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Modi says Sardar Patel would have handled Kashmir differently, history says otherwise

Considering the prejudiced approach to understating Kashmir issue and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s role in it, one would tend to believe what Modi said was correct.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dislike of Jawaharlal Nehru is not a secret. Some might say, as the opponent party PM Modi attacking Congress’ roots is quite fair in politics. However, from the nature of the attacks, it is evident that Modi perhaps despises Nehru personally. On February 7, addressing the Lok Sabha amidst the ruckus by the opposition, Modi accused Congress of partition. Modi said, “The country was partitioned, the seeds of poison were sown. You divided the country for electoral and petty gains…people are suffering even today.” Then turning to the issue of Kashmir, he said, “Had Sardar Patel been the Prime Minister of the country, a part of my Kashmir would not have been with Pakistan.”

Considering the prejudiced approach to understating Kashmir issue and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s role in it, one would tend to believe what Modi said was correct. However, going through the pages of history would easily give us a peek into all the political turmoil surrounding Kashmir during the time of independence.

PM Modi’s claim that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as Prime Minister of India would have ensured the entire Kashmir including PoK to be ours; when weighed on the balance of facts, lacks credibility. To understand the roles of both Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel on Kashmir, we first need to understand their thoughts on Kashmir.

Kashmir and Junagadh:

Junagadh, a state on the southwestern end of Gujarat had an overwhelming Hindu population. It was ruled by a Muslim ruler Manabhar Khanji. On August 15, 1947; Nawab of Junagarh acceded to Pakistan. While Jinnah accepted the accession, Patel, on the other hand, considered it not legitimate. Patel feared that if Junagadh accedes to Pakistan, it would lead to communal unrest in surrounding regions of Gujarat. He also felt that by accepting Junagadh which had dominant Hindu population, Pakistan itself is contradicting two nation theory proposed by Jinnah. Not able to reach any definite conclusion, Patel suggested giving Pakistan time to void the accession and hold a plebiscite in Junagadh. Samaldas Gandhi formed a government-in-exile of the people of Junagarh. Later, Patel ordered the annexation of Junagarh’s three principalities. Junagarh, facing financial collapse, invited the Government of India to accept the reins of power.

Sardar Patel
Nawab of Junagadh, Muhammad Mahabat Khanji III

Contrary to Junagadh, Kashmir had a predominantly Muslim population and it was ruled by Hindu King Raja Hari Singh. According to historical documents, Maharaja Hari Singh too was hesitant to accede to India as a majority of the state’s population was Muslim. However, instead of acceding to Pakistan, he signed a Standstill Agreement (preserving status quo) with it. In the meantime, the rumours of Kashmir acceding to India spread through Pakistan, after which Pakistan army marched in to take Kashmir by force. In September 1947, Pashtun tribals backed by Pakistani paramilitary forces invaded Kashmir. Kashmir being ill-equipped on the security front, asked for India’s help. However, Indian constitution did not permit the armed forces to intervene in Kashmir as it did not come under India’s territory. Desperate to save the state, Maharaja acceded Kashmir to India and signed the Instrument of Accession. The rest is History that is reminded to us every day without fail.

Sardar Patel
Hindu King of Kashmir Raja Hari Singh

Sardar Patel and Kashmir:

Many people still think Sardar Patel would have handled the Kashmir issue in a very profound manner than Nehru. But unlike their belief, Sardar Patel had always called the Kashmir issue as ‘a severe headache’. The first ever mention of this is found in Integration of the Indian States, a book written by V P Menon, the former political adviser to Mountbatten in 1956. Lord Mountbatten, while on his Kashmir visit two months before independence told Hari Singh that India would not consider it unfriendly if Kashmir decides to accede to Pakistan. Viceroy though also cared to add, “he had a firm assurance on this from Sardar Patel himself”.

The second mention is found in My Reminiscences of Sardar Patel, written by V Shankar, then political secretary to Patel. Shankar wrote that while Mahatma Gandhi had pinned his hope on Raja Hari Singh to join India, Sardar Patel had no reservations over Kashmir Joining Pakistan.

Sardar Patel
Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru with Mahatma Gandhi

In his 1991 biography, Patel: A Life, writer and historian Rajamohan Gandhi throws more light on Patel’s stand on Kashmir. He writes, “Vallabhbhai’s lukewarmness about Kashmir had lasted until September 13, 1947. However, Patel’s attitude changed later that same day — when he heard that Pakistan had accepted Junagadh’s plea for accession.”

Sardar Patel Centenary Volume 2 also mentions an excerpt from Patel’s speech in Junagadh. Patel says, “Pakistan attempted to set off Kashmir against Junagadh. When we raised the question of settlement in a democratic way, they (Pakistan) at once told us that they would consider it if we applied that policy to Kashmir. Our reply was that we would agree to Kashmir if they agreed to Hyderabad.”

The instances in History are enough to tell that Sardar Patel initially was not really keen on getting Kashmir in India as opposed to the recent portrayal of his thoughts.

Rajamohan Gandhi further in his book also divulged that Patel was definitely not happy with many of ways India opted to tackle the Kashmir issue, including the plebiscite and approaching United Nations. However, nowhere in the history, it is noted that Patel vehemently opposed Nehru’s decisions on Kashmir or offered any decisive solution for the issue.

Sardar Patel
Sardar Patel in a meeting with King of Kashmir Hari Singh

But it is interesting to look at Patel’s other statements on Kashmir. In a letter to the founder of the Socialist Party of India-Achyut Patwardhan, Patel had indeed said, “I can solve Kashmir in six months. I would send Sikh settlers to the Valley.”  Referring to his unhappiness with the plebiscite he had told R K Patil, member of the first Planning Commission on September 28, 1950, “In Kashmir, we are spending crores, (yet) if there is a plebiscite in the Valley, we are bound to lose.”

While the historical documents and witnesses available are still in ambiguity over how Patel would have tackled Kashmir, it would be no short than misjudgement to say that Patel would have found the definitive solution to Kashmir.

Patel, Nehru and Kashmir from Modi’s lens:

Sardar Patel
Narendra Modi paying obituary to Sardar Patel

Modi’s odious obsession with Nehru is not just a part of whataboutery that every political party plays. But it also pits two greatest leaders and modern India’s architects against each other posthumously. What is the point in scraping a wound rather than doing something to heal it? In the four years since Modi stormed to power in 2014, the number of terrorist attacks in Kashmir has increased. More than 800 instances were reported. While 183 Indian army men lost their lives in these attacks, 65 civilians were also killed. The recent attacks on Sunjwan Army camp and past incidents of attack on Pathankot, Gurdaspur and Uri, bare open Modi’s government’s tall claims of reducing numbers of terror attacks under the Modi government.

So if Nehru has to be blamed for the failure to address the Kashmir problem, Modi’s lackadaisical Kashmir policies have also carved a space for himself on the list.

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