Feb 26, 2024
Feb 26, 2024
by R C Ganjoo
Kashmir has been poetically reverberated much before India's independence. Kashmir in reality was a safe haven for Congress leaders who wanted escape arrest during Quit India Movement against British.
Aruna Asaf Ali and Ganesh Prashad (a Marxist) remained in safe houses in Kashmir. Ganesh Prasad first stayed in attic of D P Dhar's (Durga Prasad Dhar) house at Safakadal. When Police came to know about his stay at D P Dhar house he was shifted to his (DP') Jagir. Other workers from Congress and Student Federation started coming from outside. In 1942 D P Dhar was the President of J&K Branch of All India Student Federation. Kashi Nath Bamzai was vice-president.
Some underground messengers were asked to get in touch with Sarat Chandra Bose. He was coordinating between Calcutta and Rangoon. He used to maintain contact with over ground Congress workers under an assumed name.
In Sept. 1942 Dr Zakir Hussain (later President of India) visited Kashmir. He was not active in Quit India Movement. A group of All India Student Federation wanted to do political activity for National Conference. In this connection one of the organization members met Dr. Zakir Hussain. But Zakir Hussain refrained himself from participating in active politics. But the organization had already decided to invite him to preside over the annual anniversary of student organization. Dr Zakir Hussain was told since the Quit India Movement had engulfed the entire country and they wanted it to extend to Jammu and Kashmir state as well. Zakir Hussain said it was a policy matter of Congress leadership not to involve States in it. “If Congress will not agree to our demand we will start movement on our own” the student leader reply to Zakir Hussain. He advised, “Don't do anything that would jeopardize your life. Don't do any work about which you do not know well.” The meeting lasted just 30 minutes. Zakir Hussa in a message for the colleagues of the organisation wrote, “If a thing is worth doing it is also worth doing well”.
BPL Bedis were already in Srinagar. It was through Sadiq that Bedis came to know Sheikh Abdullah, Ghulam Mohammad Bakshi, and Mirza Afzal Beg but they stayed close to Sheikh Abdullah and G M Sadiq only. Because of D P Dhar, K N Bamzai and J N Zutshi an intellectual group emerged which was influenced by Soviet Constitution and Planning. Out of these discussions came out the idea of Naya Kashmir.
Bedi was asked by Sheikh Abdullah to draft its manifesto. After its drafting it was discussed in Sadiq residence and Working Committee of National Conference where it was formally adopted with few changes. The manifesto was released at a function in 1943.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited Kashmir in 1944 to win over Sheikh Abdullah but the latter did not bite the bait. Sheikh told Jinnah plainly that he would not allow his party to go with Muslim League at any cost. Jinnah stayed initially in a houseboat for few days, later he shifted to Ghulam Ahmed Jeweller's house at Shivpora. Jeweller's son Ghulam Mohammad (later Finance Minister of PoK in Sardar Ibrahim's Cabinet). A few days later GA Jeweller threw a big reception party for Jinnah at Amar Singh Club where all prominent citizens were invited to meet Jinnah, 1-2 ministers also attended the party. But on Sheikh Abdullah's instructions none from the NC attended the reception. Jeweller was close to NC before Jinnah's visit. His role as host to Muslim League leader created differences between him and Sheikh Abdullah. After his son migrated to PoK, Jeweller again came close to Sheikh Abdullah.
It was because of the influence of Congress that Sheikh Abdullah, the president of States Peoples Conference was invited as a special invitee to Congress Working Committee. He felt it was his responsibility to honour the trust of Congress that had reposed in him. Entire NC leadership sided with Sheikh Abdullah. Only Mirza Afzal Beg wanted an approach of 'Wait and See'. He had his own reasons. Cripps Mission of 1942 had failed; Cabinet Mission was on way to India. Also, Mirza Afzal Beg was in Maharaja's Cabinet. He wanted to see Viceroy's attitude towards Jinnah.
Circumstances and ideological affinity brought Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah closer. Though Sheikh started as a communalist, he turned secular subsequently. His involvement with Congress had a very positive impact on him. Though he was religious, yet he was secular in outlook.
Behind Quit Kashmir Movement is a history. Within NC there was polarization along 'pro-Maharaja' and 'anti-Maharaja' lines. Jinnah's unsuccessful visit had acted as fuel to this polarization. In a session of NC in Jammu Province it was decided that 'We have reached limit of our patience and there was a need to start agitation against Maharaja'. NC leadership had also in mind the Quit India Movement which had yielded big dividends to Congress. So they thought they could replicate it in Kashmir by launching Quit Kashmir Movement. They forgot that people had given big sacrifices in Quit India Movement. There were few such people in Kashmir. Many people wanted to use movement for personal gains.
