Mehr Chand Mahajan was an eye witness to the events that transpired in Jawaharlal Nehru's residence on October 26, 1947.
Through the course of post-Independence Indian history, there are moments which have come to chart events that continue to have a profound impact on the national discourse.
Topping the charts in the current national discourse is the Kashmir issue. Many in India have some knowledge of the events that followed Maharaja Hari Singh’s decision to sign the Instrument of Accession with India, and New Delhi’s subsequent decision to dispatch troops who would secure Jammu and Kashmir, booting out the Pakistani tribal raiders.
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How many of us actually know what happened on the day between Hari Singh’s decision to sign the instrument of accession and the arrival of Indian troops in the state?
Not many, except those who were there.
Mehr Chand Mahajan was one of them, and the latest edition of his autobiography, which was first published in 1963, sheds light on those events.
On the day Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession with India on October 26, 1947, Mahajan was the Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir – appointed by Hari Singh on the request of Sardar Patel in May 1947. He was also the Indian National Congress-appointed member of the Radcliffe Commission, which was set up to demarcate the boundary between India and Pakistan.
Prior to signing the merger with India, the Dogra king had contemplated the idea of remaining an independent kingdom. Those notions were shattered when Pakistan’s tribal raiders launched a vicious military attack on the state.
He sent his deputy Prime Minister Ram Lal Batra with the proposal of accession, and two letters to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister Sardar Patel seeking military help. Even though Batra had reached Delhi, with Chand already in the national capital, there were few signs of the Indian armed forces making their way to Srinagar.
Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, meanwhile, wanted his British commander-in-chief to send the Pakistani army and take over the state. However, the British military officer refused to follow this order and told Jinnah that he could not do it without consulting the Supreme Commander of all British forces remaining in India and Pakistan, Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck.
On October 26, 1947, by which time the Pakistani tribal raiders had reached Srinagar, Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession. Field Marshal Auchinleck then told Jinnah that J&K had decided to merge with India, and New Delhi was well within its rights to send military aid at Maharaja’s request. Jinnah had to withdraw plans for sending in the whole Pakistani Army.
What Mahajan details in the latest edition of his book – titled ‘Looking Back’ and published by Har-Anand Publications after the addition to two new chapters by his family – is the meeting he had with Nehru and Patel in New Delhi on October 26, 1947, reported the Hindustan Times.
“Give army, take accession and give whatever powers you want to give to the popular party (National Conference headed by Sheikh Abdullah), but the army must fly to Srinagar this evening, otherwise I will go and negotiate terms with Mr (Mohammad Ali) Jinnah (the Pakistan leader) as the city (Srinagar) must be saved,” Mahajan had reportedly told Nehru and Patel.
Nehru was visibly upset at Mahajan’s proposal of even contemplating the idea of talking to Jinnah and told him to leave the room. As he walking out of the room, Patel reportedly said in his ear, “Of course, Mahajan, you are not going to Pakistan.”
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At the same time, present in the Nehru’s residence was the popular Kashmiri mass leader and future chief minister of the state Sheikh Abdullah, who had overheard the entire exchange.
“Sheikh Abdullah, who was staying in the Prime Minister’s house, was overhearing the talks. Sensing a critical moment, he sent in a slip of paper to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister read it and said that what I (Mahajan) was saying was also the view of Sheikh Sahib,” recollects Mahajan in his book. “His (Nehru’s) attitude changed completely.”
Abdullah was also completely against the idea of merging the state with Pakistan since the then largely secular Kashmiri populace did not buy Jinnah’s famous ‘two-nation’ theory, which envisioned the creation of two separate nations (India and Pakistan) along religious lines.
“As per my understanding, Mahajan is the only one among the protagonists of the episode who has left us with the written account of the extremely crucial meeting and his integrity is unimpeachable,” said Dr Karan Singh, son of Hari Singh, to the Hindustan Times.
The following morning, the Indian armed forces made their way into Srinagar with Maharaja’s offer of accession and promise of transferring power to Sheikh Abdullah. Days after the Indian troops landed, Abdullah took control of the ad-hoc administration, and in the subsequent months took over as Prime Minister of the state.
In other parts of the state, meanwhile, the Indian armed forces aided by the local populace fought back against the tribal raiders and soon sent them packing.
Mahajan, meanwhile, went onto serve as one of Independent India’s first Supreme Court judges, eventually landing the office of Chief Justice on January 4, 1954.
Prior to his appointment as J&K Prime Minister and member of the Radcliffe Commission, he had served as a reputable advocate in the Punjab region. Mahajan eventually met his demise in 1967.
This insider’s view of events on October 26, 1947, indeed offers an interesting insight into the internal dynamics of events that would determine the future of not only Jammu and Kashmir but also India.