In 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stated in the Lok Sabha that had Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel been India’s first Prime Minister, “a part of my Kashmir would not have been with Pakistan today.”

Jitendra Singh, Minister of State (MoS) for Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) echoed this sentiment. An article titled Kashmir situation would have been different had Nehru let Patel to handle it” and published by DNA on June 29, 2019, reported Mr. Singh saying in 2019: “As far as Jawaharlal Nehru is concerned, it would suffice to say that had Nehru allowed his Number Two in the Cabinet and the then Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, to handle Jammu and Kashmir in the same manner as he was handling the other princely states, including difficult states like Hyderabad and Junagadh, the history of not only Kashmir but the entire Indian subcontinent would have been different.” [1]

In many ways this is an unavoidable truth. Sardar Patel had integrated 562 princely states without hiccups and a precision that had drawn admiration. But when it came to Kashmir, Nehru was adamant on handling the merger himself because he thought he “knew” the state better than anyone else. As a result of his decisions both taken and not taken, what we have now is a festering problem. Nehru’s timidity over Kashmir, his “baby,” is apparent when we revisit the terms of the special status he awarded to J&K.

When the time came to frame India’s Constitution post-independence, Abdullah told Nehru that the demographic composition of Kashmir warranted certain constitutional safeguards to retain its identity. He wanted certain Kashmir-specific provisions to be included in the Indian Constitution which was then being drafted by the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, Dr B.R. Ambedkar. Sheikh Abdullah wanted a separate Constitution and flag for his State, and wanted the executive heads of the State to be known as Prime Minister and Sadr-i- Riyasat, instead of Chief Minister and Governor, as was the case in other Indian states. Nehru readily agreed but was stoutly opposed by B.R. Ambedkar, who openly said providing separate constitutional status would create another layer of sovereignty within the sovereign Indian republic.” He forewarned that “this could be highly detrimental to the unity and integrity of the Republic and give rise to separatist feelings in Kashmir.”[2]

Ambedkar had earlier turned down Abdullah’s demands saying, “Mr Abdullah, you want that India should defend Kashmir. You wish India should protect your borders, she should build roads in your area, she should supply you food grains, and Kashmir should get equal status as India, but you don’t want India and any citizen of India to have any rights in Kashmir and Government of India should have only limited powers.

To give consent to this proposal would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India and I, as a Law Minister of India, will never do. I cannot betray the interests of my country.”[3]

But Nehru was unrelenting. He said Article 370 was a temporary measure and that the Constitutional safeguards would erode with time, creating conditions for J&K’s complete integration with India.

Finally on October 17, 1949, after much deliberation, Article 370 was incorporated in the Constitution of India. It gave:

  • special status to Jammu and Kashmir which now had a separate constitution, its own flag, and its own Prime Minister.
  • the Government of India the power to legislate in only three areas: defence, communications, and foreign affairs.

This Article, along with Article 35A (which flowed from Article 370), defined that Jammu and Kashmir’s residents were to abide by a separate set of laws, including those related to citizenship, employment, privileges, property, and fundamental rights, as compared to citizens of other Indian states. As per Article 35A, Indian citizens from other states could not purchase land or property in Jammu & Kashmir. Only the state’s “permanent residents” had the right to own and buy property in J&K.

An article titled Debating Article 370 is an Expression of Confidence in our Strength”  quotes Sardar Patel’s views on Article 370: “‘Neither Sheikh Abdullah nor Gopalaswamy is permanent. The future would depend upon the strength and guts of the Indian government and if we cannot have confidence in our strength we do not deserve to exist as a nation’.[4]

If Sardar Patel had had his way, Kashmir would have gone the Hyderabad way, and history as we know it would have been different.

A Temporary Provision?

Did Nehru ever consider Article 370 a temporary provision? The answer lies in his reply in Parliament on November 27, 1963, to a question about any plan to repeal Article 370. Nehru had said: “‘Article 370 is part of certain transitional provisional arrangements. It is not a permanent part of the Constitution. It is a part as long as it remains so. As a matter of fact, it has been eroded, if I may use the word, and many things have been done in the last few years which have made the relationship of Kashmir with the Union of India very close…..There is no doubt that Kashmir is fully integrated. The fact that there may be some special matters attached to it does not come in the way of integration at all ‘.” [5]

Nehru had insisted that the provision was temporary mostly to placate other members, most notably Shyama Prasad Mukherjee (Mukherjee was independent India’s first Minister of Industry and Supply and had founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh party). Mukherjee saw the provision as the “Balkanization of India” and the popularisation of Sheikh Abdullah’s “three-nation theory.”  He had famously said “Ek desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur do Nishan nahi chalenge” (A single country cannot have two constitutions, two prime ministers, and two national emblems).

