Explained: Why the BJP and Congress are sparring over Jawaharlal Nehru and his role in Kashmir

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress are locked in a bitter battle of words — and this time it’s over Jawaharlal Nehru and his role in the Jammu and Kashmir crisis.

The issue emerged when Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a rally in Gujarat’s Anand said, “Sardar saheb (Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel) persuaded all the princely states to merge with India. But another person handled this one issue of Kashmir.

“As I am following the footsteps of Sardar saheb, I have values of the land of Sardar and that was the reason I resolved the problem of Kashmir and paid true tributes to Sardar Patel,” Modi said.

This isn’t the first time that the leaders of the BJP have blamed Nehru, the first prime minister of India, for the Kashmir crisis.

The Congress has hit back at the ruling party and its members, accusing it of “whitewashing real history”.

We take a closer look at the barbs that both parties have traded and also examine the role of Jawaharlal Nehru in the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India.

BJP vs Congress

Shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his comments in Gujarat, Congress general secretary, communications, Jairam Ramesh slammed him on Twitter, saying: “The PM has once again whitewashed REAL history. He overlooks the following facts only to castigate Nehru on J&K. All this has been documented well in Rajmohan Gandhi’s biography of Sardar Patel. These facts are also known to the PM’s new man in J&K.”

“Sheikh Abdullah championed accession to India entirely because of his friendship with and admiration for Nehru, and his respect for Gandhi,” Ramesh said.

Jairam Ramesh also posted extracts from the book Patel: A Life by Rajmohan Gandhi about Sardar Patel’s lukewarmness on the Kashmir issue in the context of Junagarh and Hyderabad.

The BJP hit back at Ramesh’s comments with Amit Malviya saying that Sardar Patel resented Nehru's constant interference in matters related to Kashmir and its security.

He cited excerpts from The Collected Works of Sardar Patel and defended his position saying that Sardar Patel was in the favour of settling the Kashmir issue once and for all with a full-fledged war with Pakistan but was stopped from doing so by the then PM Nehru.

He added in his string of tweets, “It was Patel who took the charge of the situation and ordered the Indian Army into Kashmir to defend it from Pakistani attack in 1947.”

Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju also waded into the row when he said that it was Jawaharlal Nehru who delayed Kashmir’s accession to India and not Maharaja Hari Singh.

In his response to Congress’ Jairam Ramesh, the law minister said that the “historic lie” of Maharaja Hari Singh dithering on question of accession had gone on for too long.

Nehru and Kashmir’s accession to India

When Britain decided to leave India, the nation was left with the question of 500 princely states. Sardar Vallabhai Patel was tasked with the responsibility to strategise and convince the princely states to accede to the Indian union.

Both India and Pakistan were angling to assimilate Jammu and Kashmir into their respective territories. However, Maharaja Hari Singh, a Dogra king, made clear his intention of remaining independent.

The Pakistani side put pressure on the Maharaja to sign an instrument of accession. On 24 August 1947, Pakistan wrote a warning note to the Maharaja: “The time has come for Maharaja of Kashmir that he must take his choice and choose Pakistan. Should Kashmir fail to join Pakistan, the gravest possible trouble will inevitably ensue.”

On the other hand, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi wanted Kashmir to join India. Nehru’s Kashmiri roots and friendship with Sheikh Abdullah made him push for it. However, because of the complications with Hyderabad, which wanted to join Pakistan, the government’s focus was on the Nizam.

Historian Rajmohan Gandhi writes: “Vallabhbhai (Patel)’s lukewarmness about Kashmir had lasted until 13 September 1947.” In a letter that morning to Baldev Singh, India’s first defence minister, Patel had indicated that ‘if (Kashmir) decides to join the other Dominion’, he would accept the fact.

***

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Ties between Kashmir and Pakistan continued to worsen, with the Maharaja complaining of the violence perpetrated by the infiltrators from the neighbouring country.

In October suspecting that Kashmir was warming to India, Pakistan launched ‘Operation Gulmarg’ by mobilising tribals from the North-West Frontier Province. The invaders captured Uri and Baramulla, as they faced minimal resistance from the Maharaja’s forces.

Realising that Kashmir was to fall to Pakistan, on 24 October, Maharaja Hari Singh appealed to India for military assistance to stop the aggression. History records that the next day, VP Menon, secretary of the ministry of the states, flew down to Srinagar and advised the Maharaja to move to Jammu. When Menon flew back to Delhi, a Defence committee meeting was called and it was decided then that India would send troops to Kashmir after it secured Hari Singh’s accession to India.

The following morning, Menon flew to Jammu where the Maharaja had taken refuge. The Maharaja, exhausted from his turbulent escape, agreed to sign the instrument of accession immediately.

From October 27, several planes carrying Indian soldiers and supplies left from Delhi to Srinagar to fight back the infiltrators and restore peace in the valley.

As the fighting continued in Kashmir, Nehru internationalised the matter when he took it to the United Nations, saying that Pakistan was invading Kashmir and asked the United Nations Security Council to take measures to prevent it.

The UN passed a resolution and formed the United Nation Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to investigate and mediate between the two countries. The resolution recommended a three-step process to end the dispute:

>> Withdrawal from the State of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and Pakistani nationals
>> Government of India was asked to reduce its force from Jammu and Kashmir
>> Government of India was also asked to appoint a plebiscite administration to hold a plebiscite

It is said that both sides agreed to the terms and a ceasefire was agreed upon in 1948. In the autumn of 1948, Nehru visited Srinagar. During this visit, Nehru unfurled the national flag at Lal Chowk. In a historic gesture, he promised the people of Kashmir a chance to vote to decide on their political future. However, the plebiscite never took place.

With inputs from agencies

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Explained: Why the BJP and Congress are sparring over Jawaharlal Nehru and his role in Kashmir
Explained: Why the BJP and Congress are sparring over Jawaharlal Nehru and his role in Kashmir
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