To understand why the Indian government at the time of Partition lured some princely states which did not want to join India to review their decisions and annexed others which wanted to join Pakistan and why the Modi government has ended the special status given to Kashmir in the Indian constitution, one has to seek guidance from history.
As the freedom movement in India gained momentum, the Hindu leadership made it abundantly clear that it stood for the unity of India and considered the princely states as an integral part of India. The Congress session of Haripura in 1938 propounded this concept in these words “The Congress stands for the same political, social and economic freedom in states as in the rest of India and considers the states as integral parts of India which cannot [be] separated.
“Purna Swaraj or complete independence, which is the objective of the Congress, is for the whole of India, inclusive of states, for the integrity and unity of India must be maintained in freedom as it has been maintained in subjection”
However, later political developments which led to the demand for a separate homeland under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah forced the British government to partition India into two dominions. The Indian Independence Act passed by the British parliament also declared that princely states were free to join any of the two dominions or remain independent. This shattered the dream of those who wanted the states to become part of India automatically. The Act however did not specify the mode or mechanism for taking the desired decisions. It was therefore assumed that the rulers of the states would decide the future of their states on their own.
However, the last viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, while speaking to the Chamber of Princes on June 25, 1947 said: “The Indian Independence Act releases the states from all their obligations to the Crown. The states will have complete freedom – technically and legally they become independent. They are free to join any of the dominion but while doing so must keep in mind the geographical proximity and the demographic features of the population”
Out of 552 states, the rulers of 547 states decided to join India. But five states did not want to join India. Travancore, Jodhpur and Bhopal wanted to stay as independent states but they were lured to join the Indian union through different tactics. The Muslim ruler of Hyderabad (a Hindu majority state) decided to accede to Pakistan. India sent its forces to the state and in an armed conflict which lasted for four days, India gained control over it.
Similarly Junagadh, another Hindu majority state, was ruled by a Muslim who also decided to join Pakistan. India created a situation of anarchy in the state which led to a complete breakdown of the economy and consequently the Nawab fled to Karachi. Vallabhbhai Patel requested Pakistan to allow a plebiscite in Junagadh and eventually sent in troops to force the annexation of three of its principalities. In the face of acute shortage of funds and forces, the Dewan was forced to accede to the Indian Union. Eventually, on February 20, 1948, a plebiscite was held in the state wherein 91 percent of the voters chose to join India.
As is evident from the foregoing, India used different yardsticks to effect the annexation of the non-conforming states – through accepting the accession announced by rulers; through force and in case of Junagadh a combination of military force and plebiscite. It was treachery and hypocrisy at its best.
Kashmir was a fit case for accession to Pakistan as urged by Lord Mountbatten in his address to the Chamber of Princes on June 25, 1947. It was a Muslim-majority state ruled by a non-Muslim. When its ruler signed the controversial instrument of accession, India by accepting it negated its own stance on Hyderabad and Junagadh when it had contended that those states could not accede to Pakistan because of the majority of their population being Hindus. But Lord Mountbatten made it clear that the accession was accepted provisionally and the issue would be resolved through reference to the people.
In the backdrop of the revolt of the Kashmiris against the decision of their ruler and the consequent war between India and Pakistan, the former took the matter to the United Nations. The UN passed resolutions after hearing the two sides; the resolutions pledged the settlement of the question of accession through a plebiscite under UN auspices.
India accepted the resolutions and Nehru repeatedly reiterated commitment to implement them. But the Indian government instead of creating conditions for holding of the plebiscite made a hypocritical move by having the accession of Kashmir to India announced by the constituent assembly of Indian-held Kashmir. It then started calling Kashmir as its integral part, notwithstanding the fact that the UN through resolutions 91 and 122 had repudiated the Indian action and reiterated that the question of accession of Kashmir could only be settled through a plebiscite held under the auspices of the UN.
Indian hypocrisy was exposed again when in the aftermath of the 1971 war between the two countries, it accepted Kashmir as a disputed territory in the Simla Agreement; a proposition which also figured in the Lahore Declaration. But India never showed any seriousness in resolving the issue. Kashmir however continued to have special status as per Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which in a way was an acknowledgment of the reality that it was not part of the Indian union.
Meanwhile, the Kashmiris having been frustrated by the Indian intransigence to fulfil its pledge of a plebiscite launched an armed struggle in 1989 which is still continuing and has attained more intensity in the backdrop of the martyrdom of Burhan Wani in 2016; it continues despite the unparalleled atrocities committed by the Indian security forces. The Modi government by doing away with Article 370 and making Indian-held Kashmir part of the Indian union has actually displayed the same historical hypocrisy which was used by the Indian rulers at the time of Partition to annex the defiant princely states. Modi in his address to the Nation on the Indian Independence Day boasted that he had achieved in 70 days what could not be done in seventy years –adding that he had fulfilled Vallabhai Patel’s dream for a ‘United India’.
Nevertheless, the Modi government has committed a grave folly. He has done this at a time when the war of freedom in IHK is raging with full intensity and the people of Kashmir have shown unprecedented steadfastness against the military might of India and the killing spree let loose against them. Pakistan, which is a party to the dispute, has pledged unmitigated political and diplomatic support to the cause of the Kashmiris and also expressed its firm resolve to give a befitting reply to any Indian indiscretion militarily, though it has ruled out war as an option.
As a result of the diplomatic offensive launched by Pakistan, the Kashmir issue came up for discussion in the UNSC after fifty years and the vibes emanating from the meeting indicate that the UNSC has supported Pakistani’s stance by reiterating that the solution of Kashmir dispute has to come through the UN Charter and the relevant resolutions. It is tantamount to a rejection of India’s claims of Kashmir being its internal matter. So it will not be easy for India to get away with its hypocrisy so easily this time.
Further, freedom movements have their own momentum and cannot be suppressed through decrees, legislative measures and use of military muscle.