Going forward, Delhi extended several Presidential Orders in an attempt to further integrate Kashmir with the rest of India, with none of the provisions meeting resistance in the State. But when insurgency raised its head in the Valley in the late 80s and early 90s, J&K started demanding a new narrative for itself, and urgently.

[1] DNA article  Kashmir situation would have been different had Nehru let Patel to handle it: Jitendra Singh

[2] BR Ambedkar opposed the special status for J&K. He would have agreed with its abrogation now by Arjun Ram Meghwal for The Indian Express

[3] Nehruvian secularism vs Ambedkar”s idea of India (IANS Exclusive) in Outlook

[4] Rediff article by Dr Anirban Ganguly Debating Article 370 is an expression of confidence in our strength

[5] Jawaharlal Nehru’s support for Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in The Telegraph Online

1950-1977: Kashmiriyat vs Nationalism

In September 1951 the first ever elections in Kashmir were held and the National Conference won a landslide victory. In 1952, Article 370 was passed. But despite the alliance, cracks began to appear as Abdullah and Nehru remained divided over Kashmir’s future. While Nehru had publicly stated in 1948 that the Kashmiri people should have a plebiscite to confirm their accession to India, in reality Delhi believed that the people of Kashmir had already exercised their will; the people of Kashmir had whole-heartedly voted during the 1951 elections and, moreover, the accession was ratified in 1954. This difference in stance created a rift between Nehru and Abdullah, Delhi and Kashmir.

However, it has been argued that it was not without reason that Nehru changed his mind. The changing geo-political situation of that time (lack of fair conditions in Kashmir to hold a plebiscite and the just concluded US-Pakistan military pact of 1954) had prompted Nehru to regard the plebiscite option as unviable.

With no prospect of a referendum being held, Abdullah, despite having drafted the provisions of Article 370, began holding meetings demanding more autonomy for Kashmir. Abdullah’s inflammatory speeches now spoke of revoking the accession and forming an independent Kashmir. The central government deemed him a secessionist threat, his speeches as anti-India and anti-Hindu. Speculation was rife at Delhi that he had plotted accession to Pakistan. This alarmed Nehru. Abdullah was arrested in 1953 and jailed 11 years for conspiracy against the state. Indian intelligence pointed not only at Pakistan but also at US involvement in supporting Abdullah’s demands for a free Kashmir.

Following Abdullah’s imprisonment, the Plebiscite Front was formed by Abdullah’s ‘lieutenant’ Mirza Afzal Beg on August 9, 1955.  It demanded his unconditional release and an independent Kashmir. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad replaced Abdullah as the next Prime Minister of Kashmir.

During Bakshi Ghulam’s 11 year tenure, J&K achieved a degree of calm. That said, while his government implemented large-scale development funded by Delhi, it became notorious for irregularities. This alienated the people of Kashmir even more. Bakshi’s eagerness to toe Central policies made Delhi turn a blind eye to the rampant increase in nepotism and corruption under him. In fact, this trend was embraced by Delhi even in later times when it came to Jammu and Kashmir. As long as politicians in Kashmir did not talk about secession and held a “pro-India” stance, New Delhi was ready to look the other way.

This flawed outlook and Delhi’s appointing of puppet governments in J&K, which were not in touch with the pulse of the people, were responsible for the discontent in the State. It is safe to say that the politics of self-gratification and alienation slowly steered Kashmir towards chaos in the years to come.  

Changing Dynamics: 1962, 1965, 1971

Elsewhere in Kashmir, the Chinese had already occupied the Aksai Chin region in Ladakh in 1959, an area which helped her keep a watch on Tibet. More alarming is when India lost to China in the 1962 Border War. The situation reached simmering point in 1963 when a Sino-Pak Border agreement marked China’s border with PoK, and Pakistan “gifted” disputed Indian territory to China. Placed between a hostile China and Pakistan, an alarmed India began extending several provisions of the Indian Constitution to J&K (many see this as India’s attempt at retaining its pincer grip on Kashmir).

Then in April 1964, Nehru suddenly dropped all charges against Sheikh Abdullah and upon his release the two of them reconciled. Abdullah even agreed to serve as a bridge between India and Pakistan regarding the Kashmir dispute. But before this could happen, Nehru passed away in May. With a defeat behind her and the loss of a great leader, India grappled with a void.

