Opinion: Did Nehru play the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir wrong?
While critics raise valid concerns of losing PoK to Pakistan, it is essential to recognize that the circumstances surrounding the Kashmir conflict were multifaceted and influenced by geopolitical complexities, says Girish Linganna
Replying to a discussion in the Lok Sabha on the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization (Amendment) Bill, 2023, and Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023 -- two Bills that were passed by voice vote later -- Union Home Minister Amit Shah placed the blame for the issue with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) squarely on Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, causing Congress MPs to stage a walkout.
Shah said that Nehru, himself, had written to Sheikh Abdullah and admitted that India should not have agreed to a ceasefire with the then newly created Pakistan when our army was winning. He had admitted that they could have negotiated better on the global stage (at the UN). “I say these were not mistakes. These were two historical blunders, Nehruvian blunders,” Shah added while replying to the debate on the two bills on Wednesday (December 6, 2023).
"Nehru ke samay mei jo blunder hua tha, iske karan Kashmir ko bhugatna pada (the blunder that happened during Nehru's time, Kashmir had to pay the price),” Shah remarked, postulating that Kashmir suffered -- and is still suffering -- due to these two major blunders by Nehru -- the first blunder was the announcement of the ceasefire when the Indian forces had penetrated till as far as the Punjab area and this, ultimately, led to the creation of PoK. If only the ceasefire had been announced three days later, PoK would still have been an integral part of India today, stressed Shah. Unfortunately, the ceasefire was announced before the entire Kashmir was won. And the second blunder was to take the Kashmir issue to the United Nations.
History As It Unfolded
PoK, an integral part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, continues to be a contentious issue between India and Pakistan. The history behind this dispute and Jawaharlal Nehru’s role in it sheds light on the complex nature of the Kashmir conflict.
After the British left the Indian subcontinent on August 14, 1947, the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir remained independent for 73 days. Maharaja Hari Singh, ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, was already embroiled in internal disturbances, with multiple uprisings against his Dogra reign.
During the 1947 Partition, princely states were given the choice of joining India or Pakistan. The Maharaja opted for independence. However, Pakistan, seeking to annex the region by force, sent tribal raiders to invade J&K. The Maharaja appealed to India for military assistance, agreeing to accede to India in return.
On October 26, 1947, the Maharaja signed an Instrument of Accession with India, thus ending the intense lobbying by rivals India and Pakistan for the princely state. J&K state’s original accession, as all other princely states, hinged on three broad pillars: defence, foreign affairs and communications. All the princely states were invited to send their representatives to India’s Constituent Assembly, which was formulating a Constitution for the entire country.
One of the incentives offered was for them to set up their own state’s constituent assemblies. Most states were unable to set up assemblies in time, but a few states -- such as Saurashtra Union, Travancore-Cochin and Mysore -- did. Even though a model constitution was developed for the states, the rulers and chief ministers of all the states agreed that separate constitutions for the states were not necessary. They embraced India’s Constitution as their own. The states that managed to elect constituent assemblies came up with a few amendments that were accepted.
The states’ position thus became equivalent to that of regular Indian provinces, implying that the subjects for legislation by the central and state governments were uniform across India.
As far as J&K was concerned, it decided to form its own separate constituent assembly with the request that only those provisions of the Indian Constitution that were in consonance with the original Instrument of Accession be applied to the state; the state’s own constituent assembly would be free to decide on other issues. The Government of India agreed to the demands.
Seeking Intervention of UN
Jawaharlal Nehru, as Independent India’s first Prime Minister, accepted the accession of J&K and, faced with strong opposition and counter-claims from newly formed Pakistan, sought a peaceful resolution through international intervention. Nehru took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations, which passed a resolution in favour of a plebiscite to ascertain the will of the people of J&K.
The resolution also called for a ceasefire and withdrawal of Pakistani forces. Unfortunately, Pakistan ignored these terms, maintaining control over the territories they had captured. India, on the other hand, argued that a plebiscite could not be held during Pakistani occupation and aggression, leading to the division of J&K. And thus a wound was inflicted on India’s sovereign status that has been festering since.
Approaching the UN for intervention in what India has subsequently, and consistently, termed a 'bilateral matter' was a measure that Amit Shah has called the ‘second blunder’. But National Conference president Farooq Abdullah says that there was no other way that the impasse could be resolved under the given circumstances in those days.
Lord Mountbatten and others offered the same advice and even Sardar (Vallabhai) Patel advocated for the need to approach the UN. The UNSC placed those who were attacked and those who attacked on the same pedestal instead of condemning the perpetrators under duress from the US, which was in those days on Pakistan’s side.
Nehru’s Non-Aligned Approach
Nehru, a pacifist and firm believer in non-alignment, pursued a diplomatic and peaceful approach to address the Kashmir dispute. He believed that dialogue was key to securing a mutual agreement, rather than exacerbating the issue through warfare. This approach stemmed from Nehru’s vision for India, which sought peaceful coexistence and upheld secular and democratic principles.
Nehru’s deep-rooted connection to Kashmir also influenced his decision-making process. Being born in the region and having ancestral ties, Nehru saw Kashmir as a symbol of India’s diverse identity, showcasing the coexistence of different cultures, religions and languages. As such, preserving Kashmir’s autonomy and allowing its people to have a say in their destiny remained a focal point of Nehruvian policies.
Did India Play PoK Card Wrong?
Critics argue that Nehru missed a golden opportunity to recapture PoK when India had the upper hand during the war. They contend that he prioritized a peaceful approach over reclaiming India’s territory, which, they believe, would have resolved the Kashmir dispute. But would it really have? Defenders of Nehru believe he safeguarded the long-term interests of both India and Kashmir by avoiding a larger conflict with Pakistan. They argue that Nehru adhered to international norms and respected the wishes of the Kashmiri people.
The likes of Farooq Abdullah said that the facts put forward by critics are not the full picture of India’s war effort in PoK. To say that our forces could have simply marched to Pakistan’s Muzaffarabad is not presenting the facts in their true light. To serve the larger goal of saving Poonch and Rajouri, the Indian Army had to be diverted there. And that farsightedness on Nehru’s part is the reason why these areas still belong to India now; otherwise, these, too, would have been part of Pakistan today, Abdullah believes.
Long-Drawn, Unfinished Conflict
As tensions persist, neither India nor Pakistan recognizes each other’s control over different parts of J&K. The line-of-control (LoC) separates the two regions, becoming the de facto border. Nevertheless, neither side acknowledges it as the final boundary, exacerbating the ongoing dispute.
The Kashmir issue, originally sparked by Pakistan’s aggressive and ambitious invasion, has developed into a complex and protracted conflict. Nehru’s role in the conflict showcased his commitment to peaceful resolution and preserving the democratic values of India.
While critics raise valid concerns about losing PoK to Pakistan, it is essential to recognize that the circumstances surrounding the Kashmir conflict were multifaceted and influenced by geopolitical complexities. Ultimately, until a mutually agreeable solution is reached, the Kashmir dispute will continue to overshadow India-Pakistan relations.
The author of this article is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Asianet News Network.
- Amit Shah
- Farooq Abdullah
- India Pakistan relations
- India-Pakistan relations
- Instrument of Accession
- International intervention
- Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization Bill 2023
- Jawaharlal Nehru
- Kashmir conflict
- Line of Control
- Lok Sabha
- Lord Mountbatten
- Maharaja Hari Singh
- National Conference
- Pakistan-occupied Kashmir
- Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
- UN resolution
- United Nations
- Girish Linganna