BJP and its accession festival

I frankly informed him that I was not prepared to go to Jammu till I got news from my aerodrome officer at Srinagar that the Indian forces had landed there. Panditji did not insist and said,You can fly to Jammu next morning.

Ashok Koul, general secretary of the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir, demanded that October 26 should be celebrated as a festival in the State. According to Koul it was on this day in 1947, when Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with India. Since the BJP came to power in India in May 2014, and in Kashmir in March 2015 as a coalition partner, it has become their habit to rake up controversies, be it beef; Article 370; or 35 A of Indian constitution.

Accession is the latest arrow that they have now thrown. Irrespective of how Kashmiris would react, the BJP, before proceeding to celebrate October 26 as a festival, should prove that the Maharaja really signed the Instrument of Accession on that particular day. I state this because the historical record available on the Accession is confounding. One of the ten Dakota aircraft that carried Indian Army Sikh personnel to summer capital Srinagar on the morning of October 27, 1947 touched down midway at winter capital Jammu to unload secretary of States Ministry, V. P. Menon; Prime Minister of Kashmir, M. C. Mahajan; Deputy Prime Minister, RL Batra; and the leader of National Conference, Sheikh Abdullah. Then it flew up to Srinagar to carry Major Willaim Cranston whom the British High Commission had sent to Kashmir to supervise the evacuation of Europeans from the war torn Valley.

The morning of October 27 was the earliest that the Maharaja could have signed the Instrument of Accession. Many experts say that he never singed it. But then, if he had not signed he would not later talk of withdrawing it. For example, on January 13, 1948 he threatened Indian States Minister, Sardar Patel, through a letter that he was thinking of withdrawing the accession:

You know I definitely acceded to the Indian union with the idea that the union will not let us down. The Indian union only referred a limited question to the Security Council, but the whole issue has been enlarged…and the matter of accession have all been taken notice of by them…Sometimes I feel that I should withdraw the accession(pp.161-62 Sardar Patels Correspondence Vol. I).

Indian states official position vis-à-vis the Accession of Kashmir is that the Maharaja signed it on the afternoon of October 26 at Jammu. The Government of India rests its case on what Menon wrote in his book(The Integration of Indian States) . Menon was the topmost Indian bureaucrat responsible for approaching princes to get their signatures on the documents of accession. In order to obtain Hari Singhs signatures Menon arrived at Srinagar on October 25, 1947 accompanied by squadron leader Dewan of air force; Colonel Sam Manekshaw of army; and Dwarka Nath Kachroo, Secretary All India States Peoples Conference.

The AISPC was the alter ego of Congress Party in Princely India and also the parent organisation of NC. Both the NC and the AISPC were presided by Sheikh Abdullah. On that day, October 25, Hari Singh was busy preparing to flee from Kashmir because of the impending danger posed by the tribals. Sheikh on that day, October 25, flew to Delhi to put up with Indian Prime Minister Nehru there. He had been advised overnight by Dogra army to run away to safety because tribals were approaching. Menon went to government guesthouse to spend the night.

Srinagar was enveloped in darkness because Mahura powerhouse had been blown up. Tribals were somewhere in the vicinity of Uri intent upon capturing the summer capital. During night time Mahajan came to the guest house and took Menon along with him to the Srinagar airfield. At the airport they saw GM Bakshi, Mir Qasim, Sadiq, Masoodi, and DP Dhar waiting for the Indian army. On the morning of 26 October Menon left for New Delhi. If Menon is to be believed, from Delhi he went to Jammu on the afternoon to obtain Maharajas signature on the accession document so that Indian army could be flown to Kashmir.

This is what he writes in The Integration of Indian States:

We left Srinagar in the first light of the morning on 26 October and immediately on my arrival in Delhi, I went straight to a meeting of the defense committee. Soon after the meeting of the defense committee, I flew to Jammu accompanied by Mahajan. On arrival at the palace I found it in a state of utter turmoil with valuable articles strewn all over the place. The Maharaja was asleep; he had left Srinagar the previous evening and had been driving all night. I woke him up and told him what had taken place at the defense committee meeting. He was ready to accede at once. He then composed a letter to the Governor General describing the pitiable plight of the state and reiterating his request for military help. He further informed the Governor-General that it was his intention to set an interim government at once and to ask Sheikh Abdullah to carry the responsibilities in this emergency with Mehr Chand Mahajan. He concluded by saying that if the state was to be saved, immediate assistance must be available at Srinagar. He also signed the instrument of accession. Never in the history of warfare has there been an operation like the airlift of Indian troops to Srinagar on 27 October and on subsequent days.

