The recent controversy surrounding Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India shows that the government and the political class have failed to educate the people of India as well as the state on the subject.
The creation of India and Pakistan was restricted to the division of British India, with the princely states not brought within the scope of the Partition plan. Both the British and the Muslim League stubbornly opposed the proposals made by the Indian National Congress to empower the people to determine the future disposition of their states in respect of their accession.
The states were never recognised by the British as independent entities. The lapse of Paramountcy did not alter their status. Several princely states, in fact, did stake their claim for independence. When the British refused to recognise such a demand, the Nawab of Bhopal approached the American diplomatic mission in India to solicit support. The American mission promptly turned down the request. That left no option for the Nawab but to accept to accede to India. The J&K ruler was not among those who staked a claim for independence. In fact, the lapse of Paramountcy put the states on the inevitable course to accede to either India or Pakistan.
The Indian Independence Act did not lay down any provisions regarding the procedure and terms of the accession. The Instrument of Accession drawn up by the State Department of the Interim Government laid down two sets of terms and procedures, one for the larger princely states and the other for the smaller ones. All the larger states which acceded to India, including J&K, signed the same standard form and accepted its terms. Neither the ruler of the State, Maharaja Hari Singh, nor the National Conference leaders played any role in the determination of the terms.
Three days after the release of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah on September 29, 1947, the Working Committee of the National Conference (NC) met under his presidentship and decided to support the accession, with no conditions laid down.
A few days after the meeting, Sheikh Abdullah sent two senior NC leaders, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad and Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq, to Pakistan to open talks with the Muslim League leaders for reconciliation. Jinnah spurned the offer. Sadiq was still in Pakistan when the latter invaded the state on October 22, 1947.
Neither Hari Singh nor Sheikh Abdullah laid down any condition when Meher Chand Mahajan brought the offer of the accession to Nehru. Congress leaders including Nehru made no promises to the NC leaders. The terms of the accession weren't altered by the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten.
The letter written by Mountbatten to Hari Singh suggesting eliciting the opinion of his people did not prejudice the stipulations of the Instrument of Accession. Mountbatten had only one power to exercise: to accept the Instrument of Accession. Mountbatten did not write the covering letter to the Maharaja, because the NC leaders had not laid down any condition to that effect and because the J&K was predominantly Muslim. Both Mountbatten's letter and Nehru's commitment to elicit the opinion of the people of J&K was in continuation of the commitments made to the rulers and people of Hyderabad and Junagarh.
Nehru as well as Mountbatten repeatedly requested the leaders of Pakistan to agree to refer the accession of Junagarh to Pakistan, to the people of the State. All this while, Junagarh was in a state of civil war and the Nawab of Hyderabad was secretly plotting with Pakistan the course of action he would take after Hari Singh had acceded to India. To complete the procedure of the integration, the State Department had drawn up an Instrument of Attachment, erroneously described as Instrument of Merger.
The major Indian states, including J&K, were not required to sign it. The withdrawal of Pakistan from the territories of the state under its occupation was the precedent condition, laid down by Mountbatten, Nehru and the Security Council for any reference to the people of J&K. Pakistan refused to withdraw its forces from the occupied territories. The half-truth that India has denied to fulfill its commitments to the people of the state has vitiated the discourse on the accession of the state.
MK Teng is retired professor and HoD, Political Science, Kashmir University. The views expressed by the author are personal