – Pakistan, India, Kashmir and to him.

“Panditji has made this question too personal which it is not. It is a complicated question where so many countries are involved. Panditji has to suffer every time for us. The prime minister must do this act for the land of his forefathers and let him see us settled in peace. I feel we must take advantage of Panditji. He is at the helm of affairs now and has so much influence in the world. United Nations can give us no solution.”

When Sheikh was asked as to how the logjam could be resolved, he reportedly said, “During the last five years, several solutions have been provided. To me plebiscite is out of the question. Keeping Jammu people with us is not at all possible. War is ruled out. Let Panditji look at the probable solutions including that of Jammu and Ladakh (with river Chenab at places as boundary) completely merged with India and the Valley accede for three subjects only.”

Elaborating further, this is the Kashmir Plan that he outlined. This plan was discussed by Sheikh and Mirza Beg with a senior government official in Jammu on February 20, 1953. The same was communicated in toto to the PM Nehru three days later. It is believed that this plan convinced Nehru in many ways that Sheikh was confused about his role for Kashmir and accelerated his arrest by Mullick (B N Mullick, Director IB) and his minions.

THE KASHMIR PLAN:

INDIA – JAMMU: JAMMU, POONCH, RAJOURI, BADARWAH, PART OF KISHTWAR AND REASI.

LADAKH – VIA KULU AND MANALI – DIVIDING LINE – VALLEY SIDE OF ZOJILA

KASHMIR – URI, TITWAL, GURAIS, ZOJILA, TRAGABAL, AND JAMMU SIDE OF RAMBAN (DODA DISTRICT)

He ended by saying that, “Let Panditji consider the above mentioned suggestions along with other alternatives and see what is best for us and then all of us can sit and discuss it further.”

There were other alternatives to this Kashmir Plan that Sheikh was advocating. These were drafted for another note to the Prime Minister in April. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed, later to replace Sheikh, provided a copy of the same to the government. While some of it may sound like ramblings, the contours of the Kashmir Plan are visible here as well. Titled Possible Alternatives for an Honourable Settlement Between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir Issue:

The people of the state as a whole may be given full and unfettered freedom to express their desire whether they wish to accede to India or Pakistan;

In order to achieve this objective, the most vital and controversial issue is the conditions under which the wishes of the people will be ascertained;

The entire state of J&K to be made independent with the full guarantee of India and Pakistan as well as the United Nations;

The entire state of J&K may be kept under the trusteeship of the United Nations for a period of 10 years after which the people may opt for India or Pakistan;

The entire State of J&K under the condominium of India and Pakistan.

Failing an agreement on the basis of overall disposition of the state, the following alternatives may be considered:

The Hindu majority areas in the south may go to India and the Muslim majority areas in the north-west to Pakistan and the Kashmiri speaking areas may be held under the condominium of India and Pakistan.

The state may be divided into different zones. The Hindu majority areas in the south may go to India and Muslim majority areas in the north-west may go to Pakistan. The Kashmiri speaking areas may be demarcated with due regard to viability and security of this unit and the wishes of the people in this zone may be ascertained through a plebiscite.

The Hindu majority areas in the south may go to India and Muslim majority areas in the north-west to Pakistan and the Kashmiri speaking areas may be formed into an international unit with treaty relations with India and Pakistan.

The State may be partitioned on the basis of religion and the Hindu majority areas may be transferred to India and the Muslim majority areas to Pakistan.

The present cease fire line may be stabilized permanently with suitable adjustments.

This was radical thinking and wouldn’t have gone down well with Pandit Nehru. In many ways, it went against the grain that Sheikh Saheb stood for. After all, he had withstood pressure from Pakistan and Jinnah because he opposed the two nation theory which was based on a religious division. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and strained relations between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah irrevocably was a letter written by Sheikh to Panditji on July 4, 1953:

“I realize that you must be having an unusually crowded time after your return to Delhi. I would have certainly come down myself to Delhi but Bakshi and Beg will explain to you why it is not desirable for me to leave Srinagar at present. I would very much wish you to come to this place after the AICC session is over. Maulana Saheb could also come up with you. In any case it would be useful that we meet here before you visit Karachi.

“I agree that as the times are rather delicate, everyone of us should have clarity in approach and objective. But I have not been able to understand how you have the impression that I was lacking in this clarity. It is possible that some people may consider a particular line of thought to be the only clear one while others may hold a different line and similarly believe that to be more clear. So, as far as I am concerned, I have now been in intimate touch with Kashmir and its people for the last 22 years. I have never been hazy in regard to this objective and there is therefore no confusion in my mind.