However, Menons own comrade-in-Kashmir-adventure, PM Mahajan, contradicts his claim by saying that they did not go to Jammu on that day. On 24th October, the deputy Prime Minister left Srinagar carrying a letter of accession to India from the Maharaja, writes Mahajan in Looking Back, We decided in the afternoon of 25th that the raiders should be given a receding battle. Mr Menon advised His Highness to shift to Jammu so that he might be easily available for consultations there (Looking Back).

Next morning VP Menon and I flew to Delhi. We arrived at Safderjung airport at about 8 A.M where a car was waiting. I immediately drove to Prime Ministers home on York Road. I left PMs home and went to the house of Sardar Baldev Singh. The cabinet meeting in the evening affirmed the decision of the defence council to give military aid to the Maharaja to drive out the tribesmen. Around dinnertime, the Prime Minister sent a message to me that with Menon, I would fly to Jammu to inform the Maharaja of this decision and also to get his signatures on certain supplementary documents about the accession.

I frankly informed him that I was not prepared to go to Jammu till I got news from my aerodrome officer at Srinagar that the Indian forces had landed there. Panditji did not insist and said,You can fly to Jammu next morning.

In the early hours of the morning of the 27th, I could hear the noise of the planes flying over Sardar Baldev Singhs house carrying the military personnel to Srinagar. At about 9 A.M I got a message from the aerodrome officer of Srinagar that troops had landed there and had gone into action. On receipt of this message, I flew to Jammu with Mr Menon. While leaving for Jammu on the morning of 27th, I requested the Prime Minister of India to give me in his own handwriting the conditions on which the Maharaja had been given military help at such a crucial juncture. Panditji wrote out briefly those terms.

The first one was that His Highness should accede to India with regard to three subjects: defense, external affairs, and transport. This he had already done. The second was that the internal administration of the state should be democratized. So, if Mahajan is to be believed the instrument of accession was signed by the Maharaja and conveyed to New Delhi by Batra on October 24. But it is difficult to believe Mahajan given what he wrote in the same book: Raiders were approaching Baramulla.

We decided by the 25th evening to go to India if we could get a plane or else go to Pakistan for surrender. Kabul was suggested by some as a neighbor who may possibly lend a helping hand. An instrument of accession was now executed and signed by the Maharaja.

Given the above yarns woven by those who were intimately connected with the Accession issue, there must be three accessions signed, one on October 24 at Srinagar; the second on October 25, again at Srinagar; and the third on October 26 at Jammu. What happened on October 26 in New Delhi Menon, accompanied by Mahajan and Kachroo in addition to officers Dewan and Manekshaw, left Srinagar for Delhi by an airplane (p.91 Birth of a Tragedy A. Lamb). At around 11 AM the cabinet defense committee of India met under Mountbattens chairmanship.

The committee decided to send Menon once more to Kashmir to obtain the Maharajas signatures on the Instrument of Accession. In the afternoon Menon rushed to airport so that he could go to Kashmir. There the officer in-charge told him that he had left too late for Kashmir there being no night landing facilities on the airports in the summer and winters capitals. On October 26 the sun would set at about 5.45 p.m. in Srinagar and Jammu (as it always does on that date); and it took more than two hours to a Dakota aircraft from Delhi to reach to Jammu and even more to Srinagar. Alexander Symons, then acting British High Commissioner in India also arrived at the airport.

He wanted Menon to take along Major William Cranston to Kashmir so that the latter could supervise safe evacuation of Europeans from the Valley (Birth of a Tragedy A. Lamb; Rival Versions of History Prem Shanker Jha. At about 5 p.m. Symons and Menon were back in Delhi. It was decided that Menon would take Cranston along with him next morning, the October 27. So the question: On what date will the ruling BJP celebrate accession festival and what purpose would that serve?

The article has been written by a prominent historian of Kashmir , Ashiq Hussain and was published here by his permission.

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