Gauging India’s vulnerability, Pakistan felt this was an opportune time to make another military attempt to capture Kashmir. Code-named Operation Gibraltar, Pakistan, in 1965, sent around 30,000 mujahideens, armed and trained by its army, to infiltrate Kashmir and stoke an insurgency there taking advantage of a restive situation. Kashmir had recently erupted due to two incidents: the missing holy relic from the Hazratbal Shrine and the re-arrest of Sheikh Abdullah after his meeting in Algiers with the Chinese Prime Minister. When the plan failed, Pakistan immediately sent Pakistani troops across the ceasefire line into Kashmir. Shastri, who had taken over as Prime Minister, ordered Indian troops to cross into Pakistani territory. Indian guns were aimed at Lahore and Sialkot, when an alarmed Pakistan withdrew its forces.[1]The UN intervened again and ordered an unconditional ceasefire. By this time, India was firm there would be no further question of holding a plebiscite in Kashmir since according to Lal Bahadur Shastri, the three general elections which were held in the State “had proved that the people of Jammu & Kashmir had accepted their place in the Indian Union.”

After 1965, Pakistan-backed guerrilla groups increased their activities in the Valley. Around this time, Kashmiri separatists such as Amanullah Khan and Maqbool Bhat came together and formed another Plebiscite Front, and named its Azad Kashmir-based armed wing, the Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front (NLF). Their main aim was to ‘free’ Kashmir from Indian control.

Following the Assembly elections in 1967, the mood in Kashmir now increasingly turned from anti-India to pro-Pakistan, with Kashmiris increasingly wanting secession from India. Sheikh Abdullah, who was released in March 1968, fanned this separatist sentiment by making “contradictory statements,” asserting at one place that he was ready to discuss “all possibilities” with the Indian government while also declaring that he would never bury Kashmiris’ dream of “right to self-determination”.

Then in 1971, India and Pakistan went to war a third time over the liberation of East Pakistan from West Pakistan. India went on to defeat Pakistan and East Pakistan emerged as a separate, independent nation called Bangladesh. The cease-fire line in Kashmir now came to be known as the Line of Control (LoC). The India–Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971 had a dual impact. It slowly became clear to Kashmiris that an independent Kashmir and Pakistan’s “active role” in the realization of this dream seemed improbable: the Two-Nation theory had failed and Pakistan’s mewling surrender to India had changed equations. With Pakistan lying dismembered, equations changed in Kashmir too. Abdullah decided to resume dialogue with New Delhi and in 1975 signed an accord with Indira Gandhi. Under it, he gave up the demand for plebiscite and demanded Kashmir be given more autonomy. Following the signing of the Indira-Sheikh accord, Abdullah came back to power as Chief Minister of Kashmir after 22 years.

Many in Kashmir saw the accord as a ‘sell out’ as it stood for further erosion of the State’s powers. Strong resentment against Abdullah saw two bomb attacks and new political outfits (representing Kashmir’s freedom cause), mushrooming in the State. In Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto called for a national strike and the country now became more actively involved in abetting secessionists in Kashmir. In 1977, the State Congress Party withdrew its support, ending the National Conference-Congress alliance, but Abdullah came back with a thumping victory in the 1977 Assembly elections. These elections, if nothing else, revealed that separatist forces in Kashmir at that time had a limited voice, with the pro-Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) party winning only a single Legislative Assembly seat.

Over time, India began trying to secularize J&K’s school curricula in order to further integrate the State with the rest of the country. This was, however, seen as an attempt at saffronisation, primarily aimed at eroding the Valley’s identity. Suspicions were further heightened when in 1987-88, the country’s only state-owned television, Doordarshan, began airing a Hindu religious serial, the Ramayana.[2]

None of the attempts at “cultural assimilation” were taken lightly. The JeI in retaliation established a slew of madrassas (religious schools) which emphasised the embracing of Islam’s tenets in order to live an ideal life. The madrassas had a far-reaching impact. Under their influence, the Valley slowly began to undergo a shift in its identity; from “Islamic to Islamist”. [3]

[1] Remembering Lal Bahadur Shastri’s role in 1965 war  by Sreejit Panickar for The  Daily O

[2] A.H Suharwardy, Kashmir: The Incredible Freedom  Fight

[3] Malik, Kashmir: Ethnic Conflict, International  Dispute


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