“Objectively the state is subject to pulls from India and Pakistan. The external pressure naturally creates internal reactions to terms of divide loyalties. In order to neutralize these reactions, we had devised a formula and considered a restricted relationship with India as a suitable course conducive to internal consolidation. We believe that the accession of the state to India on the terms of Instrument of Accession would provide necessary opportunities of allaying the fears of various sections of the people of the state.

“It is true that the choice before the state lay between full integration and full autonomy, it is not perhaps remembered that we may make certain concessions. The fact of transfer of three vital subjects viz defence, communications and foreign affairs, to the Union is a sufficient guarantee to the minorities of the state that their interests would not be jeopardised in any way.

“The presence of Indian defence forces, for instance, should have afforded the necessary sense of security to the minorities. Similarly, in the case of the majority community, we felt that it was necessary that they should not be haunted by the fear of being swamped by the majority community in India, even in the normal course of a democratic administration. To this end, we thought it necessary to secure certain amount of autonomy within which the majority community would have adequate safeguards and opportunities of exercising their rights.

“You have spoken about what you feel was a reasonable position between full integration and full autonomy. To my mind the middle-course that you have referred to in your letter has been the one that we desired in our relationship with the Indian Union. You have spoken about guarantees. We certainly believed that the terms of the Indian Constitution provided an adequate guarantee which we felt would enable us to work for internal solidarity. But I would point out to you the discrepancies that we came to notice from time to time in the attitude of the government of India in regard to this position.

“When Article 370 was devised, we felt assured by the statement of Sardar Patel that the Instrument of Accession would be the final basis of Indo-Kashmir relationship. Subsequently when the Delhi Agreements came up before the Council of State on August 5, 1952, Shri Gopalaswami Ayyangar stated that Article 370 was not a permanent feature of the Indian Constitution and ‘when the time was ripe’, this provision could be wiped off from the Constitution.

“This clearly shows that even though assurances had been given to us in regard to the restricted application of the Indian Constitution to this state, such assurances came with a good deal of mental reservation.

“It will be conceded that such an attitude should give rise to a good deal of impatience in the minds of minorities on the one hand and, on the other, it created grave concern and anxiety in the minds of the majority community. While talking about guarantees and assurances, it is necessary to remember that we have yet to learn what would finally be the most acceptable basis of our relationship with the Indian Union. The ground has been shifting from time to time ever since the Instrument of Accession was signed and it has been made abundantly clear to us that ultimately the special position accorded to our state in the Indian Constitution would be taken away. You can well imagine the reaction of such a possible threat to the local rights and privileges of the majority community, particularly at a time when they are subjected to much psychological pressure from many quarters which threatens to undermine their very faith in the ideals that made them turn towards India.

“It is worthwhile to examine in some details the effect of the three subjects since 1947. When I was in Delhi in July last year, I had explained to you and your colleagues the position of Muslims in the Armed Forces. Earlier to this, I had in one of my letters to Shri Bajpai requested him to inform me about the existing composition of the State Forces. I greatly regret to have to say that I have not so far received any reply to my query. As you probably know, one of our main grievances against the old regime was in regard to the discrimination that was being meted out to Kashmiris in the matter of recruitment into the state Army.

“After 1947, the Muslims in Kashmir naturally expected to be given their due share in the state forces. But it is greatly disconcerting to find that instead of increasing their representation, the numbers were gradually reduced. The state forces are not under the administrative control of the J&K government. You can understand the repercussions of such a discriminatory treatment. Even in the matter of non-combatant jobs, Muslims are being refused by the Army authorities. Similarly with regard to posts and telegraph services.

“Muslims are not being given their due share and at present their representation in this service is negligible. Of course there will be many who will explain away the reasons for this disparity, but the fact remains that Muslims can justifiably feel that transfer of such services as defence and communications has curtailed their opportunities of employment. This feeling is bound to create a sense of uncertainty in regard to the future, particularly when it is not certain whether the jurisdiction of the Indian Union will be restricted to these subjects or extended further so as to affect many other services in the state as well.

“The educated Muslims here are on the whole feeling somewhat bottled up in the matter of service and enterprise. They see their horizons shrinking in this direction. Apart from a denial of their due representation in the acceded departments, they don’t see any opportunities for themselves in other civil services in India. The grievance in this respect appears plausible when one considers the fact that large number of their own countrymen who happened to be non-Muslims, are taking advantage of the state’s present relationship with India.

