Karan Singh has remained forever in the political limelight. First succeeding his father Hari Singh as regent in 1949, then as the Sadr-e-Riyasat of Jammu and Kashmir and then as the Governor of the state.
In 1967, Dr Karan Singh was inducted as a member of the Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Thereafter, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Udhampur Parliamentary constituency in Jammu and Kashmir on behalf of the Indian National Congress by an overwhelming majority, and was re-elected from there in 1971, 1977 and 1980.
Karan Singh’s acceptance of the title of Sadr-e-Riyasat at once signalled the end of the old order and the beginning of a new one, as he puts it in his autobiography, Heir Apparent. His was a departure from his father’s style of functioning. He had set himself under his father’s archrival Sheikh Abdullah’s prime ministership. Also, unlike his father, he was a great admirer of Nehru.
Soon Karan Singh apprised Nehru of the situation in the valley, of the Sheikh Abdullah’s activities who was mooting limited accession instead of full and final integration.
Nehru himself was deeply disturbed and amazed by the Sheikh’s turnaround. He had also received reports from the then intelligence chief BN Mullick that Sheikh Abdullah had been working with external powers for fomenting trouble in the state.
In March 27, Karan Singh wrote to Nehru: The gulf between Jammu and Kashmir is widening and we might have to reap bitter consequences in the future.
Sheikh Abdullah’s stance had moved from full accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India to independent status and Karan Singh felt that the Sheikh’s stance was being encouraged by foreign powers who favoured an independent status for Kashmir.
Even within National Conference serious differences arose. Jawaharlal Nehru invited Sheikh Abdullah on July 3, 1953 but the latter refused to come. On July 23, Karan Singh went with a warning to Nehru: Unless the Sheikh mended his ways, he would part ways.
Nehru’s efforts bore no fruits. Sheikh Abdullah was clearly on the warpath. Karan Singh exercising his power as Sadr-e -Riyasat dismissed Sheikh Abdullah as prime minister on August 9, 1953 and placed him under detention.
Despite Sheikh Abdullah’s popularity, Karan Singh still commanded love and respect in the Valley. Towards the end of 1957, he was re-elected Sadr-e-Riyasat and continued his efforts to move Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad closer to the Centre.
Karan Singh was against Sheikh Abdullah’s release in 1958, but Nehru wanted to give him another chance to try and bridge the India-Pakistan rift.
Karan Singh’s apprehension proved right. The Sheikh had not abandoned his anti-accession agenda.
Karan Singh writes in his autobiography Sadr-e-Riyasat:
Just a week before a person who was in the dock for treason was now trying to bridge India and Pakistan. This curious dichotomy illustrates the basic ambivalence that has characterized our approach since 1947. We claim the whole state ruled by my father as Indian territory and yet we did nothing to recover vast areas under foreign occupation. We refrain from clinching the issue and cloud the entire affair under elaborate clichés of bilateralism and substituting line of control for ceasefire line. We do not clinch the matter once and for all by virtue of our superior military power. The beautiful state founded by my ancestors seems destined to remain an apple of discord, its people sentenced to permanent instability.