In May 1946 further pressure was built on NC leadership. Under Cabinet Mission Viceroy was engaged in discussions with Congress and Muslim League leaders in Shimla. Sheikh Abdullah felt that Kashmiris would be left high and dry and Maharaja Hari Singh may deal with Cabinet Mission on his own, bypassing NC leadership. NC was preparing to launch the agitation. Prime Minister R C Kak preempted the situation by arresting overnight all the important NC workers. By May 1946 itself all the important workers were in jails.
Unfortunately, Quit Kashmir Movement’ did not take off the way it was envisaged. NC had thought that they would be able to create a situation where Maharaja Hari Singh may face a situation similar to the one faced by the British government in 1942 during ‘Quit India Movement’.
Local Kashmiris did not support to the extent Sheikh Abdullah and NC leadership had hoped and expected. The movement did not enthuse the masses enough. After 15-20 days the life in Srinagar was normal. However, this movement did help National Conference to gain political space vis-a-vis Muslim Conference(MC).
The major factors were - divided political loyalties in Kashmir between NC and MC and pre-emptive action by the State administration headed by Prime Minister RC Kak. The latter did not help NC to reap the rich harvest of all its plans against Dogra ruler. Sheikh and many other leaders were arrested. Those who went underground managed to evade arrest and operated clandestinely. Some others like Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and G M Sadiq escaped to Rawalpindi and made Lahore their base. The leadership of the underground movement went into the hands of Mohi-ud-Din Karra. He became popular leader of the movement. The intellectual class of NC-Maulana Masoodi, Mirza Afzal Beg, Pt. Janki Nath Zutshi, Pt. Kashi Nath Aima and others were in jail. Due to all this the ‘Quit Kashmir Movement’ failed to achieve its objectives. Of course, an overriding situation was the fast moving political scene in the country. This had an impact on J&K too.
Sheikh Abdullah's trial started in July 1946 at Badami Bagh cantonment. Pt. Nehru constituted a committee of defence headed by himself for Sheikh Abdullha's defence. The committee included renowned people like Bhulabhai Desai and Asaf Ali.
While Pt. Nehru was on way to Kashmir, he was arrested at Kohala by Maharaj Kishen Dhar, District Magistrate and Governor of Kashmir. He was brought to Uri where he stayed in Dak Bungalow for 1½ days before being sent back. Dr Rajender Prasad paid a visit to this bungalow when he came to Kashmir as President of India. The Bungalow, was burnt down by Tribal Raiders in 1947, and was reconstructed. Asaf Ali and Bhula Bhai, Desai represented Sheikh Abdullah in defence. Pt. Nehru's decision to head Sheikh Abdullah 's defence defying Congress Working Committee's decision to go to Kashmir and then courting arrest at Kohala created tremendous impact on common Kashmiri and NC workers. One could see it visibly in Srinagar. Cabinet Mission came to Srinagar in 1946. It met the Maharaja. NC had a plan to meet it but because of public repression they could not meet them. They later sent memorandum to Delhi and Lahore
It was now Mountbatten’s mission Kashmir. Mountbatten Plan had been announced on 3rd of June, 1947. On 19th of June Lord Mountbatten and Lady Edwina came to Srinagar on a four day visit. Obviously, the visit was intended to persuade Maharaja to take a decision to accede to either of the dominions.
Situation in Kashmir was altogether different. Maharaja Hari Singh had almost made up his mind not to become part of either of the Dominions. There were some reasons for this. Firstly, it was the statement of Muslim League that the ruler was the ultimate authority to decide the issue of accession. Secondly, he feared that the Muslim majority state would not willingly support him if he decided to accede to India. Lastly, he did not want to accede to Pakistan for obvious reasons.
Two other major influences working on him were - Prime Minister RC Kak, who reportedly advised him to delay decision to accede till after the two Dominions had been created and the second influence was Maharani Tara Devi. She was under the overpowering influence of Swami Sant Dev, the family Raj Guru. It was reported then that Sant Dev had conveyed to the Maharaja that he had dreamt that the Maharaja’s flag was flying over Lahore Fort. He also reportedly conveyed to Maharani that the planetary configuration also supported such an eventuality. All these things perhaps influenced the mind of Maharaja.
Perhaps on this account Maharaja avoided any meeting with Mountbatten during his 4 days stay in Kashmir. For the first two days he sent Mountbattens to Thricker Fishing Lodge near Mattan to enjoy fishing. On the last day when Mountbatten was to leave in the afternoon a meeting was fixed in the forenoon.
Early in the morning Maharaja conveyed to the Viceroy his regrets, saying he was suffering from colic. So he avoided the meeting and the decision could not be forced on the Maharaja.