“Politically certain vital consequences flow from this attitude. Muslims may rightly feel that in spite of you and many others, the ideal of secular democracy are not much in evidence in so far as treatment to Kashmiri Muslims is concerned. All these are facts which we should not ignore. It is best to be realistic in any situation, for the last five years or so, I have been attempting to balance opposing points of view in Kashmir and I derived my strength from what I supposed was an assurance that the state’s accession to India would result in a fair deal to all sections of the people. But unfortunately that goal has not been achieved.

“I have not been able to understand your reference to disruptive tendencies both in administration and in the organization. All I can say is that it is baseless and probably the result of incorrect information given to you. I may, however, assure you that so far as the basic principles are concerned, there is no difference of opinion among us in Kashmir. There can be of course, variations in the points of view or in the respective approaches. But these variations are normal and helpful for the democratic functioning of all institutions and governments. We have held a number of meetings recently and we have come to some conclusions. Bakshi and Beg will inform you of these conclusions. I wish to add that there is perfect unanimity among us as far as these conclusions are concerned.

“I am of course grateful to you for your kind advice as I agree that any sign of disintegration at this crucial juncture will have far reaching consequences here as well as outside. But we are aware of the need for unity and you need not worry on this score.

“Lastly, let me come to your remarks about me personally. You have perhaps an impression that I am gradually shifting my ground. You have even expressed doubts whether I still believe in the principles of secular democracy. May I say that this is an unkind cut. It is very difficult for a man to defend himself when the atmosphere is fully surcharged with fears and doubts. All sorts of charges and allegations have been made against me in the Indian press. Time alone will prove my faith in the principle for which (I) have consistently fought all these years.

“But, all the same, I feel greatly hurt and grieved when even friends like you start doubting and misunderstanding me. My conviction in the principle I have been upholding all along has not faltered even when I had to face heavy odds. I may remind you that it was a difficult decision to take when I proposed conversion of the Muslim Conference to National Conference. Even when we were faced with what seemed almost an inevitable fate in 1947, I did not turn my face on these principles but fought them.

“My idea about secular democracy is not cramped or narrow minded. I believe in justice for all sections of the people and my attitude is conditioned by realities and by wishful thinking. I agree that personal relationship between individuals should not be a consideration where larger national interests are involved”.

Sheikh’s respect for Nehru comes through when he says: “I can however, assure you that I fully realize your own position and you cannot expect me to do or say anything which would weaken it. My honour is linked with yours, and I would request you to understand my position. I can be helpful to you only if I am in a position to deliver the goods”. Sheikh said this because Nehru in his letter dated June 28 had written: “To me it has been a major surprise that a settlement arrived at between us should be by passed or repudiated, regardless of the merits. That strikes at the root of all confidence, personal or international. My honour is bound up with my word. It is always painful to part company after long years of comradeship, but if our conscience so tells us, or in our view an overriding national interest requires, then there is no help for it”.

The die had been cast by both sides. The split was defined and wide open. Not just between Nehru and Abdullah, but within the National Conference.

Events were moving with great alacrity. On May 23, after several days of confabulations, the Working Committee of the J&K National Conference discussed several vital items. For instance, on the agenda was the constitutional relationship of the J&K state with India, with particular reference to the Delhi Agreement and matters relating to the NC organisations.

Besides members of the Working Committee, some prominent members of the Conference were also specially invited. The discussions were long, bitter and arduous. The point that Sheikh Saheb placed before the Committee, as mentioned briefly in the previous chapter was:

That no one in India was prepared to respect the autonomous status of J&K and there was a unanimous desire to integrate the state with India as a part B state, either through open intimidation or through cajolery and sweet persuasion;

That in view of this development it was not possible for him to carry the Muslim opinion with him for the purpose of securing a permanent accession of the state to India.

All the members of the Working Committee with the exception of Mirza Beg and Sufi Akbar, refuted Sheikh’s contention vigorously on the following lines:

They felt that the Government of India and an overwhelmingly large number of the people of India were not desirous of disturbing the special status of Kashmir as part of India;

The Constitutional relationship for the present should be restricted to the Instrument of accession and the Delhi Agreement;

The Constituent Assembly should proceed to finalise the accession immediately on the above basis and the Government of India should be persuaded to accommodate this decision in a manner so as to eliminate possible embarrassment in the UN. Such a decision would, once and for all, cure the situation Kashmir of its uncertainties and would enable the people to look forward to a well defined life of development and progress;

The minor grievances which may have arisen with regard to adjusting local Muslim representation in the services relating to central subjects, should be taken up with the prime minister of India and a procedure laid down in regard to these matters once and for all.

@sandeep_bamzai

Columnist: 
Sandeep Bamzai