It is pertinent to note that there were many Punjabis in 1930s, 1940s in Kashmir. During Maharaja Pratap Singh's reign the senior appointments in administration were of educated, well-trained experienced officers from outside J&K. Surprisingly, the Maharaja selection for such posts were from the two regions-Bengal and Punjab. Bengali ministers and officers played important role in giving shape to social life and in developmental activities. Among Bengali officials the well known names were Sir Albion Banerjee (Administration), Sh. LC Bose (Chief Engineer Electrical for 11 years), JC Chatterjee (Archeology), Dr Mitra (Health Services). Many of the engineers, judicial officers, administrators came from Punjab. K.B. Abdul Qayoom was Chief Justice of State High Court. Bodh Raj Sawhny was Barrister from Lahore. He was charged with creating the higher judiciary structure. Later, when High Court was set up he was appointed as officiating Chief Justice.
But, again there was strong resentment by members of the native nobility and the feudal class. A whispering campaign was started against the officers from outside. Maharaja Hari Singh had to promulgate a notification in 1927 laying the foundation of State Subject Law. Under this three categories of State Subjects were created. Category A included those who were hereditary citizens of the State and had landed property. In category B there were people who came from outside but had acquired landed property here. Then there was C category where the people were either employed in J&K Government State Service or had been living here for the past ten years but did not own any landed property.
Kashmir known for peace and tranquility had impact of communal riots in Punjab on 16th March 1947. Ch. Hameed ullah Khan, Vice-President of Muslim Conference had tried to use that situation to inflame sentiments of Muslims in Kashmir and Jammu. He was leader of Muslim Conference in Praja Sabha. A meeting of Muslim Conference under his chairmanship was called in Jammu on 19th July. A resolution was adopted asking Maharaja to accede to Dominion of Pakistan, which was coming into being. The resolution asked Maharaja to accede in three subjects - Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications.
Earlier, on 17th June, All India Muslim League held a meeting in which Jinnah made a formal announcement confirming what Indian Independence Act had proposed - that the decision of a princely state to accede to either of the two dominions would be the exclusive right and prerogative of the ruler to decide. This was opposite to the stand taken by the Congress, which said that the right belonged to the people.
Gandhiji’s visit is considered a turning point in shaping Kashmir's contemporary history. First invitation was extended to Gandhiji by Maharaja Partap Singh in 1915, after he came from South Africa. Though Gandhiji accepted the invitation but he could not avail of this opportunity. Again in 1932 Gandhiji was persuaded by his followers in Lahore to visit Kashmir to assuage the feelings of people in Kashmir in the wake of violence that took place in July, 1931. This visit also could not take place - obviously because of his political engagements in the rest of the country.
Following Pt. Nehru’s arrest in Kashmir in 1946 Gandhiji was persuaded to make a visit to Kashmir but because of intense political activity and confabulation with Viceroy on one hand and Jinnah on the other he could find no time. In July 1947 it was made known that Gandhi had been persuaded to visit Kashmir. Maharaja Hari Singh wrote to Viceroy that it would be unwise for Gandhiji to visit Kashmir at that juncture.
He added that the visit could be postponed till after the creation of two Dominions. The Viceroy reportedly sent a copy of this letter to Gandhiji. This seemed to have steeled the resolve of Gandhiji to make the visit before India attained Independence.
Gandhiji travelled from New Delhi to Rawalpindi by Frontier Mail. He was due to reach Rawalpindi on 31st July. At Amritsar Railway Station a small black flag demonstration was staged against him. The demonstrators were reportedly protesting against the killing of innocent people in communal riots. On this account Rawalpindi District Administration sent a senior Police officer to Railway Station at Chaklala, a few miles short of Rawalpindi to advise Gandhiji to detrain at that station only because of the fear of another demonstration at Rawalpindi Railway Station. The District Administration wanted him to go in car from Chaklala to the place of his residence in Rawalpindi. At Rawalpindi he stayed in the house of Dev Raj Anand, the Congress leader who was President of Rawalpindi Municipal Corporation. A prayer meeting was held there.
At Chaklala Gandhiji was received by National Conference leaders - Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and G M Sadiq, who also arranged for the transportation of Gandhiji and his party to Srinagar by two cars. Starting on 1st of August in the early morning from Rawalpindi the party reached Kohala bridge (border between British India and J&K State). Bakshi and Sadiq accompanied Gandhiji up to Kohala and went back to Lahore.
Representatives of Maharaja Hari Singh received Gandhiji at Kohala with a request that he may agree to stay at Srinagar as guest of the Maharaja. Two cars had also been sent by the Maharaja for use of Gandhiji and his party. However, Gandhiji declined the use of Maharaja’s cars and also his offer of hospitality at Srinagar.
At Baramulla there was a small demonstration by Muslim Conference activists who raised anti-Congress slogans and attempt at stone throwing.
Normally, Gandhiji should have been guest of NC but since Sheikh Abdulla was in jail it was decided that he would stay as guest of Seth Kishori Lal Sethi, a businessman affiliated to Congress. Originally, a Punjabi he was associated with Kashmir for many years as a leading Forest Lessee. His wife, a lawyer by profession, was a Congress activist of many years. Sethi was also close to NC leadership, including Sheikh and Bakshi. Gandhiji was accompanied by his Secretary, Pyare Lal and two nieces
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